A Call for Transformation of the Peace Movement

Carol Bragg, 3/24/2005

My remarks today reflect my own evolution after working for 35 years on peace and justice issues opposing US military involvement in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Colombia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, and Iraq, and countless weapons sytems.

In 1946, Albert Einstein observed that he unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe. September 11, 2001 has also changed everything except our ways of thinking. This is true of the US government and also of the American peace movement, which has not appreciably changed its message or its strategies over the past 3_ decades.

In "The Meaning of This War" (referring to World War II), Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel recounts a tale of a band of inexperienced mountain climbers who, after a rocky ledge gives way beneath their feet, find themselves in a dark pit of angry snakes. For every snake they slay, ten more seem to appear. One of the climbers doesn't participate in the frenzied effort. He concludes that they need to find a way out of the pit or they all will die. Hmmm. Unless we enjoy slaying snakes, the peace movement needs to take time for reflection and serious self-examination.

Heschel writes: "Our world seems not unlike a pit of snakes. We did not sink into the pit in 1939, or even in 1933. We had descended into it generations ago, and the snakes have sent their venom into the bloodstream of humanity, darkening our vision."

Friends, the war in Iraq did not begin 2 years ago. The war in Iraq began decades ago in the lifestyles of Americans and in military and foreign policies pursued to achieve US dominance in order to sustain our lifestyles. They were self-serving policies, so blinkered by the quest for power and wealth, that we couldn't see what was necessary to secure genuine peace. September 11th should have served as a wake-up call, but it did not. Lest we cast blame on successive Administrations, greedy corporations, or the rich, we might consider Rabbi Heschel's words: he conscience of the world was destroyed by those who were wont to blame others rather than themselves.

Where has the peace movement been in the 38 years since Martin Luther King, Jr. called for a Marshall Plan to eradicate global poverty, bringing about the justice that Pope Pius said is a pre-condition for peace?

Where was our movement when Saddam Hussein was committing atrocities against his own people and all we could do was summon the courage to criticize US-British led sanctions against Iraq, leaving a vacuum where there should have been moral outrage-a vacuum that was so easily filled by military force?

Where were we when we should have been drastically cutting our oil consumption and curbing our excessive consumerism — we, the citizens of a country that represents less than 5% of the world's population, consumes more than 25% of the world's output of oil, and controls 32% of the world's wealth?

Where were we? We were in the pit slaying snakes - projecting our fears, our anger, our need for an enemy onto multinational corporations and the US government, consuming our time, sapping our energy, and leaving ourselves disheartened and disillusioned. In our fury and dismay at the US government, we are as locked into nation-state thinking as the radical right. In failing to recognize our own complicity in this nation's policies, we disempower ourselves.

We need to move beyond lashing out at the US government and embrace the transcendent vision of which Dr. King spoke: We have inherited a large house, a great 'world house' in which we have to live together — black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Moslem and Hindu — a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace. We are one human family sharing a single planet — a world house.

We need to recognize that it won't work to cut US military spending to fund domestic human needs, because it leaves out a critical part of the equation: our security and well-being in this part of the house are profoundly affected by what happens in the rest of the house. The world is 3-dimensional not 2-dimensional, but the peace movement has been 2-dimensional in its thinking: attack the military-industrial complex, support domestic human needs, but ignore conditions in the rest of the world until the US decides to intervene militarily.

If we want peace, we must undertake major renovations in the world house: 1) increasing everyone's security by addressing the conditions in weak and failed states that can spawn acts of terrorism or war; and 2) transforming our own lifestyles and local economies so that we enjoy a sustainable standard of living without need for a huge military. An advocate of decentralization, Gandhi pointed out, "Centralization cannot be sustained and defended without adequate force."

We need to shift this country's focus from fighting terrorism to preventing terrorism. Like preventing fires or deadly diseases, it costs less and saves lives. The bi-partisan Commission on Weak States and US National Security has identified the problems of some 70 weak and failing states as the great threat to US security in the 21st century: 1) inability to provide security internally or against external threats, 2) lack of capacity to provide basic human rights like education and health care, and 3) problems with legitimacy with their own citizens or in the global community.

A terrorism-prevention agenda would include: Development assistance with an unconditional commitment to the poor. Debt relief, which is a misnomer, since loans to countries the industrialized world has exploited can't rightly be regarded as debt. Fair trade to help lift people out of poverty. Securing nuclear materials that may otherwise fall into the hands of terrorists. Ending the small arms trade. All of these deserve our attention.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has called upon donor nations to contribute 7/10 of one percent of their gross national income to development assistance. The US, at 15/100 of one percent, is the lowest of all the industrialized nations. Based on US gross national income for 2003, our contribution for development assistance would be $76.5 billion, less than 1/5th of the military budget for FY2006, exclusive of nuclear weapons and the war in Iraq.

If the Bush Administration and Congress won't make that commitment, there's nothing to prevent us from committing 7/10 of one percent of Rhode Island's gross state product to overseas development assistance. In 2003, that amount would have been $277 million. Gandhi went directly to the wealthy to support his programs; we can do the same.

Now to the toughest part: addressing our own complicity. We will keep fighting wars for oil until we end our dependence on oil.

If we want peace, we need to get rid of our SUVs and mini-vans and purchase vehicles that use less gas. If you have an SUV, buy a hybrid. If you can afford it, buy two and give one to a family that lives in poverty and can't afford the rising gas prices.

If we want peace, we need to get New England off oil heat. Let's give poor homeowners the financial assistance they need to replace their oil-fired furnaces.

If we want peace, we need to produce and consume locally. Leave the Florida orange juice on the supermarket shelf and buy cranberry juice from the Ocean Spray grower cooperative in Massachusetts. Less diesel fuel for trucking, with the added benefit that cranberry juice doesn't need refrigeration.

If we want peace, we need to develop a sustainable local economy, significantly reduce our individual consumption, and learn to share our wealth. High occupancy vehicles, high occupancy or smaller houses: both reduce the demand for energy. We need to civilize this part of the world house. ivilization,Gandhi asserted, onsists not in the multiplication, but in the deliberate and voluntary reduction of wants.

One final comment. Poverty is a local issue and is best addressed locally. If we don't trust Tom DeLay and Bill Frist, why would we want to run funds to help the poor through the federal bureaucracy, leaving critical programs hostage to the Republicans that control Congress? Remember the old camp song, Rock-a My Soul? If Washington is so high, we can't get over it, so low, we can't get under it, so wide, we can't get around it, we must go through the door. Challenging the ship of state head-on is not working. We need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) and find more effective ways of pursuing peace.