Co-creating a culture of peace
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‚ÄúSir, you are an idiot.‚ÄĚ
Wow, an insult wrapped in such old-fashioned politeness. I let the words hover and reach, as I always do, for peace: that is to say, for clarity, connection, common humanity.
The cellphone video ‚Äúreality footage‚ÄĚ just doesn‚Äôt stop. Black men are shot, killed, handcuffed. The shortcomings of their prematurely terminated lives soon become public knowledge, vaguely justifying the shocking wrongness of the officer‚Äôs action ‚ÄĒ always poisoning the grief.
The family, the loved ones, the sympathetic sector of the American (and global) public demand ‚Äújustice.‚ÄĚ Even when they get it, or sort of get it, in the form of an arrest or some official expression of regret, the victim ‚ÄĒ the human being they valued ‚ÄĒ is still dead.
If war were only ‚Äúitself‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ the violence and horror, the conflagration and death ‚ÄĒ it would be bad enough, but it‚Äôs also an abstraction, a specific language of self-justifying righteousness that allows proponents to contemplate unleashing it not merely in physical but in moral safety.
War, the abstraction, is an instrument of policy, an ‚Äúoption‚ÄĚ that can be waged or threatened to get one‚Äôs way. It is always contained and sure of itself, limited in its goals and, of course, necessary. Its unintended consequences are minimal and quickly neutralized with an official apology, then forgotten. If we didn‚Äôt forget, the next war wouldn‚Äôt seem like such a viable, enticing option.
‚ÄúDeeply sensible of their solemn duty to promote the welfare of mankind . . .‚ÄĚ
What? Were they serious?
I kneel in a sort of gasping awe as I read the words of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, a treaty signed in 1928 ‚Äď by the United States, France, Germany, Great Britain, Japan and ultimately by every country that then existed. The treaty . . . outlaws war.
By Robert C. Koehler ‚ÄúThere is no patent. Could you patent the sun?‚ÄĚ The words are those of Jonas Salk, developer of the polio vaccine, speaking to Edward R. Murrow in 1955, as quoted recently in an essay by Paul Buchheit. What was he thinking? Six decades later, the words have such a counter-resonance with […]
‚ÄúI wanna be ready . . .‚ÄĚ
And suddenly the glass case shattered. You know the one, perhaps. I‚Äôd been agitated by it for the past hour or so, sitting as I was maybe 25 rows back from the stage at Chicago‚Äôs ornate Auditorium Theater, watching the Alvin Ailey troupe dance their hearts out, moving their bodies with such lithe precision and grace.
‚ÄúYou can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me . . .‚ÄĚ
Yeah, something had to happen. The cellphone video went public and the frat boys on the bus, who were just having a little politically incorrect fun, y‚Äôknow, singing about Jim Crow exclusionary practices and, well, lynching, suddenly found themselves thrust into a national context, embarrassing the hell out of their fraternity and their school.
The president doesn‚Äôt ‚Äúlove‚ÄĚ America?
Would that it were true. Would that Rudy Giuliani‚Äôs five-star Republican nightmare actually paced the Oval Office, pondering how to disarm, demilitarize . . . defang American exceptionalism.
As media ownership converges and technology ‚Äúunites‚ÄĚ us, the concept of national identity grows ever easier to exploit ‚ÄĒ 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: ‚ÄúEgyptian planes pound ISIS in Libya in revenge for mass beheadings of Christians.‚ÄĚ
It‚Äôs nonstop action for the American public. It‚Äôs the history of war compressed into a dozen words. It‚Äôs 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.
There‚Äôs a lot less here than meets the eye, or so it seemed when I read about a new study by researchers at Yale called ‚ÄúTragic, but not random: The social contagion of nonfatal gunshot injuries.‚ÄĚ It‚Äôs 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 isn‚Äôt 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 ‚ÄĒ wherever ‚ÄĒ is always the first and only choice. The uncertainty is never a matter of ‚Äúif.‚ÄĚ It‚Äôs only a matter of ‚Äúwhen.‚ÄĚ
For instance: ‚ÄúThe 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 ‚ÄĒ in far larger amounts than provided to date and including lethal defensive arms.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúIt‚Äôd be really hard to have a higher recidivism rate than we have in Cook County.‚ÄĚ
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 ‚ÄúChiraq.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúSometimes 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.‚ÄĚ
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 ‚ÄúJe suis Charlie. Tout est pardonn√©.‚ÄĚ Muhammad in tears adorns the new cover of Charlie Hebdo: ‚ÄúI am Charlie. All is forgiven.‚ÄĚ This is bigger than satire. I take a deep breath, uncertain how to write about last week‚Äôs 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 York‚Äôs 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 Blasio‚Äôs in trouble, accused of playing politics with the lives of heroes. And, of course, the story goes no deeper than the dramatic accusation.
‚ÄúThe only good Talib is a dead Talib.‚ÄĚ
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 ‚ÄĒ assassinated ‚ÄĒ 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 Committee‚Äôs CIA torture report isn‚Äôt due so much to the revelations themselves, grotesque as the details are, but to the fact that they‚Äôre now officially public. National spokespersons (except for Dick Cheney) can no longer deny, quite so glibly, that the United States is […]
‚ÄúSome 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, ‚Äėis rusting its way to disarmament.‚Äô‚ÄĚ
Let‚Äôs meditate on this irony ‚ÄĒ 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.
It‚Äôs hidden until it explodes.
The vision is a city interlaced with restorative justice hubs ‚ÄĒ community centers that bring hope and promise to troubled kids in a town where too many of them are dying. ‚ÄúIt is not OK that my friends and I have already planned our funerals,‚ÄĚ 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.
‚ÄúIndividuals and peoples have a right to peace.‚ÄĚ
In the beginning was the word. OK. This is the beginning, and these are the words, but they haven‚Äôt arrived yet ‚ÄĒ 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 ‚ÄĒ ‚Äúmock‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ 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 . . .
‚ÄúWhen somebody asks, ‚ÄėWhy do you do it to a gook, why do you do this to people?‚Äô your answer is, ‚ÄėSo what, they‚Äôre just gooks, they‚Äôre not people. It doesn‚Äôt make any difference what you do to them; they‚Äôre not human.‚Äô
‚ÄúAnd this thing is built into you,‚ÄĚ 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. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs thrust into your head from the moment you wake up in boot camp to the moment you wake up when you‚Äôre a civilian.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúDuring basic training, we are weaponized: our souls turned into weapons.‚ÄĚ
Jacob George‚Äôs suicide last month ‚ÄĒ a few days after President Obama announced that the US was launching its war against ISIS ‚ÄĒ 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 that‚Äôs what people are saying, including an official website of Sweden itself: ‚ÄúLess than one per cent of Sweden‚Äôs household waste ends up in a rubbish dump.‚ÄĚ 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 ‚ÄĒ that maybe the resource-consuming, planet-destroying, multinational political and economic system I‚Äôm part of is capable of correcting its own insanity, committing itself to a sustainable future and embracing the circle of life.
‚ÄúAs 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.‚ÄĚ
The cancer of violent extremism . . .
Barack Obama‚Äôs 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 didn‚Äôt work.
Thus: ‚ÄúThanks to our military and counterterrorism professionals, America is safer.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúI think if we had a gun we would have been shot immediately.‚ÄĚ
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 organization‚Äôs 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.