Friday, September 03, 2010

Dear Faust: You're fired

Sure, peace would be nice, but you have to get real. Sometimes you have to bargain with the devil.

"He may be a sonofabitch, but he's our sonofabitch"
—Franklin Delano Roosevelt, attributed, referring to Anastasio Somoza of Nicaragua, 1934

Do you want to bomb them or just do nothing?

Justifying violence is easy. Just whip out the pragmatic rhetorical card and prance about with it, get breathless and pant about boogeymen on their way, and frame it as dire necessity in the face of mortal risk. Throw in the Just War doctrine and--voila!--it's war. It's $billions for Somoza or for Uribe or for Hamid Karzai (actually, closer to $trillions for Karzai and Chalabi and others loyal to their own grasp of power).

On 4 April 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., made the greatest speech of his life, and put us on notice that not only were we bargaining away our soul, we were doing it totally unnecessarily.
"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

That speech in the Riverside church in New York was so profound that the entire war system was threatened. Was it a coincidence that he was murdered precisely one year, to the day, later, on 4 April 1968? We may never know, but to those who understood the power of nonviolence into which King had tapped, his assassination looked like a Mafia-style kiss of death, done with hideous symbolism.

When we finally get King's message and put it into play, we can fire Faust, we can stop making deals with the devil, and we can transform our war system into a culture of peace. Nonviolence offers a countervailing force that pulls power from the war system back into the hands of the people. It ends the realpolitik, the school of realism and the patronizing message from our superiors that only they know how to handle the big tough world, so step aside, get back to work, and give us a huge chunk of your paycheck.

Those who claim it's not possible need to get out of the way and let civil society just do the job.

Afghanistan? We could have overwhelmed them with aid instead of bombers in 2001. We could have won hearts and minds. Before that, we could have helped organize civil society to nonviolently force the Soviets out instead of pouring ungodly amounts of weapons into the various factions of the mujahedeen--all the war gear that was turned on the US later. And now we can just leave and make serious donations to the UN, earmarked for Afghanistan, rather than underwrite the Karzai political journey back to Taliban control.

Iraq barely rises to the level of response. Just don't invade. Stop believing we can control the Arab world with any kind of power and learn to generate energy without their oil. I bike past literally thousands of private SUVs and cars daily with one person going however far with a briefcase or a purse. I'm an old geez and I was so glad to ditch my car five years ago. I live in just about the best biking town in the US and it still is so Faustian to watch all these cars polluting and consuming their way past me in streams of devilish carbon vapors. Pacify the Persian Gulf, save the Gulf of Mexico, and close the gulf separating nonviolent power from the people--use mass transit and bikes and our feet. I fixed my bike yesterday--put it in the shop--and used that excuse to walk about nine miles--nothing compared to what Gandhi did on a routine basis, but it was a nice stroll that meant I consumed more water and more chickpeas, tempeh, and corn for dinner, rather than fossil fuel. Garbanzo beans, not gasoline!

So many theorists have proposed schemes and theories for achieving this. Tit for tat. Graduated Reciprocation in Tension Reduction (GRIT). Integrative power. Exchange power. It's all the Golden Rule, isn't it? But add the strategic element of nonviolence and it can become genuine mediation with muscle. We could stop permitting war, stop allowing the spiritual sellout Dr. King warned about, and end these bargains with the devil of violence.

That bargaining has produced our wars in the Middle East and Central Asia and it has drained our economy dry, destroying millions of jobs and leaving us in deep debt with a rampaging war machine spread across the world, generating respect based on fear, not admiration. The time has come for us to draw a line in the sand and say we will take our chances with nonviolence and take no more chances with our nation's soul and our people's spirit.

Will we be able to save everyone in every place on Earth if we give up this bargain?

Are we saving them now with violence? Insurgents are killing themselves and plenty of others wherever our troops are. Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo and other places are certainly not being saved by our violence. We have radically overspent, overemphasized military, and overcommitted to the war system, far beyond our ability to sustain, and yet we haven't solved the problems that are constantly thrown in our face when we promote nonviolence. Oh, yeah, sure, how about Rwanda, huh? What would your nonviolence have done there? Well, what did your violence do? It scared you away. Your lack of imagination left you with the false dichotomy, the bipolar disorder of violence or apathy, yet again.

With nonviolence there is no guarantee except that, at the least, you aren't making it worse. With violence, you usually make it worse. Dr. King took up Gandhi's message decades ago in an old millennium. How long will it take us to send Faust the pink slip?


Jo C. said...

I really enjoyed reading this post. Thanks. My favorite thing in this post was the point you make about how non-violence actually gives power back to the people; I feel like I miss a lot of really simple messages in your class sometimes, because my mind is not trained to think in these terms ( I am just now trying to learn how to exercise my own mind, rather than let others tell me how to think), but the way you explained the significance of non-violent resistance made total sense all of a sudden: it really does undermine the war system simply because it is a direct revolt against it...I think I was thinking of non-violence in a way that was not organic or was something that symbolized passivity in my mind, but I think I am beginning to see that is it much more.

Tom H. Hastings said...

Thanks, Jo. In our culture, nonviolence is just so counterintuitive, as you correctly point out.