Creating An Alternative To War

Richard Deats

The United States is awash in patriotism. It is a natural impulse to look for support in the wider community when there is widespread grief, mourning, fear, and rage in the face of the heinous events of September 11. The many acts of compassion and the search for healing are of great importance in such a time. But there is great danger when these appropriate feelings and actions get channeled into an uncritical call to arms, massive military appropriations, and a jingoism that harms the safety and well-being of our Muslim and Middle Eastern neighbors here at home, and wages war abroad.

To discuss these issues from a rational–much less a faith–perspective, meets with ridicule and even with threats. Here at the FOR and in the peace movement generally, many letters, phone calls, and media comments have been unusually hostile. In the Washington Post (September 26), under the heading "Pacifist Claptrap," Michael Kelly wrote that pacifists are hopelessly naïve and "not serious people." He charges pacifists as being on the side of the murderers and "on the side of letting them murder again." And for this reason, he says, we are objectively pro-terrorist, a position that is evil.

But what Kelly condemns is passive-ism, doing nothing in the face of evil. This is hardly the approach of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.; of Aung Sang Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama. Going to war is not the only response to evildoers. In fact, meeting terror with terror sows the seeds of another generation of terrorists. As Gandhi said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth leaves the world blind and toothless."

Nonviolence is not passivity. It is, rather, truth force. Mao Tse Tung taught that power grows out of the barrel of a gun and there are plenty (perhaps most) who still agree with him, maintaining that you are only serious if you send in the tanks and missiles and bombers.

But in the last half of the twentieth century individuals, groups, and nations began learning the power of active nonviolence–"a force more powerful." Though "nonviolence is as old as the hills," as Gandhi put it, it is really in the last century that "people power" armed with truth and relentless persistence (firmeza permanente is the Brazilian term) spread across the world, overturning evil laws and entrenched oppression, removing dictators and facing down enemy soldiers. They weren’t always successful, of course. But neither were armed responses to evil. Gandhi called his autobiography The Story of My Experiments with Truth, and it is this daring to experiment with truth that holds so much hope for the human experiment in general.

In response to the events of September 11 the United States began building a coalition for war, enlisting nations all over the world. Troops, ships, and planes were with mounting determination deployed overseas. The response became clear: Violence was met with counter-violence. The spiral of violence thus continues.

What if an equivalent amount of imagination and resources was used for the building of a coalition for peace? This could include bringing together law enforcement agencies of many nations to amass the evidence of the terrorist network and to bring this before the United Nations with the call for an international tribunal. Such an approach would support UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s pledge that the UN, with treaties against terrorism already in place, would and should spearhead a global effort to rid the world of it. Eight Nobel Peace Laureates have called for an international conference on terrorism (see p.xx) that could further enhance a suitable response of the community of nations to the long-term problem.

Those who say this approach will take too long do not flinch when George Bush says this war against terrorism will take many years. If we do not want the world to be a lawless place, why don’t we–who proclaim our love of democracy and law and order–pursue a lawful way, rather than the way of brute force? If bombing is the only way to deal with terror, why didn’t we bomb the terrorist network that produced Timothy McVeigh? Why didn’t the British bomb Belfast to get the IRA when it terrorized England year after year? Let’s not forget that Libya was willing to give up the terrorists that blew up Pan Am 103 when it was agreed that they would be tried by the World Court in a third country.

If counter-violence would end terrorism, Israel would long ago have ended the suicide bombers. But Prime Minister Sharon, the tough general who promised peace and security if he were elected, has brought neither. The connection between justice and peace seems never to have occurred to him or to President Bush.

Anthony Lewis wrote in the New York Times that "poverty and despair are the seedbeds of terrorism in the Middle East." Let us turn serious attention to the conditions that breed terrorism and enlist this coalition of nations to dry up these pools of misery. As the African-American columnist William Raspberry said, "Convince any large group of people that they and their children can never hope to share in the affluence they see around them–convince them that they have nothing to lose–and you predispose them first to indifference and then to open hostility toward that affluence." And, as Vernon Jordan said, "Broadening the base of freedom and prosperity should be a cornerstone of America’s policy, not only because it might shrink the number of disaffected who can be recruited for terrorism, but because it is the right thing to do, the just thing, the moral thing."

Our need for security can be more adequately addressed if nations are working peacefully together for the common good. In the need to make the world more secure, less vulnerable to terrorist acts, we of course must safeguard existing nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants. This effort should include determined efforts to phase them out throughout the world. We rightly worry about nations such as Pakistan having nuclear weapons, but the US should take the lead in efforts to rid the world, including ourselves, of these weapons.

John Paul Lederach (pp.4- ) has challenged the US to do the unexpected. Rather than following the expected script of an all-out military assault on the terrorists and their supporters, pulling us further into a world of terrorist strikes and counter-strikes and deepening misery, what if we heeded King’s warning that our choice is either nonviolence or nonexistence?

And what might happen if faith communities pointed the way by following the God of Nonviolent Love, finding ways of overcoming evil with good, listening to and praying for one’s enemies, standing with the poor and dispossessed, and living in the reality of the Beloved Community?

©2001 Fellowship of Reconciliation