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Proud To Be a Pacifist
10 October 2001
It is doubtful that I can say much that makes sense to syndicated columnist Michael Kelly, as it is obvious from his recent column, "Few pacifists would accept logical outcome of their stance" (Oct. 3), that he completely misunderstands the peace and justice efforts of millions of Americans.
I suspect most peace and justice activists would be hard-pressed to recognize what Kelly describes "pacifism." I know no one in my circle of acquaintances who wants terrorists to get a free ride. We expect terrorists to be tracked down, brought to trial in the country where their offenses were committed and, if found guilty, sent to prison.
What we object to is selective enforcement on terrorism: Terrorism must be recognized whenever and wherever it occurs. I would argue that at least some of the world's 35,000 children who died on Sept. 11 are victims of terrorism, and some of that terrorism is state-financed and state-perpetrated by the West, including the United States. Where is Kelly's outrage regarding that daily occurrence?
I do not know any "privileged" peace and justice staffers, workers or volunteers. Most of us work for very little income; many of us for nothing. I was raised in a poor, rural New Hampshire town, by parents who barely had enough income to pay their bills. In 1965, I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force because giving back to the nation and the world was something my family believed in. I served seven years, earned the Air Force Commendation Medal, and protested the Vietnam War, like many who served then, not because we were or are anti-American, but because that was a criminal and foolish war, having more to do with expansionism than with defense.
Most of my fellow peace and justice workers have taken vows of nonviolence. That does not mean that we will be passive if attacked, but it does mean that our responses will be measured and thoughtful and likely nonviolent, which would not prevent us from serving in the military or in police departments; nonviolence is the opposite of violence, it's not passivity.
Nonviolence does mean, however, that we will not perpetrate unprovoked violence upon others. To that end, we believe that the United States government and its representatives, in their desire to be the greatest, richest and most powerful country in the world, have a violent history toward both persons living within its borders and toward peoples around the world. It also means that we believe that most of the world's governments have acted in these ways, but we are United States citizens, so our efforts are directed at changing U.S. policy.
Many of us in the peace and justice community are faith-based and followers of Jesus, Abraham, Buddha, Gandhi, King and other spiritual leaders. We believe in the values preached and offered by the great prophets, all of whom call for peace. All too often, we who call ourselves Christians seem to ignore Jesus' greatest teaching: Love God and love one another. Here are but a few examples:
It is not love for the United States to consume 40 percent (or 60 percent, depending upon how we measure) of the world's resources. It is not love for the United States and the West to perpetuate and justify a wealth gap that leaves 32 million Americans poor and voiceless, and billions of others around the world poor and voiceless, as well. It is not love to train foreign soldiers in the art of counterinsurgency, which is simply a fancy phrase for "the art of terrorism," which those soldiers all too frequently use to brutalize their own citizens, primarily, but not exclusively, in their Latin American homelands.
In addition to being wrong and antithetical to the teachings of the world's religions, and of most of our mothers and fathers, the short list of examples above does not leave us safer or more free.
Throughout the history of mankind, nations, including our own, worked purposefully to create an unjust world, where but one nation, one empire, is first, leaving in its wake the poor, the downtrodden and the oppressed. Eventually, all of the empires fall, and another takes its place. We call for an end to this foolish way of living. We call for changes in the way nations govern, the way they treat other nations, and the way they treat their own citizens. We call for the ultimate democracy, where freedom touches everyone. Where all are fed, clothed and sheltered.
Yes, freedom comes with a price: Perhaps, the rich may have to be less rich; CEOs may not be able to make 220 times that of the average worker in the United States; we have to implement fair trade instead of free trade; we may have to drive cars that pollute far less or, heaven forbid, ride public transportation; we may have to think of others as much as we think about ourselves.
Kelly may find that distasteful, but he goes astray when he accuses those of us in the peace and justice community of being unwilling to walk the talk, as most of us live extremely modest lives. In my case, I surrendered my good-paying corporate job and lowered my standard of living, so that I can work to create a more just and fair world, where peace is achieved through justice. My story reflects the stories of most of the peace and justice workers I know.
So, in the end, I suspect Kelly will think I am moronic and maybe even a traitor, as that attitude seems to make up about 40 percent of the mail I receive whenever I rebut a column such as his. But I will take the company of the great prophets and the peacemakers any day over that of those governments and individuals who feel comfortable bombing, killing, brutalizing or terrorizing — either militarily or economically — those they do not understand, those who get in their way or those who disagree politically or socially.
In closing, I love my country enough not only to serve it in the military but to serve it in peace, as well. Bring all terrorists to justice, but treat all terrorism equally. The life of an American lost is dreadful, painful and horrible; so is the life of an Afghan lost. The divisive nature of splitting apart people through namecalling and belittling does nothing to bring us closer together in understanding one another nor does it contribute to a just world.