HOW PEACE CAME TO THE WORLD. Edited by Earl Foell and Richard Nenneman. MIT Press. 257 pp. $13.95.

Not being a regular reader of The Christian Science Monitor -- though I should be, because it is a quality paper -- I was unaware that it had staged a peace essay contest. What a worthy idea. More than 1,300 citizens -- from retired diplomats to teen-agers -- responded. The writers were asked to think ahead 25 years to 2010 and imagine "how peace came to the world."

Forty-nine essays are gathered here.

What each proves -- some with sharper prose than others, but all of them serviceable -- is that imaginativeness, when applied to peace, is infinitely more creative than when directed toward war. Believers in fists, weapons or armies have only one force to marshal, that of violence. Advocates of nonviolence have an array of forces: moral force, the force of civil disobedience, the force of service, the force of prayer, the force of forgiveness and love.

These are routinely scoffed at by those who insist that in "the real world" only violence succeeds. One of the most insightful essays, by Michael Nagler, a professor of classics at the University of California at Berkeley, convincingly argues that peace came about in 2010 because back in the 1990s "people began to understand that peace was not a question of victory at all -- unless you meant the victory of harmonious forces latent in every individual over conflict and chaos. From this conceptual shift emerged the hope -- vague at first -- that peace did not depend on some miraculous bolt from beyond, that resources for peace were 'spread out upon the earth' if you but learned to see them, and most importantly that these resources could be scientifically developed."

The judges selected three essays as the best. In one of them, Richard Lamm, who is in his third term as governor of Colorado, writes that "since 1987 America had been a debtor nation. It was an economic giant crippled by the costs of defense and an economy that had lost its magic." In the governor's scenario, nuclear war broke out in 1994 between India and Pakistan. Uncounted millions in the Eurasian continent were annihilated: One moment they "were going about their daily routines and the next moment they were ashes." A computer failure in New Delhi led to India's first strike.

Lamm wrote that following this nuclear war, "Peace came not from the efforts of the actors on the world stage who had failed so often, but through a preview of coming events. The front line of nuclear war was everyman's backyard. It was neither idealism nor love of mankind that brought peace but the reality therapy of war . . . Man looked into the abyss and saw an irradiated hell and recoiled in horror. Both heads and hearts came to realize that war was mutual suicide that would destroy not only nations but the species."

The weakness in Lamm's essay is that it overlooks conventional war. This is where the killing is greatest. Every one of the world's 50,000 nukes could be unscrewed tomorrow and the 40-odd non-nuclear wars now raging would continue. This is why the nuclear freeze campaign is mere theatrics and groups such as SANE are feeble: Only one form of war is opposed, which is as useless as plugging a leak while the entire pipe is bursting. Since 1900, more than 75 million people have been killed in wars, with America's two atomic bombs accounting for a small percentage of the deaths. The whole pipe needs replacing.

Few of The Monitor's essayists were familiar with the classic theories of pacifism and nonviolence. None spoke of organized tax resistance, although this is a growing movement in the United States. None wrote about the burgeoning peace studies programs in colleges and universities. None went much beyond the idea that "national defense" can mean something else than weapons and armies. The closest that an essay came to this truth was in the thought of Thomas Fehsenfeld, a Grand Rapids, Mich., businessman and one of the three winners. He offered a pragmatic approach, based on conflict management. It is, he writes, "a very realistic goal. It allows conflicts to develop and find resolution but directs them away from violence." Fehsenfeld wrote that looking back from 2010, "The conflict-management industry did not exist 25 years ago. Now, of course, there are thousands of firms offering conflict-management services . . . They deal with anything from family disputes to labor/management problems, to international relations. Even the socialist countries have established similar institutions . . ."

This is the only book of this kind ever to be written. The essayists here range from the naive to the visionary, but none of them is as deluded or as wishy-washy as the militarists who think another weapon or another billion for the generals will lead to peace. The lasting beauty of "How Peace Came to the World" is its being based in realism, the kind A.J. Muste described when he wrote that "there is no way to peace, peace is the way."