Home Robert C. Koehler: Embracing the complexity of peace

Robert C. Koehler: Embracing the complexity of peace

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“Just imagine for once if we led the world in funding peace and not wars.”

Just imagine! The words are those of Robert Weissman, president of the organization Public Citizen, in response to the legislative efforts of Reps. Barbara Lee and Mark Pocan, who are the co-chairs of — glory hallelujah! — the Defense Spending Reduction Caucus. They recently introduced legislation that would cut Pentagon spending by $100 billion and divert the money to programs that actually helped the country . . . e.g., universal health care, ending child poverty, saving the environment.

Yeah, just imagine. One can also quickly, unavoidably imagine the cynicism that rushes in whenever someone tosses out the word “peace.” Then it’s all pushed to the margins, both political and social, as America continues its business as usual, which is all about protecting itself from enemies (most of whom it creates). The sales pitch is fear. The motive, hidden in the shadows, is extraordinary profit for some.

The problem begins with the words themselves, which turn two complex, infinitely different enterprises — war and peace — into two items on a knick-knack shelf . . .a plastic G.I. Joe, let’s say, and a cute little angel. That’s the essence of the American “debate” about what matters and what it should do with its wealth. The debate is cynicism-fueled and simplistic, reducing “peace,” in particular, to a weakling’s counterpart to war. When the focus is on war, you always know what to do next. Say the wrong guy (Joe Biden, for instance), gets elected president:

“We will have to do a bloody, massively bloody revolution against them. That’s what’s going to have to happen.”

The speaker is the currently incarcerated Elmer Stewart Rhodes, founder of the Oath Keepers, who, of course, played a major role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. His words are both stunning and completely ho-hum “normal.” Declare an enemy, then kill it. What about that do you not understand?

The thing is, this attitude isn’t just rightwing nutballicosity. This is red, white and blue, “mission accomplished,” ever-increasing-defense-budget America. “Just imagine for once if we led the world in funding peace and not wars.” Everybody knows this is virtually impossible to imagine beyond the realm of the fairytale. What would that even mean? Funding peace, creating peace — this is deeply complex, and too many Americans, certainly too many of those in leadership positions, don’t have time for complexity.

How, for instance, do we deal with all those inconvenient mass shootings, at schools, shopping malls, churches, etc.? Gun control isn’t the answer because people need access to assault rifles and such — in America we have the freedom to protect ourselves (just ask George Zimmerman). The guys who do those mass shootings are lone wolves and usually mentally ill, so we need to amp up our mental health efforts, which, mind you, doesn’t actually mean funding mental health programs (the Pentagon needs that money). Is there another option?

“The aftermath of the attack also unleashed a call by several prominent Republicans to arm teachers,” according to Common Dreams.

And to that end, Ohio’s Republican governor, Mike DeWine, recently signed a bill “permitting teachers to carry a gun to class after just 24 hours of firearms training.” This is down from the 700 hours of training previously required of school personnel. What could possibly go wrong with that?

“A madness has taken hold,” tweeted the NAACP’s Sherrilyn Ifill.

That seems to be the case — or so it seems beyond the world of guns and violence and easy solutions. In his book The Powers That BeWalter Wink talks about “the myth of redemptive violence”: the belief that violence saves us. Indeed, “It doesn’t seem to be mythic in the least,” he wrote:

“Violence simply appears to be in the nature of things. It’s what works. It seems inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflicts. If a god is what you turn to when all else fails, violence certainly functions as a god.”

This is a helluva god to worship and obey. Here are some stats: In 2020, the most recent year that data is available, 45,222 people in the United States were killed by guns. Nearly 53 people are killed by guns every day.

And across the various oceans, at least a million people have died in recent American wars — in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and other countries. And, oh yeah, more than 30,000 American veterans have committed suicide in the wake of those wars, according to the Costs of War Project, seeming to indicate that the god of redemptive violence isn’t the only one we worship. For many people, another God appears in the wake of war and violence, especially when someone is all alone with himself/herself. Suddenly lives — lost lives — may start to matter.

“Wasteful defense spending does not make our communities safer — it only weakens our ability to respond to crises,” said Congresswoman Lee.

She’s referring, of course, to complex responses: providing food and health care for the hungry, the ill; addressing the deep causes of crime and social instability; listening to people and healing wounds rather than being content with punishment and armed self-defense; allowing our empathy to transcend national borders; rethinking our relationship with Planet Earth and placing our priorities on sustaining rather than exploiting it.

“Just imagine for once if we led the world in funding peace and not wars.”

Robert Koehler ([email protected]), syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor. He is the author of Courage Grows Strong at the Wound.



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