Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Independence Day and Waging Peace

Driving home late Wednesday evening, we say the aerial displays of several community fireworks displays.  I thought about how beautiful the explosions in the sky were to behold.  I also thought of the words of the Star Spangled Banner with its "bombs bursting in air" and "rockets red glare,"  which were simulated by the fireworks. 

I was one of three native-born Americans at the Independence Day gathering of family in California.  Two were born in Kyrgyzstan and became naturalized Americans through adoption.  Three were sisters who had been born in Canada.  They were ethnically Polish and had been married to Polish men, all of whom have since died.  I knew the stories of two of the men, one of whom was my uncle, since his mother later married my widowed grandfather.  They had experienced some of the worst evils of the world.

My uncle was 11 when he was taken prisoner with his family by the Soviets for the crime of being a Pole.  He later was an underage soldier who fought at Monte Casino under General Anders.  His younger brother died in Siberia "because he was too young to live" through their time in Siberia.  His father also died.  His mother survived, but barely.  One other person survived from their town which was large enough to have scheduled railway service.  Even at his funeral, a gap was left for the years 1939-1948 since he spoke so little about that time.

The husband of a second sister was liberated from a concentration camp in Germany.  He had barely avoided being sent to an extermination camp.  His mother died in Auschwitz.  All for the crime of being Polish.  Yet he told his wife and son of his experiences so they could remember.

We had traditional American food--chicken, hot dogs, potato salad, chips.  We are all now Americans.  Independence Day reminds us of the freedom we have.  But, talking about family reminds us that those freedoms are far from universal.  Yet, I believe that all people have similar hopes for their lives and their families.  We all want to be able to provide a decent life for our families.  We want a say in our government so that government acts in the interest of its people.  We want to live in peace.  Which brings me to the second part of this post.

Over the weekend, I listened to a talk about how to make peace in the world.  Clearly, humanity has fought enough "war[s] to end all war" as WWI was described.  Yet fighting wars has not accomplished the goal of ending war.  Wars continue with greater destruction, especially of civilian populations.  Such behavior brings to mind the statement by Albert Einstein that insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  But, war is insane.  Albert Einstein realized that and preached peace. 

Most species try not to fight each other to the death, but rather only to the point of establishing dominance.  They want their own species to survive.  But humanity has nearly brought itself to the brink of destruction. First, through the arms race during the Cold War, when various computer glitches or weather balloons or the like led each side to think at one time or another that they were under attack by the other.   Thankfully, calm reactions prevailed and no counterattack was launched.  Second, through large scale environmental degradation leading to global warming, which might cause the extinction not only of our own species, but countless others.  And in the past decade there has again been consideration of the use of nuclear weapons.  But like the "war to end all war" was not successful in ending war, building weapons to discourage others from doing the same is counter-productive.

So, what is there to do?  That's where the discussion of "waging peace" comes in.  Waging peace is emphasizing helping others rather than dominating them.  It is non-violence, particularly non-violent resistance.  I have heard it said that non-violence cannot accomplish much except against a civilized country such as Britain, using the example of Gandhi.  Or, the United States, using the example of Martin Luther King.  But, many civil rights workers had their lives ended much too soon, as did many of the Black Americans they worked to help.  Similarly, the role of non-violence, led by Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, in bringing down the apartheid government of South Africa is touted.  Again, many gave their lives in the pursuit of equality.  Many were jailed.  But, finally, they succeeded in ending apartheid.  Non-violence has also brought down other repressive regimes such as communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.  Activists such as Lech Wałęsa were jailed, though finally saw victory.  Unfortunately, many others who struggled for freedom never lived to see it.  So, non-violence can also work against suppressive and violent regimes.  (It has been estimated that as many as 200 million people died at the hands of communist governments or because of their policies.)

Like in waging war, people must be willing to lay down their lives to wage peace.  History shows us that many have.  But, at least there is the hope that things can change for the better.  Fighting innumerable wars has certainly not brought an end to war.  As Coleman McCarthy said “Warmaking doesn't stop warmaking. If it did, our problems would have stopped millennia ago.” But, non-violence has certainly had some impressive achievements in the past century. I don't know if it is possible to end war, but it is certainly a goal worth trying to achieve.  There may be some despots who can only be brought down through violence.  But, overall, it seems violence begets violence.  And the cycle continues.  So, I feel that we must begin to wage peace.

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