North Country Peace Builder
Vol. 55, No. 2, June 2004
Valuing Human Lives
by Don Irish
How are human lives valued? Crassly perhaps - "what the market will bear"? What are the criteria - notoriety? Insurance coverage? Court awards? Ransoms demanded? Earning power? Ally or opponent? Or are they valued humanely, granting the inherent value of each human being for themselves and for all others?
A Vietnam war film presented a split screen: General Westmoreland on one side, Vietnamese civilians, mostly women, on the other. The general commented that "Loss of life is not as much mourned here," implying that life was viewed cheaply by the Vietnamese. The contrasting photo showed Vietnamese family members wailing over the coffins of their deceased loved ones! When Colin Powell was asked how many Iraqi civilians had been killed by American firepower in the 1991 Gulf War, he responded, in essence, that it was not a number in which he was particularly interested. How the powerful and privileged can depreciate others' lives as inconsequential.
Distancing -- The realities of the 1991 and 2002-3 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been "sanitized" by our government and media, in contrast to the less-censored Vietnam War. In the Islamic region, Europe and elsewhere, the "human consequences on the ground" have been displayed, but Americans have been given a "technological" view, virtually void of the human anguish, wounding and dying. The American media have largely failed to function as the Fourth Estate, to report the realities of war, rather than serving as agents of the government. A lack of empathy for our opponents is a result.
Demonization -- In the training of our military personnel and the indoctrination of the citizenry, hateful terminology (labeling) of the opponents enables us to accept with tolerance our wounding, killing and torturing them. "Huns" in World War I became "Japs" in World War II, then "gooks" in Vietnam, and now "hijas" in Iraq. Demonization facilitates the destruction of families, homes, and lives of others who are viewed as "not quite human"; it fosters brutalities.
Terrorism -- This branch of labeling defines some persons who are very alienated from their society or with regard to other controlling forces. The US State Department defines terrorism as "the use or threatened use of force for political purposes to create a state of fear that will aid in extorting, coercing, intimidating or otherwise causing individuals to modify their behavior." That phrase seems to apply to behaviors encouraged by US support of regimes in Haiti, Central America, Chile, Argentina, Indonesia, the Philippines, and elsewhere! And the US Patriot Act is so worded that nonviolent civil-disobedient protestors might be categorized as "terrorists" by enforcement agencies.
Terrorism does not arise in a societal vacuum. There are reasons to explain its initiation, and "terrorists" have their reasons, though we may not find their rationales or their violent means acceptable. Those labeled terrorists are human beings, with hopes and aspirations, with families they love and who love them. Desperation breeds violence.
When dominant authorities remain unwilling to listen, to negotiate, to act upon concerns of demonstrable inequities, often using state terrorism first to suppress dissidence, then radicalization occurs, with violent measures instituted, often over time, by the suppressed. The USA is very much part of this cycle: we need to examine our foreign policy to discern why others are so aggravated by our national behaviors. Killing individual "terrorists" will not end terrorism without changes in societal structures. Are the lives of "terrorists" without intrinsic value?
We should also take note of how this label is applied elsewhere: When our government provides authoritarian regimes with military aid, those authorities then define their dissidents as "terrorists", using the added force of our support to ignore legitimate demands, repressing their populations, and fostering violent responses.
Monetarization of life -- Some individuals have rewards placed on their capture or death. Others are offered recompense for their loss, as in the case of the families of individual Afghanis ($5000 to one boy) and to Iraqi families whose doors were clubbed down. But thousands of other victims of attack remain empty-handed. One young captain said, "A few thousand dollars isn't going to bring anybody back, but right now it is all we can do!"
Two official cases of apology by the US are on record. Regrets were expressed for the overthrow of the Hawaiian republic on 17 January 1893, which violated their right of self-determination. During World War II, more than 110,000 Japanese-Americans (mostly citizens) were incarcerated until after the war. Following 45 years of litigation, those Issei and Nisei still alive were issued an official apology, and each one was given an equal sum of $20,000 for their losses of land, homes, cars, occupational incomes, interrupted educations, and damaged lives. Will Americans make amends to the Native Americans for violated treaties? Will the white majority manage to assist those Black citizens who remain deprived from the heritage of slavery?
Setting adrift -- The downsizing and outsourcing of jobs by US corporations releases employees to their "own devices," often with little advance notice. In our society, the corporate bottom line supercedes the societal bottom line. The general public, through taxes, is then expected to provide aid to unemployed families, for maintenance, healthcare, job retraining, and other needs. How valued are loyal, skilled employees? Moreover, while official statements often contend that the US has the "best healthcare system" in the world, that is true only for those who can afford it!
Exclusion/inclusion -- How many lives have been lost to force retention of ethnic groups that do not wish to remain in a larger political entity to which they, for historical reasons (colonialism, etc), have been made "members"? The dominant powers have used state terrorism to prevent separation -- e.g., the Kurds (Turkey et al), Basques (Spain), Chechens (Russia), Aceh (Indonesia), and Irish, among others. Forced inclusion, without regard to lives lost? Are their lives cheap, to be "eliminated" if the rebellion continues?
Might not a more decentralized political world be more peaceful? Would not each suppressed minority, seeing little hope for change, be less inclined to violence if they were allowed their own guaranteed space, language, schools, customs and pride in culture?
The seeds of peace can be found in all the major world religions. If those precepts are taken seriously then the pacific orientation of Buddhists, concept of justice among the Jews, stress on hospitality to strangers within Islam, focus on love among Christians, and the insights of many indigenous peoples can bring a better world. Every human being could be honored and valued for their inherent capacities, their hopes and dreams, and the potential contributions of their talents.
Seeing what the "realists" of the world have brought us, idealism which recognizes and celebrates such potentials and hopes may actually be the ultimate realism!
Ruminations on Anger
by Don Christensen
I've been angry lately. I am an unrepentant "news junky", and that may have something to do with my anger. I feel angry at the news and I feel angry with some who report the news. I feel angry at the "good news" and at the "bad news". And I am finding it increasingly difficult to separate the two. I know that I could take a sabbatical from the news, or try to set limits on my intake of news, but I'm not sure that cold turkey is the answer to my dilemma.
I don't mean to give anger a bum rap. I know that anger is energy, and in that sense anger is good because it can fuel action. I appreciate anger that prompts me to take positive action. My problem (and I am ashamed of this) is that I find myself sometimes feeling grim satisfaction when "bad things happen to bad people", for example, when things go badly for US and coalition forces in Iraq, or when President Bush falls on his face. I am not proud of these feelings of self-righteousness, but this is my reality. I am a pacifist, and I am vengeful. I am both "in this world" and "of this world". I am struggling with age-old demons of darkness, especially the darkness within myself.
For all of my addiction to the news, I often miss the "good things" -- for example, an interview with Thich Nhat Hanh on NPR's "Speaking of Faith". A friend who heard it reported to me that Thich Nhat Hanh challenged citizens of the US for always being angry with our political leaders. This caused me to pause and reflect. I think he may have a point; at least, he is speaking to my experience. Vengeful anger is not useful; it is poison. It corrodes the human spirit. Yet it is real. It is present. And it clings to me like a shroud. So how do I accept my anger, even celebrate my anger, without allowing it to destroy my joy in life, my faith in humanity, and my hope for peace with justice for all people? And how do I acknowledge evil and darkness in our world, especially the evil of vengeful anger that resides in me?
These questions are not easily answered. But I think spiritual guides like Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book titled Anger, offer some valuable tools and insights for understanding and transforming anger. Ultimately I take comfort and hope in knowing that I am not alone in this struggle. I may not yet be nonviolent -- or even fully understand what it means to be nonviolent -- but I thank God for you and for the Fellowship of Reconciliation. I trust that together we will discover and create the world for which we yearn so deeply. I invite you to participate in this dialogue: write and let us know of your "wrestling with angels" and "experiments with truth" that can feed us all, as we seek to participate in the struggle for peace with justice through nonviolence.
"From Violence to Wholeness"
Nonviolence training with the Minnesota FOR
A few spaces are still available in the Minnesota FOR's nonviolence training, "From Violence to Wholeness", to be held at "Hospitality Place" in Circle Pines, MN, June 18 to 20. We invite you to inquire about scholarship assistance.
Approaching nonviolence as a spirituality, a way of living, and a set of strategies and actions for social change, this curriculum and training model grounds participants in the philosophy and practice of active, creative, transformative nonviolence.
Please contact Don Christensen for more information: chris385 @ umn.edu; (651) 690-2609.
LOCAL BRANCH NEWS
New faces at the MN FOR
Editor's note: Molly MacDougall and Michael Mitchell will be joining the MN FOR as, respectively, a summer volunteer and an intern.
Molly MacDougall from Menomonie, WI: "It's my second year at Hamline University and for my junior year I will be in Germany studying the effects of the German school system construct on Germany's Muslim minority, the Turks. My majors are Political Science and Social Justice, and I will be minoring in German. I was attracted to the FOR because my church is affiliated with it, Students FOR Peace at Hamline are affiliated with it, and there was a representative from FOR at the ACTS (Acting in the Community Through Service) retreat last year. I also believe in non-violence, and feel like I need to nurture that part of myself more, and would like to do so in the company of other non-violent activists. FOR seemed the logical place to go to surround myself with such people."
Michael P. Mitchell from Duluth, MN, a senior at Hamline and a Legal Studies major: "What excited me about the Minnesota FOR is the opportunity to take the information I have gathered regarding social justice and put that knowledge to use with an organization that values non-violence."
Peacemaker delegation arrives in Jerusalem
Editor's note: Abigail Ozanne, one of the CPT team-members mentioned below, is an FOR member and the daughter of Minnesota FOR board member Linda Gesling. We are proud of Abigail's witness for peace, and keep her in our thoughts and prayers.
Thursday, May 27 - A ten-member delegation sponsored by Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) arrived in Jerusalem Wednesday evening. During the next ten days participants will speak with representatives of Israeli and Palestinian peace and human rights organizations in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. They will then travel to Hebron, West Bank, where CPT's long-term team is based, and will be a nonviolent presence on the streets of this tensely divided city. Delegates will also visit Palestinian families whose homes and lands have been threatened with demolition or confiscation due to expanding Israeli settlements and construction of the new "security fence."
Members of CPT's May 25-June 6 Middle East delegation are Sandra Anderson (Willmar, MN), Christy Bischoff (Asheville, NC), Jonathan Gebbie (London, England), Laurie Hadden (Markham, ON), Susan Mark Landis (Orrville, OH), Pieter Niemeyer (Stouffville, ON), Abigail Ozanne (Falcon Heights, MN), Grace Pleiman (Brooklyn, NY), John Stoltzfus (Seattle, WA), and Timothy Taugher (Binghamton, NY).
Christian Peacemaker Teams is an initiative of the historic peace churches (Mennonites, Church of the Brethren, and Quakers) with support and membership from a range of Catholic and Protestant denominations.
Many thanks to those who have contributed to the
Minnesota FOR this year!
Michael & Joann Andregg, Katie Bade, Madeleine Beaumont, Nancy McDarby, Adolph Burckhardt, Duane & Sandra Cady, Joanne Church, Patricia Cloutier, J.M. & P.J. Eichten, Lowell & Carol Erdahl, Faith Mennonite Church, Albert Fenske, Rhoda Gilman, Paul Goodnature, Katy Gray Brown & David Hupp, Nancy Helfrich, Janet Humphrey, Donald Irish, Charles & Ava Johnson, Robert Johnson & Joycelyn Johnson Jtwros, Walter Lentz & Susan Nixon, Eleanor Lutz, Phyllis Metzger, Eleanor & Walter Nyberg, Louise Rathburn, Leslie & Wilhelm Reindl, Robert & Elizabeth Rollin, Kay Shaw, Mary Ann & Harry Skinner, St. Luke Presbyterian Church, Eleanor & John Yackel.
the littlest peacemaker
Congratulations to Katy Gray Brown (MN FOR board member) and David Hupp, who welcomed their son, Samuel Barlow Hupp, into the world on Sunday, 30 May 2004. The potential FOR member weighed in at 10lb 12oz. Parents and baby are doing very well.
Praying for peace is like
praying for a weedless garden.
Nothing will happen
until you get your hands dirty.
-- John K. Stoner,
co-founder of Every Church A Peace Church
MN FOR member Don Irish has been nominated for and will receive the Hawkinson Peace and Justice Award at 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, 19 September 2004, in the Student Center ballroom at Hamline University (one block east of Snelling on Hewitt Avenue) in St Paul.
Editor's note: In addition to all his other work for peace, Don Irish is a longstanding and faithful commentator in this newsletter. Congratulations, Don!
Calendar of Events - Summer 2004
Upcoming Event -
There are still a few spaces left
in the upcoming
"From Violence to Wholeness."
The nonviolence training weekend, June 18 to 20, will be organized by the
Minnesota FOR and will use the National FOR's "From Violence to Wholeness" model. See above for details!
Organizing the Real Superpower:
People of the World Choose Peace
Fellowship of Reconciliation 2004 National Conference
August 5-9 Occidental College Los Angeles, California
Speakers at the FOR National Conference include: Kathy Kelly, the Rev. James Lawson, Dorothy Cotton, the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, and Donzaleigh Abernathy.
We're hoping to have a Minnesota contingent, so if you're thinking about or planning on going to the National Conference, please contact Don Christensen, chris385 @ umn.edu; (651) 690-2609.
Come play croquet with us!
... at the Minnesota FOR picnic
Tuesday, 17 August at 6:00 pm
Linda Gesling's house
1799 Lindig, Falcon Heights, MN.
* * * * * * L I N K S * * * * * *
National FOR | MN FOR
Minnesota Peacemaker Project
Peace and Justice Websites (nonviolence.org)
Benedictines' Website | Justice and Peace Links
* * * * * * * * * * *
North Country Peace Builder
Produced quarterly (September, December, March and June) by the Executive Committee of the Minnesota Fellowship of Reconciliation. Send submissions, letters and comments to Rachel Mordeai <rachel.mordecai @ gmail.com>, editor,
Or use the online form to send comments or contributions.
© 2004 by MN FOR / www.osb.org/for/2004/index02.html