Thursday, January 13, 2011

Choose life

This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live. Deuteronomy 30:19

The simplest, most direct definition of Johan Galtung's term, "positive peace" is "peace and justice by peaceable means." Galtung, the Norwegian peace scholar who did so much of our germinal thinking in our field, has longer and more complex definitions and explanations, all of which are quite valuable. I'm suggesting the bumper sticker version because we are part of a bumper sticker culture.

How does this connect to the Old Testament?

Our US approach to peace is what Galtung termed negative peace, the peace of empire, imposed peace, or peace at the point of a gun. The most benign form of it is the matriarchal peace, telling the children to stop fighting "or else." The most malignant form of it is that described by Niccolo Machiavelli in chapter five of The Prince, when he advises the ruler that the best way to rule another people's land is to install an indigenous ruler who will do the bidding of the distant Prince.

Here is how Machiavelli begins to describe this:

Whenever those states which have been acquired as stated have been accustomed to live under their own laws and in freedom, there are three courses for those who wish to hold them: the first is to ruin them, the next is to reside there in person, the third is to permit them to live under their own laws, drawing a tribute, and establishing within it an oligarchy which will keep it friendly to you. Because such a government, being created by the prince, knows that it cannot stand without his friendship and interest, and does it utmost to support him; and therefore he who would keep a city accustomed to freedom will hold it more easily by the means of its own citizens than in any other way.

This is why it takes so long to "train" the Iraqi police and soldiers or the Afghan police and soldiers. First, you have to convince them not to be part of the natural insurgency that is inevitably rising up to oppose the installed leadership. The days of the installed Reza Pahlavi--the Shah of Iran, so blatantly loyal to his US masters--are done. People get this and will not stand for it. So the Nouri Kamil Mohammed Hasan al-Malikis (Prime Minister of Iraq, former exiled hustler for anti-Saddam Shia guerrillas funded and armed by Iran and Syria) and the Hamid Karzais (President of Afghanistan) are the new breed. They fuss against their imperial patrons and publicly distance themselves from their sponsors much more than the poobahs of the past, but most of their people still get it. When the bags of cash walk in from Iran or the pallets of shrink-wrapped cash are fork-lifted off US military cargo planes, the people find out and know that their leaders are not as indigenous as all that.

So this is what we fund. And in the face of recession and joblessness and rampant home foreclosures and increases in homelessness, what is the response of our government, from Congress to the White House? Cut the life-affirming programs and spend more on death machines and propping up our puppets in various other strategic nations. Look at the chart. It shows 58 percent of our discretionary fed spending on military and even that is not accurate in the sense that it doesn't include items that are really military, such as Veterans Administration, most of NASA, and the entire nuclear arsenal, which falls, incredibly, under the Department of Energy.

We are choosing death. The natural outcome of all this is an increase in insecurity, not security, and an over reliance on violence as the way to protect and preserve, even though, as we see, that reliance so often ends in tragedy and bloodshed.

How basic is all this? This is fundamental. The choice toward death is one that defines us to the world and contaminates our very social fabric, sacralizing True Grit, gun-toting, shoot-first-style conflict resolution instead of respectful dialog and thoughtful negotiation.

Choose life. Get involved. Show yourself, your family, your neighbors and your fellow members of the polis that a growing number of us reject the death choice and embrace life. The time has come. The choices are more clear every day.

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