Who Will Give Peace a Chance?

This column was published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on April 30, 2007

On the Saturday before Palm Sunday this year I was responsible for driving a Pulitzer Prize winning, New York Times Best Selling, outspoken critic of the war in Iraq from San Francisco to a church in Palo Alto where the author was to speak to a crowd of like-minded peaceniks. After a comedy of errors that included me getting lost in China Town, stuck between some lion dancers and group of Fulong Gong protestors, the famous author and I arrived twenty minutes late to the gathering on the Mid Peninsula.

And as we walked into the church’s sanctuary, which was filled to capacity with three hundred or more activists that day, I noticed something about the anti-war movement. At thirty-eight, I was the youngest person in the room, and it’s always like that when I participate in anti-war activities. If anyone at the march or demonstration or vigil is younger than me, chances are I’m pushing her in a stroller.

What’s wonderful about the age of the peace activists I know is that the strongest voices protesting the war in Iraq speak with wisdom gained from the experience of having been active in anti-war movements since before I was born. These are the people who wore “make love not war” tee shirts in the sixties. In the seventies they put “you can’t hug your children with nuclear arms” bumper stickers on their used Volvos. In the eighties they discovered Birkenstocks and were active in opposing America’s proxy wars in Central America. In the nineties they opposed the first Gulf war, they cheered the demise of Apartheid, and they championed the Palestinian cause. Now they’re focusing their energies on bringing American troops home from Iraq.

I am glad the wisdom of my elders is leading America’s efforts to end a foolhardy war in Mesopotamia—Lord knows we need the voice of experience—but I’m worried about who will stand up for peace the next time our nation sends its sons and daughters off to fight an un-winnable war in some exotic locale. If I’m the face of youth among peaceniks, then the cause of peace will be lonely work by the time I am my parents’ age.

Rumor has it that there are a lot of younger people who are passionate about peacemaking, and I’d like for them to meet and learn from my friends who are veterans of the peace movement. Wisdom and knowledge are perishable if they are not passed on from one generation to the next.

Years ago, back when there was such a thing, I visited the Soviet Union, and while I was there I went to several churches. Seven decades of communism had been hard on the congregations, and most of the worshipers I met were elderly, many stooped from a lifetime of suffering; but alongside those aging congregants were a significant number of grandchildren, running between our legs as we stood in the presence of ancient icons. It was hopeful, seeing those grandparents worship with members of a younger generation, a promise that Christianity would endure Soviet repression.

I trust that the peace movement in the United States can similarly endure the warmongering that has so characterized the American soul of late, but in order for the cause of peace to thrive, there must be an intergenerational conversation in which the wisdom of experience is joined with the energy of youth.

12 thoughts on “Who Will Give Peace a Chance?

  1. Ben,

    The problem with so many “movements” is that they are all about making themselves feel good while achieving little of value. It is easy to be anti so many things. Only a fool or a madman could be “pro-war.” Yet often, as Aristotle said, “We make war that we may live in peace.”

    It is not enough to be merely anti. Being anti-hunger doesn’t feed anyone. Being anti-war does not bring peace or justice or prevent death and horror. War often does.

    It is doubtful our nation would have come to be without a war.

    Slavery in the U.S. would have taken much longer pass onto the trash heap of history without the bloodiest war in American history.

    It is popular to ignore it, but there was an anti-war movement in the 1940s as people were being conquered, enslaved, gassed and burned in ovens.

    Ask the victims of crushing repression in Cambodia, Laos, and Viet Nam or the refugees who fled how they feel about the U.S. “anti-war” movement. Where were the “anti-war” activists as the horrors, reeducation camps, hunger, and persecution, began? They were too busy ignoring the crimes of the North Vietnamese, making apologies, and protesting against more popular targets. Where is the “anti-war” movement now while the Hmong, Mountainyards, other indigenous peoples and Christians are persecuted?

    How many anti-war protesters know who the Karen people are, where they live, and what is happening to them?

    The fall of the Soviet empire, the emergence of Eastern European democracies, all may never have occurred if the U.S.S.R. had not been challenged by a strong and nuclear armed America.

    It should be easy for “Progressives” to imagine the horrors a nuclear armed “imperialist” America with no other super power to restrain its “capitalist aggression and exploitation.”

    Nuclear deterrence maintained the peace. All while the ant-nuclear protesters pushed to disarm the Western Democracies. There was no similar protest movement allowed in the East.

    “All of us denounce war—all of us consider it man’s greatest stupidity. And yet wars happen and they involve the most passionate lovers of peace because there are still barbarians in the world who set the price for peace at death or enslavement and the price is too high.” —Ronald Reagan

    “Peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice.” –Baruch Spinoza

    Regards,

    Randy Shadoe

  2. Hey BD,
    Enjoyed this and it is right on. We have done a horrible job of passing on the legacy of peace & justice to the next generation. That’s why I’m trying to get churches interested in Peacemaking education. We have tended to rest on our derriere in fond recollection of the past. There is a real urgency to educate ourselves and the next generation of young people in this work.

    Cheers,
    Geoff

  3. Well let me tell you…. the “younger” peace movement is alive and well here in Cambridge area…. its almost like you aren’t cool if you aren’t doing it. So perhaps it’s ageing in some places, but not everywhere.

  4. Mr. Shadoe has stated the rationalist position so eloquently and well that I almost hesitate to respond.

    But a main point of his needs to be reinforced and, if possible, carefully considered by those who consider themselves progressives and peaceniks: It is not enough to be anti. What alternatives do you, the presumed progressive, anti-war crowd, offer?

    The US has, by default and intelligent application of power and foreign policy, become the sole superpower on the planet at this time. For lack of a better term, it also has assumed the mantle of the world’s policeman. And that is anathma for the peace-movement left.(I do not, however, recall this sort of anti-war blabber when the US, at the nearly uniform urging of the West, went into the Balkans to stop the ethnic cleansing and the genocide.)

    But we always come back to the main question: What are your alternatives? In the superpower matter, if the US steps down, who will fill the vacuum? China? Would anyone really like to see Japan change its stance and start rearming, really quickly and really well, as a logical response? Does anyone want to see the emergence of regional, unstable and unreliable, mini-superpowers? Iran would love to play such a role — but if the Mideast is unstable now, just wait until the moonbats in Teheran get nuke-tipped missiles.

    This, finally, is the challenge for the so-called peace movement: Develop realistic alternatives, if you wish to be taken seriously. Or, be prepared to be permanently marginalized, a position those on the far left seem inherently to love.

    Bill

  5. Here in Boston I’ve seen many people under 30 at marchs against the war in Iraq. Yet I’ve also seen many seen many seasoned protestors. The young give me hope for the future and the old remind me that peace is not a youthful ideal but rather a life long quest.
    I will be out protesting tomorrow with young and old alike in Boston. Demanding that our government find a peaceful solution to the war in Iraq and find it now.
    Also Ben I tried to enter my comments on the UPI page. It kept asking me to enter a security code and when I did it would clear and give me a new security code and ask me to enter it again.
    I thought I was opening matryoska dolls. Every time I’d open it I thought I was at the last one. Yet there was another to open.
    I gave up trying to send the message to UPI and sent it here instead.
    Happy May Day.

  6. Bill and Randy: Thanks for posting the dissent! It’s always good to have vibrant discussion. So let me respond with the following question: even if you disagree with the anti-war movements of last sixty years, do you want to live in a world in which pro-war forces are not counterballanced by pacifism? It’s an important question that I also need to answer. Do I want an entirely progressive society whose yin is not yanged by conservatism?

    Sarah: I’m glad to hear the folks at Harvard have joined the cause. I frequently ride my bike across the San Jose State campus, and I never see any kind of activism.

    Geoff: thanks for the good word and for your good work.

    Best,

    Ben

  7. Marty,

    I’m glad you left a post here. Good to hear from you. You must have been posting as I was writing my last response.

    So you and Sarah have given the report from Bostson. Evedently the young protesters are in Boston. My son, William, is wearing a RedSox tee shirt today. Go Boston.

    I will be with thoughtfully and in prayer as you protest tomorrow.

    Warmly,

    Ben

    P.S. I’ve had trouble leaving posts on UPI too. I don’t know what their problem is.

  8. I too wonder where our “youth” stand regarding our current conflict in Iraq. Does being an anti-war activist (pro-peace activist) make you less than a “loyal” American in the eyes of others? Thanks for being one of the “youngest” at the recent Peacemaking meeting.

  9. Thanks, Darlene.

    I know I’ve certainly had my patriotism questioned because of my opposition to the war in Iraq, but I’m confident that twenty years from now people like you and me will be considered great Americans for our opposition, just as we celebrate those who opposed the detention of Japanese Americans during WWII.

    Ben

  10. Ben,

    As I have stated many times in the past pacifism is a noble personal philosophy. As a national policy, forced upon others, it is criminal negligence and a disaster.

    The ‘peace’ movement needs to acknowledge, address, and perhaps atone for, the evil it has allowed and is allowing to flourish unchallenged by them or military action, as well as merely decrying the actions of the U.S. military. No agressor was ever vanquished by a candle light vigil.

    Regards,

    Randy

  11. Randy,

    Thanks for the post. The problem I have with what you are writing is that no movement can take on every issue. In order to be effective a movement’s focus must be narrow, must, necessarily exlude other good causes.

    So, for example, an organization dedicated to rasing money for AIDS must ignore the need to raise money for cancer research. It doesn’t make the AIDS activists uncaring or anti-cancer research. If a group of people is concerned about the war, wants to organize around the war, wants to demonstrate and march around war issues, that doesn’t make them (us) guilty of “allowing” evil in other places.

    As for candle light vigils, I disagree. Last year I was one of 120000 people who marched in support of immigrant rights in San Jose on May First. Across the country millions of people participated in similar marches, and the Sensenbrenner bill seeking to make illegal immigration a felony died in the senate.

    Similarly, the voices of the peace movement have helped shape the debate in Washington. Dick Cheney’s approval ratings are at around 25% right now, thanks, in part, to the power the Peace movement has demonstrated in shaping American opinion. Candle light vigils are part of that.

    Ben

  12. Hello Ben,

    So I’m catching up on my reading of your blogs… but when I came upon this one, very well written, and the responses, I had to reply. I think there are a lot of young people, teens and young adults, who are for peace. Unfortunately, I think there are just as many young people who don’t care. By that I mean apathy. The only War we have to reference is the Gulf War, and with respect to the current Iraq War, it really can’t compare. And unless one of our loved ones or family members is killed in the War, it isn’t really happening, especially in our little bubble worlds.

    But I want to extend the thought process beyond the pros and cons of war, of which many good points were made by yourself and your responders. I think many more democracy loving, peace loving people can tolerate War and it’s evils when it is for a just cause. I am a pacifist but I like having an Army to protect me. I salute those who feel a call to duty and are willing to sacrifice their lives for my freedom, but yet I hate guns.

    At the end of the day I think War is a neccessary evil which should be avoided whenever possible. But most definately not used as a justification to rewrite history in the efforts to avenge Bush’s father’s legacy with Saddam.

    Thanks,

    Jody

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