Saturday, March 24, 2007

Fear of Peace

I heard this on NPR this morning, and would like to say I was astounded, but, sadly, I was not:

NPR : Peace Department Proposal Rattles Small Town

It is worth listening to the full audio version when it is available. The written summary here captures some of the incredible moments, but if you listen to the audio version, there are even more!

What struck me, listening to it, was the fear I heard in the voices of the people who protested the establishment of the Department of Peace. They try to mask over this fear by saying things like this:

Residents Neil Breitbarth and Duane Roloff were convinced that the Department of Peace would send a dangerous message to America's enemies: that the United States is weak and afraid to fight.

Kortuem, who served as a Navy bomber pilot in Vietnam, worried that if Congress were to create a Department of Peace, Americans would become "a bunch of wusses," he said.

But the fear is blatantly obvious here:

The backlash started the next morning. When Vietnam veteran Jerome Kortuem read about the resolution in the newspaper, he was dumbfounded.

"I just couldn't believe it," Kortuem said. "These communists are trying to do it again."

And especially here:

One of the biggest fears voiced by critics was that the Peace Department would give the United Nations power over the United States.

"The frightening thing about this whole thing is, it's a humongous push to get the United Nations' foot in the door. And their total goal, if you study up on it all, is to take away our sovereignty," warned resident Peet Moeller.

Coincidentally, I was jotting down some thoughts about peace yesterday (some of us are trying to start a peace studies program where I teach), and found myself writing the following text which I knew could not go in our proposal, but I had to get this off my chest:

Peace Studies is an interdisciplinary field devoted to the study and development of positive concepts and practices of peace. Positive peace is the practice of nonviolent methods of building social, political, and economic justice. [This much probably is going into our proposal, but not what follows.] Building just systems is surprisingly controversial, because it is a sad truth that individuals can feel that they benefit from injustice, if they happen to be situated on the side that has the power. Most people suffer the myopia of self-interest. What may look initially like antagonism towards peacemaking is actually the fear that the transformation of systems will result in a new version of injustice that now moves those previously advantaged by injustice to the disadvantaged side. So those afraid of peace either fail to understand the nature of justice (true justice disadvantages no one), or else do not believe it is really possible.

I also found myself writing:

Those raised in rich and powerful countries uncritically accept the rather dubious claim that violence is the ultimate "action" that best solves problems, even though it is clear to anyone who has personally experienced violence that nothing is ever solved by violence, as such: rather, violence is a creator of problems. Violence causes damage that needs repair. So how could violence possibly address injustice? It may rearrange the players, putting the oppressed now in the role of oppressor while leaving the system of injustice intact. But it is not violence itself that has the power to transform unjust systems into just ones. A different kind of energy is needed for that.

And now, more directly addressing the comment that those who advocate peace are "wusses," I refer readers back to a previous piece I wrote on the courage of peacemakers, especially this sentence: "The question that has most haunted me about peacemaking is: 'How is it possible to have the courage to be willing to walk straight into conflict unarmed?'" Peacemaking requires tremendous courage. No wonder the tough-sounding guys quoted in the NPR story seem so afraid of it!

And finally, I have to end with this quotation from Hannah Arendt: "Power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent. Violence appears where power is in jeopardy."

We should be embarrassed to resort to violence: it betrays the waning of our power.


  1. Shocks me!
    No Quaker comments on a
    Peace Dept., must scare Quakers too.

    Our nation was founded on military
    power and most of our riches came from taking what we felt was ours with military power.

    Military power has also prevented
    others from taking form us.

    I can understand the fear
    when nothing is known about the
    size or shape of a Dept of Peace,
    it is something that should be
    looked into.


  2. Thank you, GMC, for commenting on this posting. I too am surprised that no one else has commented on this, but there are lots of possible reasons why that is so (a main one being that I don't think that there are many people who actually read my blog :-) ).

    Do you have a blog? From your profile, I would think that you have a very interesting and valuable perspective to share! I for one would be very interested in hearing more of your thoughts.

  3. Thank you for your intrest.

    I'm not much for blogging. I was thinking of having a blog in place of a journal, which I can't seem to keep, but the whole thing is to difficult to master and time is to precious to waste trying to figure it out.
    I do enjoy reading other Quaker thoughts and ideas, there is so much wisdom in this world and questions that I never thought of asking.
    I do come at things from a different place than the average Quaker that I have meet, which sometimes makes conversation diffacult.
    I came to Quakerism later in life.
    Most of my ideas about God and Christ were formed in youth by my parents and the Lutheran Church. They became "real and personal" after I stumbled into a Quaker Meeting.
    I was an army helicopter pilot durring the Vietnam war. I was drafted and once in, they gave me a chance to become a pilot. I flew huey "slicks", which were the helicopter equlivant of a Taxi/truck/buss. I have close to 2,000 hours of combat flight time.
    I left Vietnam with a serious disregard for Quakers. I guess that the book "Stolen Valor" kinda sums up my feelings at the time.

    To make a long story short-today I'm a Quaker. I sometimes don't believe it myself. How could I even concieve of the idea that someday I would visit Hanoi with Betty Boardman, a Quaker who was taking supplies to North Vietnam, or working on vietnamese peace projects with Joe Elder.
    I guess if I had this on a blog I wouldn't have to repeat it. -an aside -my first visit to Quaker meeting, or introduction to Quakerism is in this months Madison Monthly Meeting newsletter, which I believe is online.
    I've babbled on much to long.

  4. GMC,

    Thanks for writing more! Yes, definitely you should have a blog! I can tell already that you have a lot to share! I will look up the Madison Monthly Meeting newsletter, and see if I can find your piece there.