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Fighting Words
Former Utne Editor in Chief David Schimke on conflict, compassion, partisanship, and peace

No Fighting in Class

WarStudiesIn an essay published by The Nation magazine on September 19, journalist and pacifist Colman McCarthy reports that in 1970 only one American college offered a degree in peace studies, but that now, according to the Peace and Justice Studies Association, there are more than 500 undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral programs available on U.S. campuses. “Nationally, the peace education movement is growing—some say surging—because of the continued failure of military solutions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the belief that alternatives to violence do exist,” McCarthy reports.

A regular columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, McCarthy co-founded the Washington D.C.-based Center for Teaching Peace with his wife in 1985 and, by his own estimation, has taught more than 8,000 students to examine their choices regarding violent reaction versus nonviolent response. “Instead of asking questions, be bolder and question the answers,” he writes. “What answers? . . . Those that say that if we kill enough people, drop enough bombs, jail enough dissenters, torture enough prisoners, keep fighting fire with fire and not with water, we’ll have peace forever.”

While the good news regarding the growth of diplomatic scholarship is both welcome and encouraging, what makes “Teaching Peace” especially compelling is McCarthy’s ongoing struggle to make the subject not just a collegiate elective, but part of the core curriculum in secondary education; a move too many public school boards still view as somehow subversive and private schools dismiss as academically insubstantial (read: unnecessary in the pursuit of Ivy).

“I’ve been accused of teaching a one-sided course,” McCarthy writes. “Perhaps, except that my course is the other side, the one that students aren’t getting in conventional history or political science courses, which present violent, militaristic solutions as rational and necessary.”

As partisan activists have proved again and again over the past 20 years, lasting political movements begin and end on the local level. McCarthy’s tale is a reminder that citizens who wish for a more peaceful future should take the fight to their neighborhood’s next school board meeting.

Source: The Nation 

Image by crazebabe21, licensed under Creative Commons. 

Thank Allah for Bollywood

King of BollywoodBack in the good ol’ days, when a nuclear family could leave its bomb shelter unlocked at night, America had soft power to burn. The country’s cultural ambassadors and renegade auteurs outgunned the taciturn commies, whose idea of a party still involved military bands and Lenin t-shirts. When the Cold War finally ended, MTV’s Kurt Loder was a global menace and punk rock was still armed and dangerous.

As Shikha Dalmia writes in Reason, the magazine of free minds and free markets, today’s young Muslims are not nearly as susceptible to the calculated chaos of Western pop culture as yesterday’s youth of the East Bloc. “While hip hop and heavy metal have helped inspire some of the street protesters demanding more freedoms across the Middle East and northern Africa,” Dalmia observes, “outside of the hardcore early adopters these cultural subgenres remain more voyeuristic than aspirational.”

This is no small thing, especially since the West’s use of hard power over the past decade—troops in Iraq, drone attacks in Afghanistan—has, in most cases, served to both weaken its reputation and further strengthen religious fanatics, who need a devil to blame for their hateful rhetoric and murderous behavior.

There is hope on the cultural horizon, however. And, no, Lady Gaga will not have to suit up for battle. India’s film industry is the free world’s new shining star—all kitsched-up, scantily clad, and subversively cool. “Islamic fundamentalists have long worried about the threat that Bollywood poses to their puritanical demands,” writes Dalmia, who is a senior policy analyst at the Reason Foundation. “They have ample reason to be worried: About 3 billion people, or half the planet, watches Bollywood, and many of them live in the Islamic world. By depicting assimilated, modernized Muslims, Bollywood—without even trying—deromanticizes and thereby disarms fanatical Islam.”

Like Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the powers that be in Pakistan, “India’s cultural twin in every respect but religion,” have tried to censor Bollywood and demonize its romantic heroes and heroines, who often fall in love outside of marriages already arranged, battle to mediate modernity and tradition, and navigate a Technicolor world free from conservative dress and outdated moral codes.

“Even as Pakistan’s resistance to America’s drones and raids has grown, its resistance to Bollywood’s soft power has crumbled,” Dalmia concludes. “The extremists who find sympathetic audiences when directing fire and brimstone toward the Great Satan are powerless to prevent Pakistanis form consuming Bollywood blasphemies.”

Source: Reason 


Occupy Wall Street: A Radical’s Critique



Given the corruption that crashed the American economy (again), and the current administration’s unwillingness to seriously address class issues or corporate greed, it’s hard to find fault with Occupy Wall Street.

The “leaderless resistance movement,” which started in New York City on September 17 and continues to attract protesters to Zuccotti Park near Wall Street, is viewed by many, including Noam Chomsky, as courageous and honorable.

“Anyone with eyes open knows that the gangsterism of Wall Street—financial institutions generally—has caused severe damage to the people of the United States and the world. And should also know that it has been doing so increasingly for over 30 years, as their power in the economy has radically increased, and with it their political power,” Chomsky says. “[The protests] should serve to bring this calamity to public attention, and to lead to dedicated efforts to overcome it and set the society on a more healthy course.”

On the Washington Post’s editorial page, staffer James Downie concludes that “as long as the sluggish economy continues to hit Americans—and especially young Americans—hard, expect more and bigger demonstrations like Occupy Wall Street—unfocused, sometimes excessive, but fundamentally justifiable.”

Not everyone who agrees with the protesters’ principles is impressed, however. In an essay posted on Ted Rall’s website on September 26, the political cartoonist, commentator, and author says that “for me and other older, jaded veterans of leftist struggle, [Occupy Wall Street’s] failure was a foregone conclusion”—and that “yet another opportunity to agitate for real change was being wasted by well-meant wankers.”

This is not to say Rall doesn’t believe in the cause. The author of Wake Up, You're Liberal!: How We Can Take America Back from the Right, acknowledges in the first sentence of his critique that Occupy Wall Street “is and was important.” If only because it represents the first major repudiation of the Obama administration by the American left. But, he argues, good intentions are not enough, especially when the stakes are so high.

“Michael Moore complained about insufficient media coverage, but this non-movement movement was doomed before it began by its refusal to coalesce around a powerful message, its failure to organize and involve the actual victims of Wall Street’s perfidy (people of color, the poor, the evicted, the unemployed, those sick from pollution, etc.), and its refusal to argue and appeal on behalf of a beleaguered working class against an arrogant, violent and unaccountable ruling elite—in other words, to settle for nothing less than the eradication of capitalism.”

Rall desperately wants the protesters to be better organized, and points out that a number of those who did get interviewed by the mainstream media lacked a central message and the ability to articulately unpack key issues. To hammer home his point, he implores the kids in the park to “lose the clown clothes.”

“It’s not the early 1960s; you don’t have to wear a suit like the civil rights marchers did,” he writes. “But how about showing up on national TV looking decent, like it’s Casual Friday?”

Rall is a provocateur, and a few progressives have already taken him to task both for his hyperbolic prose and for his failure to support the troops. Fair enough. There’s a lot to chew on in this tirade, however, and when everyone goes back to their lives and Wall Street continues its run toward ruin, it demands a dispassionate revisitation.

Sources: Occupy Wall Street, Ted Rall, Washington Post 

Image by Carwil, licensed under Creative Commons. 

The Soldier Activist

peace-sign-usaPaul Chappell still lives by the examples his Korean American mother set when he was growing up in Alabama: “Don’t talk too much; be stoic; be calm; be respectful; be on time; don’t gossip; keep your word; fulfill your promises; dress conservatively.” The 31 year-old West Point graduate and Iraq War veteran is neither soft-spoken nor passive when it comes to his decidedly progressive convictions, however.

A peace activist and author of two books, including The End of War: How Waging Peace Can Save Humanity, Our Planet and Our Future, Chappell now lives by the words of civil rights leader James Lawson, who said that the “difficulty with nonviolent people and efforts is that they don’t recognize the necessity of fierce discipline and training, strategizing, planning, and recruiting.” And, having seen combat up close and personal, he believes that that a world without war is not only possible, but that “what’s naïve is to think that wars can continue and humanity will survive.”

In a wide-ranging interview posted online earlier this year by KoreAm—a monthly magazine that covers and analyzes the news, culture, and “people of Korean America”—Chappell engages on a wide-variety of subjects: The racial challenges of his childhood (his father is white-and-African American); the seeds of terrorism, which grow in the soil of hopelessness; and the strategic importance of seeing things through the eyes of both your opponents and those you hope to persuade.

In a particularly thought-provoking segment of the conversation, Chappell compares war to slavery, both flawed institutions based on inaccurate assumptions and opportunistic lies.

“Today, many of us believe that human beings are naturally violent, so war is inevitable,” he tells interviewer Leslee Goodman. “Look at who benefits from that myth. If human beings are naturally violent, politicians can’t be held responsible for making war; they’re just trying to protect us from the violent people all over the planet. Weapons makers can’t be held responsible; they’re just trying to help us defend ourselves. But in truth humans aren’t naturally violent, so we’re all responsible. War is a choice. General Omar Bradley, a veteran of World War II, said, ‘Wars can be prevented just as surely as they are provoked, and we who fail to prevent them share in guilt for the dead.’”

Source: KoreAm  

Image by dewwww, licensed under Creative Commons 

9/11: Beyond the Anniversary


As we were reminded ad nauseam on every media platform for a week, the mass murders committed on 9/11 continue to have an incalculable impact on foreign relations, world economics, and the broader culture. It’s a certainty the same will be true for decades to come. And while you may feel as though the event and aftermath has been covered from every conceivable angle (including pieces on how the attacks affected professional athletics and may have led to America’s latest recession), a just released, essential collection of essays go beyond the strained headlines and over-boiled melodrama.

The book, Transforming Terror: Remembering the Soul of the World (University of California Press), functions neither as a political autopsy nor an emotional anthology. Instead, it examines the tragedy from a philosophical distance that, while far from dispassionate, forces readers to consider the unintentional causes and subconscious effects of violence, both individual and collective.

The eight chapters, written by over 100 visionary thinkers who span generations and transcend borders ethnic (Federico García Lorca, Reza Baraheni), religious (Deepak Chopra, Rabbi Arthur Waskow), and political (Chris Hedges, Henry Kissinger), are strategically broken into two parts. The first takes a “Deeper Look” at the origins of fear and consequences of grief while convincingly establishing the editors’ broad definition of terrorism, which includes acts of aggression against any unarmed civilian, no matter the perpetrator. The ruminations in the second section, “Paths to Transformation,” demand unedited honesty, empathy for all, and raw self-reflection, all essential in the quest of equal peace and meaningful justice.

Given last week’s media blitz, no one could be blamed for wanting to take a deep breath and little down time before diving into such a collection. Keep it on your reading list, though, as the latest anniversary fades and the popular narrative around 9/11 further simplifies the complicated causes and horrific effects. Both historical distillation and timeless psychological treatise, Transforming Terror rivets and moves because it dares to recognize 9/11 not just as a painful tragedy, but an unwelcome opportunity.

Image by Bennett 4 Senate, licensed under Creative Commons. 

Dick Cheney's Autobiography of a War Criminal


Regardless of the author, political “tell alls” rarely tell readers anything they didn’t already know or firmly believe, except that the self-proclaimed hero or heroine of the tale is even more brilliant, arrogant, genuine, superficial, or petty than we dared dream. And given what I can only imagine lurks in the bionic heart of former Vice President’s Dick Cheney, I’m not making plans to curl up with his new book, In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir, over the Labor Day weekend.

I have found one reason to be excited by the VP’s 576-page curtain call, though. The international human rights organization Amnesty International is shrewdly taking advantage of the momentary media buzz around the book’s release to remind people of the lies that Cheney, his boss, and their loyalists told and continue to tell to justify “institutionalized torture, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances”—all immoral and indefensible violations of the Geneva Conventions and the United States Constitution.

“Amnesty International is reiterating its call to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to immediately open a criminal investigation into the role former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and other officials played in the use of torture on detainees held in U.S. custody,” Tom Parker, policy director for terrorism, counterterrorism and human rights for Amnesty International U.S.A., said in a press release on August 25.

On August 30, supporters of the organization showed up to protest Cheney’s appearance on NBC’s Today Show, and their signs calling for accountability were caught on camera. That afternoon, Amnesty members delivered a copy of Cheney's memoir to a spokesperson at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., along with a personal letter to Holder demanding that his office look into crimes committed during the Bush administration’s so-called “war on terror.”

Amnesty also launched Cheney’s Conscience, a parody account on Twitter that it hopes users will read and repost in an effort to remind people of the vice president’s actions in and out of office.

I’m still unsure why President Obama decided against pursuing his predecessors in the courts. A good case could be made that he simply wanted to keep his options open and continues to allow, if not encourage, torture and rendition off the grid. A more generous interpretation is that he didn’t want to get mired in a highly polarizing political fight. Either way, it’s a good guess he assumed Bush and Co. would show some gratitude and stay silent on the issue. Cheney, in particular, has chosen to do just the opposite. If there’s any justice, his braggadocio and the inventive work of organizations like Amnesty International will cause the Obama administration to reconsider its passivity.

Image courtesy of Amnesty International. 

Why World Peace Has a Fighting Chance


I’m not sure whether or not beauty pageant contestants wish for world peace these days, but lately the very idea, like Miss America herself, seems both antiquated and absurd. Including the battles in Afghanistan and Iraq, there are 18 wars being waged at this very moment. And given America’s open-ended “war on terror,” the racial climate in Europe, the economic strife in Africa, and the globe’s seemingly endless supply of stubborn dictators, you couldn’t blame a person for concluding that things are going to get a lot worse. In fact, it’s easy to write-off anyone who dares to question the prevailing doom-and-gloom as a bleary-eyed idealist.

In a Foreign Policy piece that even the most cynical of realists will find hard to blithely dismiss, however, Joshua Goldstein, a professor emeritus of international relations at American University, concludes that “President Barack Obama was telling the truth in June when he said, ‘The tide of war is receding.’ ” And Goldstein, who authored Winning the War on War: The Decline of Armed Conflict Worldwide, has the data to back up his optimism.

“The last decade has seen fewer war deaths than any decade in the past 100 years, based on data compiled by researchers . . . of the Peace Research Institute Oslo,” Goldstein points out.

Worldwide, deaths caused directly by war-related violence in the new century have averaged about 55,000 per year, just half of what they were in the 1990s (100,000 a year), a third of what they were during the Cold War (180,000 a year from 1950 to 1989), and a hundredth of what they were in World War II. If you factor in the growing global population, which has nearly quadrupled in the last century, the decrease is even sharper. Far from being an age of killer anarchy, the 20 years since the Cold War have been an era of rapid progress toward peace.

Goldstein’s overall argument—that the end of war is “downright thinkable”—is structured around what he sees as a related series of commonly held misconceptions: war has gotten more brutal for civilians; wars will get worse in the future; a more democratic world will be a more peaceful one; peacekeeping doesn’t work; and some conflicts will never end. In each of these sections he artfully combines historical comparisons, recent data, and analysis to either counter the stated assertion or, at the very least, encourage a reassessment.

At times, Goldstein conflates his data or becomes almost too mathematical, forgetting to factor in the subtleties of human behavior and the vagaries of fate. But for the most part, he forces the reader to rethink current history and question the chaotic narrative that distorts our expectations.

Source: Foreign Policy 

Image by Jayel Aheram, licensed under Creative Commons. 

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