Responsible for War/Responsible for Peace

This was widely circulated in March 2003. While some of the references are time or seasonally specific, the general focus is still apt.


Snow is beginning to melt outside, a temporary thaw. Tonight the melted snow will freeze into a sheet of ice on the sidewalk outside my co-op unit. This will create a hazard for my neighbours. I can wait for spring to arrive, letting the future take care of the current problem. I can wait for the city’s Public Works Department to respond at some point to calls for action against the icy sidewalk. Or I can some responsibility and sprinkle some substance that will melt the ice and scrap the slush off the sidewalk, ensuring that there is a safe place to walk outside my home. The last way of responding is the best way of dealing with the problem — taking responsibility in the here and now will actually resolve the situation.

Around us wars are waging — from civil wars in Columbia and the Ivory Coast to a threatened U.S. global war against Iraq. The use of violence for political purposes is embraced by governments and opponents. And while some small scale experiments by Peace Brigades International, Christian Peacemaker Teams and other expressions of public and radical non-violence, are ongoing in places of conflict indicating a willingness on the part of individuals to take personal responsibility for a world free of violence and related expressions of injustice, most opposition to war and to other expressions of political violence is limited to calling on the state to do something. With war being more pervasive, we do not have the luxury to wait for some future response to build a world without war. We need to take responsibilities where we are, in the institutions we are a part of, to start the work of making war a historical phenomena.

Two recent calls for action both encouraged me and disappointed me — one from the faith community and one from the student movement.

I was strongly moved by Pope John Paul II calling for fasting and prayers for peace during this Lenten season. His is only one of the voices from the faith communities challenging the rush to war, but it is a significant voice. But I also found this call disappointing. None of the religious leaders that gathered in Assisi last year have moved their support for peace from theoretical or spiritual in expression to the one, real concrete authority that churches have — forbidding their clergy from participating in the military, indeed in any structure that supports the killing of others. As long the clergy are woven into the fabric of violent organisations, the religious communities they belong to have a muted peace expression.

It is time, indeed almost too late, for those concerned about
peace who are active within the mainstream faith communities to expand their calls for a peaceful world to include demilitarising the churches. Yes, our political leaders and those that sit around the table at the U.N. Security Council must hear the demand that war is wrong. But equally, the churches must be challenged to become true partners in the work for peace — living examples of a structure without arms.

Those students in the streets of Toronto and other cities recently are responding in creative and persistent ways to a world that is more and move a violent one. In their voices I hear a cry for a world that has room for all people. I was surprised to not hear, however, cries to demilitarise the university campuses. From military and intelligence services funding university research to active recruiting on campuses, universities are intimately linked to the war machine. Calling on George Bush to not bomb Iraq is important. But as long as universities help make the fighting of wars possible, the voice of students and faculty concerned with peace is muted.

We are missing opportunities to uproot violence in our communities and in our institutions, contributing to the acceptance of a war culture. Whether it is acceptance of the view that ends justify the means that seems to be imbedded in parts of the social justice movement or the moving to a secondary level of concern the need to address homophobia, sexism, anti-Semitism and racism among our allies; we still imitate in our movements for social change the evils of the dominant society. It is hard to expect better of the state when we accept abuse within our own movements. If we want war to end, we need to start dealing with our own violence, our own capabilities for oppression, as well.

I am excited when the progressive communities take up the challenge of calling for peace in new ways — whether it is the presentation of 16,000 peace poems to the U.S. government or virtual pickets or the spectacles of puppets. I am humbled by those in the ploughshares’ movement who risk their freedom in a spirit of peaceful, open confrontation with a system that can not cope with the truth. Those that participate in conscience objection to military service in Israel, Turkey and other lands are making clear statements that violence can only be conducted by those willing to engage in it.

While we are working for the state to disarm, let us disarm those institutions we are intimately involved with. It can be on a person level, from participating in peace tax resistance, or on a collective scale when we demand our church not permit clergy to serve in the military or our university cease to permit military recruitment on campus, or on a transforming level when we don’t accept with silence oppressive acts by those we work with and care for.

Ultimately war can only be fought with our consent. Let us learn to withdraw consent for war and violence in our homes, schools, churches and organisations. The more we cease to co-operate with violence and the structures that support war, the harder it will be for wars to be acceptable; the easier it will be for war to be a historical phenomena.


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