Why Blackwater Will Not Go Away
In April 2004 the world was awakened to a horrible scene in Fallujah, Iraq. Insurgents had ambushed a vehicle carrying civilian U. S. Government mercenary contractors and killed them. Two of the burned corpses were hung from a bridge in downtown Fallujah where they dangled for several days as photos of them flashed around the world. Commentators immediately compared the Fallujah footage to that of dead American soldiers dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993. The victims in Somalia were American soldiers. The victims in Fallujah were American mercenaries employed by Blackwater Inc., renamed XE in 2007.
In this century we are entering a new era of mercenary warriors. From the strategic point of view, modern mercenaries fulfill a crucial requirement. They provide logistical and selected security support for invading forces in the field, and in addition on the political level they allow policy makers to engage in off-the-record, arms length and clandestine activities on the margins and outside of the law. This was formally called “plausible deniability”. In the recent past mercenary soldiers for profit have also served in Bosnia, Liberia, Pakistan, and Rwanda. They have guarded the Afghan President Karzai and built detention facilities in Guantanamo and elsewhere. On February 10, 2010, the Iraqi government ordered all Blackwater Inc. including subsidiaries out of Iraq or risk arrest. The order includes anyone involved with Blackwater in the deadly shooting incident in 2007 when they killed 17 civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square.
Due to a hostile local population the occupation of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan have required heavily armed guards, escorts, and sharp shooters to provide logistical protection for the millions of tons of military supplies. It is dangerous work and requires people who have been trained. The contractors, some from third world nations like the Philippines also staff the kitchens, the PXs (tax-free general stores for soldiers that offers rock bottom prices) and provide thousands of other support activities. Most mercenary contractors who carry out security related functions are former military. The Pentagon argues that despite lavish salaries, using military contractors is cheaper than training soldiers for the work. What is not said is that if the American armed forces were to carry out all these tasks the U. S. Government would have to implement a military draft which would be unpopular and set up the sons and perhaps the daughters of the privileged classes for the danger and inconvenience of military service.
Paramilitary units in Colombia, Philippines, Haiti, Afghanistan and many countries around the world perform similar functions to what private sector mercenary contractors do for the U. S forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. U. S. Operatives sometimes together with mercenaries have been involved in strategy formation, training, and sometimes in financing usually in conjunction with local government military groups. Even the Taliban got its start in the early 1980s as a paramilitary project developed and financed by U. S. personnel in conjunction with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Like the mercenary soldiers of Blackwater, virtually all of whom have had careers in the U. S. military, the Taliban grew up fighting and to this day this is the only profession they really know.
The Taliban and Colombian thug-like paramilitary units function at the margin of traditional customary law. Modern mercenary contractors often also function outside constitutional law. Both blur the lines between judicial process and police activity arrogating to themselves life and death decisions that any responsible society must legislate. These soldiers know the law of the gun. When or if constitutional government is restored they seek a place within the institutions of security work, but rarely leave their habits of threat, killing and improvised seat-of-the-pants law making. Former Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld insisted that war by mercenary contract is cheaper but his calculations failed to include the re-education of the first generation of Taliban fighters back into civilian life from combat with the Soviets in the 1980s. Nor did his calculations include the cost to the American people of the expansion of its imperial culture of security.
Mercenaries working under private corporations also have carried out specialized tasks for the CIA including the loading of Hellfire missiles onto Predator drones. They have engaged in search, capture or assassination of enemy leaders in areas like the borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Officially, the Blackwater mercenaries killed in the 2004 events in Fallujah were in the line of duty “to protect food shipments.” However there is apparently some doubt if there were in fact any food shipments on that day.
In 2003-4 I made several trips to Iraq. At the close of the first trip, an Iraqi with whom I had consulted extensively, rushed to the CPT (Christian Peacemaker Teams) apartment. He insisted that I must meet with some very important people for an extended lunch 16 hours before I was to depart from Baghdad. Our CPT schedule was piled full of planning and projects. I didn’t want to go to the dinner because I suspected I was about to be the recipient of a mountainous request that CPT had neither the personnel nor the money to respond to. But I agreed to go with other CPTers. The dinner turned out to be a gathering of representatives from some of the senior families of Fallujah. I figured it out about two thirds of the way through introductions. The entire group was made up of leaders. I waited knowing that they wanted something.
They asked about CPT. I knew that they already knew a great deal because two persons in the circle had spent extended time with us. We explained our decision to focus on detainees, house raids and the rights of Iraqis. We gave two examples of cases we were working on. We were frank about our limitations. There was some silence, and then one person asked if we ever do anything outside of Baghdad. We said, “Yes.” Have you every been in Fallujah? “Yes we have visited Fallujah.” I thought I knew where the conversation was going so I didn’t ask anything further so that the conversation about Fallujah could not develop. I didn’t want them to ask if we could put a team in Fallujah. They persisted with broad hints about the needs of Fallujah.
As I left that meeting, the spokesperson of the group took me aside. He identified himself as a senior police officer in Iraq. As he prepared to say something to me his cell phone rang. It was his counterpart, a U. S. Colonel. I waited and tried not to listen to what was being said. The call ended. He looked at me and said, “The U. S. Forces detained my nephew some weeks ago. We can’t find him. Could CPT help us find my nephew?” I said we could try although our team was already over committed. We tried but we were not successful. I don’t know if his nephew survived detention. I don’t know if the police officer survived the last seven years.
This encounter took place six months before the first battle of Fallujah which followed the killing of Blackwater contractors. As I write this I wonder how many of the people in that circle on that day are still alive, still live in Iraq or have any normalcy in their lives. I wonder if an unarmed peacemaking team in Fallujah might have made a real difference to the U. S. strategy, leading not once but twice to the destruction of that city. I believe trained and disciplined unarmed peacemakers in good numbers could have done without arms what armed soldiers could not accomplish — protect the people of Fallujah.
The story does not have to end here. We are not condemned to surviving in a world where the law is decimated by successive generations of paramilitaries. But the answer will probably not come from the Pentagon nor from the White House which may not be able to escape the grasp of a citizenry whose houses of worship celebrate the institutions of violent intervention. Congressional efforts to rein in support for paramilitaries or mercenaries have been timid. We will know if unarmed spiritually based peacemakers can do this when we become even more resolved to create a corp that can be in the Fallujahs that are waiting to happen.
Every one of us is impacted by a dominant culture that insists that military or police force will make things right. Every day that culture tells us that dirty tricks usually done in secret are required for our survival. After all, it’s argued, someone has to do this dirty work. It’s called a noble work and the Blackwater mercenaries are required for the work. It will take an expanding world wide but grass roots culture reaching beyond national borders to fashion a body of Christian peacemakers to be an effective power to block the guns and be part of transforming each impending tragedy of war. Little by little there will be change.
Great Wall: Berlin Wall and Others
Last week some people in the world celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall twenty years ago. The timing of its fall was unexpected but the energy leading to its end had been building from its beginning. On August 12, 1961 the East German government signed the order to build the wall. The wall lasted for 28 years probably above average for walls. Rulers have been building walls since the beginning of empires. Today sentries, hidden cameras and steel gates help wall off gated communities and corporate or government buildings to keep out people like terrorists, activists, street people and low-class sales persons.
A few barriers like the Great Wall in China built over centuries are now landmarks for tourists. The Chinese government is not interested in the Great Wall for security purposes. Reports today indicate that President Obama may pay the customary presidential visit to the Great Wall or the forbidden city. Yesterday he delivered advice to the Chinese, bring down the internet firewall. Perhaps a visit to the Great Wall could jog his community organizer imagination so that when he returns he will order the transformation of the 700 mile long border wall now under construction between Mexico and the US, into a tourist attraction where visitor fees could help pay off the deficit. Technical support for modern wall construction at the US Mexico border was provided by Israeli corporations who have considerable experience building their own wall to keep Palestinians out.
The barrier under construction by Israel to wall off Palestine is more than half completed. It will eventually be 436 miles long. Built to stop angry Palestinians from entering Israel, the wall traverses Palestinian villages, farms and property and is a source of great Palestinian inconvenience.
In February of this year I was in Northern England where one can view what is left of Hadrian’s wall developed after 122 AD. Actually I didn’t stop to look at Hadrian’s Wall but instead looked over Antonine’s Wall built across the Central Belt of Scotland 20 years later and 100 miles to the north of Hadrian’s Wall. Construction of Antonine’s turf and wood barrier took 12 years. It had 12 major forts plus many additional outposts for the imperial Roman defence force. It proved impossible to staff and maintain, served little strategic value and like many other past and future weapons was abandoned after 20 years. A city park now surrounds the part of Antonine’s wall that I saw. Unless someone told me I would not have known I was viewing a one time security border designed to keep bad people or terrorists on one side and protect the wealth of empire on the other.
A wall runs through the city of Belfast, Northern Ireland today, the remnant of a waning British empire. It divides Protestants and Catholics and provides an excellent opportunity for graffiti artists, though some of the panels are alarmingly racist. According to some local people it still serves a security function although the unguarded gates may suggest that its usefulness for any past or future kingdom may be limited.
Chunks of the Berlin wall are sought after as souvenirs usually by people like me who see the end of walls to be a symbol of a better way. Selling off wire clumps of the U.S. border wall with Mexico could be a promising industry. But good as the sales of that wall might be, the enterprise will lack in the special market appeal of chunks of concrete wall direct from the Holy Land.
A question that will probably require mediation for both the U. S. and Israeli walls is who will get the profits from wall sales, the people who ordered the walling or the people who were walled out. I assume that President Obama’s staff will be looking for advice on these details this week as he visits the people who built the Great Wall of China, the biggest and most elaborate wall of all. I am confident President Obama remembers that in Chicago where he once organized, the mayor built walls to hide poor communities from world-class convention goers, royal families, presidents and empire builders.
Afghanistan: The Right to Life
September 2, 2009, 9:16 am
Filed under: Afghanistan and Pakistan
, Christian Peacemaker Teams
, Nonviolent defence
, Politics of Empire
| Tags: Afghanistan
, listening to the people
, right to life
In the heart of Kandahar, Afghanistan (population 450,000) a bomb went off last week killing 43 people. “Anything can happen to ordinary Afghans. We are not safe. We are without value. We have no right to life,” said one victim whose family is among the living wounded. Who does he turn to? Who will speak for his family?
In 2002 I was in Afghanistan with Christian Peacemaker Teams. It was a time of change. Our peacemaking mission was welcomed. People allowed themselves to dream that the 20 years of war that began when the Soviets invaded might be ending. I returned home hoping that we could place peacemakers there because I saw signs that suggested unarmed violence reduction could augment what villages, groups, and individuals already had, based upon their own patterns of peacebuilding developed over generations.
I listened to village elders describe how they deal with violence, murder and injustice. I heard people describe the bombs that fell near or on their homes after 9/11. I was surprised by people’s candour, their hospitality and their confident formulas for conflict resolution. I am old enough to know that hospitality may be a means of masking the truth, but I also know that by accepting their generosity we each became surer of one another’s sincerity.
I saw rubble and rusting hulks from the Soviet period, the acres and hectares of destroyed city where warlords once fought for spoils. On the road to Bagram Air Force Base I witnessed deserted fields, irrigation systems and villages where crops of wheat and vegetables once fed people of Kabul. “Where have you been all these years?” asked an Afghan when he heard we were sent from the people working for peace. Similar sentiments came from others too, in small gestures of kindness and big dreams shared privately over tea.
I learned from seasoned Afghans that armed and uniformed soldiers would have great difficulty creating the conditions for reconciliation. Even as a civilian I was not convinced that I had a secret instrument for peace. I wanted to be honest but worried that Taliban and the war lords would ignore my fumbling peace probes. Being a foreigner particularly an American didn’t help. After decades of work in conflict situations I had learned to live with my uncertainty. My instinct told me to test and try various words, actions, suggestions in conditions where violent conflict resolution had become routine. Surprise! Something usually works even when society seems to be coming apart .
The signs of the futility of foreign military intervention have been there for at least eight years, and for centuries for those of us who take the time to read the pointers in Afghan history. When a nation is submerged in the political economy of war, turning the dial towards a peaceful direction is more difficult than juggling American citizens to consensus for health care reform. The promise of more foreign troops erects an even higher threshold.
Neither drones, nor F-15s nor brilliantly trained marines can find the path to harvest a new political economy where the things that make for peace sprout and blossom. If the dominant threads of development, crop improvement and infrastructure, are combat-clothed, security is lost for everyone. Suspicion, and opportunism always win in conditions of war. We should not be surprised by the daily rants from the foreign press describing corruption and opportunism. War and development don’t mix. Even the recent elections are exercises in political entertainment, devoid of trust. Our huge social-cultural mind set that violence can be redemptive does not work.
As American or Canadian or British soldiers continue to depart for the conflicted front I hope someone tells them about the kindness of the Afghan people. I hope the soldiers can listen in ways that generations before them would not or could not.
If they do listen they may come home early, not because of bullet wounds or truck bombs, but because they learned that they were sent into a conundrum of the impossible. They will remember the wise voices in the villages where they took extra time to listen. For some foreign soldiers those voices will resonate within because their hearts have been prepared. For them this will launch a new vision that includes all of humanity. I want to support them.
The US and its NATO partners are tired. The people of Kandahar are tired. Everyone is less secure. The 2500 Canadian soldiers in Kandahar, like their partner to the south are stuck. The government of Canada, its people and its soldiers anxiously await 2011 when the government has promised to end the military “mission”. Meantime the United States is preparing to send 20,000 additional soldiers. Without a “right to life” where is the hope? The way we invest in Afghanistan is more costly and treacherous than security swaps on Wall Street. Must we wait until all sides are exhausted to end it?
For the past 8 years I have been thinking about what we can do for Afghans who ask, “Where have you been”? Peace people, let us find our voices. Here are three suggestions.
1. Listening delegations can be organized to spend time in Afghanistan to learn and feel the void of meaning in the violence. Their experience will rev up all of us to engage.
2. Local efforts of listening to returning soldiers will help them sort out their story and complete at least a piece of our own. What have they learned from the Afghan people? about war? about this war? about themselves? about what is worth living for or dying for?
3. When the town meetings happen or the legislative telephones wait to ring, how about a simple message, “The Afghan War is bad for my health”.
Find the local and national organizations who are already working on these items.
For people of faith there must be a response for the words from Kandahar, “We have no right to life.” When I came back from Afghanistan in 2002 despite my best efforts I could not find the people and financial support to place teams in the field there. A whole team of peacemakers could have been placed there for the cost of just one foreign soldier. And for the cost of another soldier several local teams could have been trained and put to work. Those bold words are still calling out to me. “Where have you been all these years?” And, where are we now?
Warriors at Creech Air Force Base
On Thursday, April 9, the day before Good Friday, Ground the Drones vigil participants entered Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs NV with the goal of meeting with commanders and pilots. The 14 people from all over the US, crossed into the base just before rush hour singing, “When the Saints Go Marching In”.
By extending the 10 day vigil of prayer and Holy communication from the base entrance more directly to the people inside we underlined the urgent need to think again about the implications of what will be done with the unmanned Predators, dropping their deadly bombs on civilians in Afghanistan or Pakistan. All the vigil participants who entered the base were arrested. The vigil and the entering Creech AFB is a public cry to think about the implications of drone warfare today and in the future.
After the vigilers entered there was some confusion as Military Police and contracted guards shuffled about furiously to prevent the group from moving deeper into the base. Some members of the military Police who had recently returned from Iraq stood with their M-16 rifles pointed at the those who had entered. By this time the vigilers were kneeling in prayer just inside the steel gate which was slammed shut behind them. Traffic was rerouted to the commercial entrance a mile away.
The sign at the entrance of Creech AFB tells it all, Home of the United States Air Force Desert Warfare Training Center. Pilots, officers, enlisted people and civilians had passed us all week, many in shiny foreign built vehicles – some in buses. We waved and prayed for their safety especially the Marines who had come for specialized training in desert warfare before deployment. As I stood there I wanted to write a new poster to hold, Drop the Drones: Develop the People or Drones Belong In Bee Hives but I couldn’t find a thick black pen.
Overhead the more advanced version of the wily digitally controlled Predator, the MQ-9 Reaper Hunter/Killer UAV, circled every six minutes as a column of them touched down and took off in practised precision bombing. They also rehearsed techniques for camera use and intelligence gathering. In a few weeks the pilots and their staff will be directing the same type of planes still from Creech AFB in Indian Springs as those planes take off from Bagram Air Force Base forty miles north of Kabul, Afghanistan. Those Predators will deliver their Hellfire Missiles and collect information in Pakistan and Afghanistan. I will continue to wonder if their powerful cameras took pictures of me as I stood with my sign and if they did, would they have printed it out for the bulletin board to entertain themselves over coffee.
Vigil participants remained on their knees on the hard paved road for more than an hour with guns pointed towards them until Nevada State Police arrived to write citations. Before the final act of arrest of the peace warriors, a Military Policeman from the air force was ordered to read a statement formally warning the warriors now deep in prayer that they would be arrested if they did not leave immediately. I watched with others outside the main entrance to Creech as my colleagues were hauled away in Nevada State Police vehicles after a citation was written.
Eventually all 14 participants were transported to the Las Vegas City jail 45 miles away for a cold overnight stay in a cell where rich and poor, disorderly drunks, addicts, street people, prostitutes and other vagrants are stowed away. According to those arrested there were no criminal Wall Streeters or Bank executives in the Las Vegas jail. My friends were released the next morning. The final gathering of those who vigiled was blessed with a rousing Easter poem urging Jesus to come on out of the tomb!
Video of the Vigil
Simple Life, Usury and Superstitions
The dollars moving out there through cyberspace and the markets are only worth something if people believe that paper money has value. That belief has everything to do with who owns the dollars, who owes dollars and how, or even if, there is faith that those dollars will make the future better and contribute to security. Occasionally strange people who embrace ascetic like notions of simple life come along to challenge our faith in the hidden hand of the market place. We need them now.
When I went overseas in the 1960s I often met people who talked about the money lenders who went to markets and coffee shops to find consumers to whom they offered a loan at 20% interest for just a few weeks. In emergencies, vulnerable consumers or petty merchants borrowed money fast. Occasionally they lost everything because they were unable to pay back on time. Lenders themselves rarely lose, and may even welcome the crisis of foreclosures.
This primitive banking system is practised in every developing nation and in some industrializing cities. Advanced capitalism encourages a more rationalized version of this in developed nations. Rates are far lower than 20% for a six to eight week loans but borrowers still lose everything sometimes. In the current home loan crisis, recipients are losing their homes because they took advantage of low cost opportunities or failed to read the fine print.
The law is a helpful though often a porous boundary in preventing these collapses. Ancient and modern lenders use, misuse, avoid or manipulate the law. The power of money lenders is always great. The power of the borrower is great too if they happen to unite which is rare. Big borrowers like the US government or large strategic corporations unlike small borrowers get bailed out. We are now in a crisis of faith, faith in the US dollar. We are not confident of what has value. But borrowing continues to be encouraged because it makes more things happen. The economy grows and they tell us that is good for all of us.
The time has come for a renewed vision for simple life to make itself known outside and even inside the monuments of economic globalization and foreclosure. People who practice simple life detach themselves from the faith statements of good economic citizens and try to live within their means. When they take jobs or select careers their choices are guided by healthy connections with the earth, water and air, the source of all value. Their non attachment is often but not always related to faith, in some cases faith in a God who functions outside the rules of economic life, rules put in place by the haves.
This simple life also creates space for volunteering, peacemaking and all kinds of experiments in self sufficiency, and self reliance. Simple life people think globally. They, of course, can be preachy or wrong but often their stubbornness is a gift for all of us if we take the time to listen. Their core spirit is honed through detachment from hardened positions of finance, towards a vision of wholeness that can awaken whole communities, even nations.
A simple life like John the Baptist, or Gandhi lived is a gift, and a sign for the ages. With walking sticks they stumbled to the sea where salt and new life awaited them and their followers. Their strange notions of simple villages made joyful by transcendent visions of righteousness were mocked. But their detached ways eventually saved continents from the tragedy of money lenders. There are John the Baptists or Gandhis expectantly waiting to be born in each of us.
People who have internalized the depth of compassion at the core of simple life can be a gift for a wobbling global economy. Detachment from the economic system does not infer an expectation of doom or permanent success. It does, however, remove the simple lifer from the superstitions of the global economy. Real promoters of simple life have learned that guilt is not a good motivation. Without all those burdens, debts, and obligations the person of simple life has a degree of critical objectivity and wisdom to bring as their gift to the great economic councils where decisions about faith and money are life and death matters for billions of people.
Badshah Khan: Pakistan’s Nonviolent Warrior
”I am going to give you such a weapon that the police and the army will not be able to stand against it. It is the weapon of the Prophet, but you are not aware of it. That weapon is patience and righteousness. No power on earth can stand against it.” - Badshah Khan, Muslim leader of Pashtun nonviolent army that worked against British rule in the 1920s and following years.
In late 2001 and early 2002 I had occasion to be in Pakistan as part of a larger trip to Afghanistan. The people I met in the northwest frontier city of Peshawar and surrounding areas where millions of Pashtun Afghans still live, are much on my mind these days as Pakistan continues its 60 year long rhythm of military rule that alternates with constitutional government. I have always said that if I had ten lives, one of them would be in India as an Indian. In early 2002 I added to the list of nations for one of my ten lives, Pakistan. My curiosity and engagement with Pakistani secular society and unfolding Muslim culture grew deeper every day. When I departed my personal journey of companionship with the peoples building on the work of Badshah Khan had only begun.
In recent days I listened to the political commentaries on the recent emergency that suspended constitutional rule. I watched the clashes between lawyers and police. Thousands struggling for constitutional rule are now in jail or under house arrest. Unity within the military is holding supported by 10 billion dollars of US Aid, mostly for the military that went to Pakistan since 9/11 under the subtext of defeating terrorism.
Even as we watch the unfolding story of emergency military rule now, the fourth such military take over in Pakistan’s 60 year history, US military trainers and equippers are finalizing plans for an even greater push to help the half million strong Pakistan army to force its will on the Pashtun border peoples. “The train has already left the station”, a Pentagon spokesperson told the Washington Post when he described these new efforts.
For thousands of years Pakistan’s dense mountainous western border region with Afghanistan where Pashtun people live has escaped the grip of nations and empires to the west and east. Today the rebellious and independent threads running through those mountains have been temporarily renamed “Al Queda supporters” or “Taliban protectors”. More than two millennia ago Alexander the Great reached the edge of the Indus Valley by leading his army through these mountains into the heartland of Pakistan before turning around to head back home. In ancient times some of our common ancestors the Aryan peoples from Central Asia, also reached Pakistan’s Indus Valley and the land of India beyond, where principalities, empires and nations grew over the foundations of still more ancient civilizations. Since Alexander the Great, foreign forces from the west and from the east have met successive defeats in Afghanistan often led by the Pashtun people.
As early converts to Islam the Pashtun tribes embraced and integrated Islam into their more ancient cultural framework of tough independence. When their life was threatened by the Soviets their fighters welcomed the generous outpouring of US support during the 1980s largely channelled through Pakistan’s military.
Until this century these areas were loosely administered by a system of political officers begun by the British and continued in the period of independent Pakistan. The British never really controlled the area. Until Pakistan was enlisted as a major player in the war on Soviet intervention in Afghanistan those policies were continued by Pakistan. Now the US Special Forces building on the often failed experience of the last 25 years, plan to work with the Pakistani military to bring the area under disciplined order and rid it of terrorist intent.
A major legacy of the US supported defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan has been the refinement and increase of modern military competence and the embrace of militant Islam. Specialized schools called Madrases, selected military and intelligence units, Pakistani military personnel and civilians find meaning for their lives in more activist and often militarized pursuits.
British and Soviet invasions of Afghanistan were turned back in defeat by the crafty tactics of Pashtun people. Eventually the British and their successors, the Soviets gave up. Few lessons have been learned. The interjection of even wider military support to Pakistan will further destabilizes the situation. Today the generals in Pakistan know that trying to quell Pashtun descent may be an unrealistic goal. But they are willing to carry on counterinsurgency in a perfunctory way in order to keep generous US military aid flowing. The Pakistan military sees itself as the single unifying institution in the nation, the only body that is able to balance the secular and constitutional peoples of the Pakistan’s heartland with the nation’s Islamic vision.
But resistance to emergency measures and military rule is not the sole prerogative of lawyers. Pakistan has a civil society that is a living active memory of the historical thread of nonviolent struggle leading to independence of India and Pakistan 60 years ago. Badshah Khan quoted at the beginning of this article was a Pashtun leader of one part of that effort. A committed Muslim, he worked with Gandhi in the struggle against British rule. To achieve this end Khan founded the Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God) known as the Red Shirts. The group was developed around the notion of Satyagraha, active nonviolence. 100,000 participants were recruited into one of the largest nonviolent armies in history. The organization’s soldiers became legendary for dying at the hands of the police and military of the British Empire.
When I visited Peshawar in 2001, I found threads of curiosity, and interest in the nonviolent struggle made visible 85 years ago, weaving its way through Pakistan’s world. Little reported because of the world,s fascination with terrorism and entertainment violence, the legacy of Badshah Khan survives in people’s minds although the man and his nonviolent army is long forgotten. This legacy is a restraining influence on unbridled military rule, and gives legitimacy to lawyers now manning the barricades and advocating the rule of law rather the rule of the gun.
One day when I was in Peshawar, the Pashtun city of northwest Pakistan I went to visit a private organization that provided educational programs to remote villages in Afghanistan during the long night of Taliban rule. My colleague, Doug Pritchard and I drank cups of tea and waited for the agency’s director in the entry hall. Finally our host arrived. His first words to us were, “Peacemaker Teams, where have you been all these years?” We felt those words coming from the deepest chambers of his heart. He described his work and his vision. He also described the enormous levels of violence that people were going through and invited us to think together about peacemaking and building a culture of peace. A Pashtun, he remembered his growing up years in villages where blood feuds led to killings long after the initial incident or insult.
Now as the violence in Afghanistan increases, and the military gains even more prominence in Pakistan I remember my Pashtun friends in Peshawar and Kabul. I remember their invitation for us to join them in brainstorming for peace and peacemaking. I remember their invitation for us to come and work with them. I remember their urgent words. And I remember our inability to respond then with teams of trained and committed people. The absence of sustained support for grass roots peacemaking is one part of a puzzle that led to conditions for emergency military rule and new initiatives to send special forces trainers. Oh Lord how long?
Massacre, and Mobilization
TUESDAY, APRIL 24, 2007
Monday April, 16 Virginia Tech Massacre 32 killed
Wednesday April 18 more than 200 Iraqis killed
Thursday April 19, 1995 12 year anniversary of Oklahoma City bombing 168 killed
Friday April 20, 1999 8 year anniversary of Columbine High School Massacre of 13 killed
Last week was another wretched experience of shock and awe. Millions are reminded of one of the characteristics of our age of terror, death from guns. And, all of us would like to do better. Most of us think we can do better. When I learned of the depth of the carnage at Virginia Tech I went into a familiar mode. What would I have done if I had been in those classrooms and watched the the Virginia Tech killer point his gun at me, at my classmates? Would I have had elementary skills to challenge the shooter? Would I have been frozen in horror and terror? Would I have had the courage to try to stop it? Would there have been even a tiny opening to stop it? As the news leaks out there are hints, only hints that some may have tried the best they could to stop the killer.
I believe there is a body of nonviolent knowledge and techniques that might prepare me and millions to respond competently. I believe that this body of skills can be organized and taught. I believe that practice and training will save lives and give people courage and confidence to meet the horror of situations like Virginia Tech.
Inevitably the massacre this week will reactivate discussions and debates of public policy, law enforcement, health, gun control, the psychological or cultural roots of Virginia Tech type killers, and the use of other human or technical security measures. Debates on all of these responses will continue and need to. But until citizens, unarmed citizens develop basic skills, and confidence to respond in dangerous or crisis situations we will continue to be disappointed with public policy.
It is possible that someone trained in nonviolent defense including measures that men or women can engage in to overcome or control attackers could have stopped the Virginia Tech assailant before he killed 32 people. I have learned from nonviolent work that achieving the goal of stopping violence is often closer than we may expect. We live in a culture that remains convinced that the only effective deterrent is an armed response or technological progress. Able and competent people have been experimenting for years to develop a battery of nonviolent and nonlethal skills to stop events like this but they have not been widely disseminated or practiced. When employed these skills may not always bring success but they do bring confidence and confidence affects the wider culture in unexpected and promising ways.
How do we get there? I believe we can get there with a three pronged approach that includes first, one or two day training events in nonviolent self defense at all levels of educational institutions, business and religious institutions. The training could be part of a larger classroom course in Violence and Nonviolence or weekend events. The training will draw upon the experience of nonviolence in general, particularly the experiences of third party interpositioning, intervention, and negotiations where careful attention is given to the ability to read body language and voice. The sessions will require training in the use of methods of physical coercion to restrain persons with violent intent. Mental health workers and law enforcement personnel among others have some training in this area which may need to be studied and adapted to a nonviolent approach to getting in the way of killers.
Secondly, team responses by trained people will help reenforce and sustain this training. Wide popular support and interest for nonviolent approaches already exists. Thirdly, institutions of all kinds can be challenged to find methods to undergird, sustain or facilitate this response to vandals, violence and vicious killers.
The message here is that we can exponentially expand basic skills in nonviolent self defense. This will not change the world overnight but it may contribute to a culture that has more confidence that it can respond, and a culture that is less consumed by lethal responses including guns, and more energized by another side of creativity, life and health.
US Department of Peace and Nonviolence?
Today I received a copy of a letter a friend sent to his US Congressperson encouraging support on his part for a proposed Department of Peace and Nonviolence (HR 808). The bill calls for a new Federal department that will be allocated funds at a rate of 2% of the Department of Defense, now $300 billion, to study and implement strategies that deal with violence at home and abroad. It will require other Cabinet Secretaries to consult with the Secretary of Peace concerning nonviolent alternatives to potentially violent situations. Supporters believe the new Department will instill hope in a “Second Path” to resolving conflict. I wish I could have more enthusiasm for the project. What follows is my attempt to keep it moving but also remind us of the times and the ways of super powers.
The proposal for this new Department comes out of legislative leadership working with the support of the peace community to institutionalize positive efforts for change. I understand very well the need to make concrete the positive nature of the peace vision in the context of the negative energy of war and violence. Thirty-five years ago as the war in Viet Nam moved to an end, a similar national discussion ensued to invent a United States Institute of Peace. The peace community gave good support. I wrote letters of support and encouraged other to do so. After years the legislation passed and there is now a USPI. As administrations come and go the Institute is reinvented to serve the policy priorities of respective administrations. The peace community that was mobilized to support Institute for Peace’s creation now hears little from the Institute, but in recent years its silence has deepened.
I believe that it’s possible that some day maybe even in this century I will be able to trust an American government to honestly place the work of nonviolent alternatives to war and conflict on its permanent agenda without being sideswiped or wrecked by the urgent priorities of a single crisis of national security or truth bashing that characterizes contemporary party poltics. I know that national leaders including Presidents, Senators and Secretaries often welcome opportunities to use the language of nonviolence in order to lecture militant adversaries whose access to the technology of violence is not a modern as smart bombs and laser defense systems designed for the heavens. I also know that the debate and energy required for this discussion is one part of a larger process, building a culture of peace.
Twenty years ago when we began the work of Christian Peacemaker Teams I was frequently contacted by researchers working on designs for less violent conflict resolutions. Sometimes I felt that my answers were still tentative. Today I would be more confident. There were times when I felt like there were about five researchers for every CPTer. My time was limited so I developed a series of questions for the researchers. How will this material be used to try to make things better? Will you give us the consumer, the results of your research? Will you put it in a form that can be understood by the people we work with, our co-workers around the world? These questions would often lead to a discussion about the purpose of research and the accountability of researchers to their subjects.
The United States Institute of Peace has been a fountain of support for scholars and a forum for discussion. As the war in Iraq heated up the Institutes bibliography was helpful to me on several occasions. In the mid 90s I attended a symposium financed by the Institute for peace team groups who intervene in selected situations of conflict around the world. That was a good event. I remained in touch with a respected former colleague who was on the Institute staff whose opening words to me usually went something like this, “So good to hear from you (or see you) Gene. You are doing great work but please don’t ask us for money.” The subscript here is that the USIP is not in the business of funding actual peacemaking programs, especially nonviolent direct action.
I respected his request however if my memory serves me he did occasionally send personal contributions, one of the signs that committed government workers are doing their best in what are sometimes lonely constricting positions. I believe he was as committed to building a peaceful world as I am. I enjoyed far more flexibility and fewer resources than he did. I believe there are good people to staff such a department. But, I am also confident that in the politcal culture of America today a Department of Peace and Nonviolence will be unable to deliver on the promise implied by its lofty and hopeful name.
I am sure it will mean more research grants and symposiums. Some of this is needed and someone will decide how to award these in a manner that places the current ruling party in the best light. Of course this scholarship will be objective as far as objectivity goes within the politics of the hour. Will some people who might have done great grass roots peacemaking work have been seduced by liberal notions that peace really gets started in Washington? Will this new department encourage, stimulate, awaken or even organize an army of nonviolent peacemakers? I doubt it, but surprises happen.
So you see I come to this discussion with a plate full of ambiguity. I believe it is important to dream and propose a day when the US Government honestly engages with the deep vision of a nonviolent world but today it is in no position to broker such a vision I believe the vision will require policies and legislation. I believe there are competent persons to staff such an effort. But I am in no hurry because I don’t believe that our political culture or our national culture has reached a point where the freedom to act, think, experiment and deliver on the promise is there. So lets keep working in our local communities, our local churches and organizations to energize that emerging culture of peace so that when Congress delivers a Department of Peace and Nonviolence it can study actual examples the truth of violence and nonviolence and authentically empower practitioners of the latter. I want a Department of Peace and Nonviolence I can trust.
What If the Hyjacked Airplane Was Filled With Pacifists
The following represents one kind of question that peace people discussed in the wake of 9/11. This is part of an exchange of emails I had over the last eight months. I hope the questions here stimulate others to share their learning from experimentation. We are not the first generation of people seeking nonviolent answers to difficult problems.
Seeing your article in the winter issue of On Earth Peace prompts me to reach out with the deep questioning that’s arisen within my soul as a result of 9/11, with the hope of seeking resolution and discernment that I haven’t been able to reach on my own. (The article sounded a note of hope for the long term and encouraged all of us to stay on track. ed.)
No, it’s not what you might think a 9/11 reaction might be. I was saddened not only by the event but by those responses that were not sadness but anger, posturing and violence.
But that plane that went down in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, closer to the Brethren home places from which my farmer forebears left for Iowa in the mid-1800s than I’ve ever been…
If the reports and piecing together are correct, a group of passengers attacked the hijackers and attempted to take the plane back. That that plane crashed into a field instead of into some target with thousands more people to injure and kill was one of the miracles of that day.
Since facing the CO question during the Vietnam War, I took solace in Joan Baez’s book Daybreak, that hypothetical situations were just that. I believed in pacifism and nonviolence unconditionally, and hid behind the seeming logic (and no small amount of cleverness) Baez displayed in responding to the hypothetical questions a draft board might (and many did) ask.
But that plane over Pennsylvania doesn’t seem hypothetical, even with our lack of surety of what happened in its last minutes.
The hijackers (and the suicide bombers we’ve also seen since) do not seem the kind of folk who respond to Ghandian approaches.
A plane of pacificists might well have let that plane reach its target, as three other planes already had. And that would have been a tragedy.
My lifetime of beliefs were deeply shaken in that realization.
If you have any wisdom that might help me discern truths I can’t myself see, I’d sure appreciate hearing from you.
Ron, For me, Ron restraining crazy people is not beyond the pale of pacifism. Because of this when I was with CPT I worked overtime to try to incorporate non lethal ways to restrain people like the hijackers on the plane to which you refer. Long into the future the human family will continue to be troubled by elements that lash out. Our response as Christian pacifists is to find ways to respond without killing. Being pacifist is not something beside or outside the world. It is living with the threat of violence and sometimes offering the ultimate sacrifice. Soldiers are called to be available for such sacrifice. The ethic of love and enemy loving seeks a higher road but it will require enormous research, testing and experimentation. Your questions are a gift for all of us along the way. Thanks Gene
Gene, I don’t think I thanked you for your response. I’ve read it a number of times in the last six months. It helps. Ron
Ron, My misspelled words not withstanding I guess it was an honest answer to your questions and still is. Upon reflection there are other items that I might have added. In our peacemaker training several years ago we began to discuss how one nonviolently disarms a violent offender. This does not mean that an airplane loaded with pacifists would be able to deal with air hijackers any more than armed representatives from the Department of Homeland Security but I think its entirely appropriate to ask the question of how and I believe there is a body of thinking and experience around nonviolent intervention that might contribute to the answer so that people can be restrained in a nonlethal manner. Even though there may be instances when people can’t be restrained I think that pacifists have a legitimate and important witness over time, to life and spirit. Finally the commitment to non killing has never carried with it the implication that pacifists may not die in the conduct of mission of their lives. Much work remains to be done on
“Shoulds”, “Oughts”, and “Have to’s”
Yesterday, July 4, 2006 I watched how one US News channel helped Americans celebrate independence day with stories of soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, marching bands in small towns, and collapsing photos of exploding fire works. Independence Day celebrations try to give some meaning to the present state, United States, in the context of a history of immigration, conquest, and social experimentation in political democracy. For this one day, the great divide between red and blue states gets a fresh look, although the pain and conflict it represents as a vision for the world is never hidden. I can’t erase from my mind the sound and image of President George Bush or Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice lecturing the world about how things ought to be, should be or have to be.
In my ruminations about nonviolence long before either Rice or Bush had reached high office, I discovered with horror how often I also used the words, ought to, should, or have to. At first I was confused about my ambivalence regarding the terms. Of course there are boundaries to our lives and clear expectations that need to be enforced. But, from somewhere in my mind a little voice kept nagging at me. Does this get us to the next step? Do I reach the community of fairness and justice by imposing oughts and shoulds?
A “should” always implies a shouldn’t and at least within me the “shouldn’t” set off an internal resonance of restrictions and rules set in place at the earliest edge of my childhood consciousness that constrained my life rather than inviting me to embrace possibilities. I came to believe that life’s rewards and the absence of punishment came from the successful navigation through the mazeway of “shouldn’ts”. When I hear Rice and Bush lecturing the nations of the world, their language evokes memories of childhood pain and guilt. In their carefully crafted statements intended for adversaries and friends, they lay out clear specific boundaries for action. There are also implied threats of punishment.
This is the way we do foreign policy. But it’s also the way in which we conduct our personal and institutional life. About 20 years ago I decided to try to eliminate “shoulds”, “oughts”, and “have to” from my written and spoken vocabulary. It was really hard to do. Sometimes I would find myself in an animated conversations literally “shot” full of those words. For some reason my mind, functioning at the intersection of conscious and unconscious, was demanding (another one of those words) to make sure my point was made indelible for whomever was listening. Over time, by monitoring myself the situation has improved. I developed a little exercise that my right and left brain tossed back and forth. The exercise was this. Every time I needed one of those words I backed off ever so briefly and tried to decide how those guilt inducing words could be rephrased into comfortable but sometimes firm invitations.
Usually the right brain left brain chat went something like this.
Left Brain: Well if you can’t make an objective demand or rule then how do you keep things orderly?
Right Brain: Order comes out of our very nature, and is natural. Let people decide on their own rather than forcing the matter.
Left Brain: But what about the exceptions, those people who just want to destroy, or harm or inflict pain?
Right Brain: You have a point there. But inviting people to their highest goals which we all have, does not eliminate further conversation or even strong words – it gives space for the deeper lubrication of love and emotion.
Well you get the point. The exercise is still going on within me. I forget sometimes. All of this happened because I wanted to figure out a fairer, more empowering way to conduct my personal and institutional life. I suspect it would have developed whole fresh permutations if I had been a parent. I am still figuring out how to be a husband who applies the positive power of invitation instead of the negative force of “should” to my partner.
We live in a culture largely still functioning within the confines of “shoulds”, oughts and “have to’s”. Our leaders, who are really followers, imitate the preferred style that was passed on to them. Independence Day this year felt like a celebration of force and glitter. I hope that we have the courage to create a culture of joy and invitation.