Letters from the Street

Philosophy, theology, and whatever else crosses my mind.

Category: Peacemaking

We Need Love More Than Ever

I’ve been having these conversations with friends who, like myself, are very concerned about the current social/political situation.

One of them remarked that an acquaintance had said that it would be OK to just run over protesters if they were blocking the street. This caused despair for my friend, who then generalized to “Trump voters.”

Well, you know what? Nearly 63 million people voted for Trump. Most of them people not that different from me. Same worries about jobs and kids and all that. They saw a solution being offered by Trump. I think they were mistaken, gravely and dangerously mistaken, but not evil.

They will regret their choice, and perhaps before too very long at the pace things are going.

Out of 63 million voters, were some of them racist, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic? Yes. Trump brought those folks out of the woodwork and made them feel stronger. I’m not talking about them. They may be redeemable. I’m not counting on it. A lot of that hate is dyed in the wool. They just need to be opposed.

But I know from the depths of my soul that those mean-spirited types were not the majority. And so there’s the majority, regular working stiffs like you and me, who have been fooled by a con artist, and we don’t need to shame or blame them. We need to win them back.

They are our friends, our neighbors, the parents of the kids our kids sit next to in school. We need them. And so, as strong as I am in opposition to the 1% and the way they treat the rest of us, “the rest of us” is us.  All of us. Let’s act like it. Without giving up our resistance to the train wreck that is taking place in Washington, DC and in statehouses all over the country, let’s act like it.

Pacifism II – Call and Response

[I received a number of responses to the post on pacifism. This one came via email from a friend and fellow Quaker. It is so thoughtful and raised so many important issues, issues that I wanted to address, that I asked its author if I could post it and respond to it on my blog. He agreed, while asking to remain nameless at this time. His remarks are in regular type, and indented. My responses are in bold type.]

This is a well-written, accessible piece about real-life pacifism, and I appreciate thy adding this to the blogosphere.  All too often spokespeople on either side are too entrenched in their own extreme position to do much more than lob stones at those who disagree.

I’m not a life-long pacifist, having had my conversion experience as a 2nd LT in the US Air Force, also during the war in Vietnam.  A quirk in the law at that time meant I was eligible for the draft even after the USAF had decided I was a legitimate CO.  My lottery number was 1, so there was no avoiding it.  I’m one of the few folks who is an official CO in the eyes of both the military system and the Selective Service system.

Thanks for sharing your bona fides.

It seems to me that thy analysis of the situation in Dayton, leading to thy purchase of a handgun, does not include two important costs of the decision to defend thyself violently:  the cost to thee spiritually/psychologically, and the cost to the intruder(s) should thee happen to shoot straight.  Perhaps thee considered these things but just did not include them in the blog, or perhaps they were not part of thy thinking then but (one hopes) would be important considerations now.  Either way, it feels that the posting would have been stronger if thee had mentioned them.

I agree that these are two important considerations. I didn’t include them because they were peripheral to the point I was making, and because I try to keep my posts concise. There is a great deal more that could have been said about what I did say, not to mention what I left out.

For instance, much more could have been said on the dawning realization that I myself was worth saving. Someone else has said it much better than I’m likely to, so I’m just going to put up a link to Jeffrey Snyder’s “A Nation of Cowards.” I don’t endorse everything that Mr. Snyder says nor the way he says it. For our present purpose, the section early on entitled “The Gift of Life” is what is pertinent. He quotes a 1747 sermon which equates failure to defend oneself with suicide.

Sweeping generalities being what they are, there are exceptions to this. Failure to give it full consideration, though, is as big a mistake as failure to consider the two points you make (What about the cost to me of taking a life? What about the cost to the dead and his loved ones?) In fact, all of these questions are inextricably linked. They are two sides of the same coin. If I could protect myself and don’t, what about the cost to my loved ones? If I let someone else take my life when I could have prevented it, what about the cost to them?

I may, at some future time, go into more detail on those questions. While I found them to be secondary to the point I made in the original post, they are not secondary to the question of violence, whether you or I or anyone else would ever act violently and under what circumstances.

Definitions are always tricky, which leads me to a second concern, which is that a commitment to nonviolence in some situations but not in others seems vulnerable to being labeled as not pacifism at all but personal utilitarianism of the sort that every person follows to a certain extent.  In other words, thy definition is too broad – almost everyone qualifies as a pacifist.  Even the most hawkish, war-like of persons does not advocate the use of lethal violence to solve every disagreement:  some things we talk out to resolve, some things we resort to lawyers to resolve, and some things we resort to war to resolve.  It is the personal equivalent to just-war theory on a larger scale.  We should use non-violent means unless the conditions of just-war theory are met, in which case lethal violence is justified.  The problem with this approach is that, to the best of my knowledge, no just-war advocate with decision making power has ever decided that in his particular case, war is not justified.

Thank you for providing me this opening. If pacifism is an intellectually-based ethical decision, then I think what you are saying is absolutely true. Left to my own devices, I could well end up with something that looks like the just war doctrine, with all its frailties that you point out. Seeing that no one is ever 100% consistent — even Gandhi and King had their moments of aggression — then we end up concluding that all pacifists are either covert “just war” apologists at heart, or hypocrites.

The pacifism I follow, like that of Gandhi and King, is not an ethical stance but a spiritual discipline. As with any discipline, I acknowledge that failures will occur. I recognize that there is room for improvement. “Progress, not perfection” as our 12 Step fellowships would put it. My motivation, first and foremost, is not to find a way to negotiate the many opportunities for aggression within an a priori philosophical framework, but to be true and obedient to “that of God within.” How well do I hear and follow the voice of the Spirit as it is given to me and as it is tried within the communities of which I am a part?

I should probably expand on the last phrase of that sentence. “Tried within the communities of which I am a part.” I do not see this as a discipline which I practice in solitude and to which none other may contribute. For instance, when I cite Gandhi and King, it is not to refer to them as authorities (my anarchist side shudders at the very thought), but because they are part of a larger community of which I am also a part and to which I am responsible. And they to me, brother, and they to me. It works both ways.

Individualism is part of our modern sickness. Communalism is not the answer to that sickness either. There is a balance in which I am an individual, who is a part of a system of inter-locking communities. Some of them are local, some are global, some span centuries. As a Quaker, I am part of a local Meeting, a Yearly Meeting, a global movement, and an historical movement. When I say “try my pacifism within the communities of which I am a part”, that means that I share openly and honestly my response to aggression within them, and am affected and changed when others in those communities share their responses with me. Because I am a pacifist, I don’t expect my experiences to be a rule which is forced on others to follow, nor do I take their experiences as such. The question is, have I followed the Light? Have you? Can we be more faithful? How?

Perhaps a pacifist is a person committed to nonviolence in all situations, who hopes (but can never be certain in advance) that his/her behavior will always be consistent with that commitment.  We are all sinners, and all fall short of the glory of God.  Thee may well say my definition is too narrow – I would certainly agree that it is very much narrower than thine.  Our reach should exceed our grasp.

This follows very well with what I’ve said in preceding paragraphs. I do find that I fall short, and I am sure you do too. Imitating one another would not lead us out of this mess. There is no way out of this mess. Human beings by nature are imperfect. What we can do is to encourage each other, as much by example as by exhortation, and what really encourages me is when I see you live up to the Light as it is shown to you, no matter what particular form that may take in this particular moment.

Of course thee is a pacifist because it is right – we make our ethical choices based on what we see/feel/believe is right.  There are various ways of understanding what is right, however.  A commitment to nonviolence is not necessarily right consequentially, because the immediate consequences are not predictable and therefore can’t be a reliable basis for that ethical commitment.  (I do believe the long-term consequences are predictable and desirable but that’s a different matter.)  In similar manner, a commitment to nonviolence is not necessarily right deontologically, because on the one hand we may disagree on what the relevant rules are or even on what the rules actually mean; and on the other hand, a deontological commitment to pacifism may border on coercion, which is antithetical to pacifism itself.

Exactly so. We don’t get to coerce one another into a particular stance. “This way, and no other, is the right way to be a pacifist.” Faith, humility, loving-kindness — these are the means by which you have the most influence on me. And by “you” I mean “everyone.”

My sense is that a commitment to pacifism makes most sense in the context of virtue ethics, which may be what thee is getting at by saying thee is a pacifist because the Spirit in thy heart leads thee to that commitment.  Pacifism is a character trait, so to speak, that God wants us to develop in ourselves – a virtue.  In that context, the Spirit teaches thee that pacifism is right for thee.

Yup.

My main purpose in writing the other post was not philosophical. Musing on the  nature of pacifism may be a pleasant pasttime, but it was not my object. I hope to open the door to those who might be pacifists, but who don’t know that it might include them even though they do swat mosquitos and would protect their children from an assault. It’s a bigger tent than it appears, if only the most strident voices are heard. The fact that one of the more heartfelt comments I received was from a retired Marine tells me that there is a place for this and that I succeeded in some measure. Perhaps some will read it, choose not to describe themselves as pacifists, but have a greater understanding and respect for what we are about, if their only previous exposure was to media coverage of the groups that show up in the streets during demonstrations and polarize these complex issues in very simplistic ways.

As it happens, I have just finished a book by Nancy Murphy and George Ellis entitled “On the Moral Nature of the Universe” (1996, Fortress Press) which argues for the kenotic nature of both God and Creation, making a strong case (imo) for a personal commitment to self-sacrificing nonviolence and accounting for nature’s apparently violent “red in tooth and claw” character on those grounds.  It is a closely argued unification of theology, cosmology, ethics and the natural sciences and rather heavy lifting in several places, but might be of interest to thee.  I know I’m planning to dive into it again right away.

I will add it to my list. You know that list? I bet you have one too.

Anyway, thanks for thy posting such a provocative blog entry.  I hope that it sparks as much reflection in other folks as it has in me.

Amen, brother. Amen.

A Lifelong Pacifist Speaks on Pacifism

I’ve started this post at least twice before. One, I lost in some cyber netherworld. The other is still there, about half-done. I don’t really think either one was going to get finished. Not the way they were.

Thing is, in both of them I got bogged down. I was trying to establish my bona fides as a pacificist, before saying what it was I have really been given to say.

There is something to that. But I can do it with a few quick stories, rather than the lengthy biographical detour that they had both become.

I registered with the draft on my 18th birthday as a conscientious objector. There were a lot of important people in my life who did not understand or like it. My draft board was unlikely to grant the status, and so I knew I was faced with jail if I was actually called up. Due to the dwindling demand for US soldiers in Vietnam and the vagaries of the lottery system, I was never faced with a draft notice.

I’ve been arrested twice in protests against US militaristic ventures. Once was in 1982, at the Pentagon, as a witness against the obscene sums of money being spent on nuclear devices. That is where I met Philip Berrigan and Elizabeth McAllister. Had things turned out a little differently, we could have become friends. Our paths diverged, however, and this didn’t come to be. They left an indelible imprint on me, entirely for the better.

The second arrest was at the CIA HQ in Langley, VA. This was in protest of the mining of the harbor of Managua. Say what you will about the Sandinistas, mining a civilian harbor, especially of a country against which we are not at war, is a violation of international law and the laws of humanity.

I have put my own body on the line to prevent domestic violence between neighbors more than once. This is a very dangerous — some would say stupid — thing to do. Didn’t matter.

Finally, I have spent my entire career as a social worker treating the victims of violence. My particular specialty for most of that time has been treating the survivors of sexual assault. I’ve seen more of what violence can do, both in the short and the long run, than most people.

There — that’s enough — and took far less than the several pages I had filled up before. I feel clear that I can continue with the real message now.

Another story, but this is not about bona fides. This is about how my views of pacifism, once pretty absolute, became more finely textured.

I was in a duplex apartment in Dayton, Ohio. The neighborhood, once genteel, was becoming seedier. The plague of crack had already arrived in Dayton, and we were sandwiched between two neighborhoods where it had taken over, and it was only a matter of time before our neighborhood was taken over by the plague as well.

In this building, there was one apartment downstairs, mine on the top two floors. There was one stairway to the bedroom on the top floor where I slept. No other way up or down. I found myself waking up scared in the night. I thought I was having nightmares because there was nothing to be afraid of. I couldn’t remember any nightmares, but what else could it be? I even talked to a psychiatrist with whom I’d worked to try to figure it out.

And then one night I woke up, afraid, and there were voices down in the alley. No one has any business in that alley at that time of night, which means that their business was criminal. I also realized that this was what had interrupted my sleep all the times before; I just hadn’t heard the voices. I also realized that the fear was the subconscious realization that, should someone decide to break in, I was a sitting duck. One way out, the way they would be coming up.

I made a decision that they could have all the TVs and VCRs and stereos and computers they wanted. These were all on the 2nd floor. There was nothing worth stealing on the third floor. Nothing at all except me. And I realized that, pacifist views to the contrary, I considered myself valuable enough to protect.

I bought a handgun, a Browning Hi-Power 9 mm that was made by the Canadians during World War II. A fine piece of manufacturing, sturdy, dependable, reliable, accurate. I learned how to shoot. I learned that, as hobbies go, I enjoyed it, and that while guns are weapons, target shooting can be an enjoyable past time in its own right.

And the waking up scared came to an end. I was no longer a sitting duck. My fate was not entirely in the hands of someone whose judgment had already been proven faulty — a burglar. I had, as they say, a fighting chance.

And my views of pacifism changed. They had to.

Pacifism, I have found, is a continuum. Absolute pacifism, in which one would not use violence for any reason, is only one part of the spectrum. It is on the extreme end at that, and has all the problems that extreme views always entail. No wonder my girl friend’s parents asked my “Wouldn’t you fight someone if they tried to rape L….?” At the time, I said No. I plead youth and inexperience. I didn’t know then that my own moral purity would not be worth the more drastic sacrifice of the harm that would come to a loved one if I did nothing.

There is a place for absolute pacifism, though. I can still respect it. I hope that those who hold this belief will never be challenged in such a direct and dramatic way.

If you accept that you  might use force in some conditions, then you have to find another place on the spectrum. I find that there is another end to the spectrum, and I think it goes like this: Pacifism might be the recognition that we should seek non-violent solutions to all conflicts, from the personal to the geopolitical, while acknowledging that in an imperfect world, we might end up making a choice for the use of force. I think that’s about as far as you can go and still call yourself a pacifist.If you see non-violent solutions as one choice among many, but not to be preferred until all else fails, then I don’t think you can call yourself a pacifist. Anything between those two extremes, the absolute pacifist and the violence-as-a-last-resort pacifist, qualifies.

I don’t think pacifism is a suitable foundation for foreign policy for any government. I think it is a personal, spiritual decision. I am not a pacifist because it is right; I am a pacifist because the Spirit that moves in my heart wants me to be one. It wants me to “try what Love can do”, and keep trying, and keep trying. Governments don’t love. People love. People can work with, or within, or against governments on the basis of this personal spiritual choice, trying to eliminate or at least decrease the use of violence.

To have become a healer has been an important expression of how that Spirit moves within me, but there is no reason a pacifist couldn’t be any other profession or occupation, including a member of the armed forces. Some of the people who want peace the most have been those who have seen war the closest.

On the flip side of that one, some of the best warriors I’ve ever known have been pacifists who would not pick up a weapon.

As a Quaker, I’ve learned over time that Friends are pretty evenly spread out over the whole spectrum.This is as it should be. Pacifism does not lend itself well to dogma. Dogma insists. This is the opposite of pacifism. Pacifism doesn’t insist, it loves, it encourages, it reflects. These are not passive qualities. The phonic similarity between pacifism and passive is not descriptive of what pacifism is like. Two of my heroes, Mohandas K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., were far from passive. They were dynamic, active men who threw themselves into life with passion. Pacifism is not for the faint of heart, for those with lily-white hands who would never soil them by being involved in the grit and the grind of conflict.

Speaking of not soiling one’s lily-white hands, all pacifists are not vegetarians. And if you are not a vegetarian, you are complicit in the death of animals. Me, I hunt. Since I’m not a vegetarian, I find it incumbent on me to soil my lily-white hands with the blood of the animals I eat, at least every so often. For me, to do less is hypocrisy. This may not be true for everyone. I don’t want to start any new dogmas. This is my witness, not yours. Unless it is yours. In that case, welcome. It’s all a matter of how the Spirit moves in your heart, and mine. If it moves me away from hunting, then I won’t hunt.

In Meeting for Worship, when I am moved to vocal ministry and come to the end of what I’ve been given, I just sit down. It’s not an oration, which needs to be properly wrapped up with closing remarks and flourishes. Since I can’t visibly just sit down, then I guess I stop writing, because that seems to be all I need to say.

Pacifism, the War on Terror, and Politics in the 2012 Elections

[I made a decision at the very beginning that this would not be a political blog.*  I have definite political opinions, but in general I think that politics get more attention than they should. Partisan politics are especially hideous. I’m going to sound off just a bit about politics here, because there are times when it is important. This is one of them.

In a larger sense, this is still not about politics as such. This is about issues which have a political context.

I always welcome comments, but I suspect that this post will invite comments that will have a pointedly political or partisan thrust. Do yourself a favor: post them on your own blog. I won’t approve them for publication here. Don’t be surprised or disappointed if yours never sees the light of day. Forewarned is forearmed.]

Politics should be the handmaiden of our lives, not the mistress. Too many people think of the government as “the decider”, to borrow George Bush’s famous oversimplification. People want government to do things. Every time some problem emerges — from a deadly hurricane to unemployment to the cost of health care — too many people look to government to provide the solution. Governments are notoriously bad at this sort of thing. There is little evidence to the contrary. What drives this, for most people, is that they really want a parent to take care of them.

What governments are good at, and necessary for, comes down to a few things: To secure our borders and protect the country from foreign invasion. To pursue a foreign policy that enables our citizens to travel and do business freely around the world. To coordinate efforts that affect all the states — not to provide or run those efforts, but to coordinate them.** And, most importantly, to secure the civil rights of all citizens. Every one, regardless of race, creed, disability, mental status, gender, sexual preference, you name it.

So when I say politics should be the handmaiden and not the mistress, that is because there are many things that are much more important than politics, such as ethics, and commerce, and relationships between people and groups of peoples. To the extent that government can remove obstacles that make those things difficult, it is good. To the extent that politics is necessary to the conduct of government, it is acceptable. Anything beyond that, quite frankly, is delusional.

That’s pretty abstract. Let me give a more concrete example.

I am a lifelong pacifist. I don’t expect my government to be pacifist. Governments are based on force. Laws carry the threat of arrest and imprisonment, a form of force. Borders are secured by our armed forces. Foreign policy is conducted largely with the knowledge that some things lead to war if not managed better. I don’t expect this to change; I am no utopian. What a pacifist can contribute, is to keep the pressure on to find humane and peaceful ways of conducting foreign policy, border security, or law enforcement. That is no small project.

So when America becomes involved in torture, people of ethics in general and pacifists in particular say STOP! When massacres such as My Lai occur, people of ethics in general and pacifists in particular act to have the people who committed them held accountable. (The people who were most responsible for My Lai were never held accountable. While Lt. Calley should not have gotten off scot-free — we don’t accept “I was just following orders” as an excuse for atrocity — he was wrongfully used as a scapegoat by those who were even more truly responsible, the ones who set the policies and gave the orders which created the atmosphere in which the slaughter occurred.)

And when politicians use those humane impulses to win elections, and then go right on doing the very things they condemned in order to get elected, ethical people in general and pacifists in particular have to stand up to the deception.

I am not going to vote for Mitt Romney. Keep that in mind as you read what follows.

Barack Obama made a lot of political hay, talking about torture, extraordinary renditions, the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and other such policies of the Bush administration in his historic rise to the Presidency. What has he done since then?

> Guantanamo Bay is still operating the prison for terrorists. As of September 2012, 166 detainees remain in the facility. [LA Times, 9/23/12]

> The use of drones in targeted killings has increased under President Obama. Administration sources say that this keeps civilian casualties down. Yet reports increasingly describe how whole provinces in Pakistan — nominally our allies — are terrorized by the drones. Many die. More are kept in a state of terror as the drones fly overhead day and night, not knowing where the next explosion will occur.

> Assassination: how is the use of a drone to take out a targeted individual any different from sending in an assassin with a gun or knife? It’s not. Except the “collateral damage” (civilian deaths and casualties) is higher. We have had a longstanding prohibition of the use of assassination by the U.S. Apparently this has been overlooked by both the Bush and Obama administrations.

> Passing death sentences on U.S. citizens without a trial in a court of law: 16 year old native of Colorado:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/world/documents/abdulrahman-al-awlaki-birth-certificate.html

Google the name and learn more about this incident.

> President Obama followed neither the War Powers Act nor the Constitution in ordering military operations in Libya in 2011. Ralph Nader called him a “war criminal” for doing this. Good old Ralph. At least he is consistent. “If Bush should have been impeached, Obama should be impeached.” Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich said the same thing.

> Warrantless wiretaps: The ACLU has recently released findings that warrantless wiretaps have quadrupled under the Obama administration. http://www.aclu.org/blog/national-security-technology-and-liberty/new-justice-department-documents-show-huge-increase

What I don’t see is the same kind of outcry by the people who so strenuously opposed these things when done by the Bush administration.

People of ethics in general, and pacifists and people on the Left in particular, have to stand up against this deception, whether you like the guy or not.

(*Ha ha ha ha ha — boy did that change — Comment added 4/27/17)

(**Guess I changed my mind about this, too. I’m going to have to write a whole new post on that one.)

Peacemakers’ Day

As the months passed by, a new life grew and developed in warmth, in darkness, in water. He was aware of sounds and activities from beyond, but these only rarely disturbed his dreams. Sometimes he explored the tiny bounds of his floating world.

Then things started to change. One thing led to another, and all of a sudden the water was gone and he was being compressed. A squeezing motion urged him along, until he emerged into a tumultuous world of light, of sensory stimulation, of new experience. Something happened and he started to breathe for the first time. Nothing ever returned him to that state of bliss, ever. Nursing and sleeping were pretty good, and he became interested in these kaleidoscopic new events, but it would never be quite like that again.

Something like this has a profound influence on a person. Not always traumatic, of course, but definitely not designed to make one think of the world as a place of peace and plenty. Many people, experiencing birth as a deprivation, spend the rest of their lives grasping for every kind of gratification they can, fearful that there will never be enough. Some of us are fortunate enough to have learned to be happy,

I imagine some part of that experience remains; more than a memory, perhaps a kind of primal urge. I imagine some part of us would like to go back there. I imagine …

Imagine gently floating
There’s nothing much to do
Nothing but warmth and darkness
and gentle motion too.

I imagine that many utopias have been built on those ancient, ancient memories. All of our needs met. No conflict.

This is not what peacemaking is about. True peacemaking sees the world as it is, not as some far-off misty dream of what it might be if everything were different from the way it is. True peacemaking makes sense of this wild world we are born into.

I have been fortunate to have known some of the movers and shakers of our times. Dr. Benjamin Spock slept in a room in my house when he campaigned for President on the People’s Party ticket in 1972. Cesar Chavez slept in that same room, a year later. I’ve met and worked with people as disparate as Stokely Carmichael of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine. As I detailed in a sermon a few years ago, I was fortunate that my life was touched by Philip Berrigan on a couple of occasions.

Peacemaking is an approach to situations of conflict. A peacemaker does not presume that, as a result of her activities, there will be no more conflict. Many of Gandhi’s best plans were based on the knowledge that they would be met with harsh conflict. Not to deliberately provoke violence, just the simple knowledge that violence would naturally ensue, and that the immorality of conditions would be thereby revealed for all of good will to see, and respond to.

The American Friends Service Committee was originally founded to provide alternate service for Quaker conscientious objectors during World War I. Seeing the misery and displacement the war had caused, they started to work with refugees. Eventually, as it evolved, its mission became to address the conditions which are the mother and father of war: ignorance, injustice, prejudice, and greed. There are those who have worked in the AFSC who believed that someday such efforts might eliminate war. There are many, many others –  in virtually all cases, those who were its most effective operatives – who believed that it was worth doing because it was worth doing, not because it might usher in some utopia. I have known some of them, too, such as John Looney of the Akron AFSC office in the late 60s and early 70s. John was one of the most peaceful people I’ve ever known, the very model of the modern Quaker. He rarely gave offense, and while he did not meekly accept offense, his approach to it was to resolve rather than to conquer it.

Phil Berrigan was cut from this same cloth. You never sensed that he despised the people who planned the wars or built the bombs. He was deeply afflicted by the tragic cost of violent conflict, but I never saw him cross the line into hatred.

This stood out in stark contrast to many others in the movement. I remember particularly well, at a founding meeting of the US Anti-Imperialism League, a young female communist who said “we are not the lovey-dovey peaceniks of our parents’ generation. We hate the injustice and violence and exploitation we see, and all of our plans are based on hate.” Well, there was more than a little truth in  what she said about the lovey-dovey peaceniks, who were all very nice to know but generally ineffectual in their protests. However, her answer to that is no less effective. Hatred does not replace Pollyannaism, if peacemaking is what you are after. A peacemaker has to know his opponents. He has to know that he has opponents. He has to understand that there is something entirely human which motivates them. He has to comprehend that unless those human needs are addressed, no resolution will be found.

I am so glad to have known men and women like this: real peacemakers, with clear eyes and strong minds and loving hearts, a will to action and a delight in recreation. Peacemakers who knew that they were not ushering in the Millenium, that the dawning of the age of Aquarius did not mean rainbows and unicorns and wandering gently over the meadow with Mao and Stalin or the guy who crunches an old lady’s skull on the sidewalk for her social security check. People who knew conflict, and met it time and again, without abandoning principle or purpose, even knowing that they would meet conflict again. This is bravery of the highest order, when there are no medals or uniforms or flags, no 21 gun salutes over the grave of the fallen or monuments on the courthouse square.

Those of you who know me, know how I respect and honor our military veterans. I often make use of casual contact with a soldier, sailor or Marine to thank them for their service. I mean it from the bottom of my heart. Jack Nicholson may have portrayed an unsavory character in the movie “A Few Good Men,” but he was exactly right when he proclaimed that “deep down in the places you don’t talk about, you want me on that wall.” Yes, I do. I have been to those places. I know the depravity of which the human heart is capable, and I want warriors willing to give their all to protect us from it. I admire them for it.

But there are other dark places in the human heart, too. Dark places which use words like honor, and freedom, and country, to perpetrate horrors which even today’s movie directors would flinch from depicting. And it is the peacemaker, not the warrior, who stands up against those. Not against the people; against the dark places that make people do terrible things. We know those dark places lurk in all people, and under the wrong circumstances, we are all capable of horror. It is for themselves, as much as those others, that the peacemaker does her duty.

I believe, just as surely as there should be days like Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day when we honor those who have served, and in some cases given life and limb, in our nation’s armed forces, there should be a day for the peacemakers, when we honor those who have served in these other ways. Many of them gave no less. We can start with the better-known, like Gandhi and King, who gave the last full measure of their devotion in service of the principles for which they lived. But what of the many unknowns? Unknowns such as my brother, who went into an uncertain and difficult exile rather than fight in a war which he believed to be wrong? Do they deserve no remembrance? When someone asks, did my brother serve in the Vietnam war, I reply, he sure did. He served the cause of humanity, and at such a cost to himself.

There is nothing that says that a member of the armed forces cannot be a peacemaker. Many of our greatest soldiers, sailors and Marines, having seen war first-hand, have been staunch advocates for peace. Likewise, there is nothing to prevent a peacemaker from being a warrior. When someone like the Quaker social worker Jane Addams goes into the most desperate neighborhoods of Chicago to help its residents lift themselves out of poverty, degradation and despair, there is a battle of a different sort being fought, but a battle nonetheless.

The first Mother’s Day, as we know it today, was celebrated in a church in Grafton, WV, in1908. Something similar had been proposed before, but it was on that day that our modern holiday became a reality. News of this occurrence spread across the nation, and by 1914, President Woodrow Wilson declared the 2nd Sunday in May to be a day to remember all mothers, alive or deceased.

Could not the same thing be done for a Peacemaker’s Day? Those brave and hardy souls, men and women alike, who have given so much for the cause of human understanding, deserve a day on which their sacrifices can be honored. Their bravery, sacrifice, and dedication are fully as worthy of recognition, for while our military forces serve to keep us free, our peacemakers serve to keep us human.

“War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.” (John F. Kennedy, Letter to Navy friend)

(The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of New Bern, NC, chose the 3rd Sunday in December to celebrate Peacemakers’ Day. Advent seemed appropriate, because Jesus is the Prince of Peace.)

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