Note: Don Smith wrote this essay a few years ago and shares it now with speak4peace.com. You'll find Don's insights powerful as he calls for a new kind of thinking and action for the peace movement: Think about what you can do and then do it; no action is too small. This way, according to Don, we can begin to build new institutions to challenge the ever-growing war policies around the world.
I have been antiwar all my life. But I have concluded that it is an inadequate concept, and that it cedes the initiative to the war party. The peace movement has been two reactive. Though there are exceptions, mostly we’re always one step behind, reacting to the situation rather than taking the initiative to form and shape the cooperative world we desire. We spend too much time criticizing war, attempting to eliminate a base here, a nuke there, pointing out the dollar cost of war and the barbarity of its practice. Most people already know this; I find very few people are enthusiastic about fighting wars, or even preparing for them if they could see an alternative.
I want a concept, a discipline, a program that takes the initiative; that day by day is building understanding of and practice of reconciliation. We need a discipline that steadily constructs the institutions of conflict resolution regardless of the twists and turns of war policies. By “program” I do not mean talking in meetings and writing articles (as I am doing here). Certainly those things are necessary tools, but a powerful movement will not result without a communal physical effort; work with the hands. Commitment comes with witness. Think of Gandhi: the salt march, the spinning wheel. Our business is to build societies that will study war no more.
We need to be clearer about the meaning of the word “peace.” There are three arenas for peace: Peace with the earth and all of its life, Peace with other humans, Peace with our individual selves. But the three arenas are not separable. Humans are made of the same stuff as the rest of existence, and we could not live apart from it. Likewise, if individuals are born into a society of other individuals they cannot flourish without the support of one another. And when we lack peace in our own hearts, both the Earth and society feel our wrath. A threat to the peace of one is a threat to the peace of all three.
But what I am addressing here is war: the violence that is planned and carried out by one organized group upon another, a violence that has as its names the subjugation of the opponent society through the destruction of its life-support facilities and the slaughter of its members. Now, why would any society ever prepare for such barbarity? The answer to that, I suggest, is fear. If we see that war comes out of fear, the fear of the stranger, and the fear of exposure to hunger, cold, disease, indignities, injustice, then might this suggest a program to build reconciliation?
You know about many of the projects that already work to do this: Habitat for Humanity housing, Right Sharing of World Resources loan program, work camps—going abroad and finding ways to be friendly. The gifts they make are useful, but those gifts are also symbols that testify to friendship, cooperation, and hope. What I am looking for is a project that many diverse people can have a part in that says, “We have adopted the ways of conflict resolution and reconciliation because they are superior to war, and because this very day they begin to build a better life for all of us.” No, I don’t think we have found that that answer yet, but together I feel sure we can discover it, or create it.
I recall visiting a bleak little community in the arid west side of the San Joaquin valley about 35 years ago. The householders were poor agricultural workers who had been migrants, now trying to find a permanent home on this cheap scrabble land. There was electricity to the lots, but no water. A tank car of water was left on railroad siding about two miles away; all their water they carried in. Two families thought a piped water supply was possible. The biggest obstacle was the discouragement and apathy of their community. Nevertheless, outside money was raised to drill a well and buy pipe. Gradually the householders dug the trenches and laid the supply pipes. As the project came nearer to reality hopes rose and cooperation increased. When all the homes had running water morale was high and the community was ready for another project. They had a Head Start program, for which they had to lease a mobile classroom at an exorbitant rent. Why not erect a community building for meetings and social events, one that the children could use during the day? The Head Start rent would now come to the community and help to pay for the building. See what the experience of success can do! Hands-on projects. Individual participation for community goals.
I believe there are great dormant energies that can be released for reconciliation the world over. Indeed, there is a great people ready to be gathered!
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