Saturday, August 14, 2010

Jobs in nonviolence

I was walking in the northwoods of Wisconsin one night with a very nice fellow, talking about how our system works. The snow was coming down, but relatively lightly. I was 100 miles from home and had an old raggedy car. Maybe I would make it; maybe I would get stuck. I didn't worry or even think about it. This is how we live in those areas. Emergency is taken in stride and you survive. You help each other. We save each other, in truth, routinely. Rightwing, leftwing, Republican, Democrat, communist, Catholic, atheist, hippie, redneck--all irrelevant at 20 or 30 or 40 below zero. All immaterial when someone is in the ditch.

So we were walking just fast enough to keep warm. The security lights sparkled off the falling snow and the concertina razor wire looped atop the tall fence that surrounded the compound in which my conversing partner worked. This unlikely outpost was part of the thermonuclear navy's command structure, but he and I were talking about the war system more generally. I was there in a vigil opposing the base and he worked there, and we were just two young fathers living in Wisconsin's northwoods, inside the southern line of the boreal forest that is so beautiful as you ponder its Russia-Canada circumpolar global range, its signature stretches of spruce, two-thirds of which is in Eurasia, largely Siberia and some in Scandinavia.

I told him I had just returned from another trip to Washington DC to lobby against the Reagan military budget build-up and he said, "You are fighting a losing battle. These people know how to generate support. They have contracts for the biggest weapons programs in all 50 states. No politicians can oppose that."

He had a really good point, one that still obtains, as Robert Reich reminds us. What is the alternative?

You mean aside from a new National Security Transportation Law that would commit us to manufacture high speed rail, town-to-town rail, and other ways to move massive numbers of Americans and our freight with European efficiency? This is how Europeans vacation. Road trips are goofy there, for the most part. Pack up, take the train to some of the wildest places, and enjoy your country without polluting it or spending a monthly fortune on insurance and vehicle payments. This National Security Transportation Law would fund the hire of millions of Americans in manufacturing and in the hard labor that we'll need to build really first-rate bike commuting in our cities. Curtailing cars and enabling bikes is a huge employment program that should generate political support in all 50 states as people get their paychecks and full benefits for making this a better world for their children.

That would be progress, not this suicide spiral of societal-moth-into-the-military-flame we see now, as we waste and waste and waste $trillions that we don't have and we are betting that our children can pay back. Surely our cognitive abilities can rise above the moth?

Well, if our security is really broader than just providing for an armed defense of the US and armed guards for oil companies and forward power projection from our navy and 1,000 military bases located on other people's sovereign soil, who is going to perform those functions?

First, we don't need most of those functions. The world does not need, nor want, our military bases. Give that land back to the Chagossians, the CHamorros, the Okinawans, the Scots, and all the peoples who currently host our armed forces. What a giant gesture of goodwill. What a savings to the US taxpayer. Draw down the armed protection for oil companies and let them purchase it from contractors on the open market. Another massive savings for the US taxpayer. With our conversion away from oil, this can cease to be such a national security obsession. Oil should be just one of many natural resources traded modestly, not the resource that rules humanity even as it wrecks the biosphere.

We have approximately 400 Peace and Conflict Studies programs that are turning out graduates who can lead the conversion to nonviolent security forces. With zero funding, we are already well into pilot programs. Nonviolent Peaceforce deploys teams into conflict zones, armed only with nonviolent de-escalation skills. These kinds of operations, some secular, some with religious affiliation, have been operating successfully on a small scale for 30 years. It's time to ramp them up significantly and to devote many more resources--easily available by lowering the military budget--to proliferating these units of completely nonviolent conflict workers. We need to move past small teams to brigades and divisions of these workers, from domestic to transnational. Again, low pay and high benefits would attract the most devoted and would enable families to survive and thrive while transforming the practices and images of America here and abroad--plus it would avoid the capital-intensive low number of jobs per $billion spent on the military. We should have vast disarmies of nonviolent conflict workers deployed at home and wherever we are invited to help smooth human interactions anywhere on Earth. We have the resources to accomplish this.

But how long can we ponder alternatives as one door after another is shut to these chances by our dithering and Faustian bargaining with the devil of violence? As we foreclose opportunities by going too deeply into debt for our profligate purchases of the tools of death we make it harder and harder to contemplate the best futures for our young people. It's really time to make these moves now. Now. Today. We want contracts in all 50 states so that no politicians can oppose the wave of nonviolence and sustainable security that we owe the next generations.

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