Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ecology of war and peace

If we ever culturally come to grips with the idea that our conflict management methods are not writ in stone--the normal dichotomous assumption of surrender or armed attack--we may finally begin to actually run the methods through a serious evaluative process, a sort of cost-benefit analysis. For the most part, humankind has not done this and certainly the US never has.

What are the potential strengths and weaknesses of the three basic approaches?

Surrender will usually mean survival of more of the members of a society, but at a more miserable, less free, and impoverished level.

Nonviolence will usually mean a more egalitarian outcome without economic advantage over anyone else. It may be used in a needs-based struggle but not in a greed-based search for hegemony.

Violence can win it all, lose it all, and often institute a structural violence that results in perduring inequities, with one dominant party living large and many living the impoverished lives once they surrender.

The sooner a party who is faced with overwhelming violence surrenders, the less damage they usually suffer.

Nonviolence means sacrificing time, some resources, and the ability to exact revenge or seize other people's lands or resources.

Violence requires first a huge commitment to an arsenal, recruiting popular support for the undertaking, suspension or cancellation of environmental laws with regard to military operations, and the acceptance that people will need to give their lives in the quest for victory and dominance.

Of course, most of the military costs are ignored in a country like the US, since the alternatives are not considered. This sets up a bizarre public discourse that sets aside economic and environmental costs and ennobles all the human costs, valorizing the warriors incessantly and labeling those who question the costs as agents or dupes of the enemy, or as cowards who advocate surrender, or as simpleminded windkissing naif-brains, unable to understand the real, the tough, and the requisite stomach for sacrifice and bloodshed for (in our case) 'the American way.' I've been labeled all those things over the decades.

The CBA is coming to roost, however, and the ideas of what is reality are shifting, even though there is still zero grasp of the strategic nonviolent struggle as a viable alternative--viable for defense, not to preserve the American way of ruling the world.

So, for instance, we see the economy, all hollowed out by the decades of massive military spending, finally changing the idea of reality. Little sad cracks open up, such as Senator James Webb (D-VA) opposing increases in medical support for veterans of the war he fought in--the Vietnam War--as they have long sought coverage for the illnesses induced by exposure to Dow Chemical's various defoliants, lumped in the one Agent Orange category. He votes for war at every turn, all weapons systems, every supplemental to drive more occupation and more military involvement in other people's lands, spending literally a $trillion every year, but he suddenly develops a fiscally prudential analysis when it comes to covering health conditions that are caused by exposure during war to the chemical warfare agents we used illegally against Vietnam. He says these conditions might be caused by other factors later in life so no help for the vets who contract leukemia, Parkinsons or ischemic heart disease. The new realpolitik.

A spokesperson for Vietnam Vets of America (pictured) responds well:

Rick Weidman, director of government relations for Vietnam Veterans of America, defended the potentially high costs, saying the payments should be considered in the same context as the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"We would make the point that many, many times the number of troops originally estimated have [traumatic brain injury] coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan," Weidman said. "Should we not then award it because it's too many people? It's the same argument -- an environmental wound is the same as a blast wound."

Compare. Run our methods of conflict management through a rigorous, honest cost-benefit analysis. Lift a dying combat veteran onto his death bed, as I did with my brother-in-law, when that vet doesn't even reach 45 and is in pain, dying from the common exposure to these agents of empire. Look into the eyes of a working class person who did his duty as he was told and suffered scores of inoperable cancerous tumors that caused him to die in agony before his youngest daughter even graduated from high school. Tim Gilmore is dead and has been for 15 years, but his note that these barrels of chemicals were everywhere, even in the mess halls, is not forgotten. Some years later I met Vietnamese victims of our chemical attack on their poor people and their land, and realized the costs to them were infinitely higher, collectively.

Violence is good for killing. It kills people, jungles, economies, and hope. It gains opulent lives and unjust power for the elite, like the wealthy owners of Dow Chemical, who have prevailed.

The choice is always in front of us. Nonviolence is the only choice full of hope. James Webb or Gandhi? I choose the new realpolitik, strategic nonviolence, given to us with a far better cost benefit outcome.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Successful failures

At times I do evaluation work for academic institutions or even governments who want to know if research proposals are valid, promising, or problematic. I just finished one for a government which shall remain unnamed and I gave the proposal a conditional thumbs up. Part of what bothered me was the undifferentiated use of the word success. In the case of this proposal, which I need to treat a bit abstractly since confidentiality is part of what the evaluation system is predicated upon, the word success was used to describe the rhetorical strategies that convinced two countries to go to war.

Evoke an enemy, create a myth of persecution, build another myth of freedom fighting, build up the enemy to high threat levels, put forth a champion who will lead the glorious fight, and poof! War. Success.

We need to really think about success, don't we? We are succeeding right now in alienating much of the population of planet Earth. We are succeeding in polluting the seas, the rivers, the soil, the groundwater, the atmosphere, and each living being on Earth. We have succeeded, even, in changing our climate and worsening our natural disasters (pictured: Pakistan under flood). We are succeeding in hollowing out our economy with military spending that dwarfs all other items. We are succeeding in getting more guns into more hands and suffering more gun deaths by far than qualify for an official war--each and every year. We are succeeding in shifting profits to elites and unemploying millions of regular folks.

We teach our children to strive for success, but do we give them the tools to choose the right goals, so that their success isn't lethal to others, to life? We urge our students to dress for success, to plan for success, to prepare for success, to train for success, but is that success merely excess? Is it producing what will be good for those students or is it bringing us closer to the successful mortal blow to our human experiment?

The right in this country is stressing success in defeating Islam and in protecting gun rights. The left is stressing success in getting a few crumbs from the military corporate masters' table. Little is done by either left or right about our unraveling web of life. How can we redefine success so it means something tangible, something to the generations?

Suggested goals:
* eliminate war
* save the environment
* equalize wealth
* eliminate hunger

A modest proposal. So, what can accomplish all this? One thing. A grounding in nonviolence, as a principle, as a lifestyle, as a social good, as a fundamental approach to everything from conflict prevention to conflict management to conflict reconciliation. Nonviolence is the core and foundation of all worthy goals, and if it is central in our thinking, we will succeed.

There are no shortcuts to success, but there is a bottom-line value and commitment. Grounding ourselves and our children in nonviolence is not our best hope; it's our only hope. Saying no to violence is as important as saying yes to life, and using nonviolent force is how we can succeed. If we equivocate on this, we succeed only in the things that lead to failure. It really requires commitment.

Who is the judge of our commitment to nonviolence? Life itself. War is failure, poverty is failure, hunger is failure, and if our ecology continues to come apart, Mother Nature will show us how She deals with failures. Expect no mercy in that case. Nonviolence is defense against such potential disaster. Time to get serious and educated about this, if we hope for success.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Cold cases

There is a serious uptick in research on nonviolence these days as the intellectual baton transferred from Gene Sharp and his Albert Einstein Institution, where they did enormous and meaningful research into aspects of nonviolence, to the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, which is funded by libertarian capitalist Peter Ackerman. Ackerman preceded Bill Gates as a business entrepreneur with a conscience, and indeed is a moral entrepreneur who funds the way many seek to understand and practice a far less costly and deadly form of conflict.

One of the results of greater funding for such research is the development of how research can serve the practice, that is, how learning about facets of a phenomenon can help those who deal with it. Thus, we find some of the research underwritten by ICNC is looking at quantifying some of the vexing conundrums that many of us know about anecdotally and inductively, often from long experience. And the ability to cite cases to illustrate a point is highly persuasive. Listen to Gene Sharp, Stephen Zunes or some of the other amazing intellects in this field for such illustrative demonstrations of encyclopedic and usable knowledge.

One potentially fecund field of research that is untapped to my knowledge but that might yield volumes of interesting findings is to look for cold cases of possible victory and ask how to treat them. What happens to our analysis when we think we lose in a long struggle to engage using nonviolence and then, quietly, our opponents change everything, effectively handing us a victory that we now feel we didn't earn and aren't struggling to get any longer? It's not like a movement creates a visible mass and the dictator topples, new laws are passed, a colonizing power leaves, a corporation promises better behavior, or human rights are upheld. There is no direct temporal cause, no signed peace accord, and no connecting effect that is easily discernible. There are no smoking memos. There is zero acknowledgement that a movement existed or had any effect on the decision, which is often framed as pragmatic and unrelated to civil society.

Honeywell was a focus of a sustained and apparently fruitless campaign of nonviolent resistance for years. After that movement essentially ended, Honeywell sold off much of its military side. Some claimed victory for nonviolence, but the links were unproven.

Dan (pictured below) and Phil Berrigan raided a draft board in Catonsville, Maryland, burning records of young men about to be drafted and shipped to Vietnam. Dozens of other copycat actions interfered with this involuntary servitude, but the draft did not end until the Vietnam War did. Still, it has not returned, even though we are in at least two wars. Is this a victory?

The thermonuclear command center in northern Wisconsin and Michigan, called Extremely Low Frequency, or Project ELF, was the object of sustained civil society resistance--including five Plowshares actions--and the campaign was a total failure in dislodging the base. Fewer and fewer participated. The navy said it would be there for three more decades. Then it quietly left, suddenly claiming obsolescence.

These kinds of cases give rise to some speculation and all the anecdotal evidence suggests a meaningful victory for nonviolence. But the knowledge of these cases is scant and the connection between and among them around the world is nonexistent. There is no named phenomenon here--Sub Rosa Civil Resistance Success? Nonviolent Victory Orphans? Who Knew Wins for Unarmed Force?--but I believe it's a category that would help persuade that nonviolence is a modest and unassuming, but effective, method. It would be a forensic study of these cold cases, but might bring new candlepower to our efforts to illuminate our poor world, so wedded to destructive methods of managing the inevitable conflicts between humans.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Lipstick and a smiley face

Imagine being a soldier in a place where there are no more combat troops, where all the missions have been accomplished and where all the social indices are worse than before you arrived and the off-stage insurgents, driven back for a minute by your nation's overwhelming and totally unsustainable surge, are now roaring back.

When, in 2006, the official Iraq Study Group seemed to notice that the Bush Cheney plan had no future, our local Congressperson, Earl Blumenauer, posted a statement on his website that ended with this:

“The war in Iraq has cost Oregon taxpayers nearly $3 billion, which otherwise could have provided health care for 655,850 people or upwards of 18,000 affordable housing units. With so much at stake, action on Iraq needs to be measured in hours and days, not weeks and months. It is time to face reality in Iraq, and the President and Congress must rise to the occasion.”
That was four interminable years ago, more than three and a half unsuccessful years into an occupation that was always doomed, and was one month after the American people spanked the Republicans in the mid-term elections, a bruising that the Democrats have now earned and will take for what they've done with Afghanistan.

At the same time the James Baker mushy report was being investigated and produced, I was asking myself why we so-called experts on conflict transformation weren't constructing a plan to transform that ill-advised invasion and occupation. I had no knowledge of the Baker-Hamilton investigation and was simply aghast that my intellectual betters in my field hadn't come up with the answers. Without resources, I started. The first people I approached were not the hotshots at, say, the Kroc Institute at either Notre Dame or San Diego, nor the leadership of the Peace and Justice Studies Association--my field's academic association. I thought that if they had been all about that, I would certainly have known, since I was co-chair of PJSA then. Instead, I just started talking with my fellow nonviolent civil resisters in Portland, Oregon, with whom I had been arrested by Homeland Security at Senator Ron Wyden's office in a successful attempt to get him off his political butt on Iraq.

Christina Hulbe, Linda Weiner, Ann Huntwork and some others thought, sure, we can do better than our federal government on this, since they apparently have done nothing with our billions and the massive State Department resources. Give it that home town try. So I asked a local family foundation for a little money and they provided enough for some airfare for some interesting players (no honoraria for anyone, just all volunteers on all sides), we rounded up some local expertise, invited all the fed elected officials from our area, and held a one-day study at Portland State University. The evening beforehand, we held a public hearing there.

One of our speakers, Army Colonel Douglas MacGregor (ret.)--we just called him "Tank Guy," since he had helped lead the tank rumble in Desert Storm in 1991, and there was a tank pointed at you on his website--advocated immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all American military from Iraq. He scorned all the USA Today, Donald Rumsfeldian spin on it and just noted that what was inevitable was that Iraqis would resolve their own situation as soon as we left, that we might not like how they did it, but that unless we wanted to babysit them with big guns and lots of US casualties literally forever, that is exactly what would occur. He had little patience for those who offered a more dignified face-saving US exit, often framed as responsible. "Look," he said, "you can take your lipstick and paint a smiley face on that dead rat, but it's still a dead rat."

Would I get along with MacGregor philosophically? Of course not; he's a violent warrior and I'm a pacifist. But I'm glad we brought him in. His predictions matched what we all knew, or should have known, in our field of Conflict Resolution, but he presented them from his experience and education as a military officer.

Now, more than three and a half more interminable years from that December 2006 watershed, here we are, and USA Today is still painting smiley faces on that dead rat. Suicide bombers are literally exploding all over Iraq and they say it's all just the jostling of civic engagement, that, "Democracy is alive in Iraq." Welcome to the new surrealpolitik.

Some day, perhaps, our wonderful country will discover how to properly acknowledge massive mistakes and make reparations. We need to do that about slavery, about stealing 3,119,885 square miles of land from Native peoples, about propping up military dictators with guns and money, and about multiple invasions of other people's lands. That's the short list.

Owning our actions is part and parcel of democracy. Before we shove what we call democracy down anyone else's throat, we should live up to the decent principles of it ourselves.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Equality ethos

Almost no conflict is conducted between parties of identical power; therefore, all conflict is waged by asymmetrically advantaged parties. However, part of the basis for nonviolent power is that we are dedicated to redressing that asymmetry enough to first get to the table and then to earn and agreement that will meet our needs, never our greeds.

“It begins with the formal structural equality of the parties, based on the fact that each has a veto over any agreement; therefore, the parties need to grant each other recognition with equal standing in the negotiations. From this, it extends to the behavioral setting that facilitates exchanges through the courtesy of symmetry that each party gives the other, even if the encounter is asymmetrical in other terms” (Zartman (pictured), 2009, p. 324).

Whenever we do manage to get to that negotiating table we do have veto power, even if the only veto power we can exercise is to walk out. In nonviolent struggle, we hope we only exercise that option when there is clear evidence of dirty tricks that make honest negotiation impossible. Otherwise, keeping all parties at the table, with or without third party neutrals (mediators of some type) is crucial.

Getting to the table is the first goal, of course. Gandhi discovered and the US Civil Rights movement improved upon the methods by which that is accomplished using nonviolence. And once there, understanding that the power exercised by the contending parties is not symmetrical means we can continue to explain that with great transparency to our side and their's. This builds both a new framework of perception and the trust required for that framework to function. It looks from the outside casual observer like a chimera, a completely counterintuitive arrangement, until we properly explain what is going on right in front of the world. That frankness, so reactively avoided in most negotiation, can be our strength, because as we build trust we build knowledge and we create collective memories on our culture of nonviolence.

These dynamics are being dissected and displayed more and more in our academic research on the power of nonviolence and the strategies of negotiation. The race is on, since violent conflict has become the greatest problem on Earth and the two solutions are nonviolence and constructive conflict transformation, linked. How else are we going to solve the evisceration of our ecology and our economy, the two bulwarks of sustainability for all societies? Military solution is an oxymoron, since the mere preparation for success is demonstrably fatal to the ecos, the home (the Greek root of both economy and ecology).

Time for a new homeland security.


Zartman, I. William (2009). Conflict resolution and negotiation. In Bercovitch, Jacob; Kremenyuk, Victor; & Zartman, I. William (Eds.). The Sage handbook of conflict. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. p.p. 322-339.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Being our natural selves

A dear friend told me recently, "We are naturally good. We worship together to remind ourselves of that."

We are indeed naturally good. And we are naturally indolent and greedy. Mostly, as humans, we exercise choice.

"He was forced to do that." "She had no choice." "All options were foreclosed."

While it is vital to acknowledge that many choices are very hard, they are still choices. Picking up a gun in the name of a religion or a country is a choice. It was even a choice when there was conscription. Sometimes getting in touch with our natural selves and dealing with the opposing internal tendencies reveals our real range of what is natural.

Violence is natural; nonviolence is natural. Regarding another human as the enemy is natural; regarding everyone as an ally or potential ally is part of our natural repertoire too.

Sigmund Freud felt war was natural; so did Albert Einstein and Konrad Lorenz. But Margaret Mead pointed out that, while war is natural, it is also invented and is a choice. Her 1940 essay on that, "Warfare is only an invention--not a biological necessity," was published in the academic journal Asia, and carved out the idea that rejected the deterministic or Marxist notions that we are so brutal we must go to war, or that war will be necessary until we change the structure of society to eliminate class. Instead, she looked at the record from an anthropological stance, a sort of forensic conflict approach that examined the literature on various extant groups of humans who practiced conflict in ways that were simply unique to their culture, each one revealing a new facet of human potential. She wrote about the Lepcha, Eskimos and others who simply have no word or concept for war. Some of the cultures without war are quite stratified, some settle individual conflict with violence, and the permutations are remarkable.

Mead's thoughts on this led to more thinking in her field and in others--she was a public intellectual, after all, and leapt disciplinary lines with impunity--and more creative and scientific evidence accrued. Eventually, scientists met at a conference in Seville, Spain, and drafted the Seville Statement, which simply says that we are hard-wired for choice, not pre-determined outcomes, in group-to-group conflict. Douglas Fry and others have written extensively on this since.

We can change our choices. We can move away from war. It is not pre-ordained that we do these godawful things to each other. We can do much better. It would be only natural.


Fry, D. P. (2006). The human potential for peace: An anthropological challenge to assumptions about war and violence. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Mead, Margaret, "Warfare is only an invention--not a biological necessity," in Barash, D. P. (Ed.) (2010). Approaches to peace: A reader in Peace Studies (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

National priorities

What blocks the US from instituting a nonviolent national policy toward others on this planet? Our devotion to violence and violent threat. Our military is fearsome and guarantees that we are hated by much of the world, feared by all, and that our ecology and economy are both in downward death spirals.

In the field of conflict resolution we are trained to look for win-win solutions, to examine how to construct possible conflict outcomes that can keep everyone satisfied, if not happy. We seldom say that two bodies of interests are mutually exclusive.

But this is the stalemate we find with the US military budget. It overwhelms and overshadows. It denies and steals. It hollows out everything else and it mandates massive pollution of our natural world even as it takes more and more from the possibilities of full employment, decent universal health care, education and environmental protection. The best source for analyzing this is the National Priorities Project. Spend some time on their website to gain the real numbers that they have made locally relevant.

Economists refer to this as 'opportunity costs,' that is, when we spend limited funds on one thing, we cannot spend those funds on another thing. The opportunities foreclosed by our US military budget are so great that they overshadow and yet are failing to inform our national discussion. It is as though we are stuck in the simplistic Ronald Reagan dictum, "Defense is not a budget issue."

Um, yes it is. And as overwhelming as it is to our economy--make no mistake, it is the root of our recession and unemployment--it is even more corrosive to how the rest of the world perceives us. That is how nonviolent conflict management is made impossible and is the primary source of the stalemate. We cannot be honest brokers of peace and have nearly 1,000 military bases on other peoples' sovereign soil. Everyone on Earth fears the US. What kind of country prefers respect based on fear rather than admiration?

Time to retake and remake our national image. That won't happen until we also solve our other economic problems, since it's all hooked to the military budget, the 1,000-pound gorilla in our living room.

Buy and save

On the Talk of the Nation, National Public Radio program of 24 August, 2010, those millions of us who were listening to Army Col. Doug MacGregor (ret.) and Lieutenant Colonel Jay Stout (U.S. Marine Corps, Retired) might be forgiven for wondering if MacGregor is in danger of losing his pension and Stout is receiving a bonus for his participation.

MacGregor, as is his wont, critiqued the US military in many ways, though he clearly also loves it. One senses from any conversation with him that MacGregor relishes battle, and if he can't find one with the enemy he picks one with those who kept him from the enemy. I suspect host Neal Conan, a fawning admirer of anything military, chooses to bring on MacGregor for two reasons. One, he is colorful and blunt. Two, he has a great voice. Perfect guest for talk radio. MacGregor does not much veil his anger at his former commanding officers, and his enduring disgust with Norman Schwartzkopf was clear as he bemoaned what he recalled as the stalling and hesitating that allowed the Iraqi Republican Guard to escape the US military in 1991. His position in the military seemed to be second tier authority--he led significant numbers but major decisions were made above his level. As a warrior, he felt betrayed and still feels it sharply. He was also clear in the interview that those decisions cost the US dearly and will into the future.

Jay Stout, on the other hand, seems like the permanent manchild without discernible conscience and a love for risk-free killing. Listen or read the transcript to hear him talk of feeling fear until he realized that no one was going to shoot at him and then his attitude changes from fearful to fearsome, like any 14-year-old who fails to understand the consequences of his actions on the lives of human beings, but instead regards the entire enterprise of military action as an adolescent adventure and a game. He is giddy and remembers to tell us that, "So again, I think it's important to understand that then and now, the United States taxpayer is getting quite a bit of value for their defense dollar."

He was speaking about the training aviators receive. MacGregor was referring to overal costs of decisions made at both top military and top political levels. Stout is convinced that the billions lavished on training flights is a great value and MacGregor is sure that the trillions spent since Gulf War I were unnecessary.

The tradeoffs, of course, are never adequately discussed on national media. What if we cut military spending by two-thirds and took a small portion of the enormous savings for nonviolent conflict management and the rest to shore up our economy and social safety net?

The National Priorities Project does the best work on this entire array of analytical challenges. Subscribe to their low volume, high quality email digest for bombproof data and particularized tools that allow you to look at what your state or even your city spends on war and gets in return. The information boils down to factual documentation that can be used at the national, state and local level to help bring all elected officials into this conversation, since all have a visible and quantifiable stake--or at least their constituents to, and the idea is to help enliven and empower our democracy with usable and crucial information.

I like MacGregor. I am not a violent warrior and I would disagree with him about the use of violence, but his frank and honest appraisal of situations looking at his version of the big picture is genuine and informed, if completely "politically incorrect." His disdain for all Arab military is over the top, but when I brought him to Portland to help us think about Iraq he summed it all up by saying that, at some point, we will leave Iraq, there will be a period of violence, and a strongman or authoritarian coalition will take power and there will be a new stability, the way it has happened for a long time. Every time outsiders try to change that, they simply destabilize it, more lives are lost, and the final result is predictable. His beef was not that the US drove Saddam out of Kuwait but that we occupied Iraq, something he rightly saw as totally futile.

Nonviolence based on measures of human security instead of national security in the interests of gain for profiteers is our only hope for the future. Mother Nature and the bulk of humanity are no longer willing or able to wait for America to get that, and the natural consequences of our failure to transform our approach to international relations will be more and more severe the longer it takes us. Time to get involved.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


We were hiking up and down a small mountain in southern Washington and a young colleague was bemoaning his failure to convince his family members of his positions on peace and justice. His family, he said, were mostly conservative, from the eastern Oregon regions that tend toward that political philosophy and positioning. I listened for a bit and said, "Just relax and try to avoid politics at family gatherings or don't go. The facts are never accepted when worldviews are at such odds."

However, as he taught me, family relationships have entered a new era of social networking, so that families continue these conversations ad nauseam long after the family gatherings have spread the seeds back to their new patches, their new political and philosophical soil. We were not only from liberal Portland, we were teaching peace and conflict resolution at Portland State University, and the two worlds always seemed to mash up poorly.

So, if assertions of the family members meet nose-to-nose, where is the truth? His case study of disagreement was the casus belli for invading Iraq, a favorite family bone of contention, I'm sure, in our American phenomenon of the divided clan. The facts could not be more clear to both sides.

Saddam was a tyrant and a terrorist, even using chemical weapons on Kurds and Iranians, and we did a noble thing in sending in our brave troops to depose him. There were mistakes of intelligence about his WMD, but that was due to his ongoing lies and obstructionism. He completely illegally and brutally invaded a neighboring country, Kuwait, and he was a tribal chief of the Sunni minority, crushing Kurds and Shia with his state terrorism. Getting him out of power was necessary.


Bush and Cheney, two oil men, fabricated the now discredited evidence for both the arguments for war. Ahmad Chalabi, the inveterate liar and power hungry Iraqi, hated Saddam, was the main source of bad intelligence, and played them. In turn, Bush and Cheney played the people of both countries. Saddam outlawed al Qa'ida in Iraq. Osama bin Laden had a death fatwa on Saddam the infidel (Saddam was a secular leader). Hans Blix and Mohammed Elbaradei had both said the WMD were gone from Iraq as far as they could tell--and they could tell much farther than anyone on Earth except Saddam himself.

The evidence for both arguments is there. It's a bit like the old Saturday Night Live skit, in which the product being advertised, Shimmer, is identified as a floor wax by one person and a dessert topping by another. "You're both right" says the announcer with great glee. "Shimmer is a floor wax and a dessert topping!"

The third alternative is studiously ignored by both sides. It was brought forth and remains the best summary of the first and second positions and it preceded both. Jack DuVall (above) and Peter Ackerman (below) wrote a germinal piece published in the Sept-Oct 2002 Sojourners magazine, advocating the nonviolent removal of the dictator. The evidence they cited for this possibility, and the prediction that the invasion of Iraq would be enormously costly to all, were both made well and still stand.

Our consternation on the nonviolent side is that we are always right and never listened to. Consider the issues. We were right about nuclear weapons, right about minority rights, right about conservation instead of more energy hog cars, right about Vietnam, and we should be regarded as prophetic after the debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan. But our analysis is so counterintuitive that it is dismissed in favor of what people know--violence or inaction. Do you want to kill somebody or just do nothing?

At some point, the evidence will mount up so high that the false choice of invasion or apathy will be irrelevant. When that day finally arrives, our American family fight over what to do may finally end.

Naw, we'll find something else to bicker about. But a nonviolent method of conflict management--which we manage to use in most of our families--will at least mean the damage is mitigated. I think the evidence for that should be obvious.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Left out: Back to the Gandhian basics

[Old photo from Sisters of the Road Cafe, 'Guitar Man' with Genny Nelson]
Many historians, countless analysts and most activists refer to the peace and justice movements as Leftists. But are we? What does that mean?

If Marx and Engels were the founders of the Left, and if Lenin and others carried the banner forward, then who did they exclude?

Pacifists were irrelevant, since the revolution was always envisioned as violent. Armed cadres, the vanguard of the revolution, were the privileged ones.

The poorest of the poor, the lumpen proletariat, were dismissed as unable to achieve the class consciousness required to matter. The beggars on the street, those who had been failed most miserably by the system, were deemed worthless in the quest for revolution.

Feminists who were not merely trying for humanization of women, but who were bringing forth a new model of flattened hierarchy instead of the male Marxist "supreme leader," were never going to advance much in the Old Left.

Which brings us to our case study in creating a Gandhian institution, a different sort of structural nonviolence social apparatus that features all the cast-off elements of the Left and the Right. In Portland, this case study is Sisters of the Road Cafe, and our friend Genny Nelson.

In the aftermath of the fissures, fractures, factionalizing and failures of the Left in America during the heady days of the 1960s and early 1970s, Genny Nelson turned to a different paradigm and created a synthesis of the best of the leadership of Dorothy Day, Gandhi, and her own brand of elicitive conflict transformation that presaged theorist-practitioners such as John Paul Lederach.

Dorothy and Mohandas both saw in the most disrespected, dismissed and disadvantaged the core of new consciousness, and Genny drew from both. Dorothy and Mohandas were contemporaries, more or less, although Dorothy was younger by almost 30 years. Still, they did some of their most germinal work in the same period of the 1930s, when Gandhi was maturing into a seasoned liberation leader and Day was founding the Catholic Worker movement in the US, a movement that has stayed minor but has gone global.

Gandhi worked extensively with the Dalit, the so-called Untouchables, and he lived with them several times as he organized in various Indian cities on different campaigns. He called them Harijan, Children of God, and was slow to develop his own consciousness about them--he still supported the caste system in the early 1920s--but by the last two decades of his life he worked as much on fighting the notion that an ethnic group should be born into a low status as he did for the independence of India. In guru-culture India, Gandhi was seen by many as a demigod, and by many more as a holy man. Many asked him to perform marriages. By the end of his life he would only officiate or bless marriages that were of a Dalit and a non-Dalit. In interviews with western journalists he declared that if he could set policy for a post-colonial free India he would end the caste system.

At the same time, in the US, Dorothy Day started her Catholic Worker, serving the poorest of the poor, feeding them and sheltering them. Like Gandhi, she responded to great need out of a genuine connection to humankind--her time, her love, her care and her devotion were to the remnants, the dregs, the left-out lumpens. She lived with them in her house and spent hours listening to them. Day's roots were leftist but she rejected those roots in part because she said the communists were all theory and no action, except the action of hate and violence. Her attraction to leftist thinking had to do with ending income and wealth disparity, not to the violent revolutionary bombast. There were no communist houses of hospitality for those ruined by the capitalist war system. Dorothy also felt strongly that the Catholic church had no class analysis and no tendency to do systemic change, only a charity model. She took what she identified as the strongest components of the leftist thinking and the church's actions and left the rest on the cutting room floor.

Genny Nelson jumped into that harness in her young adult life and has been doing it ever since. She is not a national leader for two reasons. One, she doesn't have that desire nor style. Two, she can't travel much and is often in trouble when she does because of her lifelong struggle against the most debilitating form of diabetes. Indeed, she is in the cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit in an Indiana hospital as I write this, in recovery from her second heart attack, suffered as she visited her mother. She had hoped to then spend time with her children in Chicago. I've only known Genny since 2002, but it seems that when she travels she is so vulnerable that she is likely to end up in the hospital at some point, though this is the most serious bout to date.

So Genny was working in the streets in Portland as a young Catholic Worker and asked the skid row lumpen what might be a good thing. They said they wanted some community gathering place, someplace to eat a meal together that wasn't charity but wasn't capitalist--that didn't charge much and that wasn't concerned with quick turnover of the tables to make more money. They didn't want to get any religious proselytizing. She listened and acted and thus birthed Sisters of the Road Cafe. It never had a supreme leader, ran on a pacifist philosophy, and produced two generations of lumpen proletariat in Portland who have a distinct class consciousness and the organizational ability to struggle with nonviolent means for more justice, more equality, more opportunity and more community collective security through creating a culture of peace.

Genny has never sold herself as a Dorothy Day or a Gandhi--indeed, I think she cusses just to throw us off the scent. But she flattened the hierarchy of Sisters and that movement in the streets of Portland more than either Gandhi or Day did with their movements--for all their love and vision and brilliance, Mohandas Gandhi and Dorothy Day were both supreme leaders in their own ways. Genny has always spread the authority around and has formed a community of leadership at Sisters. Any movement founded upon listening to those rejected by left and right, by paying attention to and serving and working with those disenfranchised by our war system, will have some very interesting leadership. Nonviolent power works in mysterious ways, but I believe those interested in it will study Genny Nelson's model for its many lessons. And I hope when she emerges from her current health crisis she will set down those lessons for us to learn from.

Bless your heart, Genny. We send love.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

An angel of nonviolence

Genny Nelson is the Dorothy Day of Portland, Oregon, beloved by thousands hereabouts. She and I had dinner a few weeks ago and discussed many things, as we often do, but one was her planned trip to Indiana to visit her mother and then to Chicago to visit her children.
We met in August, 2002, introduced by a former student of mine, a brilliant schizophrenic whose periodic bouts with mental illness landed her in the street, homeless and wandering. We were all crying, not because our meet-up was sentimental, but because we were all tear-gassed by the Portland police, who were protecting the Hilton Hotel from us, since there were a couple thousand of us and George W. Bush was in the Hilton. It was the perfect place to meet Genny and to begin a sweet friendship.
Genny is the matron saint of all those in Portland who are in trouble. Like Dorothy Day, she connects to people at a human level of profound respect and care for each person. Indeed, Genny Nelson typifies the soul of charisma, which, contrary to popular opinion, is not about fiery oratory or defiant leadership. The center of charisma is the near magical ability of some gifted humans to actually care about you and transmit the authenticity of that care to you, even speaking to a large crowd.
Genny is charismatic. The genuine connection she makes with everyone who crosses her path is rare, remarkable, and game-changing. Leadership like hers comes seldom. It was tough to see her retire this year.
And it's even tougher at this moment. She's had a heart attack and is in the Intensive Care Unit at Lutheran Hospital of Indiana in Fort Wayne. Genny is younger than I am--she was born in 1952--and that is always hard to take. She's not yet 60 and I want her to be in good health as she works on her writing and enjoys retirement.
To learn much more about Genny's work, visit the website of Sisters of the Road Cafe, which she started more than 30 years ago, and watch the Get Well video posted there.
In all her talks and trainings, Genny's primary grounding was nonviolence, a word she used to bring the tone of the group to a centeredness around what she called 'a place of nonviolence.' The last time we had dinner, on July 28, we envisioned doing some trainings together at Sisters, of establishing her emeritus status there, and we discussed co-teaching a class at Portland State University, using some of the materials she had developed over the years in her work.
Genny Nelson, get better now so we can move all those plans forward. You are one of the most precious people I've ever met, beloved and rightly so. I've never seen anyone more capable of calming the troubled waters so overwhelming to so many. Aside from Dorothy Day, I doubt anyone in the US has given more of the lumpenproletariat a more accurate, understandable and usable structural analysis--the grassroots-organized initiatives that have sprung from Sisters, such as Dignity Village, speak to that. She was joined annually by Utah Phillips in this--he would come perform in a benefit for Sisters every year while he was alive (pictured here with Genny and Jack Tafari of Dignity Village) You've fed their bodies, their minds, their spirits and their hearts for decades. Now we want your heart to heal and your beautiful spirit and healthy body back here in Portland, your town.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Killing humanitarian workers

On August 19, 2003, the UN was terror-bombed in Baghdad, slaughtering 22 people who were there on humanitarian missions.
On August 5, this year, this month, 10 more unarmed aid workers were intentionally murdered in Afghanistan. [pictured: office of aid organization whose workers were attacked on Aug. 5]
In 2008, 260 humanitarian aid workers were murdered, most of them in just three nations: Afghanistan, Somalia and the Darfur region of Sudan.
What does this mean?
There are many interesting perspectives, some favoring more military intervention and some suggesting that increased militarism is responsible for much of it.
The simple solution, according to rightwing and US government analysts, is more guns to protect these workers--especially in Afghanistan. That is the intuitive, imperial, commonsense view, reminiscent of the British author and poet Hilaire Beloc, who ended one of his 1898 poems with the lines that underscore the attitudes that most Euro-US militarists have (updated to the new millennium):
Whatever happens we have got
the Maxim gun and they have not.

In other words, it's like the Fred Ward military officer character in the 1988 film, Off Limits, who told the Vietnamese officer, "We are never outgunned."
And more guns were the policy in the occupation of Vietnam right up to the point of loss and retreat, which is exactly what is going to happen in Afghanistan.
The complexity of the risks to humanitarian aid workers cannot be overstated.
If they take military protection, they are targeted by insurgents.
If they assist the regular folks on the ground they are viewed with suspicion by both insurgents--who are always justifiably paranoid about spies--and by the occupiers, who are afraid of humanitarian aid workers developing too much sympathy for guerrilla troops. And the occupying troops just don't like independent witnesses; they like to control all the news and messages coming out of 'their' country.
Since the founding of the Red Cross in 1863 these dynamics have been felt by humanitarian aid workers. Many have gone past the militarists' intuition that we must never be outgunned to the nonviolent knowledge that our neutrality is underscored by our vulnerability. And indeed, for most of the past century and more, international humanitarian aid workers who do not accept military protection are often more safe than are the ones who do.
At this juncture, the conspiracy-minded might suggest that the militarists are happy that the Taliban is claiming they killed the 10 aid workers from the International Assistance Mission. [pictured: Tom Little, one of the 10 murdered workers]
See? We need more troops there. We need to outgun the Taliban. Some even suggest that our CIA was involved in some perverse plot to escalate that sentiment of deepening the occupation on the justification that we need to overwhelm the obviously insane Islamicists who cut off hands, stone those who fall in love and elope, and fire cannons into statues of Buddha.
If this is our logic, we will need to own that country, colonize it, and stay there for several hundred years. Since that is not the plan, we hope, we need alternatives. The nonviolent alternative is a two-part plan:
  1. Get out.
  2. Support nonviolent indigenous, UN and INGO efforts.
Some say that international humanitarian aid workers are at high risk. Correct. But since thousands of armed fighters get killed in these wars, are the aid workers the ones more at risk? Is nonviolence really more risky than violence? All deaths--each individual death--are consummate tragedies, and the safest path is to stay at home and avoid helping anyone except oneself. But if one is intent on helping the world, the statistically safe mode is not only unarmed but avowedly nonviolent and not accepting military 'protection' of any sort. Just as in all other nonviolent efforts, our vulnerability is our paradoxical power, because it represents power with, not power over, and is more often respected out of admiration rather than fear. Fear leads more often to violence, which is not rocket science, but it's still counterintuitive to many. Once we finally get that, we can convince Americans to draw down and join the community of humanity instead of trying to rule it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Double E for peace

Two steps to end the US armed presence in Afghanistan:
  • educate Americans about this issue
  • elect the new Congress, which stops all funding for Afghanistan, ending the occupation
This is doable. Each step is possible with enough unity and focus.
If peace activists committed to writing two letters to the editor per week--hardly a big job, only requiring discipline--that would start the education process. Call in to one talk radio program or contact one radio show host or producer each week. Contact one television program, station, host or producer each week. Blog on some aspect of this once per week. Talk to some leadership in some organization to which you belong--community, work, religious--and discuss dialog opportunities at least once each week. Leaflet on a public sidewalk just one hour per week--an actual leaflet produced by a peace group or your own talking points or a reprint of some article. The message is always a variant of This is a bad policy; we can vote in a new Congress.
There are infinite strands in this braid, but the most important is to get one viable candidate to commit to voting against further funding for war in Afghanistan. At the beginning of your education campaign, if no viable candidate has made that pledge, note that in your educational materials and urge people to pressure the candidates. In your letters to the editor and all other outreach efforts, make some mention of the crucial nature of this election. Urge people to live as though they are in a democratic society with choices. Help them understand their choices. Notify your candidates--incumbents and challengers--that this means a great deal and that their commitment is key to their success. Assure them you are serious and that you will keep in contact with them after you help them win. Get your candidate in office and stay on the job until this war is defunded and done.
Why would we think this is impossible? People fight with violence and nonviolence alike for the simple right to participate in electing the people they want to execute the policy they prefer. Yes, there are elite interests arrayed in favor of more war. Stop them. Yes, they have purchased the temporary loyalty of some workers, including the military and the private contractors who make and wield weapons and other profitable components of running a war. Teach them that they can stay employed in a robust peace system. Teach all the underemployed and unemployed that this war and the DoD budget in general is exactly why they cannot find work.
Get unity. Get that peace movement moving. Grow it with a commitment to change and not merely as a function of emotional venting for a tiny group who currently hijack that movement and act out. Develop a peace movement that has clout with average Americans, one that is the reasonable alternative to this insane war system.
This is a question of individual and collective commitment, not capability. The capacity exists if we decide it does and then act on it. We will get the war or the peace we earn. This is not complex and it's not easy; it's democracy, if we want it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Gandhi still experimenting

So, what is new in nonviolence since the Mahatma moved on? He left some big sandals to fill and it's rare to find any idea about nonviolence that he didn't already have, try out, or for which he did not at least create an analog. With his quips to reporters and his voluminous correspondence, one might even say he anticipated organizing with emails and tweets 80 years before either.

Indeed, that is one of the new components of nonviolence, when the poor masses can stay one tech step ahead of their lumbering oppressors. The world of the citizen journalist was certainly well and truly occupied by Gandhi as he edited newsletters, wrote guest editorials for the British press, and prepared prodigious amounts of argument in his various writings--all gathered for posterity in the 100 volumes of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. Each of the 100 volumes is about 500 pages. Gandhi communicated.

It may be that we have been just backsliding in many ways since a cruel misguided assassin took Gandhi from us. After all, our notions about religion can't seem to rise to his ecumenism or his interpretation of the religious literature as mandating nonviolence. Religion, after all, is in some profound ways both connected to, and the polar opposite of, Gandhian nonviolence. Religion almost always offers its believers comfort in absolute truth, one eternal way, without shades of gray and certainly without change. Religion sets up the us and them dichotomy far more often than it does an inclusive humanity for all believers and nonbelievers alike (or believers, believers in something different, and nonbelievers--but for true believers, there are only two categories).

Gandhi, however, subtitled his autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth. How confusing. What do you mean, Mohandas? How do you experiment with truth? Do you test to see if it is findable? Do you boil it to see if it explodes? Do you run it through a sieve to see if it's pure?

What Gandhi meant, I believe, is that he reflected as objectively and rationally as he could on the merits or failings of his methods and the assumptions that caused him to decide to use them. Then, if something seemed lacking, he added something. If something seemed superfluous, he took it out. If something needed changing, he'd devise a different permutation. He saw this as his version of the scientific method, which is certainly was. He was not a lab scientist, nor was he an observer of other people's events. He was in the thick of it and he took the time to reflect and adjust based upon the new truths he found.

Yes, he was searching for eternal verities, just like any good scientist. He hoped to connect them to religion, to values that he believed were holy and sacred, but he was not pretending to speak the word of God, immutable and eternal. He was seeking it with all his rational powers. He was the complete opposite of the fundamentalist, open to learning, unwilling to kill the unbelievers, ready to dialog rather than lecture.

So those who learn from Gandhi are carrying on his experiments, from Barbara Deming's challenging applications to a wide range of issues in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, to the Serb students and their amazing lessons learned as they overthrew Milosevic in 2000.
Some are in the streets, some are crunching data and contemplating its meaning, and some are pausing to think long about this nonviolence business and how it can bring hope to a world still stuck at war, still mired in religion so backward that loving couples are stoned to death in the name of religion, still willing to arm itself with weapons that are as blasphemous as they are destructive, and still willing to try to live large at the expense of Creation. There is no greater hope than nonviolence and no greater need to try to understand it than right now. Gandhi's experiments are done: Long live Gandhi's experiments.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Not your Granny's nonviolence

In our endless effort to update our knowledge about nonviolence, I'd propose a blogstorm with all my readers, or with both of them, as the case may be. The question I'm asking is, How has the theory and practice of nonviolence changed as we've crossed a decade into a new millennium?

There are many other generally related questions about nonviolence, such as What Gandhian nonviolence methods are probably cultural specific and which might be more universal? or Are there any of Gandhi's methods that are now outdated? or WWGD if he were alive today? and so forth. But I wonder if we might start thinking about what the newest advances might be? I hope you'll comment.

I'm going to start by noting that we finally have some empirical research to back up our idea that nonviolence works. The 2005 Freedom House study is one of them and the work that is underway at Wesleyan University under the intellectual leadership of Erica Chenoweth is another profound set of contributions to our knowledge about nonviolence. This work is complex and starts to prove out the distinct pain-gain advantage of strategic nonviolence.

Another possible area of exploration is the uptick in nonviolent accompaniment work. This has become more routinized by nongovernmental organizations such as Peace Brigades International, Christian Peacemaker Teams and Nonviolent Peaceforce. Early assessment of this by Liam Mahony and Luis Eguren has helped us start to grasp the power in this tactic.

What other facets of nonviolence are relatively new, either beyond Gene Sharp's 198 ways or much more developed since his 1973 blockbuster trilogy on the Power, Methods, and Dynamics of nonviolence?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Silencio y nonviolencio

For the past few days, but only really for two nights, we at Whitefeather Peace House have been gifted with a family of gracious guests. Pancho was our connection; he is involved in the Metta Center for Nonviolence, and we have a couple of strong connections there, including Stephanie Van Hook and Michael Nagler.

In between staying at Whitefeather last Thursday night and leaving last evening for points south, this lovely family visited Bainbridge Island to visit the offices of Yes! magazine and to talk to David Korten. So we were the pitstop before and after.

The father, Victor, is an economist and taught at the university in Mexico City on and off for some 25 years. He studied in St. Paul in the mid-1970s and then in Switzerland to earn his Ph.D. He is gregarious and multilingual. Conchita is his wife; she and Pancho prepared a most delicious and beautiful meal last evening, as traditionally Mexican as they could from what was on hand. Ivan is the 12-year-old, quiet and curious, connecting with big brotherliness to Alexa, the five-year-old Center of Energy hereabouts.

Pancho is the Mexican Gandhi, even practicing a day of silence each week, on Mondays. I told him my favorite story about Gandhi's practice, told by a woman who lived and worked on one of his ashrams (paraphrase):

A few of us women were working in the ashram office on a Monday morning, laughing and chatting as we worked. Gandhi came in, silent as on all Mondays, and sat off to the side, doing his office work. We started to gossip about some bureaucrat who had come to 'inspect' the ashram, a most pompous man. One of us said, "And he was the ugliest man in the world." Suddenly we all saw Gandhi scowling. "What?" we asked, but it was his silent day. He continued to scowl as we looked at each other in consternation. Suddenly, one of us said, "The second to the ugliest man in the world!" and he beamed at us.
Pancho laughed a long time at that one, for the beauty of it at so many levels, for the egolessness that the aspirant can learn, for the commonplace and thus accessible office gossip of the ashram, for the endless plague of bureaucrats from society to society, and for the communication of silence. Indeed, while many spiritual traditions practice versions of vows of silence, it turns out to be one of the connections to our theories of conflict resolution and is crucial to the strategic success of nonviolence. How can the necessary coalitions be built without listening more than we talk?How can the stories of those with grievances be truly heard and deeply felt without trading periods of intent silence?

How can a leader learn to be a vector of messaging, a conduit of concern, and thus a node bridging subnetworks into larger and larger networks without simple silence, but the silence of rapt attention to the problems, ideas, inspirations and process of all the parties?

Silence is how we attain the spinfree mental state necessary to those Archmedian Eureka! moments, the condition necessary to reach the empty mind, dialtone brain that allows the elements of complex problems to resort, reframe, and reassert themselves in a new configuration in our thinking. Silence gives the great composers the blank score they fill with the notes that move magically through the generations.

So, silence is the inner work of the creative and the connecting intake of the leader; Gandhi connected the two. His inner jihad, his silent struggle to overcome his turmoil and express an organized response, informed his work in the world, the jihad of nonviolent liberation of a huge pluralistic people from the largest and most widespread empire the world had seen.

Sigurd Olson, one of my Minnesota childhood heroes, founded the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. He called his wilderness cabin Listening Point.
My father gave me both trips to the wilderness and the Sig Olson books, one of which was in fact titled Listening Point. Sig went to pay attention to the wild and he preserved a great section of it.

Nowadays, social psychologists and activists have been conducting listening projects, seeking the stories of constituencies. These have been a major piece of some of the best community organizing. The gang member has a story and if he can tell it perhaps he won't have to make his mark with his gun. Same with a cop. And when they hear each other's pain and hopes, the violence isn't quite so likely, not as necessary. In the end, violence and nonviolence are communication. Words to fists to guns to bombs--we do what it takes to get our presence, if not our accurate message, across. Meeting it all with silence, with listening, is how we de-escalate and move back to our human gift of speech, which is meaningless without the corresponding silence of the listener. Indeed, when I train those who are going to take the field to Vibeswatch large social events that are also contentious, I let folks know that the fastest way to convert the energy of the angry one to manageable levels is to ask a question and then honestly listen. If the angry one is heard, there is no need to escalate to the fist or beyond. Just notify the belligerent that you want to know what is wrong and then prove it by listening and acknowledging.

Of course, there is also the story of the Trappists who took a vow of silence. After three years, one said at the long wooden dinner table, "Please try not to leave the bathroom water basin dirty, thanks so much." After another two years of silence one other monk said, "I think I've been scrubbing the basin very clean, my friend." After another four years of silence a third monk observed one evening, "Can we please stop this constant bickering?"

Comments? I'm listening.