Monday, August 20, 2012

What women want: More angry white men?

Since Paul Ryan's ascension to the 2012 vice-presidential candidate status, much of the talk has been that he will garner a lot of votes from women that Obama was going to get when Romney stood alone. Ryan is cute and in shape, so of course that is all women want from their candidates, right?

I don't know why women like Obama more than they like Romney. Maybe Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin can help us understand. He's a Republican congressman from Missouri. He seems well informed. Like Paul Ryan, he has the support of the Tea Party, so I'm sure their collective pool of critical thinking has helped inform their messaging methods. I wonder if they've brought on Mel Gibson as a celebrity spokesman to help them craft this clear call for the votes from real men?
The truly funny part is that Romney accuses Obama of the politics of division and of class warfare. Obama is a promise-breaking incumbent (and probably a few other redundancies as well), but the more the Rs descend into their attacks on women the more they guarantee their own loss. Yes, they will gain more and more of the extreme rightwing angry white male (by now you are on Full Redundancy Alert, I assume) vote, but has anyone mentioned to them that even if all of those AWM Tea Party guys vote for Ryan and Romney, they will lose?

One of my challenges to my women Peace and Conflict Studies students when we study the power of nonviolence in the context of the women's suffrage movement is, "So, during that struggle men worried that if women got the vote the US wouldn't ever go to war again. You all have had the vote since 1920--when will you get organized to prove them right?"

Sigh. Will we always be cornered by a "choice" of war candidates? Will we ever finally finally finally get a peace candidate who will keep us out of war and dismantle a war machine of war profiteers that keeps the world armed and at war?

If we do, I think we will likely credit women and people of color, but I am not holding my breath. We have so much work to do and the vast majority of it is not voting but is in the daily participation in public education and grassroots action.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

God-given or demonic?

What do we Americans think about rights and privileges? What does our government--and in a democracy, that is supposed to be us writ large--do about the distinction between the two?

Do we have a right to own a gun or is it a privilege? At what point in the limitation of any right does that right become merely a privilege?

If we think about the laws that restrict voting, which is supposedly a right, we might start to think of it as a right for whites if we are in favor of the deep concern that Republicans have for stopping voter fraud, the ways in which they have done so, and the resultant disenfranchisement of many people of color. Indeed, the real fraud in these cases are the initiatives that have stripped so many legitimate voters of their rights, reducing them to mere privileges for voters more likely to vote in the likes of Romney-Ryan.
Tom Toles
Guns, by contrast, are viewed by about half of Americans as so sacred that they oppose gun control. Mass shootings are becoming a weekly phenomenon in the US, and the silly argument that these shootings tend to happen in places with more gun laws is belied by the nationwide proscription of real gun laws imposed by a Supreme Court much more enamored of the Second Amendment than of the post-Civil War amendments meant to enfranchise all US adults, not just whites.

We Americans need to think about rights and privileges and make some decisions from the grassroots, since decisions made from the top seem to serve the elites first and the rest of us last, if at all. Is the ability to threaten life on earth with nuclear weapons a right or privilege? How about health care?

It comes down in many cases to a fine balance and critically considered evaluation of our enlightened self-interest and compassion, two things that more critical thinking would help us bring closer together. I am cheered most right now about how we are thinking about "illegal" immigrants and what to do about them. Three out of five of us think they should be able to seek citizenship and just a third of us want them deported. This is amazing to me when I think about the tough talk by so many politicians, especially the Republicans, who try to divide and, as usual, conquer us.

It is indeed time to arm ourselves--with the knowledge and ability to resolve conflict nonviolently, which reclassifies many rights and privileges and helps us promote egalitarian and just solutions, not the big divide gaps that make us so fearful and confused.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Another Just War or Just Another War?

What rationales do we use before we wage war? How can we justify it?

Actually, justifying war is the easy part.

Every nation or group that initiates violence believes that war is forced on it by the other side and so turn to just-war doctrine to explain the atrocities they are about to inflict on their fellow humans. 
--Kent Shifferd, 2011, p. 82
Shifferd is correct about the people of a nation or tribe or breakaway group--they are brought to the belief that not only is war justified, it is compelled by the corner into which another, unjust and violent, power has driven one's own peace-loving people. The most clearly aggressive wars are framed that way and people do not have the conscience, discipline and simple investigative motivation to challenge that frame.

What are the elements of this doctrine? From Wikipedia:
Criteria of Just War theoryJust War Theory has two sets of criteria. The first establishing jus ad bellum, the right to go to war; the second establishing jus in bello, right conduct within war.[19]Jus ad bellumMain article: Jus ad bellumJust cause
  • The reason for going to war needs to be just and cannot therefore be solely for recapturing things taken or punishing people who have done wrong; innocent life must be in imminent danger and intervention must be to protect life. A contemporary view of just cause was expressed in 1993 when the US Catholic Conference said: "Force may be used only to correct a grave, public evil, i.e., aggression or massive violation of the basic human rights of whole populations."
Comparative justice
  • While there may be rights and wrongs on all sides of a conflict, to overcome the presumption against the use of force, the injustice suffered by one party must significantly outweigh that suffered by the other. Some theorists such as Brian Orend omit this term, seeing it as fertile ground for exploitation by bellicose regimes.
Competent authority
  • Only duly constituted public authorities may wage war. "A just war must be initiated by a political authority within a political system that allows distinctions of justice. Dictatorships (e.g. Hitler's Regime) or deceptive military actions (e.g. the 1968 US bombing of Cambodia) are typically considered as violations of this criterion. The importance of this condition is key. Plainly, we cannot have a genuine process of judging a just war within a system that represses the process of genuine justice. A just war must be initiated by a political authority within a political system that allows distinctions of justice".[20]
Right intention
  • Force may be used only in a truly just cause and solely for that purpose—correcting a suffered wrong is considered a right intention, while material gain or maintaining economies is not.
Probability of success
  • Arms may not be used in a futile cause or in a case where disproportionate measures are required to achieve success;
Last resort
  • Force may be used only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted or are clearly not practical. It may be clear that the other side is using negotiations as a delaying tactic and will not make meaningful concessions.
  • The anticipated benefits of waging a war must be proportionate to its expected evils or harms. This principle is also known as the principle of macro-proportionality, so as to distinguish it from the jus in bello principle of proportionality.
In modern terms, just war is waged in terms of self-defense, or in defense of another (with sufficient evidence).
Jus in belloOnce war has begun, just war theory (Jus in bello) also directs how combatants are to act or should act:
Distinction Proportionality
  • Just war conduct should be governed by the principle of proportionality. An attack cannot be launched on a military objective in the knowledge that the incidental civilian injuries would be clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage (principle of proportionality).
Military necessity
  • Just war conduct should be governed by the principle of minimum force. An attack or action must be intended to help in the military defeat of the enemy, it must be an attack on a military objective, and the harm caused to civilians or civilian property must be proportional and not excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated. This principle is meant to limit excessive and unnecessary death and destruction.
Fair treatment of prisoners of war
  • Enemy soldiers who surrendered or who are captured no longer pose a threat. It is therefore wrong to torture them or otherwise mistreat them.
No means malum in se
  • Soldiers may not use weapons or other methods of warfare which are considered evil, such as mass rape, forcing soldiers to fight against their own side or using weapons whose effects cannot be controlled (e.g. nuclear weapons).
The paradox, of course, is that no proposed war can ever again meet the criteria because there is always a nonviolent alternative and last resort is never reached. Gene Sharp's list of 198 ways is old and out-of-date, but they should all be tried earnestly before waging war. Nonviolent actionists have invented many more since his 1973 list. It is virtually impossible to achieve last resort.
In truth, it is the leadership who generally has another agenda but slowly convinces the masses to go along with the war. The Just War doctrine is just a framing tool to provide plausible deniability, but the research into nonviolence is making that deniability less and less plausible every day.

Shifferd, Kent D. (2011). From war to peace: A guide to the next hundred years. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Who are the hawks? Budget or military?

From a peace and justice standpoint, how can we begin to create more of both? How can we make a society that tends to bring us more peace and more justice?

We might begin by examining what we do with the fruits of our labors, that is, our incomes. We can do this on a personal basis in two ways.

One, how do I spend my money? Am I giving enough to others or am I keeping everything for myself? This is a moot point, of course, if we make little and support our families with a modest income, but it becomes more serious if we are making enough to judiciously share with others and we choose not to do so. This should be one of those matters we grapple with as people who live in good conscience.

Two, how do I help my collective, my society, my nation, to spend our collective funds in a wise way that tends to produce more peace, more justice? In other words, how is our public treasure--mostly our taxes--spent? Can we justify our massive devotion to our war machine when so many are in dire need of the basic necessities of life? Do we somehow believe that maintaining injustice will foster peace for us now or in the future?

As Kent Shifferd (2011) observes, “One nation spends $4.5 million on a robot killing machine while multitudes in another try to live on a dollar a day and scrounge in burning garbage dumps for food” (p. 103).

How do these questions play out in the upcoming election? Clearly, for those who prefer to invest in peace and justice, we have a presidential race featuring poor choices, but those who argue that there is no choice, that is, that a Romney regime would be equivalent to another Obama term, should reconsider in the light of what we know about Paul Ryan v Barack Obama. They have number-crunching track records after their terms in fed office and the National Priorities Project is, in my view, the best at parsing out that side of this host of questions. They show what it will mean:
There is daylight between these budgets, enough to do real harm or real good (all in the context of keeping the same basic commitment to a war system, certainly). It will be up to each of us to personally assess the value of our votes as we think about it all over the next period leading up to the election. At the very least, we might keep in mind those who are forced by structural violence, by extreme poverty, to sift garbage for food, and ask if a fed budget spending less on armaments might be better for those people and ultimately for all of us.


Shifferd, Kent D. (2011). From war to peace: A guide to the next hundred years. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

What is war? What are the trends on war?

War on drugs. War on poverty. War on terrorism. Trade war. Price war. War for your soul. War of ideas. War of words.

War is a loose phrase to many, used metaphorically by journalists and policymakers, but it actually needed a definition when people began to research war with the idea of possibly preventing it rather than simply researching ways to make it more lethal and victorious.
Wikipedia notes that, "In the 1832 treatise On War, Prussian military general and theoretician Carl von Clausewitz defined war as follows: 'War is thus an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.'"

That is a bit squiffy. But von Clausewitz wrote before Gandhi was born, so he wasn't familiar with too many examples of using nonviolence to wage struggle and to compel the adversary to do something. And von Clausewitz should have made distinctions between, say, armed robbery and war. An individual sticking a gun in my ribs and taking my life savings of $11.32 is not actually waging a real war, but it is an act of force. How many attackers, defenders and mortalities do we need before we call it a war? We need something more exact.

"War is any conflict in which over 1,000 people are killed" (Shifferd, 2011, p. 15).

Yikes. What about 999 deaths from a violent conflict? What is that? "Low intensity conflict," according to the various being counters who track such things. Since Americans seem to count war dead as Americans only, most of the institutes that study war are in fact not American (with the notable exception of the Correlates to War project), though activists here try to help us think about it. 

What is war right now on Earth? Again, from Wikipedia:

"Conflicts in the following list are currently causing at least 1,000 violent deaths per year, a categorization used by the Uppsala Conflict Data Program[57] and recognised by the United Nations.[58][59] The UN also use the term "low intensity conflict," which can overlap with the 1,000 violent deaths per year categorisation.[60]
Start of conflict War/conflict Location Cumulative fatalities Fatalities in 2010/11
1964 Colombian Armed Conflict  Colombia 150,000–200,000[61] 1,000+[62]
1967 Naxalite-Maoist insurgency  India ~11,200 1,174+[63]
1978 Afghan Civil war  Afghanistan 600,000–2,000,000[citation needed] 10,461+ [64]
1991 Somali Civil War  Somalia 300,000[65]–400,000[66] 2,318+[67]
2004 War in North-West Pakistan  Pakistan 30,452[68] 7,435[69]
2004 Shia Insurgency in Yemen  Yemen and  Saudi Arabia 25,000[70] 8,000
2006 Mexican Drug War  Mexico 39,392+[71] 24,374[72]
2009 Sudanese nomadic conflicts  Sudan 2,000–2,500[73] 708
2011 Sudan–SPLM-N conflict  Sudan 1,500+ 1,500+[citation needed]
2011 2011 Syrian uprising  Syria 3,000+[74] 3,000+"

So, says one of the best sources, the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, we have 10 wars raging right now, which have resulted in the deaths of more than one million human beings.

Disease and accidents are terrible and need our attention. War (and "low intensity conflict"!) need to be transformed to nonviolent struggle if we are to evolve as humans. This is not only possible, it's underway. In 2003 there were 21 such wars raging and during the 1990s there were often more than 30 wars underway.

Are we making progress? Yes, but it's mixed. One trend is that a much higher percent of mortalities are civilian, but another is decrease in interstate war. Clearly, peace research and human ingenuity are beginning to win the ultimate war: War on war. Let's keep pushing. Let's compel that adversary to do our will, which is to learn to wage conflict with nonviolent force. It's like solar power and electric cars--ideas whose time is overdue and arriving.

Shifferd, Kent D. (2011). From war to peace: A guide to the next hundred years. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Monday, August 13, 2012

War system?

We live in a war system with a war machine providing the moving parts.

How can I claim this? The domestic US is nothing like Somalia, the Balkans of the 1990s, like Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine, much of the Arabian peninsula, or Colombia. People live their entire lives entirely separate from war. Our foreign policies can be ignored by anyone who wants to in the US, with no conscription and no serious chance of foreign invasion nor significant chance of a military coup.
Still, we live in a war system with a war machine providing the moving parts. Indeed, the fact that we march on, into war after war without real overt involvement of civil society underscores that point. Even without conscription, we invade and occupy, getting all the volunteer warriors we need. Why? We live in a war system. There is no countervailing moral force exhorting youth to do something else--anything else--so they sign up, swear in, and learn to kill on command. That sort of accepted role for youth simply requires a war system. But of course it's much more than that.

In a condition of Stable Peace, peace is the dominant norm and is prevalent throughout the whole social system. 
--Kent Shifferd, 2011, p. 13

Kenneth Boulding was a systems thinker and devised a typology, a continuum of assessment of war systems and peace systems, with variable conditions from Stable Peace to Stable War. He did this in his 1978 book, Stable Peace, and posited a transformation of a war system to a peace system. He used some stable peace relationships--such as US/Canada--as a template. The US and Canada can have extremely serious conflicts with zero notion of it coming to military action. Indeed, writes Shifferd, the US-Canadian border is the longest undefended border in the world. We do have some stable peace, some elements of a peace system with our nearest neighbor, Michael Moore's film about a manufactured military crisis between the two nations, Canadian Bacon, notwithstanding. And, despite the estimated 45,000 American mortalities inflicted on us by Britain in the combination of wars (American Revolution and the War of 1812), we have a stable peace with them as well, and with many other nations.

Still, we live in a war system. We suffer more than 30,000 gun deaths annually with no serious public conversation about ways to staunch that flow of blood. We allow--we virtually require--military recruiters into our high schools, junior highs, and, with Starbase, even our grade schools--actually, in the case of grade schools, we stoop to a new low by bringing little children directly onto military bases over a five-week period each spring for participating elementary schools. Parents don't even blink. That is a war system.

Hollywood films about war are not government propaganda films, they are far more insidious, synthesizing the glitz of Hollywood--by far the most alluring storytelling system on Earth, ever--with the content provision and supervision by the Pentagon. Militarism is so deeply saturated into most aspects of our domestic culture, from entertainment to war profiteering economics to religion to education to news reportage and politics, that it has become largely invisible to many, which is the endgame description of a war system so pervasive it is like a fish not quite appreciating that she lives in water.

Transformation toward a peace system will come with awareness, education, public conversation, and determined, specific campaigns. Civil society will achieve it from the bottom-up or it won't happen. We don't all have to work on the same piece of it, but unless we work on some aspect and support each other's efforts, we cannot expect such transformation.


Shifferd, Kent D. (2011). From war to peace: A guide to the next hundred years. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Truth in advertising

When we watch our soldiers fight in most Hollywood movies, we are led toward some conclusions, all of which support military recruitment:

  • If the good die, which they rarely do, it is always noble and not shrieking in agony.
  • Anyone who dies shrieking in agony is a coward from the other side, a bad guy.
  • Our heroes make a comeback from their wounds. They are not vegetables drooling on some mat.
  • No American hero loses bladder and bowel function when they are merely shot or bombed. 
  • Mostly, the great ones sweat and bleed and win and act with pure integrity, certainly never killing little girls or doing other dirty business.
  • The soldiers from the other side are predominately evil and insanely religious or unquestioning in their loyalty to tyrants.

It is not in the least surprising that recruiting literature, or, indeed, most of what is written about military life, does not describe the wounds soldiers suffer or the ways in which they die. 
--Kent Shifferd (2011, p. 37)
These are the notices I get from the Pentagon:
  • The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
            Master Sgt. Gregory R. Trent, 38, of Norton, Mass., died Aug. 8 in Bethesda, Md., from wounds suffered July 31 in Baktabad, Afghanistan, when enemy forces attacked his unit with small-arms fire. 
            Trent was assigned to the 4th Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Bragg, N.C.
            For more information please contact the U.S. Army Special Forces Command public affairs office at 910-689-6187.
  •             The Department of Defense announced today the death of two soldiers who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
            They died Aug. 8, in Sarkowi, in Kunar province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when they encountered an insurgent who detonated a suicide vest.  These soldiers were assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo.
            Killed were:
            Maj. Thomas E. Kennedy, 35, of West Point, N.Y., and
            Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin J. Griffin, 45, of Laramie, Wyo.
            For more information related to this release, media may contact the Fort Carson public affairs office at 719-526-7525 and 719-526-5500.
  •             The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
            Spc. Ethan J. Martin, 22, of Lewiston, Idaho, died Aug. 7 in Koragay, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when he encountered enemy small-arms fire.
            Martin was assigned to 1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.
            For more information pertaining to this release, media may contact the U.S. Army Alaska public affairs office at 907-384-2072 or 907-384-1542. 
These men died in the 11th year of a godforsaken occupation of a country that was bombed back into the Stone Age by the Soviets in the 1980s and we made the rubble bounce from October 7, 2001 until now. It is past time to leave, soldiers will continue to die up until such day as the last one leaves, and the Afghans will then sort out their country for themselves, violently in all likelihood. Our dead have meant nothing. Afghanistan, like Iraq, will go its own way and take no orders from the US.

The so-called War on Terror has resulted in more than 6,000 American military dead, the 9th most in US history, which averages 1.72 per day. By contrast, 173 police officers were killed in the line of duty in the US in 2011, far fewer.

And while all politicians and media workers portray American soldiers as pure heroes, this is not how the world sees it. Every day we occupy someone else's homeland we generate many more enemies determined to strike back when they can, guaranteeing more destructive conflict for generations to come. This is omitted from the fawning pro-military pronouncements from everyone official but in fact, the military is emphatically not making the country safer when it bristles with heavy weapons in other people's lands.

Parents and teachers and guidance counselors need to protect their children from the military and the ones who fail to do so are far more responsible than the children for what happens to them. When will we take this seriously? When will we learn other methods of managing our conflicts? When will we refuse to let our youth bleed in foreign jungles and mountains and deserts? When will we finally create enough jobs so every young person who wants to work can do so? We could do that in 2013 if we shifted enough funds from DoD to civilian jobs. But the parents, teachers and guidance counselors have to insist on it. At least the Grannies for Peace are on the job.

Shifferd, Kent D. (2011). From war to peace: A guide to the next hundred years. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

It's all show biz

This week I was in Culver City, California for a meeting with some others to discuss nonviolent people power. There were many great perspectives and insights. One of them is that it's about the people--both numbers and commitment count.

I had never been to Culver City. It's one of the original great movie making studio towns, part of greater Los Angeles. That juxtaposition was really perfect. I thought about my friend, Sister Megan Rice, and her two compatriots, Michael Walli and my other friend, Greg Boertje-Obed, who just made the Highly Enriched Uranium Y12 facility at Oak Ridge, Tennessee their focus of nonviolent resistance. HEU is sine qua non to nuclear bombs.
Rice is 82, a nun who has devoted her entire life to helping children in Ghana and Nigeria, and now to nonviolent resistance to militarism. She is both eloquent and full of spirited gentle outrage at the theft of so very much from the children of the world by the militaries of the world.

Rice and friends have shown the spotlight on this crime. She is a willing and able participant in the media effort to tell Americans, please, wake up! Get rid of these nuclear bombs and for Godssake, stop building more, as is happening in Tennessee. What the military is doing there is exactly what Iran is doing and Mitt Romney is backing up Benjamin Netanyahu's plans to commit acts of war against Iran for potential HEU activities.

Show biz is entertainment, but it's also often done to persuade. Nonviolent action is show business, in that sense. Oscar Wilde was incorrect when he claimed there is no such thing as bad publicity (ask demonstration organizers what happens when some bonehead in a mask breaks a window and drives mass sympathies away from a movement), but Rice is simply a humble, lovable, knowledgeable figure and her passion and commitment have generated strongly helpful, positive publicity.

Sister Megan Rice, Greg Boertje-Obed, and Michael Walli will likely go to prison for 5-10 years for this nonviolent, selfless act. They know it was the right thing to do, they know that the court system will not see it that way, and they hope for our attention, interest, and actions on a mass scale, even if it's only to contact our congressperson to urge no more funding for nuclear weapons. Rice asks, in the context of cutting so much help for our people, how we can spare the $billions for immoral, unusable weapons of mass destruction.

Good show, Sister.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Business: War by other means?

War, wrote Karl von Clausewitz, is politics by other means. We also see politics and business tightly intertwined, like cancer growing around your central nervous system. When politics makes war manifest it is critically connected to the disease of predatory capitalism. We will either operate on this killer growth or it will kill us.

Is this a claim that corporate greed is the only factor in launching war? Of course not. We humans managed to wage plenty of war before the invention of capitalism or corporations. Did we wage war absent greed? That is an open question. It is possible that some wars were fought over a shrinking, limited resource base necessary for the survival of two groups but only enough for one group. And it is absolutely true that some wars are fought to defend the survival of one group against the greed of another--this may be the most common scenario, in fact.

What are the greed factors that we can identify that can lead to war?

  • expropriation of someone else's property, natural resources, or land.
  • control over human resources and rule over people.
  • higher rates of profit for elites.

These categories have subsets, as we have seen. Colonialism sought to directly control land and rule people that were formerly indigenously autonomous. Imperialism seeks to control the human and natural wealth by proxy and at a remove. Preparing and waging wars shift power and wealth from civil society to elite commanders and contractors.

And somehow it is not too surprising that the same elites who mine for high profits at the expense of the  average worker are the most belligerent in their foreign policy stances and the strongest defenders of a spendthrift militaristic budget.

The assertions by those who challenge peaceful Muslims to 'prove it' by denouncing any terrorism done in the name of Islam might engender the same sort of challenge to the business community; to show your better ethics and intentions, perhaps you should go out of your way to repudiate corporate greed when it clearly hurts people. Asserting your right to a fair profit in normal commerce while separating yourself from the hurtful elites might make the vast majority of us in the 99 percent feel less antagonistic toward you. I'm just saying...

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Dilemma of the sympathetic

Rosa Parks was not the first option of the Montgomery, Alabama, branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as they became determined to fight segregation. Indeed, the Montgomery NAACP reviewed the cases of three willing Blacks who had been arrested for infractions of the segregation policy before choosing to go with Rosa Parks, who was in fact the secretary of that town's NAACP and was well known for her hard work habits, temperance, calm demeanor, good marriage, probity and integrity. She was indeed a sympathetic victim of injustice and the campaign galvanized around her to its successful conclusion after a year of struggle. NAACP was interested in moral authority and in winning.
Why worry about the quality of the victim? Is it fair that anyone, even a drunk or violent drug addict, should be discriminated against because of his race? 

Of course not, but Edgar Nixon and Jo Ann Robinson, the two Black organizers first determined to fight the bus sitting policy in Montgomery, understood what has never (to my knowledge) been acknowledged, that there is a background rate of bad luck for all races and there is a bank of characteristics or behaviors aside from Riding While Black that could result in some sort of discrimination or even persecution. Whether they expressed it or not, they knew that, as Bernard Lafayette noted years later, when you stand for the rights of the minority you must garner the sympathy of the majority in order to win. Putting themselves in the minds of southern Whites, they could imagine a newspaper reader learning of a pimp challenging segregation and thinking, well, who cares? That person is nothing like me. But Rosa Parks presented a completely sympathetic character, even if the readers were from Minnesota instead of Alabama, and, sure enough, the nation outside the former slave states read about Parks and the long boycott and public opinion grew solidly and strongly in favor of those who challenged segregation. Part of this relates to what psychological researchers call perspective taking, developing affinity for another. Victory was only a matter of carrying on with nonviolent discipline. This pattern continued through school integration, lunch counter sit-ins, and voter registration struggles. Nonviolent discipline created unity and victory after victory, even in the face of brutality, possibly much faster because of the brutality. It is one of the classic templates of Gandhian dilemma action--checkmate!

Nicolas Kristof speaks of developing sympathy for victims and there are two primary issues. One, focus on a person rather than on statistics. Humans feel for one person more than for 182,359 of them, which is irrational at most levels but rational from the standpoint of the same organizing principle that states that winning generates hope and thus aids recruitment into a cause; I can maybe do something for one person, but thousands are beyond my agency.

Two, choose a little girl for your sympathetic victim if one can be found. No humans generate as much of our sympathy combined with our protective urges, and thus get us up out of our chairs and active.

Is this cynical and manipulative to think like this? Perhaps. But I would expect victims would prefer this sort of cynicism to what Jonathan Schell called "yet again going down in noble defeat." Think Bring it on: In it to win it. That is caring best for all victims and that is boosting the power of nonviolence.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Lurker neocons making new moves

Exactly one decade ago, neocons were making moves to propose the most outrageous of US follies since sending troops to Vietnam--they wanted to invade Iraq. To construct a rationale they needed to construct sellable lies, since there was no legitimate logic available. One of the pieces of that was to take testimony from a completely remorseless liar, Ahmed Chalabi. He swore up and down that Saddam had WMD, was BFF with Osama BL, and that, as an Iraqi, he guaranteed his countrymen and women would be eternally grateful to a US invasion. His big promoter was Danielle Pletka, vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. She pushed Chalabi's lies and we saw the astoundingly botched results, the $3T in US costs, the Iraqis and Americans dead, and now a country heading back toward violent settling and a broken democracy. So now Pletka wants the US to jump into the Syrian battles, which ought to be the Kiss-of-Death-Endorsement, but we will see.
Neocons made their first shot across the bow in 1997, promising what they delivered in the Bush the Younger years starting in 2001. Mitt Romney is an unlikely neocon, but never rule out the abilities of the neocons to expropriate and co-opt any Republican, which is certainly what they did with GW Bush, an unlikely mish-mash of born-again fundamentalism and Karl Rove snakeoil.

Neoconservatives are not the evangelical mullahs, normally. However, it is apparent that Bush neither spoke like a true evangelical, any more than he spoke with authority on military matters. He wished to control those two machines without properly understanding either. Bush was the only character able to unite the various wings of the Republican party as effectively as he did. Certainly a Donald Rumsfeld or a Paul Wolfowitz would not naturally do so—their neoconservativism would almost certainly fail to draw the xenophobic unsophisticates like Bush’s did. For all his innumerable flaws, he possessed that unique political strength, recognized and utilized by Rove.

Many analysts are almost convinced that the neocons are so driven and so morally feckless that they are capable of sociopathic cynicism resulting in profitable violence. One writes: “shock and awe is less effective at subduing official enemies—an enemy resisting the on-high dictates of the global elite and their uncompromising demand to be allowed to steal natural resources and other profitable goodies—than subverting resistance through ‘stealth and counter-subversion.’ It should not be surprising that Mr. Henriksen [Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution and U.S. Joint Special Operations University] would mention Machiavelli, one of several philosophers adored by the neocons (others include Leo Strauss and his mentor, the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt). Machiavelli was an advocate of tyranny, cruelty, and fraudulence—sociopathic traits clearly reflected in the Bush administration.”[1]

Within the Republican party itself, the neoconservatives are special. “In the foreign policy arena the Republicans have four ideological factions: the libertarians, whose last presidential candidate was Steve Forbes; the old right nationalists, whose last presidential candidate was Pat Buchanan; the conservative realists, who until recent years were the party establishment; and the neoconservatives.[2]

The real danger of the neocons is that they have resources and paid staffers with Ph.D.s and other serious credentials, and they always plan ahead for taking advantage of windows of opportunity when they appear. Be watchful; their influence on Romney will assert itself sooner or later, under the waterline until it is able to roar into view with policies that will drive us back to Bush's worst stupidity, most disastrous cupidity. Indeed, the neocons are one reason to consider voting defensively this fall, despite all Obama's deep disappointments. How long will we have such "choices"?

[1] Nimmo, Kurt, “Neocon academic glorifies P2OG terrorism,” 24 April 2006.
[2] Dorrien, Gary, “Consolidating the empire: Neoconservatism and the politics of American dominion,” Political Theology, Oct2005, Vol. 6 Issue 4, p409-428, Academic Search Premier, retrieved 21 May 2006.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

A life sentence

While nearly all people would be delighted if war were abolished, they never think to ask the question “How do we abolish war?” because they believe it is inevitable and sometimes perfectly justified, and because they share a mutual fear of one another. 
--Kent Shifferd (2011, p. 9)
War is indeed a dictator. Subjugated populations often wish for freedom even as many of them believe that subjugation is inevitable, that it may be all right with God or some other natural order of things, that a strongman is all that stands between them and chaos, and that the dictator is all that protects them from the others. As Shifferd points out, this is all part of why we have war as well. We see the imperious despotic behavior of the war machine on a daily basis.

Constructing arguments that obviate all these misapprehensions is certainly possible, isn't it? That may be tough and it may be the easy part. Disseminating and convincingly making these arguments to the civil society who can then stop any war or all wars is the really tricky part.

Che Guevara used to believe--and act on the belief--that violence could trigger mass uprising. It helped him justify a small group of insurgents launching armed insurrection in a guerrilla fashion. It seemed to work once, in Cuba, so he extrapolated from an n of one, to great and disastrous effect. Other violent insurgencies failed, some 'succeeded' only in replacing one tyrant with another (e.g. Cuba), and the Gandhian method was ignored by those who fell under the sway of Guevara's triggering event theory.

The big question for those who want to prevent war is how. How can we educate and mobilize opposition to a war and to all war? How can we first help counter the misinformation and disinformation and then what sort of work can mobilize masses to stop the war?

Are we served well by nonviolent versions of Guevara's triggering event notion? Can a relatively small number of war opponents engage in some sort of action that will launch the committed mass action that will achieve the objective?

Can we convince enough others that:
  1. War is not inevitable.
  2. War is not justified.
  3. We need not fear others.

And then trigger the mobilization of civil society to stop the war?

If we hope to achieve all that we need to recognize that those who make war own much of the media, control much of the huge corporate economy, and have a lock on many federally elected officials from all three branches of government. This is not something we can fix in a week or a month or even a year. We have to be in it to win it and in it for life, in all senses. If we are to  earn our convictions as peacemakers we have to seek our individual and collective life sentences.

Shifferd, Kent D. (2011). From war to peace: A guide to the next hundred years. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Stupid Second Amendment

How stupid is the Second Amendment?

Here is the text of the first two amendments to the US Constitution, in the Bill of Rights:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

With the 'protection' of the Second Amendment, the First is violated with impunity, as we saw in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, where a member of a hate group entered the Sikh temple and gunned down six. With the inalienable right to own any sort of gun--which is how the NRA views the Second Amendment--even a deranged former US Army psy-ops specialist can use the Second Amendment to overwrite all individual rights and guarantees of the Bill of Rights, the US Constitution, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Freedom of religion? That applies right up to the point of infringing on our sacred, God-given Right to Keep and Bear Arms. Nothing trumps the Second Amendment--not any law, no sacred text, no covenant with one's family, no right to life, no freedom of speech, no free press, no no no no nothing. Second Amendment ├╝ber alles
Moral, ethical and frankly all-around idiots rely on the Second Amendment rather than morals, ethics, or basic intelligence--how bright does one have to be to differentiate Sikhs from Muslims? And the Southern Poverty Law Center had been tracking the ne'er do well shooter for years, even though he had no file, it seems, with the FBI. 
Oh, says the FBI, we don't have files on people not associated with a case. 
Hogwash. I was having lunch with an FBI agent two years ago and that agent told me that every single young Muslim man who had entered the restaurant since we sat down had a file. "Every one of these guys," is the verbatim quote. 
The shooter bought his mass murder weapon legally. With more than 30,000 US citizens killed by guns every year, these are WMD. 
Ever since the day of Gandhi and a new way to wage a revolution, we see that guns are not, in fact, needed to protect us from the state. There is no reason for the stupid Second Amendment, which desperately needs repeal and relegation to the dust bin of history.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Defeating the demon dictator

There is a puzzling paradox about war. As awful as it is, good people support it. 
--Kent Shifferd (2011, p. 5)
Research shows that nonviolence is the most efficient and most often successful method by which we can overthrow dictators. Can we also use mass strategic nonviolence to defeat the most demonic of all dictators, war? This is not an easy question.

When Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan devised a methodology to research civil resistance (mass nonviolence), they chose to only look at what they call maximal objective, that is, regime change. This was done to blunt validity threats. No one has questioned that they studied what would be the toughest challenge to any conflict management method.

But of course regime change isn't the maximal objective, is it?

When Johan Galtung identified structural violence, that is, the daily background violence inflicted on people because of the structure of their social system, he identified one enemy bigger than any dictator. People in dire poverty don't care about dictator v democracy. They want to feed their families.

Wars are fought with equal enthusiasm by dictatorships and democracies, slaughtering mostly civilians with demonic fury. Iraqis had Saddam throwing them at Iran and they had the US invade and occupy. Both wars cost them millions of civilian lives and combined to leave their infrastructure in toxic ruins. Polls revealed that they actually became nostalgic for Saddam after the US rampaged across their land and into their neighborhoods and homes.

Serious maximal goals much tougher than deposing dictators:

  • ending structural violence
  • stopping war

Just to think about the second one, can civil society stop war?

Yes, but the very first step is to get the masses to oppose war. Then mobilize them. Then develop the commitment and resilience to make sure that civil society makes stopping war a top priority and will not allow it to happen.

Gosh, that was easy to write.

Polls are interesting, but prioritizing issues is key. Gandhi got action because people began to prioritize the goals of his campaigns above even their material well being. He was strategic about it, but relentless. We can defeat war and structural violence only by getting much more serious about it than we have been. Demonstrations are groovy. We need commitment, and we need to identify war as the demon worthy of our maximal opposition. We need strategies that work.

All the principles Chenoweth and Stephan identified apply. Recruit. Build coalition. Encourage defections from warriors to peace activists. Erode the pillars of support for war.

Gosh, that was easy to write too.

As old friend nonviolent resister Barb Katt once said, "That's the problem with good ideas. They swiftly degenerate into a lot of hard work."

That hard work lies ahead of us if we want to depose the raging dictator of war.


Shifferd, Kent D. (2011). From war to peace: A guide to the next hundred years. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Chenoweth, Erica, & Stephan, Maria J. (2011). Why civil resistance works: The strategic logic of nonviolent conflict. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Nonviolence makes conflict palatable

As we know, a big glass of pure lemon juice is a tough thing to drink. Sour power. But we need vitamin C and if we have no lovely oranges and lots of lemons, we can make lemonade and even add some powdered C or take some vitamin C tablets. Taking the C can be tasty and nutritionally medicinal.

Can we do the same with conflict? Can we transform that sour human problem into a creative, constructive activity?

Yes, of course. Indeed, say some, transformed conflict is often the best way to positively evolve in our individual lives, in our relationships with others, in our communities and workplaces, and in our political lives from local to global. Fighting bitter wars at the family, neighborhood, job site, or transnational levels are always done in the name of positive change and always have nonviolent, transformative, helpful, creative alternatives.

The conflict is transformed because we have modified and twisted the goals a little bit. 
Johan Galtung (2004, p. 17)
And so, we are horrified by the slaughter in Aurora, Colorado, and we hate guns and their owners, all of whom are bloodthirsty murderers or potential murderers. The goal is to outlaw and confiscate and melt down and refashion all guns into plowshares. Where is this conflict going? Straight south, to destructive. How can we transform it?
The goals need to be modified. We can consider a range of alternative goals and see if any might be doable and might satisfy us. If we find one, that is the new goal, twisted from the old one, and we stand a chance of progress toward a nonviolent world. What are some of the many many possible permutations on The Goal? The short and very incomplete list:
  • Outlaw the worst assault weapons and monitor the results.
  • Devote more resources to assessing troubled young males (the majority of the perpetrators)
  • Outlaw online ammunition purchases.
  • Educate parents on the harmful psychological effects of depictions of violence on TV and in movies.
  • Educate teachers on educating children about alternatives to violence.
  • Create media that demonstrate practical alternatives to violence.
  • Create media that show overwhelming disgust for violence.
  • Make background checks for those who would purchase weapons far more restrictive and rigorous. 
  • Teach about the stupid side of guns as opposed to the smart side of dialog and negotiation.

Of course there are many more facets to this problem and the idea is to find a new goal that won't prompt a destructive response. Yes, there are those who may cling, obdurately, to the irrational libertarian or anarchistic notion that government should never tell anyone what to do in any event, but those extremists are not numerous enough to create any political wind unless our goals are perceived as so extreme that many align themselves with extremists (like the NRA) on the gun lobby side. 

Research can help us find goals that the majority can support and thus are winnable. This research should be designed, supported, done and used, perhaps using surveys or focus groups, and we can move toward a less and less violent society instead of staying stuck in our destructive frustrations at the ongoing violence. Each small victory is another glass of lemonade in our parched trek across the Valley of Death and each step brings us closer to the end of that valley and toward a more bountiful garden of humankindness.

Galtung, J. (2004). Transcend and transform: An introduction to conflict work. Boulder, CO: Paradigm.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Making our bets

Is there a bombproof method of transforming conflict from violent to nonviolent? We live in an argumentative culture, one that often features discounting approaches to conflict management because they do not feature guarantees or ironclad promises of swift and decisive success. But we are usually reduced to choosing from amongst methods that offer a chance of success, not contractual certainty. Indeed, if we look toward the full range of methods of managing conflict, we can never find that chimerical perfect way. Do we look to annihilate the enemy or heal each other?

The word ‘solution’ is too absolute, as in solving clearly defined mathematical problems.
--Johan Galtung (2004, p. 15)
We make bets. We buy a gun and we bet it's going to keep us safe. That may comfort someone right up to the moment it fails. Or we learn de-escalation skills and place our wager on our ability to talk down a person who is threatening us or others. Some rely on the police or lawyers to resolve tough conflicts. Some might choose mediation. Each of us has a style of conflict management that tends to become more informed and more effective as we practice it, but none of us achieve perfection or a 100 percent success rate, especially when we look at outcomes over a period of post-'resolution' time. Each situation is unique and we cannot know a perfect prediction method.

In some ways, then, it comes down to learning about odds and investing in what seems logical. Is my method generally successful or usually fraught with disastrous outcomes? Will I lose everything by relying on one method and ignoring all aspects of other approaches? Is my time well spent learning how to manage conflict instead of just trying to get ahead or instead of relaxing and enjoying life?

These are questions for everyone, every organization, every family, every community, and every nation. I'm betting on nonviolence and the research shows that is the most effective most often over a period of time. Clearly that research isn't sufficient, nor dispositive, but it is helpful. We need to look at interpersonal methods, at methods used in communities, and at methods of civil society in its frequent conflict with its own government. 

Galtung is correct; we cannot achieve permanent perfect resolution. We can transform destructive conflict into a creative constructive conflict with enough competent upkeeping. Conflict is forever; only the methods by which we manage it are up for review and revision.

Galtung, J. (2004). Transcend and transform: An introduction to conflict work. Boulder, CO: Paradigm.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Dithering dialog or nonviolent martyrs? Neither

Nonviolence is often seen as the art of surrender, of letting go of the original goal in the interest of harmony. It is characterized by some as cowardice masquerading as nobility. And in the cases in which nonviolence is cited as a philosophical value while the actual fight to achieve the collective good is weakened and even abandoned, the critics are correct.

On the other end of the spectrum--but equally missing the point of strategic nonviolence--are those who are so eager to demonstrate that they are not cowards and that they will never abandon the principles of nonviolence, nor will they ever cede the battle for the stated goal, that they obdurately sacrifice themselves, sometimes resulting in physical harm, sometimes in persecution and prosecution, and sometimes in both. Bless their hearts. Their witness is their victory. Sadly, they are not usually able to amplify that witness into general civil society awareness. This is not to suggest that nonviolent martyrdom does not, in fact, move some struggles forward, but only to question how best to do that.

Both victory and struggle can have a clear, nonviolent meaning 
(Galtung, 2004, p. 13).
In the first case, we often hear Palestinians scorn the words peace and nonviolence as indicative of a stance that favors the status quo. Indeed, many Palestinians (and their self-appointed allies) speak derisively of dialog on that basis; why would anyone think that dialog with those Israelis is anything but a tactic to distract us from our struggle for freedom? Favoring nonviolence, peace and dialog is tantamount to unpatriotic, craven cowardice. While there are indeed instances of such manipulative misuse of dialog by Israelis in that long contest, Palestinians are increasingly looking at nonviolence in a far more nuanced, sophisticated, strategic fashion. Throwing out the nonviolent baby with the dirty, distracting bathwater has not served them well and many are seeing that.
In the second case, many dear friends have continued to slog on with sacrificial religiously oriented nonviolent action that will earn them almost no practical gains in the struggle but which will result in heavy personal losses, usually long prison sentences. God love them. These noble people are the functional equivalent of nonviolent jihadis--ready, willing, and able to allow Cesar to throw them to the lions. Some of us are fiercely loyal to these lambs even when we wish they were more strategic in their approach, knowing that they generally disdain strategy as a willingness to compromise value and principle. A few of them are beginning to see that there is no mandated mutual exclusivity between principled nonviolence and strategic planning; victory is possible and faith can help it along. 

The core connection is to principled negotiation, which eschews compromise of principle and advocates methods of helping the opponent avoid unnecessary loss. Yes, the opponent will lose 100 percent of that which no one should have--power over others, power to end lives, power to personally enrich oneself and impoverish others--but a principled process creates a new sort of victory for all parties, unique to each struggle but along the common principles that preserve dignity for all and, if possible, a golden bridge over which the opponent can retreat. 

Dialog should always be sought, even while it is sometimes temporarily suspended. Talking is cheap, talking is often ineffective, but talking is the only way to hammer out an agreement. Talking does not equate to lack of action. Nonviolent pressure while dialog is underway is sometimes the best way to keep it moving forward, to daily prompt discussion where the dominant party would rather just carry on with business as usual. Gandhi used that strategy and, at times, got more concessions than if he had declared a suspension of a campaign. Other times, of course, significant gains should prompt a cessation of mass action as a reward for those gains, provided they are real and sustained. If a negotiator is willing to call off civil society for small gains, that negotiator has a poor future in that role, but large gains are different. When the grassroots feel like their efforts and sacrifice have resulted in a big gain, let them rest and recuperate and never stop dialog toward more gain.

Is nonviolence simple? No, not if we hope for success. But the consequences of using nonviolence are simply far less costly and, ultimately, less complex than the consequences of the two alternatives, apathy or violence.

Galtung, J. (2004). Transcend and transform: An introduction to conflict work. Boulder, CO: Paradigm. 

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Hey, Sport! Time for civility

Are sports merely ritualized warfare, as so many have suggested? Is the competition, the winner-take-all nature of sports antithetical to the values of conflict resolution, peace and nonviolence? Is peace scholar Johan Galtung (2004) correct when he asserts, "Acceptability and sustainability are incompatible with having lost" (p. 12).
Generally, in terms of conflict, Galtung is clearly correct. Beating someone up or down is a surefire method of assuring they will be plotting their revenge, even if it takes them months. Or years. Or decades. Or generations. War's causal factors often include revaunche, the payback for some previous humiliation. Indeed, peace advocates urge victors to be generous in their peace accords if they would like to even further delay that day of vengeance. The temptation is to crush them so they cannot get back up, but that requires genocide. Anything less horrific guarantees a statistically faster resort to war again, and the case studies explored by Kegley and Raymond (1999) are a cogent illustration of that pattern. From the Napoleonic era through the wars of 1870 to World Wars I & II, the analysis shows the longer period before the next outbreak correlates to a rehabilitative rather than retributive set of peace terms.

Sports and politics offer possible substitutes for harmful conflict, if done well. As we see in the US now, that isn't happening with politics, a field of increasing incivility that has degenerated into mudslinging camps rather than debate opponents. We see Republicans not only hoping for economic failure and misery so they can blame Obama and his Ds, but they vote for policies that accelerate financial ruin and block recovery, just to spite their hated elected president. And Obama and the Democrats sell out fast to corporadoes out of abject fear of the power of massive corporate money. There is almost nothing gentlemanly left in politics. It is destructive conflict.

Are the Olympics the last best hope for healthy competition, for fair play and good sportspersonship? We see the contamination of the corporate hand in everything, distracting from the athleticism, and the athletes are as worried about their corporate sponsors as about anything else. This is a pity. And sports writers gloat about crushing or humiliating athletes from other nations, e.g. this excerpt from a Washington Post piece on the US women gymnasts' outstanding gold medal performance,:

The Russians? They trembled and shook, they wilted and they cried, and one of them nearly landed on her head. “Pffft. Crash,” said Karolyi, who was in the audience to watch his wife Martha coach this one.
There were pretty moments from other countries — little bits of wavy-armed elegance from the Chinese and Romanians — but in the end, they all slid or blundered or fell off something. Meantime, the Americans were (standing) on their apparatus.
This denigrating jingoism erodes the joy of the sport and guarantees hearts burning to crush the Americans next time--and also downgrades the performance of the US team, since the Post writer clearly describes the competition as awkward, bumbling, weak and pathetically easy to beat.This sort of insult will ensure that the losers go from passive to aggressive explosively as soon as possible.

As we learn the costs of incivility we might choose to make transformative conflict more likely by incorporating appreciation for others. This may seem unnatural at first (I'm certainly struggling with Republicans!), but it will enable a better and more sustainable outcome every time. Give sustainable relationships a sporting chance.

Galtung, J. (2004). Transcend and transform: An introduction to conflict work. Boulder, CO: Paradigm.

Kegley, Jr., Charles W. & Raymond, Gregory A.  (1999). How nations make peace. New York: St. Martin’s/Worth.