Monday, February 23, 2015

Violence from on High


Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

February 23, 2015


                I recently skyped with a college class, talking about the US and the Islamic State.  My thanks to them and to Biko Agozino at Virginia Tech for their responses, notably that the idea of peacemaking sounded nice but unrealistic, since you can’t reason with the IS.  I infer this to be support for President Obama’s commitment to degrade and destroy the people there.

                I appreciate the responses, and am sure they represent a deeply and widely felt sentiment about the “brutality” of the IS, and the need to eliminate them.   Today, Biko sent me a message referring to Roland Bainton’s Christian Attitudes toward War and Peace.  I haven’t read the book, but Biko’s description of the thesis led me to this reply and response, with thanks, to the class:


You take me back to when I started teaching alternative social control systems, when I, inspired by the daodejing, and being born Christian/Jewish mongrel, proposed that every religious and spiritual tradition I know has a violent side and a peacemaking side, and so does every individual one of us.  One tries to get things done we feel need done, including stopping threats.  The other is moved by a desire to connect, in religious terms, to love others as one would be loved.  We balance the two to survive.


You have heard the president say it: He speaks possibly of years of war, I say war without foreseeable end. From overthrow of the elected government in Iran in 1953, to the invasions and eventual occupation in Iraq in 1991 and 2003, the US has become the primary foreign threat.  Add bombardment by an enemy that will not face or recognize you, who promises to destroy you...We aren't making friends, and our alliances confound one another.


In a word, this war is unwinnable.  Practically, the more we bomb and "advise" from relative safety, the deeper and wider resistance and suspicion of US motives will grow in and around the IS.  Our missiles confirm that we are indeed an invading evil force.  From our position of supreme safety, we can afford more easily to acknowledge that we have no more reasonable claim to moral superiority than they.  We can afford to recognize how much violent destruction, fear and anger our military presence continues to generate in the region.  Basically, in this fight we are the bully, with scarce moral authority to dictate how the inhabitants of the region work things out.


As I see it, peacemaking initiatives are only half of my peacemaking world.  Given my national and parental privilege, I figure the other half is to point out how self-defeating it is to act on the premise that we know better than others how they ought to govern themselves, interpersonally and socially, domestically and internationally.  When resistance becomes organized warfare, I keep on finding that for people who older the upper hand, returning violence with violence is counter-productive.  The US continues to turn itself into the world's national public enemy number one, and that's not building national security to me.


                I thank the class for helping me think through where I’m coming from.  Love and peace, hal

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