Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Establishing intent

Some years ago in Michigan a few nuns cut a hole in a fence that surrounded Williams International, the corporation making the Cruise missile engines. The Cruise, at that time, carried either nuclear or conventional warheads. They were so destabilizing in particular because they were deployed in Europe by the US and they had terrain-contour-matching guidance systems built into the missile snout, enabling very low flights, under radar. This meant that they would arrive without warning, which put the then-Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal on hair-trigger, launch-on-warning status. That, in turn, meant that the fate of the world rested on the infallibility of Soviet computers, which often times could not be trusted to operate a photocopy machine. This prompted the sane members of our species to resistance. The nuns were both sane and bold. They entered the corporate property and hung banners proclaiming the need for peace and disarmament. They kneeled in prayer. The brave police arrested them and took them to jail.

They were charged with "Malicious destruction of property," the title of the crime under Michigan law. At trial the judge listened to the weapon manufacturer, to the arresting officer, to the prosecutor, and to the defendants. He rendered his decision, saying that (paraphrase), "If this corporation making engines for weapons of mass destruction for the Pentagon wants a secure facility from the people, they are going to need federal troops. I find nothing malicious in the conduct of these defendants. Case dismissed."

Malicious implied intent. The obvious intent of these nuns--women who were always nonviolent and always in service to the most vulnerable and needy--was as pure as human intent gets. Their lives were evidence of their character and intent. The judge took that into account because he was observant and rational. He sensibly applied observable fact to the element of intent and ruled in accordance.

When people use violence, they are suspect. A track record informs our judgment. When Paul Wellstone's plane went down mysteriously and he was killed, that was in the environment of Donald Rumsfeld and others chattering on about their wish for a "single-bullet" solution to the Saddam Hussein problem. It was also when Wellstone was a strong Senate voice for peace just when the Senate was most divided over following the Bush and Cheney plan to take the US down into the war profiteer path into Iraq. At our memorial for Paul Wellstone on the Park Blocks shortly after his 25 October plane crash, I said some of this and I noted that Paul Wellstone was a key vote on many issues in the divided Senate, and that any group that advocated a "single-bullet" notion of problem-solving should be able to provide an alibi, since they were logical suspects. Michael I. Niman wrote cogently about the history of convenient small plane crashes for the war hawks.

So now we find the US and NATO bombing away in Libya, with charges that US planes have dropped illegal cluster bombs in Misrata and elsewhere. The US claims all those munitions were used by Gaddafi. In some ways, it feels like we are being asked to discern the truth about who commits more violence and illegal violence from parties who both do so routinely and who both lie about it with almost pathological involuntary reaction. No one charged the nonviolent resistance in Egypt or Tunisia with violence against civilians because those charges would be regarded with appropriate derision and disbelief by a wiser world.

And so we see one of the strongest pieces of that "force more powerful" is credibility. Those who engage in nonviolence and nonviolence only have a strategic advantage in that regard. They make claims based on character and history and intent and they are easily believed. The violent ones are always suspect and indeed are the usual suspects who should be prepared with alibis. This is part of the complex message of Gandhi when he referred to nonviolence as a search for truth. Humankind is prepared to belief in nonviolence in that regard, even though its force is counterintuitive in other aspects. Gandhi knew that truth is what people want in the end and nonviolence enables us to find it more surely.

No comments: