Sunday, November 19, 2006

Department of Peace, Anyone?

Here’s a different perspective from the Fosdick quote I posted earlier. It is from J. Denny Weaver, a Mennonite theologian, in an essay entitled “Which Religion Shall We Follow?”, written after 9/11.

It is unfair to assume that pacifists, who did not create the long buildup of frustrations that produces people with a feeling of hopelessness who do terrible things, can now be dropped into the middle of it with an instantaneous solution…The usual assumption is that because I and perhaps a few Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) reservists cannot parachute into a situation and resolve the problem on the spot, pacifism is proved irrelevant and misguided.

For the “What-about” question to be fair, pacifists need equal time to prepare and equal numbers of people involved – say three peace academies (parallel to the Naval Academy, West Point, and the Air Force Academy) graduating several hundred men and women each year highly trained in nonviolent techniques, plus standing reserve companies of thousands of men and women trained in nonviolent tactics, all of whom have access to billions of dollars to spend on transportation and the latest communications equipment. Merely observing that compared to national military preparedness, the nation spends practically no money on nonviolence and has no structures in place even to think about it, makes it glaringly obvious that no serious attention was given to anything but violent responses to September 11. The nation’s response was far from a calculated decision based on careful consideration of a range of options. Quite transparently, it was shaped by – and is the current expression of – the national myth that shapes American identity. Both for government policy and in the mind of the public in general, violence was the only option considered, anticipated, and prepared for.

He goes on to say that violence, by definition, fails more than half the time, since both sides use it, and at most one side “wins” (and often both sides lose). He then lists the countries the US has used military force against since 1945 that did not produce democratic governments respectful of human rights as a result of our actions against them: China (45-56), Korea (50-53), Guatemala (54, 60, 67-69), Cuba (59-60), Congo (64), Laos (64-73), Vietnam (61-73), Cambodia (69-70), Grenada (83), El Salvador (80s), Nicaragua (80s), Panama (89), Iraq (91-present), Sudan (98), Afghanistan (98), and Yugoslavia (99).

I like the way he turns the question around here – why should we expect pacifism to have quick answers to complex problems when we don’t practice or prepare for peace? Why do we assume violence works when it has such a terrible track record?

I’m not sure that lets pacifism entirely off the hook – it still needs to make a case for how effective it can be as an answer to immediate violence. But pacifism is more of a way of life, a way to address the root causes of violence, to prevent violence from erupting in the first place. It may not always be able to provide satisfying answers. But violence rarely provides satisfying answers either, even though our national myth of benevolent redemptive violence tells us otherwise.

I totally agree with his call for peace academies. Americans, against overwhelmingly evidence to the contrary, believe ourselves to be a peace-loving people. We should make use of our desire to see ourselves that way, and push for a Department of Peace as a logical extension of our stated values.


Brownie said...

"Why do we assume violence works when it has such a terrible track record?"

This is an interesting question. It think it strikes at the very heart of the dual nature of man.

On one hand, we are capable of great compassion, which should lead us to consider the question above with some seriousness and even a heavy heart. (Heart overcomes flesh)

On the other hand, we are descended from animals, and our selfish, fleshy nature is often more interested at getting what we want (revenge, oil, a friendly government, etc.), no matter the cost in human terms, than it is in considering how bad a track record violence has in granting us that wish. (Flesh overcomes heart)

So how do we answer the question? I think, in a simple way, I just did. That is, there is an alternative to violence, and it's simple: non-violence. The only problem is that we (as a species) are either unwilling (heart) to choose it, or are unable (flesh) to choose it.

So, as always, I once again see the Yin-yang. No up without down. No peace without war.

"There is a time for every purpose under heaven." -Ecc.

Dan S said...

Violence is certainly something that we humans choose pretty quickly to solve problems. A trip to any school playground will demonstrate that.

I think that's why we need structures in place to actively work against that impulse. It won't always work, but it should help.

snarkbutt said...

I do like the idea of a Department of Peace. But let's not stop there:

Department of Science
Department of Cheese
Department of Funk
Department of Sports
Department of Getting Religion Out of Our Government
Department of Consistency
Department of the Press
Department of Silly Names (Homage to Monty Python)

Brownie said...


How about the Department of Departments?

With my anarchist leanings, I believe we should just level D.C. and start over. Unfortunately, with all the bad habits we've picked up over the years, it wouldn't take us another 200 years before we screwed it all up again.