Friday, June 17, 2011

Making poor decisions gives one credibility

My father was a psychologist and directed a program that produced counselors for those with chemical dependencies. He always used to shake his head at what he felt was a bizarre belief in the qualifications for hiring counselors, in particular, that being in recovery was just as valuable as a degree in Chemical Dependency Counseling. A sober drunk just had to certify sobriety to many of those who hired people and that would have at least equal heft to a graduate from a program that taught pharmacology, counseling skills, and required a serious internship.

This phenomenon is not restricted to the recovering drug addicts. It is also true of the recovering killers. I see it constantly. If someone was a conscientious objector to war, remained a solid peace activist, picked up a few degrees in Peace and Conflict Studies (or another more common discipline, but with that focus), taught Peace and Conflict Studies courses for years, and wrote a few books about conversion to a peace system, that person is often times regarded as less credible than someone who decided to join in a criminal war and later converted to peace.

I applaud all former warriors who convert to peace. They have my admiration and I work with them constantly. It is not them, usually, who bother me (except the recently converted who try to tell me how to be a more effective activist, something that takes quite a little arrogance on their part, but I have experienced it). I especially love them if they have actually converted to nonkilling and nonviolence, rather than merely to a position of hating this or that war or this or that fighting force. Some give support to former enemy combatants when they decide that those combatants were the ones on the 'right side.' I disagree with my friends who do this; I would prefer they take the time to learn who the nonviolent civil society activists are in the affected country and support them instead. Supporting a 'more correct' side in a war is still quite supportive of war.

The former warriors all know combat jargon and weaponry lingo, which gives them a chance to tap into the deep war-sacralizing sentiments in our war culture even as they are claiming to be working for peace. This is problematic. I'd rather hear them discussing principled negotiation, strategic nonviolence, cross-cultural competencies, dual-concern models of dialog and other tools toward peace, but few of the former warriors seem interested in really learning how to make and maintain peace. They know what bothers them and they are frequently quite vocal about it, but their familiarity with actual nonviolent, constructive conflict forensics and techniques is usually quite absent.

Still, the mere fact that they have experienced war because they chose to is enough to confer credibility upon them, even amongst peace scholars who should know better. Bill Bhaneja (2003) writes in the academic journal Social Alternatives, "Is a nonkilling global society feasible? ...Yes...Glenn Paige, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Hawaii, writes from experience, having served in the Korean war."

This flummoxes me. Glenn D. Paige is a peace expert, having spent decades studying what it takes to transform destructive conflict to constructive conflict. That is what gives him credibility in his 2000 book, Nonkilling Global Political Science. If Bhaneja had claimed that Paige hates war from experience, that would make sense. But to assert that someone is experientially knowledgeable about creating positive peace because he is a combat veteran is sheer nonsense. The power of the warrior mythos is so overwhelming, however, that Bhaneja, an academic, wrote it and the journal editors and reviewers saw no problem with it.

I am hereby staking out the assertion that Si Pacem vis para pacem, that is, If you want peace, prepare for peace. Study war and study the alternatives if you want genuine, earned credibility. I have friends who have done this, from the late Phil Berrigan to the young Paul Chappell. These warriors didn't rely upon their veteran status to teach others how to make peace nonviolently; instead, they made a serious study of the alternatives to war. That, to me, gives them enormous earned credibility.


Bhaneja, B. (2003). Violence Against Violence Fails. Social Alternatives, 22(2), 61-62. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

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