Tuesday, August 24, 2010


We were hiking up and down a small mountain in southern Washington and a young colleague was bemoaning his failure to convince his family members of his positions on peace and justice. His family, he said, were mostly conservative, from the eastern Oregon regions that tend toward that political philosophy and positioning. I listened for a bit and said, "Just relax and try to avoid politics at family gatherings or don't go. The facts are never accepted when worldviews are at such odds."

However, as he taught me, family relationships have entered a new era of social networking, so that families continue these conversations ad nauseam long after the family gatherings have spread the seeds back to their new patches, their new political and philosophical soil. We were not only from liberal Portland, we were teaching peace and conflict resolution at Portland State University, and the two worlds always seemed to mash up poorly.

So, if assertions of the family members meet nose-to-nose, where is the truth? His case study of disagreement was the casus belli for invading Iraq, a favorite family bone of contention, I'm sure, in our American phenomenon of the divided clan. The facts could not be more clear to both sides.

Saddam was a tyrant and a terrorist, even using chemical weapons on Kurds and Iranians, and we did a noble thing in sending in our brave troops to depose him. There were mistakes of intelligence about his WMD, but that was due to his ongoing lies and obstructionism. He completely illegally and brutally invaded a neighboring country, Kuwait, and he was a tribal chief of the Sunni minority, crushing Kurds and Shia with his state terrorism. Getting him out of power was necessary.


Bush and Cheney, two oil men, fabricated the now discredited evidence for both the arguments for war. Ahmad Chalabi, the inveterate liar and power hungry Iraqi, hated Saddam, was the main source of bad intelligence, and played them. In turn, Bush and Cheney played the people of both countries. Saddam outlawed al Qa'ida in Iraq. Osama bin Laden had a death fatwa on Saddam the infidel (Saddam was a secular leader). Hans Blix and Mohammed Elbaradei had both said the WMD were gone from Iraq as far as they could tell--and they could tell much farther than anyone on Earth except Saddam himself.

The evidence for both arguments is there. It's a bit like the old Saturday Night Live skit, in which the product being advertised, Shimmer, is identified as a floor wax by one person and a dessert topping by another. "You're both right" says the announcer with great glee. "Shimmer is a floor wax and a dessert topping!"

The third alternative is studiously ignored by both sides. It was brought forth and remains the best summary of the first and second positions and it preceded both. Jack DuVall (above) and Peter Ackerman (below) wrote a germinal piece published in the Sept-Oct 2002 Sojourners magazine, advocating the nonviolent removal of the dictator. The evidence they cited for this possibility, and the prediction that the invasion of Iraq would be enormously costly to all, were both made well and still stand.

Our consternation on the nonviolent side is that we are always right and never listened to. Consider the issues. We were right about nuclear weapons, right about minority rights, right about conservation instead of more energy hog cars, right about Vietnam, and we should be regarded as prophetic after the debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan. But our analysis is so counterintuitive that it is dismissed in favor of what people know--violence or inaction. Do you want to kill somebody or just do nothing?

At some point, the evidence will mount up so high that the false choice of invasion or apathy will be irrelevant. When that day finally arrives, our American family fight over what to do may finally end.

Naw, we'll find something else to bicker about. But a nonviolent method of conflict management--which we manage to use in most of our families--will at least mean the damage is mitigated. I think the evidence for that should be obvious.

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