Wednesday, December 28, 2011

In the god of war we no longer trust

Over the decades, I've done a fair amount of direct counter-recruitment, from confronting recruiters at post-secondary fairs, tabling at such events, leafleting outside recruiter stations and supporting the outstanding efforts of Communities for Alternatives to Starbase and the War Resisters League as they work to end recruiting in public schools. But I've always acknowledged one point to the recruiters, even though it's one that never occurs to them. At some point I frequently say some variant of, "What I do know is that until we the people learn how to defend ourselves with nonviolence, we will always hire people like you to do it for us."

This never occurs to the recruiters because the assumptions are hard-wired ahead of that logic, which is to say, we need a military, period, so then the only questions revolve around how we run it. It would never dawn on them that a trained and committed citizenry would be willing and able to offer nonviolent defense. Why would it? That concept, civilian-based defense, is a marginal concept barely even taught in college courses on strategic nonviolence. Why? Because it is the last step in a long process of demilitarization and therefore way way down the road from teaching people how to organize a nonviolent campaign to affect some relatively minor public policy.

But if we frame it differently, we can at least show bursts of the possible. What about the nonviolent victories against opponents who have proven themselves capable of torture, assassination and ongoing brutality? For a moment, at least, the nonviolent masses awakened to their power and exercised it.

However, the problems come when we think about designing and developing a peace system, that is, a system that doesn't need a military. How would a nation without a military meet an invading force? How could a nation without a military stop foreign governments from just rolling over it and grabbing land, natural resources, and enslaving people? From a Euro-American, that is Western, point of view, it is illogical. We were the colonial masters of the world so we not only know what foreign governments do to innocent nonviolent friendly people--because our ancestors did it, again and again, all over the world--we know that we live materially opulent lifestyles as a direct result and changing all this will change how we get to live.

Sigh. This is all true. We will, however, either do the right thing (now that we've exhausted all the alternatives) or our nation-state will cease to exist in its present form. We can either plan for a post-military world or prepare for ecological and economic ruination, harbingers of which have been present and growing more pervasive for years.

War is not god, or, if it is, the end times are near. We are not hard-wired for war any more than we are hard-wired for peace. This is all about choice, even though path dependency suggests war and more war. It is past time to break out of that path, to stop being co-dependent on a military that is not about constructive conflict but preps for and commits destructive conflict.

Will this transition be easy? No. Some version of it, however, is required. Seven billion of us, now industrialized and consuming natural resources at an unnatural pace, can no longer afford this model of conflict management. Just when we are heading into more conflict on our crowded planet, the old ways of managing conflict are proving dramatically and disastrously unsustainable. Analysts like Michael Renner (and others at the Worldwatch Institute), Michael Klare, Michael Ross (we need a Symposium of the Michaels on Conflict and Sustainability) and many others have been connecting the dots for decades, but the splotches are now connecting themselves. Only truly out-of-touch nonviolent analysts ignore economic and environmental concerns and only the most provincial economists or ecologists fail to see the primacy of dealing with military impacts.

It is past time to take stock and start. God did not ordain the military to rule over us in the US, no matter what poor legislation Congress passes to the contrary. Allah did not grant the Egyptian military the right to conduct virginity tests on any women it fancies. We will launch the solutions from the grassroots or they will not be launched. We will invent, test, modify and maintain a nonviolent security system and we will prosper as a species, or we will stay with the model we now have and stick with a strategy we see is losing. The choice is ours.


Terri said...

This answers, or rather helps me pose, some new questions for our Beyond Militarism class. We just met and the course is starting to really gel - and your blogs are helping it along, suspending some colorful bits of thought in the jello : )

Tom H. Hastings said...

Gel blog--sounds like an artificial dessert or a horrible way to die, but you phrase it persuasively otherwise. Mahalo.

Diane Emerson said...

I located a free download of Gene Sharp's book: for readers of Tom's blog who are ready for this. Thank you, Tom.

Tom H. Hastings said...

Thanks, Diane. Sharp is not exactly a scintillating writer but he carried the nonviolence ball forward academically further than anyone ever. We all owe him so much.