I’m a huge fan of peace studies as an academic discipline that should be spread into every corner of what we call, with sometimes unclear justification, our education system. But often peace studies, like other disciplines, manages to study only those far from home, and to study them with a certain bias.
I recently read a book promoting the sophisticated skills of trained negotiators and suggesting that if such people, conversant in the ways of emotional understanding, would take over the Palestine “peace process” from the aging politicians, then … well, basically, then Palestinians would agree to surrender their land and rights without so much fuss. Great truths about negotiation skills only go so far if the goal of the negotiation is injustice based on misunderstanding of the facts on the ground.
I recently read another book discussing nonviolent resistance to injustice and brutality. It focused on a handful of stories of how peace was brought to various poor tribes and nations, usually through careful, respectful, and personal approaches, that appeased some tyrant’s ego while moving him toward empathy. These books are valuable, and it is good that they are proliferating. But they always leave me wondering whether the biggest war-maker on earth is left out because war isn’t war when Westerners do it, or is it, rather, because the military industrial complex requires a different approach. How many decades has it been since a U.S. president sat down and listened to opponents of militarism? Does the impossibility of such a thing remove it from our professors’ consideration?
Here in Virginia’s Fifth District, a bunch of us met with our then-Congressman Tom Perriello a few years back and sought respectfully and persuasively to bring him to oppose and stop funding the war on Afghanistan. Perriello was and is, in some quarters, considered some sort of “progressive” hero. I’ve never understood why. He did not listen. Why? We had majority opinion with us. Was it because we lacked the skills? Was it because of his sincere belief in so-called humanitarian wars? Or was it something else? The New York Times on Friday reported on the corruption of the organization where Perriello was hired immediately upon his electoral defeat. The Center for American Progress takes funding from weapons companies and supports greater public funding of weapons companies. The Democratic National Committee gave Perriello’s reelection campaign a bunch of money just after one of his votes for a bill containing war money and a bank bailout (he seemed to oppose the latter). White House officials and cabinet secretaries did public events with Perriello in his district just after his vote.
I know another member of Congress who wants to end wars and cut military spending, but when I ask this member’s staff to stop talking about social safety net cuts as if they only hurt veterans rather than all people I can’t even make my concern — that of glorifying veterans as more valuable — understood. It’s like talking to a brick military base.
My friend David Hartsough was one, among others, who spoke with President John Kennedy when he was President, urged him toward peace and believed he listened. That didn’t work out well for President Kennedy, or for peace. When Gorbachev was ready to move the Soviet Union toward peace, President Ronald Reagan wasn’t. Was that because of sincere, well-meaning, if misguided notions of security? Or was it senility, stupidity, and stubbornness? Or was it something else? Was it a system that wouldn’t allow it? Was something more than personal persuasion on the substance of the matter needed? Was a new way of funding elections and communicating campaign slogans required first? Would peace studies have to revise its approach if it noticed the existence of the Pentagon?
Of course, I think the answer is some of each. I think reducing military spending a little will allow us to be heard a little more clearly, which will allow us to reduce military spending a little further, and so on. And part of the reason why I think it’s both and not purely “structural” is the opposition to war that brews up within the U.S. military — as it did on missile strikes for Syria this past summer. Sometimes members of the military oppose, protest, or even resist wars.
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