Monday, August 02, 2010

Conflict transformation: illustrated choices

What does the field called conflict resolution offer that other fields and disciplines do not?

For me, one aspect of that answer can be seen in the Doonsebury cartoon pictured above.
Our media is a war media and yet is regarded as highly entertaining and realistic. Garry Trudeau shows two endings, one an ending produced by a conflict resolution approach, a peace conversion, no fight no blame, redemptive and conciliatory. The other ending is the standard American ending, or at least the ending that seems to be most popular with American television and especially movies. It is seen as realistic by most Americans. The implaccable, evil enemy cannot be dealt with effectively except by dealing death.

While this is just a cartoon, it graphically demonstrates the choice we make in our culture to support politicians and their military solutions for transitory, transnational problems. It illuminates the choices we make educationally, as we support the war education rather than peace education, and it reveals the choices we are then making with our tax dollars to support a vast national security system that is meant to threaten and commit the violent end rather than the reconciliation end.

Garry Trudeau is not anti-military. He routinely portrays members of the military in a nuanced, realistic, positive light. Arguably, he's done more to keep the image of the wounded veteran in the category of full human being instead of sentimental trope than anyone. But he does not suffer chickenhawks gladly; he portrays machismo and self-importance for what it is, an erosion of our civil society and a blight on our foreign policy--and simply poor form. The 'legend-in-his-own-mind' character skewered in this cartoon is the kind of puffed-up, self-inflated character we see ruining our foreign policy and Trudeau will not let him off the hook.

As we contemplate the new normal, the realpolitik or foreign policy realism, we can envisage a new normal of reconciliation, of cultural competency backed by reconciliation and nonviolence--that is what we teach in our field of Conflict Resolution (which ought to be called Conflict Transformation). Elements of what we teach are also taught in Anthropology, Sociology, Psychology, Political Science, History, and other fields. But the clear difference in our field is that we teach the transformation of conflict from destructive to constructive. What does that look like? I think Garry Trudeau showed us one version admirably.

No comments: