Thursday, January 15, 2009

Peacemaking: Draft UUA Statement of Conscience

I have reviewed Peacemaking: A Draft Unitarian Universalist Statement of Conscience (November 2008 draft). I am not surprised at the content, and frankly wonder how it could have taken so long to craft the statement.

Aside from this one note of snarkiness, the draft certainly expresses the point of view I expected, since the Association is simply not ready to become a peace church. That said, my main response is this. Someday, maybe in the not too distant future, we are going to have to get off the fence. Someday, we will no longer be able to rationalize our use of violence...ever. Because if you support war, in the end it does not matter what your rationale is. You are still supporting war. Which means that we have compromised our first principle to affirm and promote the inherent worth of every person.

Now, I have made the personal choice to become a pacifist, so it is fair to ask me how we can resolve conflicts that seem to meet all the criteria for engaging in a just war. I ask you to imagine a possibility. Imagine that a country is engaged in a terrible civil war and innocents are being slaughtered on both sides. All diplomatic avenues have been exhausted. The only solution left would seem to be to load up the planes and ships with soldiers and guns and send them over to invade.

But, instead of sending 100,000 soldiers with tanks, rifles, and bombs, what if we filled all those planes and ships with 100,000 peacekeepers and crates of food, medicine, and other supplies? Using the same infrastructure one would use to support a military force, what if we unloaded 100,000 people, armed with only good will and knowledge to help the country rebuild? What if those 100,000 people simply walked, arm in arm, across the border and into the middle of the fighting? What would happen?

Some would almost certainly die. Ten, a hundred, even a thousand. But, some would walk and continue walking. They would be joined by the people of that country, becoming a human arrow of nonviolence into the country. In time, the shooting would stop. Impossible, you say. I say, "Why not?" People are already dying and will continue to die. You cannot kill people to make them stop killing. Killing only produces more killers, if not now, then in the next generation. Only by irrevocably breaking the pattern of killing can we end war.

The UUA Statement of Conscience is a present-oriented statement and probably reflects the opinions of the current membership of the Association very accurately. But, war and violence is never going to end through incremental transformative change. It will take a nonviolent revolution to end war. It will take enough people committed totally to peace who are willing to sacrifice everything to end war. We must begin building a peace army to engage in that revolution.


Joel Monka said...

It does you credit that you don't understand the mentality that makes your proposed peace invasion unworkable, but I do have to ask: what makes you think 100,000 deaths would be enough to overwhelm the conscience of dictators? 140 TIMES that many died in the holocaust... even more in Stalin's purges... and while Pol Pot's raw numbers fell short of Hitler's, his percentages were higher- nearly a quarter of the entire country. What makes you think people who had production lines in which the bodies of their victims were processed into commercial products for profit would have a sudden attack of conscience over a few foreigners?

"You cannot kill people to make them stop killing." How many countries has Germany invaded the last 60 years? When was the last time a Confederate state fired on Ft. Sumter? If killing always begat killing, then there would be no peace on Earth anywhere, for there has been war on every continent.

Jeff Liebmann said...

Joel, I respect your argument, having used it myself for most of my 50+ years. As a pacifist now, however, I take a longer view on violence and hate. Germanic peoples have been warring for thousands of years. The culmination of World War II did nothing to eliminate antisemitism, which still runs virulently through that country in obvious ways (skinheads) and not so obvious ways. All of the millions that have died in the Middle East since the beginning of human civilization, and we are not one minute closer to a lasting peace in that region.

So, my suggestion is this. We as human society have been willing to sacrifice hundreds of millions of soldiers and billions of non-combatants in the name of war. Why not try a new tactic? Unlike the deaths of the Holocaust, peace soldiers are not victims, but willing and intentional nonviolent soldiers. And, you are absolutely right, 100,000 will probably not be enough. But, we have tried the ways of violence and war for 10,000years. And, it will take many decades for the shadow of colonialism to fade away and cease producing Rwandan genocides.

We must start sometime if we are ever to succeed. As UU's, I think the time to call for the end of the "war experiment" is near. When we can take all of the resources expended on war and apply it to medicine, education, and other social needs, perhaps the need for war and violence will shrivel and die.

adelheid said...

An sf author friend of mine is also particularly interested in historical wars, etc. He's given a talk on killing and is writing a book on Warfare for Writers so that those who are unfamiliar can at least get some of the details right. Anyway, the point of my comment is about his talk. It seems that most soldiers don't actually shoot their weapons or if they do, they don't aim them. I think one of the sources of his material is On Killing by Dave Grossman. Based on what I recall of his talk, I think that if this "wall" of people were to look each soldier in the eye then you would have fewer deaths in this line and may well achieve at least a cease fire as long as they were on the battlefield. The problem is that modern warfare doesn't have a designated battlefield and the "soldiers" are rarely present for the kill via use of IEDs, etc. I agree that the answer to violence should not be more violence. But how do you battle a terrorist who is long gone before the casualties occur?

Jeff Liebmann said...

We actually used Grossman's book in a class I took last January. His thesis sounds compelling, but is very largely based on one study done at the end of World War II. When I researched the study, I found much criticism of the author and heavy critique of his research methods (apparently he routinely discarded interview findings that disagreed with his hypothesis). The veterans I have talked with on the subject universally reject Grossman's assertions.

In regards to the nature of the combatants, I will offer this. Saddam Hussein, like Ho Chi Minh before him, was at one time an American ally. Today's former ally of the United States often become the father of tomorrow's terrorist fighting against us. War is not always about conquest of land or righting some historical injustice. Often, it is simply about money and power. Until we care more about people, and less about money and power, we will have war regardless of our best diplomatic efforts.