Magazine article Tikkun

The Art and Ethos of Enduring Peace

Magazine article Tikkun

The Art and Ethos of Enduring Peace

Article excerpt

WE ARE, AT LONG LAST, in the midst of a vigorous and comprehensive critique of the U.S. war in Iraq. People throughout the world decry the horrendous loss of lives, both civilian and military, and are critical of the arrogance and poor planning in this administration's attempt at "regime change" in Iraq.

It is vital that we in the peace movement continue our criticism of this war and its enormous costs. It is equally important that we realize that criticism alone is not enough. A strong sense of the folly and cost of this war and this imperial misadventure will not necessarily translate into opposition either to war per se or to American imperialism. We need instead to find a way to talk about alternatives to war in a language that will inspire and mobilize our fellow Americans.

Recognizing A New Vietnam

WHILE MANY IN THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY are now critical of the war in Iraq, they do not necessarily renounce either military force or American imperialism. Robin Toner of the New York Times, in her article "Democrats Are Advised to Broaden Appeal" discusses a report prepared for the Third Way, a political and policy group for centrist Democrats. The authors of the report, William Galston and Elaine Kamarck, call for a foreign policy that "emphasize[s] the importance of the American military as a potential force for good in the world, and in so doing [engages] 'Michael Moore Democrats' who instinctively view American power as suspect."

I am a member of a research team at the University of Missouri affiliated with Global Action to Prevent War, an international coalition-building effort to implement nonviolent alternatives to war and internal armed conflict. We have found that the failure of political strategists to imagine a non-militaristic foreign policy resonates with our work with conservative and moderate students.

In the spring of 2003, as the war in Iraq was getting underway, we found an unsettling juxtaposition of seemingly contradictory ideas. While most of our students thought that the war in Iraq was just, most also believed that the war in Vietnam was a clear example of an unjust war. All, Republican and Democrat alike, could recite the same critique of America's folly in Vietnam: our government lied to us, there was no just cause for the war, and there were too many U.S. casualties. This substantial critique of the war in Vietnam did not translate, however, into a critique of either the justifications for, nor the execution of, the war in Iraq.

Why is it that wars begin like World War II and end like Vietnam? Author and media critic Norman Soloman describes two common themes in presidential justifications for war: the "benign and even noble intent" of the U.S. government, and the confident assertion that "the latest war is as good as a war can be-necessary, justified, righteous and worth any sorrows to be left in its wake."

How Moral Clarity Can Lead to Violence

HOW DO WE ADDRESS POWERFULLY and clearly the illusions of beneficence and inevitability that justify war? How do we learn to see both the costs of war and our culpability as a nation in excessive and gratuitous violence?

Social psychologist Albert Bandura has described how easy it is for moral clarity and absolutism to lead to cruelty and violence. Bandura describes several dimensions of moral disengagement, the process by which decent human beings commit and justify behaviors that they would otherwise recognize as morally abhorrent.

Bandura has identified five elements that are especially pertinent in the current situation. The first factor is being convinced that one is the bearer of a just cause, and that coercion is required to protect and advance that cause. A second dimension is avoiding the negative consequences of one's behavior through the use of euphemistic language, for example using the term "collateral damage" for the death and injuries caused to civilians, or the terms "professional interrogation techniques," or "softening up" prisoners for interrogation to refer to physical and psychological torture. …

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