Co-creating a culture of peace
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As media ownership converges and technology âunitesâ us, the concept of national identity grows ever easier to exploit â and therefore, I fear, increasingly, and dangerously, simplistic.
This is the war on terror. This is the war on crime. They march on, despite the magnitude of their failures. They march on . . . because America is tough. America is exceptional.
Good and evil leap from the headlines: âEgyptian planes pound ISIS in Libya in revenge for mass beheadings of Christians.â
Itâs nonstop action for the American public. Itâs the history of war compressed into a dozen words. Itâs Fox News, but it could be just about any mainstream purveyor of current events.
Experts have put urban violence under the microscope. You might call it the sociology of dead kids.
Thereâs a lot less here than meets the eye, or so it seemed when I read about a new study by researchers at Yale called âTragic, but not random: The social contagion of nonfatal gunshot injuries.â Itâs an attempt to create categories of likely future shooting victims in Chicago and, thus, determine who among us is most in danger. Well, sure, why not? But in the process, the study, at least as it was reported a few days ago in the Chicago Sun-Times, utterly depersonalized the potential victims, along with the communities in which they lived, reducing them to components in a mathematical formula.
The urgency I feel isnât any longer to stop a particular war but to interrupt endless war: to interrupt the narrowly focused geopolitical conversation, conveyed to us over and over by media stenographers, in which lethal intervention â wherever â is always the first and only choice. The uncertainty is never a matter of âif.â Itâs only a matter of âwhen.â
For instance: âThe West needs to bolster deterrence in Ukraine by raising the risks and costs to Russia of any renewed major offensive. That requires providing direct military assistance â in far larger amounts than provided to date and including lethal defensive arms.â
âItâd be really hard to have a higher recidivism rate than we have in Cook County.â
Maybe this is the place to start a brief meditation on changing the world, or at least Chicago . . . known to some of its residents as âChiraq.â
âSometimes they have drug and alcohol problems and when they feel that the VA is ignoring them, not answering the phone, failing to return calls for assistance or there are long wait times, they get more and more disgruntled. The VA is ripe for a mass killing but no one is listening to us.â
The speaker is John Glidewell, former chief of police at the Cheyenne, Wyo., VA medical center, who was quoted in a Washington Post story a few days ago. As I read his words, I realized they sounded a far deeper note of desperation than the story was addressing, even though, my God, the events being reported on were the fodder of scandal.
By Robert C. Koehler âJe suis Charlie. Tout est pardonnĂŠ.â Muhammad in tears adorns the new cover of Charlie Hebdo: âI am Charlie. All is forgiven.â This is bigger than satire. I take a deep breath, uncertain how to write about last weekâs insane shooting spree in Paris. My daughter and her husband live there. […]
Oh, the moral force of a snub.
Several hundred cops turn their backs on New Yorkâs mayor as he eulogizes one of their own, killed in the line of duty, and the media have another us-vs.-them story to report. Bill de Blasioâs in trouble, accused of playing politics with the lives of heroes. And, of course, the story goes no deeper than the dramatic accusation.
âThe only good Talib is a dead Talib.â
These words, uttered half a decade ago by the head of intelligence for the NATO coalition force in Afghanistan, summon a far earlier American savagery. As the American empire affects to close the door on its war with Afghanistan, the words also serve as a sort of doorstop propping open our further intervention in this broken country.
And so we grieve over another national tragedy.
Two New York City police officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, were shot â assassinated â as they sat in their patrol car this past weekend. Let the needlessness of their deaths rip our hearts open. Let the humanity come first.
By Robert C. Koehler The shock resonating from the Senate Intelligence Committeeâs CIA torture report isnât due so much to the revelations themselves, grotesque as the details are, but to the fact that theyâre now officially public. National spokespersons (except for Dick Cheney) can no longer deny, quite so glibly, that the United States is […]
âSome of the key technocrats and scientists of the Cold War say the nation has become overly confident about its nuclear deterrence. The nuclear enterprise, they say, âis rusting its way to disarmament.ââ
Letâs meditate on this irony â that disarmament, finally, means no more than growing old and weak and pathetic.
Smoke and fire, sirens blaring, horns honking, a sudden hail of bullets. This is what passes for the American dialogue on race and justice.
Itâs hidden until it explodes.
The vision is a city interlaced with restorative justice hubs â community centers that bring hope and promise to troubled kids in a town where too many of them are dying. âIt is not OK that my friends and I have already planned our funerals,â then-high school senior Keann Mays-Lenoir told a crowd of 300 people a year ago, at a rafter-shaking meeting where the idea was introduced.
It builds slowly, from the bottom up. Reclaim common sense. Reclaim community. Reclaim Chicago.
âIndividuals and peoples have a right to peace.â
In the beginning was the word. OK. This is the beginning, and these are the words, but they havenât arrived yet â at least not officially, with full force of meaning
Democracy! A word, a way of life, our highest ideal: Everyone is equal; no one is marginal.
I still feel the force of this word, though the middle syllable â âmockâ â grows increasingly dominant when I hear it, especially now, as election season rolls around again. The enormity of my indifference to this election is balanced by something that feels like grief. The system we live under is . . .
âWhen somebody asks, âWhy do you do it to a gook, why do you do this to people?â your answer is, âSo what, theyâre just gooks, theyâre not people. It doesnât make any difference what you do to them; theyâre not human.â
âAnd this thing is built into you,â Cpl. John Geymann testified almost 44 years ago at the Winter Soldier Investigation, held in Detroit, which was sponsored by Vietnam Veterans Against the War. âItâs thrust into your head from the moment you wake up in boot camp to the moment you wake up when youâre a civilian.â
âDuring basic training, we are weaponized: our souls turned into weapons.â
Jacob Georgeâs suicide last month â a few days after President Obama announced that the US was launching its war against ISIS â opens a deep, terrible hole in the national identity. George: singer, banjo player, poet, peace warrior, vet. He served three tours in Afghanistan. He brought the war home. He tried to repair the damage.
Startling news: Sweden now recycles 99 percent of its waste.
At least thatâs what people are saying, including an official website of Sweden itself: âLess than one per cent of Swedenâs household waste ends up in a rubbish dump.â There may be less to this statement than meets the eye, but before I address that issue, I need to pause at the jolt of ecstatic excitement and jubilant incredulity I felt for a moment â that maybe the resource-consuming, planet-destroying, multinational political and economic system Iâm part of is capable of correcting its own insanity, committing itself to a sustainable future and embracing the circle of life.
âAs we look to the future, one issue risks a cycle of conflict that could derail so much progress. And that is the cancer of violent extremism that has ravaged so many parts of the Muslim world.â
The cancer of violent extremism . . .
Barack Obamaâs central dilemma last week, when he tried to sell a new war to the American public on the eve of the thirteenth anniversary of 9/11, was to speak convincingly about the wisdom and effectiveness of U.S. foreign policy over the last decade-plus while at the same time, alas, dropping the bad news that it didnât work.
Thus: âThanks to our military and counterterrorism professionals, America is safer.â
âI think if we had a gun we would have been shot immediately.â
This is as good a place to start as any, at the logical limits of violent self-defense. The speaker is Andres Gutierrez of Nonviolent Peaceforce, a nonprofit organization that has engaged in peacekeeping work in troubled regions of the world for the last decade. Gutierrez, the organizationâs team leader in South Sudan, along with colleague Derek Oakley, got caught in the chaos last April when the city of Bor was attacked, with armed men overrunning the perimeter of a U.N. base where thousands of civilians had sought protection. The two took shelter inside a mud hut.
The Ferguson tragedy, like all those that preceded it and all that will follow â involving the trivial and panicky use of lethal force, by the police or anyone else â stirs up questions the social status quo doesnât dare face.
My sister, Sue Melcher, put it this way: âI find myself also nauseated that another issue never seems to enter the discussion: the issue that a highly trained officer could make such a mistake with a gun demonstrates that just having the weapon present increased the danger of the situation. Had the citizens been armed, how many more casualties could there have been? None of us is âhealthyâ enough to be trusted to use lethal force wisely â and is that even possible?â
Black âhood, white cops. âGet the fuck on the sidewalk.â
And so it begins, and begins, and begins. An African-American boy dies for walking in the street â for yet one more insanely small transgression. Protesters cry for justice. The legal bureaucracy hunkers down, defends itself, does what it can to paint the deceased 18-year-old, Michael Brown, as a bad guy. Sides harden in the media. Once more itâs us vs. them. Nobody talks about making things right; nobody talks about healing.
Our kills are clean and secular; theirs are messy and religious.
âIn their effort to create a caliphate across parts of Iraq and Syria,â CNN tells us, âISIS fighters have slaughtered civilians as they take over cities in both countries.
âIn Syria, the group put some of its victimsâ severed heads on poles.â
Before nuclear weapons, after nuclear weapons . . .
âThe latter era, of course,â writes Noam Chomsky, âopened on August 6, 1945, the first day of the countdown to what may be the inglorious end of this strange species, which attained the intelligence to discover the effective means to destroy itself, but â so the evidence suggests â not the moral and intellectual capacity to control its worst instincts.â
Iâm thirsty. Indeed, Iâm overwhelmed by thirst, thinking about those who lack access to clean water. Iâm thirsty for a different world.
âIn Gaza, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians lack water, including those living in hospitals and refugee camps,â Sarah Kendzior wrote in Al-Jazeera last week. âOn July 15, citizens of Detroit held a rally in solidarity, holding signs that said âWater for all, from Detroit to Palestine.â A basic resource has become a distant dream, a longing for a transformation of politics aimed at ending suffering instead of extending it.â
âIsrael regrets every injury to civilians. I call on the residents of Gaza: Donât stay there. Hamas wants you to die, we want you to be safe.â
This is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as quoted in the Jewish Daily Forward, cleansing the nationâs collective conscience. Is it really that easy to sweep away the moral sting of violent action? A captive population is being pummeled with missiles. Well over 500 Palestinians have died so far in Operation Protective Edge, three-quarters of them civilians and, of course, many of them children. But âwe want you to be safeâ and wish we didnât have to do this.
âAt the same time, values and ideas which were considered universal, such as cooperation, mutual aid, international social justice and peace as an encompassing paradigm are also becoming irrelevant.â
Maybe this piercing observation by Roberto Savio, founder of the news agency Inter Press Service, is the cruelest cut of all. Geopolitically speaking, hope â the official kind, represented, say, by the United Nations in 1945 â feels fainter than I can remember. âWe the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war . . .â
Ah, 1961. The year â certain aspects of it, anyway â are almost impossible to remember. âWhites onlyâ bathrooms, for instance.
U.S. Rep. John Lewis, legendary civil rights leader and crosser of lines, recently tweeted an ancient mugshot memorializing his arrest that year for using a âwhites onlyâ bathroom in Mississippi and, in the process, amping up outrage against Jim Crow segregation in the South and intensifying the civil rights movementâs global resonance.