Making Peace in a World of ViolencePosted in Peace, Speeches
“Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.” JFK United Nations Address, New York City, September 1963
“On this February day,as the nation stands on the brink of battle, every American on some level must be contemplating the horrors of war. Yet this chamber is, for the most part silent. There is no debate, no discussion no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of this particular war. There is nothing. We stand passively mute in the United States Senate, paralyzed by our own uncertainty, seemingly stunned by the sheer turmoil of events. Only on the editorial pages of our newspapers there is much substantive discussion of the prudence or imprudence of engaging in this particular war.
And this is no small conflagration we contemplate. This is no simple attempt to de-fang a villain. No. This coming battle, if it materializes, represents the turning point in U.S. foreign policy and possibly a turning point in the recent history of the world. eehis nation is about to embark upon the first test of a revolutionary doctrine applied in an extraordinary way at an unfortunate time.
The doctrine of pre-emption-the idea that the United States or any other nation can legitimately attack a nation that is not imminently threatening but may be threatening in the future-is a radical new twist on the traditional idea of self defense. It appears to be in contravention of international law and the U.N. charter. And it is being tested at a time of worldwide terrorism, making many countries around the globe wonder if they will soon be on our -or some nation’s hit list.” Senator Robert Byrd February 12, 2003.
As bombs explode in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad and Coalition forces grind towards its city gates, many Americans have voiced their support of this war and many have opposed it. Those supporting it, see this war as a kind of Pax Americana; a logical step in ridding the world of a brutal dictator and the impending specter of terrorism. As one wag stated, “It is better to strike at Saddam before Saddam strikes at us. This strike will send a message to all terrorists that America will not turn the other cheek when its interests and security are at stake.”
Those opposing this war are still hard pressed to find moral grounds for legitimizing it. They are unclear about its ethical imperatives and confused about the real reasons we are fighting it. They are uncomfortable with what one writer called, the “dismissive indifference” of the President and what appeared to be a headlong rush into conflict.
In the op-ed February 2nd New York Times, Stephen Walt, Dean of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of government and John Mearsheimer, professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, argued that logic and evidence suggest that Iraq could be contained, even if it possesses weapons of mass destruction. They contend that Hussein’s nuclear ambitions, the ones that concern us most- are unlikely to be realized in his life time, especially with inspections underway.
Whether one is for or against the war with Iraq, the devastating consequences of war cannot be ignored. The human price of war cannot be underestimated. They physical costs of war cannot be fully determined until that war is over.
Meanwhile, television studios have been transformed into virtual command centers where war tactics and strategies are fervently discussed by commentators, journalists and retired military officers. Some exchanges between journalists and retired generals and officers give war the aura of a board game, where stalemates and checkmates of the enemy are simulated and predicted with chess master efficiency.
References to smart bombs and high tech weapons that minimize casualties seem to suggest that war is a cake walk devoid of suffering, brutality and terror.
Apart from death and destruction there are the hardships of the adverse conditions of the environment for those who fight. There is sand and rain and fatigue and tears and sleepless nights and hazardous conditions that declare in the words of William Tecumseh Sherman that “War is all hell”; that death, destruction and misery are by products.
“War is a death feast,” says John Ray. The poet Percy Bysshe Shelly says “War has a “million horrors.”
Atrocitologist, M. Cherif Bassouni, cited in an article in the Chicago Tribune 25 October, 1998 that a total of 203,000.000 have died in wars during the Twentieth Century.
Zbigniew Brezenski’s book Out of Control; Global Turmoil on the Eve of the Twenty First Century states “Lives extinguished from politically motivated carnage total 167,000,000 to 175,000,000. This includes War dead: 87, 500, 000; Military war dead 33.500.000;civilian war dead 54,000,000 and not war dead 80,000,000, and deaths due to communist oppression 60,000,000.
Rudolph J. Rummel in his book “Death by Government” estimates that government inflicted deaths or demicides between 1900 to 1987 were estimated at 169,000,000.
Matthew White in the Historical Atlas of the Twentieth Century, calculates the death toll to be 188,000,000.
“According to the 21 March 1998 Times Union in Albany, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that 1,000,000 Iraqis, including 560,000 children alone died as a result of malnutrition and disease caused by the international embargo following the invasion of Kuwait.” Gulf war veterans have been afflicted with a strange, mysterious disease that escalated their death toll long after the war. There are the immediate casualties of war and the lingering casualties of war; those who suffer long after the last shot has been fired.
Notwithstanding these realities, our hats go off and our hearts go out to the men and women who have sacrificed their lives in battle; men and women who serve and have served in the military of our country who have put their lives on the line in the name of freedom and democracy. Despite their noble efforts, we cannot afford to be naive about the adverse impact of war on all of us or ignore its toll on the soul of collective humanity.
George Orwell reminds us that there is a “certain hypocrisy that denounces war while wanting to preserve the kind of society that makes war inevitable.” We all have been the beneficiaries of war; we have received its largesse and amenities and borne its benefits.
While some wars, from a Christian viewpoint, are Just Wars and engaged only as a last resort for self defense, there are others that give us pause; others where we continually question whether we have in the words of Addision, exhausted all possibilities, left no stone unturned, no avenue unexplored, gone through fire and water, moved heaven and earth, before undertaking them.
We must also ask whether a climate exists in our nation and world that makes war inexorable and expedient; where dettante and rapprochement are perceived as signs of weakness and appeasement and where cultures of violence spawn and precipitate the realities of war. We must ask ourselves whether individual societies implicitly create the conditions that make war attractive, viable, glamorous and necessary , and we must ask ourselves if there are realities within our own society that make other more peaceful methods of solving conflict necessary.
As Christians we should be willing to act as the conscience of the nation. We should be prepared to act as peacemakers and peacekeepers in society. It is true that a certain peace is maintained with the presence of force and the presence of force in many instances acts as a deterrent to war and violence. Peace can only be established in some cases where force is met with greater force. Had Adolph Hitler, who William Shirer called the last of the Caesarian conquerors, been stopped at Munich some 50,000.000 lives would not have been lost. There is a point when violence cannot be appeased and when peacemaking requires a greater, stronger presence, otherwise chaos, anarchy and mass fratricide, homicide and genocide result.
War sometimes is a necessary evil and also as one writer stated a necessary good.
What we need today in our world is a new peace, where swords are turned into plowshares and we study war no more.
The peace to which I am referring today is much broader than that which comes with maintaining a forceful presence in the world to keep the peace although such presence if warranted in the protection of nations and their interests.
It is peace as a way of life; peace as a seedbed of consciousness which springs forth a tree of life; peace as a means of orientating to and responding to the world. It is a peace that countervails the presence and practice of violence as a necessary and normative expression of core values in society. It is a peace that opposes not only mindless and even willful acts of violence but the states and conditions of violence that give rise, credence and legitimacy to the practice of violence in our world. It is a peace that opposes the practice of physical and structural violence for the sake of domination, human subjugation, annihilation and profit.
Physical violence has been defined by the Eisenhower Commission as,“Behavior designed to inflict personal injury or the destruction of property in violation of general moral belief of civil law,” and by Richard Hoftstader in his introduction to American Violence as, “Those acts which kill or injure persons or do significant damage to property.”
Structural violence is when the very structures of society perpetuate the violation of personhood such as poverty, disease, injustice or the absence of health care. The Ecumenical Commission on Society, Development and Peace put it this way some years ago:
“Violence can have structural forms built in the apparently peaceful operations of society as well as overt physical expressions. The failure to provide educational opportunity, or the manipulation of sources of information, can do violence to those affected. The existence in a society of intellectual repression in any form is psychological violence. The condescension and subtle forms of discrimination with which age treats youth, or men treat women or one race or religious group treats another, are part of it. We live in a society in which the drive for security, self esteem or power, and the failure to share responsibility and decision making often do violence to other persons….Violence is therefore a condition of which all of us are guilty in some degree.”(The Desperate Imperative, pp. 13-14)
The structures or operations of society can thus create conditions or states of violence, or what Michel Foucault called “regimes of power and truth,” where the practice of violence is normative, and the use of violence is justified as a quintessential value in society. Both physical and structural violence can be blatant and overt, subtle and restrained.
As Christian peacemakers we must be aware of not only the overt forms of physical violence that harm and devastate people, but the structural violence in society “That produces inordinate amounts of suffering, destruction and violation of human personality.”(Religion and Violence, p.36)
When A. J. Muste said “There is no way to peace, peace is the way,” he affirms the essence of peacemaking as an ultimate concern and as a way of life. This peace making ranges from pacifism to vegetarianism.
The problem today is the ethos and culture which give rise and legitimacy to the practice of certain types of physical and structural violence in our world; a violence which slowly erodes the light of the human spirit and personality; and quickly destroys human life. Do we live in a society that promulgates and glorifies the use of violence; a society that gradually disarms us against the use of violence because we have been so inundated by it? Does our tolerance for and acceptance of violence ultimately make us defenseless against it? Do we live in a world where differences and human conflict can only be mediated through the use of force and violence? Has violence thus become a method of meaningful conversation and dialogue for some people in our world?
Media studies tell us that by age 18 the average American child sees on TV 200.000 acts of violence and 16,000 murders. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry states that American Children watch and average of three to four hours of television daily. “Television can be a powerful influence in developing value systems and shaping behavior. Hundreds of studies of the effects of TV violence on children and teenagers have found that children may: 1) Become immune to the horror violence; 2) gradually accept violence as a way to solve problems; 3) imitate violence they observe on television;and 4) identify with certain characters, victims and or victimizers.”(4/99)
The National Television Violence Study (1994-1995) found that: 1) The negative consequences of violence are rarely portrayed,especially in Children’s programs; 2) violence goes unpunished in almost three out of four scenes; 3) humor occurs in 39 percent of the violent scenes on television;humor tends to trivialize or undermine the seriousness with which violence is regarded so its prevalence poses cause for concern.”
A quote from the report of the APA Commission on Violence and Youth says,”Children’s exposure to violence in the mass media, particularly at young ages, can have harmful lifelong consequences. Aggressive habits learned early in life are the foundation for later behavior.”
The influence of Music and videos has also had a precipitous effect in promoting violence in our society. The following troublesome themes are found in some music today: l) Advocating or glamorizing the use of drugs and alcohol. 2) Explicit lyrics presenting suicide as an alternative or solution. 3) Graphic violence. 4) Rituals in concerts. 4) Sex which focuses on control, sadism, masochism, incest, children devaluing women and violence toward women.
As peacemakers we should challenge the media to examine the long term consequences of the images of violence disseminated in society. In a nation where Violence is often glorified and imitated as a fashionable and acceptable means of life and conflict resolution, peacemakers should have some say about what the effects of those images on the minds and souls of the nation.
I may be dating myself but what happened to the great black and white movies of Hollywood’s Golden Age where violence was often a last resort to conflict resolution and reckless violence was not a mindless substitute for a good script. What happened to music before there were parental advisories; music where you could understand the lyrics and sing along and not have to worry about the use of profanity or other invectives streaming through your ears ?
Now the media images are replete with verbal, psychological and physical violence. What was once forbidden in now acceptable. You can barely sit through a movie today without hearing the “F” word, which when used is often an angry verbal prefix to physical combat and violence. The philosopher Plato said,Mislogos is directly related to misanthropos. When hatred in language is used to profane, denigrate and devalue human persons, it is not long before such hatred justifies annihilation of the hated.
The words of Livy in his Early History of Rome ring true; ” “Angry words ensued, followed all too soon by blows, and in the course of the affray, Remus was killed.”
The church has spoken to these issues over the ages but itself has been an instigator and propagator of violence through what Rene Giraud in his book Violence and the Sacred termed, sanctioned violence against outsiders and scapegoats.
Where is the voice of the church today in these matters of prevention of violence; where are the voices of protest against the negative, exploitative influences of violence disseminated by the media and American popular culture? Don’t get me wrong. I am not a prude. We live in the real world,and some movies are entertaining but some of the media influences on violence is simply out of control; where the Dionysian impulses of society sponsor a kind of hedonistic, narcissistic, Bacchanal self indulgence and mind numbing intoxication that leads to what Andrei Sakharov called a mindless stupefaction of humanity that leads to a kind of fawning acquiescence with evil and violence and the status woe,where the will to protest has been domesticated and subjugated into a witless desire to go along and get along with any and everything.
Must we live in a world in words of Ivan Karamazov,” Where Everything is permitted. Does freedom mean the freedom to do any and everything we desire without consequences? Does freedom mean allowing the media to disseminate these gratuitous images of violence without accountability? A seed that is planted will grow with the proper nourishment and cultivation. Does our society and world in its glorification and magnification of violence create a milieu where violence becomes an acceptable, glamorous and customary mode of existence?
Various images of violence are not only disseminated in the media and larger culture but various acts of mental, verbal and physical violence are prevalent in many homes
Domestic violence is a major concern in our society where: 3-4 million women are battered each year;where 85- 95 percent of all domestic violence victims are female; where 47 percent of men who beat their wives do so at least 3 times a year; where 40-60 percent of men who abuse women also abuse children;where requests for emergency shelter by homeless families with children increased to 68 and 57° percent of homeless families identified domestic violence as a primary cause of homelessness;where black women experience intimate partner violence at a 35 percent higher rate than white women; where an estimated 3.3 million children witness their mothers or female caretakers being abused and where over 1,750.000 workdays are lost each year due to domestic violence and costs an estimated $67 billion annually.
Hannah Arendt reminds us that “The practice of violence, like all action,changes the world, but the most probable change is a more violent world.”
Mohandas K. Gandhi said,”Nothing enduring can be built on violence.”
“All men desire peace but few indeed desire those things which make for peace,” said Thomas A Kempis.
Eleanor Roosevelt said,”It isn’t enough to talk about peace;one must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it; one must work at it.”
We often focus on war as the quintessential expression of violence in our world, but what about the war that is raging in our society for the souls and minds and hearts of men, women and children; war that has just as many if not more human casualties; war that is waged between those axis value systems that sometimes recklessly and without remorse ignore, destroy and discard human life on one hand, and those systems that revere, respect and seek to preserve it at all costs on the other.
Have we evolved full circle from our anthropological beginnings where a kind of primal bloodletting and violence have become an indispensable part of our progressive striving as a nation and world?
As disciples and followers of Christ, we are called to be peace makers in every arena of our community, society and world; to vouchsafe the sanctity of human life. We are called to speak words of truth for peacemaking in our time. We are called to be instruments and harbingers of peace notwithstanding the reality and presence of violence and war in our world. We must never tire in our efforts for peace. The poignant words of Thomas Hardy challenge us today:
..Peace upon earth! was said. We sing it And pay a million priests to bring it. After two thousand years of mass, We’ve got as far as poison gas.”
Did you know that since the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918 for every year of war there has been two minutes of peace? Did you know that from the year 1500 B.C. to 1860 A.D more than 8.000 treaties of peace were established and the average time they remained in force was two years?
We need a new peace; a peace that compels new cognitive structures of consciousness; a peace that sets a new national and world agenda. The peace that Iam referring today is not simply macro peace among nations and empires, but peace actualized by the individual personally, socially and communally. This peace begins in our bodies; in our minds; in our hearts and in our spirits; it is a peace that permeates our homes, families, and workplace. It is a peace that thrives in our churches.
It is a peace that is practiced in mosques, temples and synagogues, in the board room, school room and pool room, a peace that lives on Wall street and on the mean streets; a peace realized in the jail house, the out house, the dog house and the white house; a peace visibly manifested in our tones and trajectories of interaction with one another and in the way that we listen, interpret and respond to others around us. It is a peace that puts ourselves in the shoes of others; a peace that questions why a society has more animal shelters than human shelters, more bombs than bread to feed its hungry; more black and Hispanic men in jail than in our colleges and universities.
It is a peace in the words of Senator Robert Byrd, “That refrains from language that denigrates, devalues others who are different and resists calling head of state pygmies, labeling whole countries as evil and deriding allies as irrelevant. It is a peace that speaks the truth peacefully. It is a peace that protects but secures the future of the human family on the planet earth; a peace that seeks reconciliation, in personal and corporate diplomacy. It is a peace that seeks justice, where corporate heads who steal billions from ordinary citizens will do the same if not more time as a hungry man who steals a bag of cookies or street hustler who gets busted for a nickel bag of dope. It is· a peace that brings drug traffickers to justice as well as drug peddlers. It is a pharmaceutical peace.
It is a peace that seeks harmony with the environment; seeks accord with every man, woman and child; peace that understands and passes all understanding: a peace that resists a war on 35 million of the unborn who perished between 1973 and 1996 and a peace that respects and values life itself.
It is a peace; a perfect peace that does not call its citizens unpatriotic because they voice protest against a war they don’t believe in and it is a peace that has compassion and empathy for our President and other leaders who must make the hard decisions to go to war with the evidence they have at hand. It is a peace that affirms the common ground of all people; it is a peace that values the life of American Children and Iraqi children and all of the children of the world; it is a peace that still affirms our enemies as children of God; worthy of the love of God and the grace of God; it is a peace that causes our enemies to see us as worthy recipients of the love of God. It is a peace that speaks confidently, boldly and firmly to racism, sexism, ageism and hobopobism.
As peacemakers we cannot afford to become permanently tone deaf to the victims of physical and structural violence in our communities, in this society and in our world, nor gorge ourselves on the red meat of violence not can we afford to smugly and indifferently consider the problems of violence as the other person’s problem and not our own.
We see the presence and vestiges of violence everywhere in our society and world and while it is unrealistic to think that we can rid society of every nuance of violence, we can create a culture where violence cannot thrive or mutate as the only acceptable method of expressing, addressing and resolving our ultimate concerns. Like a cancer metastasizing the patient under the influence of an anesthetic, we all become victims of violence through apathy and indifference. While the specter of violence in the world grows the will to resist it must not die.
I think if was Edmund Burke who said, “The only way for evil to prevail is for the good to remain silent.”
As the church of Jesus Christ, we are spiritual heirs of one who was a victim of violence but a man who triumphed over it; a man who died violently on the cross for our sins; a man who gave his life in contraposition and contradistinction to the violent forces that took his life. Jesus was a warrior for peace. He renounced violence as a first way; as the only expedient way of living life and responding to life. Walter Wink says he affirmed and practiced the Third way. He viewed every one as a person; a child of God worthy of the love, promises and inheritance of God. As a Jew, this was his message to everyone of his time. As Lord and savior this is his message to the world today.
Jesus said, I have not come to bring peace but a sword. In other words those things that make a false peace palatable I have come to change. Those things that make us unwilling co-conspirators in an unjust peace Ihave come to overturn.
Jesus Christ was no respecter of persons , and if he were here in the flesh today he would say love is the way to peace; justice is the way to peace and I love you all white, black, brown, beige and red; I love you all sick, well, abled and differently abled; I love you all conservative, moderate and liberal, neo conservative and neo liberal. I love you all gay, bi, straight, American, African, Iraqi, French and German, I love you all urban, rural and suburban; rich and poor, have and have not, children, women, men, male, female, young and old. I love you all and this is my way to peace.
Jesus would say, “What I don’t love is the manner in which you treat each other, deny other, kill each other and destroy each other; what I don’t like is the cruel manner of your inhumanity to each other; what I don’t like is the suffering and the pain and the cold, callous disregard for life that some of you have for each other. What I don’t like is how some lives are valued over other lives when all life is sacred in my eyes and not just a few lives that are valued on the privileged, revolving and vacillating scale of moral relativity. What I don’t like is the hypocrisy, greed and lust for power that runs like a juggernaut destroying any and everything in its way.” This is what Jesus says to us today.
As heirs of Christ we must all become peacemakers in an era of war and violence; peacemakers in a world that makes violence doable, acceptable and the only plausible result of human conflict. Peacemaking begins and home in ourselves and with each other in our communities and world.
What must we do to be peacemakers today?
We must practice peace in the personal realm in our relationship with Christ the ‘ultimate peacemaker. We must live lives of spiritual devotion to him. Following Christ is a commitment to peacemaking. It means keeping the peace and love and grace of Christ in our hearts,minds,bodies and souls. Following Christ as peacemakers means a commitment to non-violent cooperation with evil in every realm;the personal, interpersonal,social and communal as well as the national and international spheres. It means speaking and living peace and modeling peace each day in our attitudes and in our thoughts, in our prayers and in our concerns for others. It is affirming and living that great line of the poet Tennyson, “I am a part of all that I have met.” All life is an extension me and I of it. It is peace rooted in a profound and abiding spirituality and trust in God to make the crooked places straight and the rough places a plain.
It is peacemaking in the social-communal arena that actualizes itself in the pursuit of justice. Martin Luther King Jr., said it best when he said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” It is living and giving what Harvard philosopher John Rawls called,distributive and retributive justice. It is also a justice that does not in the words of M. Scott Peck,”Fail to put our own selves on trial for the evil we do.” It is a peace that does not become the evil it seeks to eradicate.
It is a peace that seeks environmental justice, gender justice, racial justice, political and economic justice; justice for the aged and youth, the oppressed and depressed; justice for all people.
We can start with justice in our homes and justice in the church by making just those realities that leave people feeling victimized, alienated, marginalized and frustrated.
As peacemakers we can call attention to the injustice, write our representatives and challenge our churches to become more involved in the movements for personal, social justice, environmental and political justice. We become sojourners for peace. There may be issues right in our neighborhoods that need to be addressed. The church and community are good places to begin. Peacemaking means practicing justice in the social and communal realm.
Finally, it is seeking and practicing peace on a national and international level. Clergy should be involved in all negotiations for peace worldwide, but the clergy themselves must make the peace, inter denominational peace; intra- denominational peace; inter faith and inter religious peace that brings people together from all walks of faith. It first means affirming our common ground where there is no east or west, no Hindu, Sikh or Jew, no Muslim, Christian, Atheist or Agnostic, but between us all walls can be laid down and made into bridges. This is the peace we seek. It is a peace the recognized the inherent value of every person and the sanctity of every life.
We must not use religion as an instrument of violence, for when we do the chasm of peace widens. We must find ways of bridging the chasm and we begin this process with ourselves.
Mother Teresa said it best, and it is something what we should all remember if we are to become peacemakers, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are those who strive for peace each day of their lives and work to make the world a peaceful place. Blessed are the soldiers and warriors who risk their lives to ensure peace in our world. Blessed are those want and live peace each day as a totalizing concerns for the betterment of our human community.