Monday, October 07, 2013

War stories without the war

One of the enduring problems with war is that we love to talk about it when we have been through it. Even those of us who have not been in a war love to talk about moments of great danger, mostly, presumably, out of sheer gratitude for our own existence, for having survived some existential threat.

As Chris Hedges (2013, p. 25) puts it, "Only when we are in the midst of conflict does the shallowness and vapidness of our lives become apparent."

This is perhaps why I love my compatriots in the Plowshares movement; we who have done such actions measure our risk against the prison sentences of Woodson, Whitefeather, and the Kabat brothers--four Plowshares actionists who hammered on the lid of a nuclear missile in Missouri on Armistice Day (November 11) 1984 and who were sentenced to 18, 18, 10 and 8 years in prison. They acted in bold nonviolent resistance and paid very high prices. I've done two such actions and please believe me that they were only rivaled in their intensity by actually being in the birthing room when my son was born.

We can all participate in vigorous, even risky actions that can perhaps give us psychologically what war "gives" us, except we can do things that protect and save instead of attack and kill. Indeed, notes Christian Parenti, civil society operating in the midst of hot conflict is not only astonishing, it is "rich with lessons" that reveal the far more advantageous course of nonviolence.

One of the most rigorous nonviolent alternatives is to join the Nonviolent Peaceforce, Peace Brigades International, Christian Peacemaker Teams or some other unarmed accompaniment or interventionary organization. These are the folks who go straight into war zones or areas of extreme brutal persecution and stand with the most targeted civilians and say, "You may not attack these souls without triggering a serious set of nonviolent consequences."
These sorts of groups now have histories of success that outstrip Blackwater/XE/Academi--bodyguards with lethal firepower who strike fear and hatred into hearts from Baghdad to New Orleans. The nonviolent bodyguards have completely different methods and engender love and admiration where they operate.

It is hard to avoid our yearning for the risks required for some selfless acts of protecting innocent lives; it can be the force that gives us meaning. But we can learn to approach those actions with nonviolence, making them transformative instead of just the same tired old war stories.

Hedges, Chris (2013, original 2002). War is a force that gives us meaning. In David P. Barash (Ed.), Approaches to peace: A reader in peace studies. (pp. 24-26).

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