Saturday, July 17, 2010

Towering intellects

(Chaiwat Satha-Anand, public peace intellectual, Thailand)
In the months between 'rolling out a new product' (the term Andrew Card used as he pushed for invasion of Iraq by the military under control of his boss, George W. Bush), it became increasingly evident that the US was actually serious about invading Iraq, a nation that had not fired a single bullet at it, had not invaded another nation, had no WMD, was not linked to the terrorists who had attacked the US, and was considered essentially zero danger to its neighbors (except it was continuing to bleed out refugees from the US-designed and UN-imposed sanctions).

I am a public peace intellectual. OK, maybe I'm not an intellectual. I teach in a graduate program at a university and I write a lot, but I'm really not too academic. My point (I'm getting there) is that I didn't try hard enough to present a peace perspective to my mainstream fellow citizens in the US, the one group who might have stopped that drive to an illegal and immoral and insane war. I satisfied myself with peace media, organizing that civil society in cooperation with others. In Portland, Oregon, my new town then, I was editing the major peace newspaper and producing columns for it. We did a good job of local organizing, turning out crowds that broke state records several times, including the final big peace rally featuring John Lewis, the nonviolent civil rights leader, where we gathered approximately 40,000 against the invasion (by police estimates that I heard on their radio frequencies as I helped organize some 90 'vibeswatchers' to keep the police far less involved). It was not enough. Bush invaded.

I should have tried every week to get guest editorials placed in our daily paper of record in Oregon, the Oregonian. I did not. Assumption of rejection and strategic time management were my reasons. Fear of job loss was not; I was outspoken to media who attended the rallies and there were three very sincere attempts to fire me from Portland State University, all of which were stopped by my Chair and by the Dean, both of whom tolerated my activism. Neither the former US Congresswoman nor the two downtown business alliance members were as successful as they tried to be and my personal history of loudmouth activism demonstrates that deterrence based on those fears was not a factor for me.

My assumption of rejection and its logical conclusion of strategic time management--write for the outlets who will publish you, not for those who will almost certainly reject you--has some reason and some merit and was still incorrect. I believe that if my fellow peace professionals had made a genuine, persistent effort to break into the national discourse, to come into the center of it instead of at the barest of margins, we might have helped the American public to rise up and reject the invasion of Iraq.

I believe that and I lack the do-over opportunity to try to prove it, but that belief has changed my life. I thought a lot about it and started PeaceVoice, which takes op-eds and analysis pieces from peace professionals and distributes them across the US to mainstream media outlets (and some alternative media as well). This is part of every day for me, so I have been handling a piece by an Australian professor who is working to help the nonviolent indigenous liberation movement in West Papua, and that piece is being used by a few editors in the US. Another piece in current play that I continue to deal with daily is by a retired schoolteacher who has an idea for a sort of national peaceWiki, a way for citizens to have a conversation without mediation from politicians and others. I get these very interesting pieces every week and then work to place them in the hope that enough such work brings peace professionals' ideas into much more popular consideration and conversation.

One of my models is Thai intellectual Chaiwat Satha-Anand (pictured above), who published his analysis of the violence in his country in the Bangkok Post even as the violence was happening last May. He felt he waited too long, but at least he was in there, engaging his countrypeople via the pages of the mainstream media so widely read there. He wrote that "the military solution chosen by the government and violent methods incorporated by some UDD leadership will shape the form of continuing political conflict in this society." The UDD was the challenger organization, the 'red shirts,' and the government opened fire on them. Satha-Anand, who is a self-described 'nonviolent Muslim raised by Catholics in a Buddhist nation,' then summoned reason and research to advocate for more peaceful approaches by both the government and the opposition. Was his work successful? The violence did die down, but there is no way to connect that to him. More to the point was his analysis that helped his fellow Thais think about the wisdom of supporting violence on any side, since it tends to prolong and exacerbate conflict and it also tends to give rise to future violent conflict.

That use of popular media as an educational forum for peace and constructive conflict analysis is a tough one to employ, as it presents so many obstacles, but in the end, either the peace intellectuals--or at least the peace professionals, like me--will find ways to get their research and reason into the public discourse or we will see it fail to do much beyond gather dust in the basement boxes of the ivory towners. We study and teach, and that is all to the good, but the potential to promote peace and justice by peaceable means is barely tapped and the consequences are either more or less bloodshed, more or less misery, more or less societal impoverishment, depending on the individual and collective will of the peace professionals.

Satha-Anand, Chaiwat (May 28, 2010). The Violence Effect and Reconciliation Future? The Bangkok Post.

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