It takes the Army one week to teach one soldier to fire an M-16 semiautomatic rifle. I know that for a fact, because the Army taught me how to shoot. This morning I have 10 minutes to teach 125 history students how to be nonviolent. Wish me luck. |
I'm going to cover four things. First, the meaning of peace and nonviolence. Second, why this war won't work. Third, a couple of suggestions of what our government can do. And finally, two suggestions of what you can do, no matter where you stand on issues of war and peace.
There are a lot of misconceptions about peace and nonviolence. Some people confuse peace, nonviolence, and pacifism with passivity, or doing nothing. This couldn't be further from the truth. Nonviolence is active. It's not flight, it's not flight; it's a third way. Nonviolence rejects violence in all forms: that from above, that from below, violence inflicted by terrorists and violence carried out by governments. It works to resolve conflict in a new, creative, nonviolent way, by addressing underlying issues rather than by killing or brutalizing our fellow human beings.
Another misconception about nonviolence is that it doesn't work. That's flat out wrong. Let me read you a passage from Walter Wink, who writes about nonviolence:
"…If we add all the countries touched by major nonviolent actions in our century, the Philippines, South Africa, the independence movement in India.. the figure reaches three billion, three hundred and thirty seven million, four hundred thousand, a staggering sixty four percent of humanity!"Realize it or not, you practice nonviolence every day. There was an article in yesterday's paper. A man killed his wife because she cooked him a dinner of macaroni and cheese and tater tots. He thought he should get healthier meals. So he beat her and strangled her. My husband doesn't always like the food I set before him but he's never tried to kill me over tater tots. We work it out, nonviolently. Now I admit that a terrorist attack is more serious than tater tots, and that nonviolent solutions are harder to come by on an international scale. But our natural tendency as human beings is to work things out, not to kill. Nonviolence has worked on a global scale before, and it will work again, and again, and again.
Peace is also sometimes confused with appeasement, or peace at any price. As history students you have probably studied the beginning of World War II, when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain tried to "appease" Hitler by "giving" him the Sudentenland, a part of Czechoslovakia where many people of German ethnicity lived. It didn't work. It wasn't even his to give away. Giving in to terror, acquiescing to violence - this is not nonviolence and it will not bring peace.
Peace is more than the absence of war. It's the absence of fear. Not just fear that a plane will fly into this building, or that you'll receive an anthrax-loaded envelope in the mail, or that bombs will fall on your children. It's freedom from fear that you will starve, or die from lack of medical care, or become a refugee, or be beaten because you lifted your veil. If you think about it, peace and justice go hand in hand. They are inseparable. You can't have peace without justice.
You can't get peace by having war, because war brings with it injustice. A peacemaker called A J Muste said, "There is no way to peace. Peace is the way." You can't have a war to end wars. If we want peace in the world, we must be peaceful.
You get it. Nonviolence works, in the global arena as well as in our daily lives. But does violence work better? No, it doesn't. Let's look at a couple of aspects of our current situation.
First, we have sacrificed the moral high ground. Gandhi developed a system of nonviolence that he called Satyagraha. There's no really good English translation of that word, which is usually explained as Truth-Force. What it means is that we find ways to shine a light on our pain, our suffering. We hold it up to the one who has done us harm, we hold it up to the whole world. We have pain and suffering here, the pain of 5,000 dead, the suffering of the more than 10,000 children who have lost a parent. We could hold that up to the world and the world would be on our side. Gandhi understood this and used it to win independence for India. Dr. Martin Luther King understood it too, and used Satyagraha in the Civil Rights movement.
Once we strike back, once we use violence, once we lower ourselves to their level, we have leached out all the force from our truth. American bombs have hit a residential area in Kabul and a Red Cross Warehouse. We, too, have now killed innocent civilians, and we will kill more. More than one million Afghans have fled their homes in terror. By the end of this year, 7.5 million Afghans, more than half the country, will depend on food aid to survive. The aid workers have all left. Now, the world can say, now the world is saying, "you are all the same." Now, the terrorists can say, "they talk out of both sides of their mouth. How can they call us evil for killing 5,000 Americans when they are dropping bombs on Afghan civilians?" When we started dropping bombs, we sacrificed the moral high ground.
Second, we will fail - we cannot eliminate evil in this world. One thing that struck me is the very small scale of these terrorist attacks, of all terrorist attacks. Fly a plane into a building. Send anthrax toxin through the mail. Drive a Ryder truck into a Federal office building. A terrorist can be one guy with a stamp and an envelope. One guy with a driver's license and a couple bags of fertilizer, one guy staying up late at night with his joystick paying Microsoft Flight Simulator. Can we eliminate all of these guys, all over the world, one by one? No. Of course not. Already our government is talking about expanding this war to other countries. Where will it end? If the goal is to eliminate all of the evil-doers, it will never end. You will be fighting this war, and your children, and their children. Yes, we must try to stop evil-doers, but bombing Afghanistan, or Iraq, or the cities and children of any other country, is not the way to do it.
Finally, war will perpetuate and escalate the cycle of violence. Terrorists rely on violent responses to their actions to create new cadres of the disaffected to swell their hate-filled ranks. We must not fall into the terrorists' trap, and lash back with violence. The result will be even greater loss of life and more widespread destruction. Even before we started dropping bombs, our government warned us that military action on our part was "100 percent certain" to bring more terrorist attacks to our shores. To which we would respond with more bombs. To which they would respond with more terrorism. That's the best explanation of the cycle of violence I ever heard, and it comes from our own government.
War created Osama Bin Laden, and it is war which will win more recruits to the fanatic positions held by his followers. War is not the solution; it is the problem. So what are our nonviolent options? Let me make two quick suggestions.
If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In the president's toolbox he has plenty of hammers, and everything looks like war. It's only natural. We need to add some nonviolent tools to this toolbox. You can't start thinking about nonviolence responses at the last minute, when your safety is threatened. Two months before the World Trade Center attacks, Representative Dennis Kucinich from Ohio has proposed the creation of a Department of Peace, on equal footing with the Department of Defense. So that's my first suggestion. Let's add more nonviolent tools to the nation's toolbox, such as a Department of Peace. Let's prepare ourselves as seriously and methodically for nonviolent conflict engagement as we prepare ourselves for war.
Second, an international legal tribunal established under United Nations auspices, like that which investigated and prosecuted perpetrators of genocide in Rwanda, is more likely than our current course of action to get widespread support in the Middle East and to leave terrorists and their supporters politically isolated.
Well, I'm not exactly on the President's speed dial. It was Professor Myers who called and asked me to talk. So let me share a few final thoughts on. what you, as students can do, starting today:
First, listen. Listen deeply. We live in what Deborah Tannen has called an "Argument Culture." We listen with half our brain while the rest of our gray cells are planning how we're going to "shoot down" the other person's point of view. Even the language speaks of violence! Not everyone who disagrees with you is a moron. They have fears and concerns and experiences that need to be treated with dignity and respect. The easiest way to get people to listen to you is to listen to them.
Second. Learn about nonviolence. Yes, keep up with current events. That almost goes without saying. But learn about peace history, theory, and successes. If you don't know about Congresswoman Jeanette Rankin, for example, you can't put Congresswoman Barbara Lee into context. Stop by the peaceCENTER any Tuesday evening, from 7-9 and there are people to talk to. You don't have to agree with us, but if we share our ideas we'll all be richer for it.
Pace e Bene - peace and every good.
Susan Ives is on the core team of the peaceCENTER, San Antonio, TX. firstname.lastname@example.org This speech was delivered about 125 history students at Palo Alto College, October 19, 2001.
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