Kristin: This morning I participated in a #futrchat on the future of peace. One of the questions was “How do other factors play into the future of peace – water, energy, climate change, cyberwars? I was reminded of this paper I wrote as part of the Masters of Management in Strategic Foresight at Swinburne (with all its faults and not peer-reviewed) which asked the question – if we put so much research effort in the technology for war – why don’t we do the same for peace?
Creating Dynamic Peace Machines
Kristin Alford – October 2006
Peace is a modern invention that requires further development. This paper looks at providing a definition of peace that goes beyond simply the absence of war and starts to reflect its dynamic and complex qualities. To consider alternative futures where peace is waged, typical inputs into war such as strategy, technology and language are examined and inverted for peaceful means. The importance of the image of peace futures is discussed and finally an alternative view of peace is presented – one inspired by children’s peace machines.
‘War appears to be as old as mankind, but peace is a modern invention’ (Sir Henry Maine cited in Howard 2001, p. 1).
In May 2006, the USA committed 70 billion US dollars to war research, development, testing and evaluation out of 426 billion US dollars in the Department of Defense FY06 budget (United States Government 2006, p. 95). In comparison, NASA was allocated a total of 16 billion US dollars and the National Science Centre (which also supports military technologies) 6 billion US dollars (Edwards 2005, pp. 405; United States Government, p.299; p. 308). It is clear that military spending is a priority. In his budget message, President George W. Bush wrote ‘Our Nation’s most critical challenge since September 11, 2001, has been to protect the American people by fighting and winning the War on Terror’ (United States Government, p. 1). In Australia, the military spending budget for FY06 was estimated at 17 billion Australian dollars (Department of Defence 2006).
In July 2006, four year old children at The University of Melbourne Early Learning Centre were actively engaged in imagining, designing and constructing peace machines.
If peace is a modern invention then where is the research and development funding into technologies that support peace? Where are the efforts being conducted in transforming peace from mere invention to a viable and successful innovation (Rogers 1998, pp. 6-9)? Where are the world’s peace machines?
This essay will look at innovating peace based on the technology and language of war. It will explore what peace means and look at ways that war and conflict can be inverted to find alternative drivers of peace. These will be considered as part of a futures triangle, where the final step is crafting an alternative image of peace that inspires change for the future (Inayatullah 2005a, p. 23).
In August 2006, the Christian Science Monitor marked 1,000 consecutive days of world peace, despite the presence of violent conflicts in Iraq, Israel, Lebanon and Darfur (Kurzman & Engelhart 2006). The authors noted these conflicts, but defined peace as the absence of war, where war was in turn defined as conflict between states, or battles between government armies rather than against informal entities. To believe that the world has reached a state of peace in the current climate is a shocking and startling conjecture. Further investigation into the definition of peace is required.
In contrast, Professor Joseph de Rivera from Clark University in Massachusetts maintains that peace cannot be defined as simply the absence of war (Griffin-Kumpey 2005). Nor is peace the absence of conflict either. Professor de Rivera defines peace as ‘taking conflicts and finding creative non-violent solutions’ (Griffin-Kumpey 2005). Professor Kevin Clements of the Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Queensland recently addressed UNIFEM Australia on ‘Women and peacebuilding: responding to fear, terror and threat creatively and non-violently’ which supports this definition of peace (Strong 2006).
Professor Luc Reychler from the University of Leuven in Belgium reinforces the view that peace is much more complex than simply the absence of war. Sustainable peace requires conflicts to be handled in a constructive way in addition to other factors such as the cessation of armed violence, the low occurrence of structural, psychological and cultural violence and a highly legitimate government (Reychler 2006, p. 6). Sustainable peace should also address the causes of war such as poverty, the abuse of human rights, inappropriate political systems and using ethnicity as division (Smith 2003, pp. 10-17). The building blocks for peace include leadership, effective systems of communication and negotiation, appropriate structures and institutions, and sociopolitical climates that are conducive to peace both internally and internationally (Reychler 2006, p. 6).
These ideas point to peace as a deliberate, active endeavour that resolves conflicts in a creative, constructive and non-violent way. Peace is a dynamic concept that requires effort, expertise and multi-dimensional solutions to address its complexity. Peace is not simply a passive state signifying the absence of war.
Alternative approaches to peace: inverting war and conflict
‘Peace is not simply the absence of war. It is not a passive state of being. We must wage peace, as vigilantly as we wage war’ (attributed to His Holiness The Dalai Lama, source unknown). This phrase ‘waging peace’ also features in a poem by Judyth Hill and has been adopted by a number of peace organisations (Hill 2001).
Imagining peace futures requires a historical awareness of the human condition and consideration from a full range of human, cultural, scientific and technical perspectives (Boulding 2005, p. 5; Slaughter 2005, pt 6, p. 4). There is some insight into ‘waging peace’ to be gained from considering the factors that influence how war is waged. These are strategy, technological innovation and language and metaphor.
By investigating further these factors within the complexity of the system, possible and practical ways of envisioning peaceful futures are encouraged. Dynamic, complex solutions have been the domain of the military and armies, not peace movements, and they have been supported by heavy government spending in military technologies. Can these military efforts be diverted away from the excitement of war and be rushed headlong towards peace; peace machines instead of the war machine?
Mapping a strategy
One factor in war is the importance of strategy to outwit the enemy and affect social change as illustrated by Sun Tzu’s The art of war (2000). Similarly, many strategies for sustainable peace also focus on social and structural change (Reychler 2006). Using different macrohistorical perspectives to examine social change can identify drivers and patterns and help with the responsible imagining of futures (Boulding 2005, p. 3; Inayatullah 2005b).
Drawing inspiration from military strategy, a simplified strategic framework will be used to provide insights into strategies that can be used to wage peace. This framework includes patterns, vision, values and mechanisms (adapted from Mintzberg 1994).
Strategy can be thought of as a pattern that emerges from intent, responses and the environment (Minztberg 1994). There are a number of patterns that emerge from macrohistorical studies that can be used as a scaffold for dynamic peace.
The first pattern is a cycle of perpetual change that is natural to the system (Inayatullah 2005b, p. 2). The history of war suggests that stability is a prerequisite for peace, yet ‘change is the enemy of stability’ (Howard 2001, p.4). Therefore a constant cycle of change based on structural causes rather than human agency makes peace, improbable.
The search for stability is a search for equilibrium. Equilibrium is supported by linear theories of social change where people may move back and forth but society continues to evolve through external drivers such as technology, innovation, capital accumulation, intervention or even the pull of God (Inayatullah 2005b, p. 2). Although there is this dance, a push and pull as described in The art of war (Tzu 2000), the overlying pattern here is one of progress and achievement. The negative view on progress is that it implies the existence of inequities between those who benefit and those who are left behind. Awareness of inequities and injustice can drive desire for a new world order and can therefore be a source of conflict (Howard 2001, pp 5-6). The linear model also implies a simplicity of cause and effect which is not representative of responses to conflict (Saunders & Burke 2006). Again, this is a model that does not provide hope for sustainable peace.
Another way of moving towards peace is to break the pattern, that is, find a rupture or a break in time (Boulding 2005; Inayatullah 2005b, p. 2; Polak 1973, p. 8). Using a rupture or discontinuities to imagine alternative futures is a useful way of opening up previously unimagined possibilities (Boulding 2005, p. 2). However, hoping for a rupture to appear in order to deliver an alternative peaceful future is unsatisfactory.
A final pattern is to recognise the cyclical nature of social change, but to also look for directional change. Spiral theories provide a dynamic balance incorporating the effects of human agency, structural change and external effects on social change (Inayatullah 2005b, p. 2). One of example of a spiral model of change is Sarkar’s social cycle (Inayatullah 1999). In this model the key to creating continuous evolution is the role of the sadvipran who acts to incite revolution in order to remove periods of exploitation (Hayward & Voros 2006; Inayatullah 1999). To create visions for peaceful futures, perhaps is it necessary to realise that stability is always temporary and to plan for dynamic intervention at each stage of the life-cycle.
During the Enlightenment, the increasing availability of education resulted in a growing awareness of injustices (Howard 2001, p. 5-6). People began to reject the traditional authority of church and state and called for both internal rebellion and external war (Howard 2001, p. 5-6). In this situation, there was a belief that peace could only be created through the formation of a new world order born of war (Howard 2001, p. 6). However, the creation of peace in more recent times has not been as successful in establishing a new world order. In their opposition to war, the ‘peaceniks’ of the 1960’s rejected the American model and ignored the Soviet model, but failed to provide a new vision of world order (Howard 2001, p. 81). ‘Make love, not war’ and ‘turn on, tune in, drop out’ may have been the underpinnings of a culture opposed to war, but ultimately these movements were unsuccessful in providing sustainable alternative approaches to governance and justice. Again, peace is more than just the absence of war. The vision of a peaceful future should include a new world order, a new way of viewing and acting in the world.
Another layer to the formation of strategy is an understanding of belief systems and relationships.
(This section is being updated with assistance)
The final part of the strategic framework relates to mechanisms or the way people can try to resolve conflicts in a peaceful way. Again the mechanisms of war can be examined and inverted to find new alternatives.
Firstly peace requires non-violent approaches to conflict. There are numerous methods of non-violent action and creative thinking is encouraged to tailor methods for specific situations as is the case for engaging in battle (Helvey 2004, p. 34, Tzu 2000, p. 234). Non-violent action can be divided into three broad categories including protest and persuasion, noncooperation and intervention (Helvey 2004, pp. 34-40). Note that some acts of noncooperation involve the violation of norms and rules, for example tax avoidance or not attending expected social events. This is an interesting parallel to war – much of which also violates expected norms of community behaviour.
Note that a non-violent response to strong oppressors may well lead to violent outcomes. The 2002 elections were held in Zimbabwe as a way to accommodate non-violent demands for regime change. Yet Mugabe had no intention of relinquishing power and supporters of the opposition were intimated and beaten (Helvey 2001, p. 31). Wide publicity of the violent responses can strengthen public support and bring change, but detailed strategies are required to ensure a range of options are available (Helvey 2004, p. 34). This is not unlike the detailed strategies required for participation in war (Tzu 2002).
Clearly a set of non-violent tools is not the only requirement for peace. The second part of peace calls for creative responses to conflict. Milojevic (1999, pp. 3-4) asks when shall men be transformed into women to prevent wars, given the role of a majority of men in war and conflict and the role of many women in peace movements. She acknowledges that gender is not the main factor. The key is changing mental models and cultural maps (Milojeivc 1999, p. 4).
The final part of peace is looking for constructive approaches to conflict. Once peace incorporates more than simply the absence of war between states, the United Nations is no longer as relevant for creating useful dialogue as its fails to include the voices of communities, organisations that could potentially be involved in conflict. What we also need is change or a break-through to adopt a planetary approach (Laszlo 2006, pp. 6-7). According to Laszlo, a breakthrough scenario may be difficult and would need to include a trigger for the way people think and a change of attitude towards a more peaceful and sustainable world; money would need to be reassigned from military and defence budgets to fund practical attempts at conflict resolution; and within 15 years, we would need to transform to a planetary civilisation based on a more systemic approach (Laszlo 2006, pp. 6-7). This would have to be done be achieved by adopting desirable values and behaviours, using science to provide insight into the meaning of the world and realising connectedness (Laszlo 2006, pp. 8-11).
What is the trigger? Do we need a crisis that completely changes economic and social behaviours, or can we redirect these military and defence budgets more quickly to refocus expenditure on peace?
In the study of technology and society, a complex and interdependent relationship between technological innovation and social change is recognised (Ahlqvist 2005, p. 502; Zhouying 2004, pp. 134-135). Technology may be the driver of social change (Ahlqvist 2005, p. 502). It may merely just a different perspective on a broader experience (Zhouying 2004, pp. 134-135). The key idea is that there are relationships between technological innovation and social change. Therefore, in considering a social change such as the development of peace, investigation into technological innovation is warranted.
Government are investing large amounts in defence and military technologies (Langley 2005, p. 22; Sköns et al 2005; United States Government 2006, p. 95). The United States Government stresses three main areas of technological advance including information and communications, weapons and soldier protection technologies in its defence budget (United States Government 2006, p.95). These tend to fall into three categories: weaponry, information and communication, and protection.
Weapons technologies include the development of smarter, faster, lighter and more precise weapons (US Army 2006). While it’s difficult to appreciate an application of these weapons for non-violent conflict, it should be noted that often war is considered to be an intrinsic part of creating a sustainable peace. As Sarkar notes, non-violence is not necessarily using no force; ‘it is impossible for goats to establish peace in a society of tigers’ (Sarkar 2003, p. 2). One way in which non-violent force may be used is the development of non-lethal technologies such as stun guns, nets and sticky foams (Heal 2002, p. 180). The problem with these technologies is their potential ineffectiveness as a deterrent and more importantly, that their use can cause death or injury (Heal 2002, pp. 180-181). The development of other genuinely non-lethal approaches using a combination of threats, the environment and technologies may be an area in which technology spending could be invested.
Information and surveillance technologies include remote sensing and high-performance computing that are capable of tracking information and images from a range of sources. Computing systems are being developed for battle blogs, image software and self-healing databases (Edwards 2005, pp. 39-98). Sensors are being designed to detect soldiers’ physical condition and location, as well as threats such as improvised explosive devices, chemical and biological agents, and radioactive materials (ISN 2006). In-built communications are designed to improve connectivity and as a further surveillance tool (US Army 2006). Information and communication is critical in understanding conflict situations and preparing a response. If as His Holiness The Dalai Lama says, wars arise from a lack of understanding the other, information and communications could be applied to peace and the prevention of violent conflicts (Bunson 1998, p. 147).
Soldier protection technologies include new materials for troop clothing that provide instant camouflage; maintain comfort and health by automatically administering preventative and responsive therapies; and withstand harsh conditions (Edwards 2005, pp. 99-134; ISN 2006; US Army 2006). These same technologies could be used to protect those seeking non-violent responses to conflict as well as providing creative stimuli for design and products in peaceful applications.
‘Technology, science and economic development must bring some good for humanity’ (His Holiness The Dalai Lama cited in Bunson 1998, p. 152). There are opportunities for economic and social advantage by refocusing military investment and the economic and political machine that supports war. Technology could help to monitor and discover creative solutions to conflict, especially those that attack the causes of war and support the building blocks of a sustainable peace process.
Language and metaphor
Public support for war is gained through artful communication. Understanding the language and metaphor of war is critical to understand how to generate peace as illustrated by the phrase ‘waging peace’. There are two main levels at which the language of war permeates our culture. One is the use of language to gain support for the war. The second is the role of war in shaping thinking.
Firstly, language is used to promote fear and provide justification for war (Lakoff 2005, p. 7). Milojevic (1999, p. 2) outlines six steps that are used to engage men in war and these steps all use language as their source of power. The first is first to create the category of the ‘other’ and then classify ‘others’ as being worth less. Ethnicity is one sort of ‘otherness’ that is used to create difference (Smith 2003, p. 16). Once differences have been created then conflict becomes possible (Saunders & Burke 2006). Next, define the ‘others’ as a threat so that it becomes ‘them’ against ‘us’. This is reinforced by attaching cultural worth to heroic fighting and patriotism and actively prosecuting those that resist. Finally, if confronted, either denial or justification of the actions taken in war can be offered.
In this way, language is also used to minimise moral discomfort and reassure the public that war is different from murder (Lakoff 2005, p. 7). Although, given that violent conflict occurs not just between states but between states and other entities, perhaps the use of the term ‘war’ is also a euphemism for state-sanctioned murder. Other examples include the use of ‘the enemy’ rather than Iraqi fighter, ‘targets’ rather than people and ‘collateral damage’ rather than the injured (Lakoff 2005, p. 6). NATO justified its role in Yugoslavia by fighting a ‘just’ war and being on a ‘humanitarian mission’ (Milojevic 1999, p.4). In addition, the US Department of Defense promote their positive initiatives in supporting families as well as providing their own human face to the war by profiling their people (US Department of Defense 2006).
The language of war is also the language of action; it is a rush and an addiction (Hedges 2002, p. 3). In contrast, the language of peace is much softer. Peace is a calm white word, quiet, soft and flowing, with trees, birds, and dope-smoking hippies. There is little of the thrill, excitement and pace that is associated with war, yet these are exactly the qualities required for dynamic peace. A new metaphor for peace needs to be found, one which goes beyond the polar opposites of hawk or dove (Inayatullah 2003, p. 4). Birds have often been used a metaphor for news of the future so in this vein, the use of the kingfisher is proposed for its speed, assertiveness and tranquillity.
Finally, language is a source of confusion. Armies tend to use technical language, acronyms and jargon that result in confusion for the public. Examples of acronyms include the GA-ASI and the UAS (that is the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and the Unmanned Aerial System) (DSTO 2006). Missions are named ‘Operation Astute’, ‘Operation Catalyst’ or ‘Operation Slipper’, which have no obvious relationship to the work of The Australian Defence Force (ADF) in Timor-Leste, Iraq or in the international coalition against terrorism (Department of Defence 2006). An example of jargon is contained in the ‘Future Force Warrior’ brochure which uses phrases such as ‘Survivability Vision: Ultra-Lightweight, Low Bulk, Multi-Functional, Full Spectrum Protective Combat Ensemble from the Future Force Warrior Program’ (US Army 2006).
These are useful lessons for describing the action of peace. If public involvement is required in peace then the message needs to be different from that used in war. It needs to be simple and avoid creating fear and justification through ‘othering’. However, the use of language to reassure people that a peaceful approach is the right approach is important for success.
Using war to shape thinking
War is a key ingredient in the way people think. Firstly, it is used as a metaphor across many of our activities (Lakoff & Johnson 1980). An example is the way people discuss argument and debate. They talk about taking a position, building support, attacking, disagreeing to do battle, the cut and thrust, winning (de Bono 2004, p. 13; Lakoff & Johnson 1980). Other examples include the characterisation of competitive sport and business as war (Peterson 2002, p. 487).
Secondly, war shapes national identity and builds character as illustrated by the galvanising effect Gallipoli had on a young Australia. The competitive nature of war brings out the best and worst in people. The teaching of history is based on the milestones of revolutions and the victories of war (Inayatullah 2003, p. 2). Another perspective is that a strong position in the world is fortified by the interaction of familiarity with war and national character, that war is in some ways, as aspect of being (Saunders & Burke 2006). In other ways, the struggle of war provides a shared sense of meaning and purpose (Hedges 2002, p. 158).
These influences have profound implications for the formation of alternative images. Images of the future are informated by internal process and adapted social models (Rubin 2005, p. 4). The image that is learnt in turn affects the generation of alternative images of the future (Rubin 2005, p. 4). Experience forged in the language and meaning of war will affect the ability to imagine alternative peace futures.
War is a part of national and individual identify and war is reliable pattern of thinking. Applying metaphors of war to peace is one way in which to work with existing mental models as the first step in creating breakthrough change.
The pull of peace
In considering an alternative approach to peace by inverting war and conflict, drivers for alternative peace futures have been discussed. These are strategies for change, technological innovation and the use of language and metaphor. In exploring these drivers, some of the issues constraining change for peace have also been uncovered. These include the status of military investment, the notion of war as defining experience, and the perception that peace is simply the absence of war.
The final piece of the futures triangle is the pull of the image of the future. Images of the future are important because they act as beacons, guiding people towards desired change (Slaughter 2005, pt 6, p. 2). Polak (1973, p. 19) observed that the rise to prominence of images of the future preceded or accompanied the rise of a culture while a decline in images was associated with a decline in the culture itself. Societies have moved towards their imaged futures through the centuries or declined because they lack a sense of possible futures (Boulding 2005, p. 1).
Generating images of alternative futures are important for engaging with and debating and deciding on a shared, desired view. So it is not enough to generate an image, people also need to respond. Thinking about it in only optimistic or pessimistic terms does not empower people to act. People should be encouraged to debate and engage with the image, consider it in a wider context, look for exaggeration of fear and be creative in reframing perceptions (Slaughter 2005 pt. 10, pp. 4-6). This is shift away from having things happen to a position of greater control and empowerment (Slaughter 2005 pt. 10, pp. 4-6).
What is the pull of peace? What is the image of an alternative peaceful future that can elevate people towards achieving a preferable future? For the future must not only be generated and debated, the future must also be shaped (Polak 1973, p. 5).
Peace machines – a new vision for peace
In developing the peace machines at the University of Melbourne Early Learning Centre, the children had initial discussions about how they could define peace, and then spilt into groups of boys and girls to design and build the machines. In a self-published folio, they explained how their machines worked (University of Melbourne Early Learning Centre 2006):
The boys explain how their finished peace machine works:
You press a button. It can fly and take photos of good people and not bad people; it goes back home. It sends the photos to board games or computers. The photos are of nice people reading books, people playing – no tackling, people being nice to other person’s. The wires make the computer work. If you want to send a photo to people you need to press a button on the computer. The computer can see the people’s houses from far, far way. The fire makes it fly. It counts from 6 5 4 3 2 1 zero! The door is for the person to go in and out to fly. It has a lot of buttons and it’s made from wood and cardboard.
The girls explain how their finished peace machine works:
It’s made from wires, and they are like electrical plugs, buttons; and people get notes on their computer. The hand picks the rubbish up, it knows because there is a camera. A little robot inside tells it what to do. The camera takes a picture of a person who is a friend, a frog not eating flies (‘cause that’s rude to the flies), no fighting; the robot says “I can handle this”. The notes tell people what to do and not what to do. Not to put rubbish on the ground, they could put notes on a special table or in their diary. When it sees nasty things, the robot can handle it – “Please, please stop fighting it’s not actually peace”. We don’t want the world all littered with drink bottles, we want the world all shiny; no smacking people’s bottoms – it hurts them, we want them happy. It’s made with real wire and metal and a real hand. The stick is for it to land.
The starling clarity and accurate insight provided by these peace machines illustrate a deep understanding of the complex interaction of values, legal and educational structural change, technology and the planetary worldview that is necessary for dynamic peace. These machines and the discussion of strategy, technological innovation and language provide a new alternative for considering the future of peace.
The first aspect to the peace machine is its grounding in desired values and attitudes that engage the diversity of society. There is a sense of optimism, of confidence and capability. Politeness, courtesy and respect are important and humans are not the centre of this peaceful world; it is a whole species view, a planetary view. There is an emphasis on friendship and a desire for happiness and fun. These values can then be reflected through the language and metaphors used to engage people in waging peace.
Secondly there is reiteration of the rejection of violence and the search for creative approaches to conflict. This is supported by the structural requirements for sustainable peace. One of these is the harnessing and redirection of technologies, including imaging, surveillance, communications, protection systems and robotics. The peace machines are also developed in an environmentally sustainable way. The peace machines support strong governance and legal systems and have an emphasis on a high level of literacy and learning in society.
Finally, the definition of peace can be reiterated as inspiration for action. Peace is dynamic and demands the resolution of conflicts in a creative, constructive and non-violent ways. It requires effort, expertise and multi-dimensional solutions that address its complexity.
The concept of rupture or breakthrough is critical to the imagining of alternative futures. However, hoping for that trigger to cause change is a lazy path to action. This paper has reflected on the current priority war is given in Western society and inverted the strategies, technology and language of war to reframe peace; to find ways of waging peace now for a sustainable and dynamic peaceful future.
The popular understanding of peace is not an effective definition for achieving change. If sustainable peace is to be achieved, then a set of creative, non-violent and constructive solutions to conflict are required. This is not an endpoint, but a process that requires continual effort and analysis across all dimensions that influence social change on a global scale. It also requires investment and commitment like that currently devoted to war. Building sustainable peace is hard work that requires social intervention in the form of leadership, communication and sociopolitical structures. Questioning the language and context of war and peace should be a thought-provoking experience that leads to new discoveries. We now also have the insight that technological innovation and the use of language could be applied to peace as they are applied to war. The inspiration provided by four-year children has provided deep insight into what would be required to build a peace machine over the war machine. May they be the innovators of the future.
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 The kingfisher is chosen due to both is physical and mythical qualities. Species of kingfisher are found around the world and have adapted to different locations and ecosystems, both aquatic and terrestrial (Harrison & Cameron 1978, pp. 146-148). The sexes are often similar, they are brightly coloured with large heads and are very quick, often venturing beyond their natural habitat and defending their territory assertively (Harrison & Cameron 1978, pp. 146-148). The Australian species of the kingfisher is the kookaburra, marked by its somewhat mischievous laugh (Harrison & Cameron 1978, pp. 146-178). The kingfisher is also associated with the Greek myth recorded by Ovid (Golding 2002, pp. 335-346). Aeolus, the ruler of the winds, had a daughter named Alcyone was the daughter of Aelous, the ruler of winds. She was married to a king named Ceyx who drowned at sea. Alcyone was so overcome with grief that she threw herself into the sea. Instead of also drowning, the wind carried her on to Ceyx. The name Alcyone is the origin of the term halcyon meaning idylically calm and peaceful and refers to the mythical kingfisher taming to waves to nest at sea (AskOxford 2006).