Posts Tagged ‘Peace’

Why War?

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

There are many potent alternatives to military intervention which are often not pursued. The peace scholar, Gene Sharp, listed 198 non-violent alternatives including noncooperation, protest, sanctions, persuasion, and nonviolent intervention. The world spends about $1.6 trillion a year on the machineries of war – imagine if this was invested in  fighting poverty, in education and health care. Research shows that non-violent campaigns during the last century were more successful than wars in bringing change. When unarmed civilians gather in their thousands on the streets, people power has an impact.

It is the great challenge of our time: how to achieve justice — with struggle, but without war.– Howard Zinn

Video: Jamila Raqib promotes nonviolent resistance to people living under tyranny — and there’s a lot more to it than street protests:

 

 

Refugee Crisis

Saturday, August 29th, 2015

Never before have so many people fled political persecution and war as today.– German 10-point plan

The biggest refugee crisis is history is unfolding and our government refuses to increase our (already low) quota of refugees. Our population has almost doubled since 1987, yet our quota has fallen. Globally, 59.5 million people are forcibly displaced (up from 33 million in 2010).  The crisis in Europe mirrors the period before WW2 when the flood of Jewish refugees were blocked by unyileding refugee quota systems in the US, UK, France, Canada, South Africa, Australia and NZ.

In the late 1930s Jewish refugees from Hitler’s Germany were particularly keen to migrate to New Zealand. However, New Zealand restricted their entry. –Te Ara Encyclopedia of NZ

Currently the largest refugee-hosting countries are Turkey, Pakistan, and Lebanon. The crisis is massive but that’s no excuse for NZ not to make a start by increasing our refugee quota.

We’re all brothers and sisters, wherever we come from, whatever our culture, whatever our religion. – Jean Varnier

Moments Of War

Friday, July 24th, 2015

Two war memoirs I was gripped by recently. Resistance by Agnes Humbert tells of her four year imprisonment by the Nazis. The title refers not only to the French Resistance but also the inner strength that enabled Humbert to survive horrific treatment. It’s a riveting read which shows ‘how the human mind can preserve the heart and soul intact against all attempts to annihilate it’ (Linda Grant).

A Moment of War by Laurie Lee relates his time in the Spanish Civil War. Lee begins his journey as an idealistic young man and ends it a shattering ‘moment’ when he sees the true consequences of war. An honest, eloquent book; the third in Lee’s stunning memoir-trilogy (with Cider With Rosie and As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning).

‘I was in that flush of youth that never doubts self-survival, that idiot belief in luck and a uniquely charmed life, without which illusion few wars would be possible’ – Laurie Lee

leewar

Rainbow Warrior Interview

Friday, July 10th, 2015

Thirty years ago today, French spies attacked the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour. It was on a voyage around the Pacific, relocating islanders from radioactive areas and protesting against American and French nuclear weapons. One of the ship’s engineers, 25 year old Hanne Sorensen, describes what happened that night:

“I had been working on another protest boat during the day doing some gas welding. That night I decided to go for a walk – I just had this urge to get off the Warrior…I can’t explain it. I came back at midnight and was stopped by police on the wharf who said there’d been some explosions. I thought, ‘Had I forgotten to turn the gas off?’ I didn’t even realise the Warrior had sunk at first. The crew were all huddled in blankets on the wharf and I still didn’t realise what had happened even though they all told me. It wasn’t until morning when I saw the boat that it really hit me hard.The first bomb blew a huge hole in the engine room – you could drive a car through – and the crew scrambled ashore as the boat sank. The next bomb exploded on the propeller shaft, close to my cabin. It was then we realised that the ship’s photographer, Fernando Pereira, was missing. He had returned to his cabin to get his camera and was drowned.
These people were my friends, like family…we’d all been through some intense things and trusted each other with our lives. Now they’d sunk our ship and killed one of our friends. After the bombing, the Greenpeace office was flooded with clothes, sleeping bags, and offers of homes to stay in. You couldn’t have had a stronger expression from the people of the world. Our aim back then was to save the world – not thinking that fifteen people on a boat could save the world, but that this was our little piece in a big puzzle. It matters what every single one of us does.”  (Extract from my book, Peace Warriors).

rainbow warriorPhoto by permission of Greenpeace, NZ

Brave Students

Sunday, October 26th, 2014

Thousands of unarmed students in Hong Kong are currently standing up for democracy by taking to the streets. It’s often students who lead the way in peaceful protest movements:

  • 1943: The White Rose group were university students in Munich who distibuted thousands of leaflets exposing the Nazis’ crimes and encouraging people to resist. They were executed.
  • 1957: The Little Rock Nine were high school students in America who broke through the race barrier by enrolling in the local all-white high school despite threatening mobs.
  • 1986-89: University students in China protested to demand more freedom, culminating in Tiananmen Square with half a million Chinese citizens. The government crushed the event.
  • 1988: University students in Burma led massive street marches against the military rulers. The army killed hundreds but Burma eventually got free elections.
  • 2000: Students in Serbia led a non-violent protest to help oust a corrupt government.

Strength To Love

Friday, June 6th, 2014

Martin Luther King Jr.’s book of sermons, Strength To Love, was written during the Civil Rights struggle (several written in prison). King’s poetic style was aimed at a live church audience – you can almost hear the “Amens” after each sentence. But his words remain relevant 50 years on as he encourages people to be forgiving, non-violent, and non-conformists; and to confront militarism and inequality:

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together…

Expenditures for defence have risen to mountainous proportions. The nations have believed that greater armaments will cast out fear, but they have produced greater fear.

Through non-violent resistance we shall be able to oppose the unjust system and at the same time love the perpetrators of the system. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.

Capitalism must undergo continual change if our great national wealth is to be more equitably distributed.

All life is interrelated. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.

Here’s King’s anti-war speech, made shortly before he was shot. (This recording later got a Grammy for Best Spoken Word):

 

War is old

Monday, February 10th, 2014

Alice Walker’s picture book Why War Is Never a Good Idea begins with the bright, comforting colours of a book for young children, but as War devastates the land the images become grim. It’s a scary message and parents will have to judge if it suits their children. The illustrations by Stefano Vitale are evocative and Walker’s words are true:

Though War is old

It has not become wise.

Though War has a mind of its own

War never knows who it is going to hit.

Walker comments: ‘War attacks not just people, “the other,” or “enemy,” it attacks Life itself … It doesn’t matter what the politics are, because though politics might divide us, the air and the water do not … Our only hope of maintaining a livable planet lies in teaching our children to honor nonviolence, especially when it comes to caring for Nature, which keeps us going with such grace and faithfulness.’

The Bull and the Dictators

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

The classic Ferdinand by Munro Leaf (1936) remains one of the most influential children’s books (it’s never gone out of print) because of its simple but powerful theme. The tale of a bull who likes to smell flowers instead of fighting was seen as a pacifist text at the time of the Spanish Civil War. Ferdinand is a reflective, laid-back character who bravely chooses to be himself instead of following the aggressive crowd.

No wonder the book was

In contrast, Munro Leaf also wrote books which reflected the strict child-raising style of the time. His 3 and 30 Watchbirds (1941) condemns behaviours such as shoe-scuffing, primping, mumbling, moaning, fidgeting, sassing and wasting food. Some of it is in the spirit of war-time frugality, some is just a tad excessive:

Grammar Can Be Fun is slightly more tongue-in-cheek and warns children against slack language such as “gimme, wanna, gonna, and ain’t”.

Mad Spark – August 6

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

August 6, 1945, an atom bomb destroyed Hiroshima – 80,000 people died instantly, tens of thousands more in later years. A larger bomb was then dropped on Nagasaki, killing another 40,000 people. Photos: Nagasaki before and after the bomb:

The US Secretary of War, was concerned that America’s reputation for fair play might be damaged by targeting urban areas. General George Marshall had a similar view, believing the bomb should be used first on military targets … Both men’s views were ignored.–  Target Nagasaki by Craig Collie

Some say the bombs were the only way to end the war. I say the targeting of civilians with nuclear weapons is immoral, illegal, and horrific (A.C. Grayling argues this in  Among the Dead Cities).

Pablo Neruda’s Ode to the Atom speaks of how the atom was ‘unchained’ on August 6:

Mad spark, go back to your shroud,

bury yourself in your mineral mantle,

be blind stone once again, ignore the outlaws,

and collaborate with life, with growing things…

Denmark – People Power

Saturday, July 6th, 2013

The Danes challenged the most barbaric regime of the modern period and did so not with troops or tanks but with singing, striking, going home to garden, and standing in public squares. – Peter Ackerman

flagofdenmarkDenmark’s resistance of the Nazis is one of the finest examples of people power. The Germans occupied Denmark during WW2 and took over industry and agriculture to support Hitler’s war machine. But the Danish government found ways to sabotage the Germans without waging war. In 1943 and 1944 they organised nationwide strikes. The Nazis threatened them with tanks and guns, cut off water and power, but the strikers held on and the army backed off. They succeeded in frustrating the supply of war materials to Germany.
Ordinary people also resisted the invaders: by non-cooperation, marches, students refusing to speak German; and communties holding ‘Songfests’ to celebrate Danish culture. When the Germans ordered the arrest of all the Jews in Denmark, people sheltered Jews and smuggled them out to Sweden. They saved almost all the Danish Jews – 8,000 lives.

Two Kinds Of War Hero

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

“You’re far too good a Highlander, Baxter,” he said, “not to be fighting for your king. When you get to France you’ll be throwing Germans over your head on your bayonet.”
“Yes, my ancestors fought for the king… I’m fighting too, only I’m fighting against a war.”
“Oh well,” he said,” they might get you a job rocking cradles.’
“If people of your views run the world,” I answered, “there soon won’t be any cradles to rock.”
– [A prison doctor tries to talk Archibald Baxter into fighting in WW1: quote from We Will Not Cease]

There are two kinds of war hero: those who show bravery while fighting, and those who actively resist violence. Young Archibald Baxter heard a lawyer explain that war was wrong simply because killing was wrong; so when WW1 broke out, Archie refused to enlist and was arrested.  He was sent to prison several times and finally, he and other pacifists were loaded onto a ship and taken to Europe.  He was imprisoned in England where they put him in chains and fed him on bread and water. To break his stubborn spirit, Archie was sent to the battlefield in France, where army officers tormented him.

Archie was tied to a post outside for up to four hours a day – the ropes so tight his hands turned black. Another time, they dragged Archie out onto the battlefield next to an ammunition dump during a German artillery attack. Incredibly, he was still alive when the explosions and mud settled.

Ordinary soldiers admired his courage, even if they disagreed with him, and were often appalled by their officers’ behaviour. One officer gave Archie a vicious beating then ordered some soldiers to throw him onto a wire covered walkway. But instead of smashing Archie down the soldiers lowered him gently down.

Archibald Baxter has never been hailed as a war hero by the media. His son, James K Baxter, was praised as our finest poet, and today it’s time New Zealand also recognised Archibald’s inspiring life.

Full Human Lives

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Time is lost when we have not lived a full human life, time unenriched by experience, creative endeavour, enjoyment, and suffering. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This sentence, from the book Letters and Papers from Prison, was written by Bonhoeffer three weeks before he was hanged on Hitler’s personal orders in 1945. Hitler had already spelled out his own worldview:

Nature is cruel; therefore we, too, may be cruel.

Bonhoeffer and his brother-in-law lawyer, Hans von Dohnanyi, resisted the Nazi’s control by recording their crimes, helping victims and finally, plotting against Hitler.

Hitler had no greater, more courageous, and more admirable enemies than Hans von Dohnanyi and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.– Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern (read the full story here)

Weapons of Mass Instruction

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Imagine a world where instead of weapons of mass destruction, governments made weapons of mass instruction. Instead of spending $1.5 trillion a year on lethal weapons they could spend it on books. Here’s a better invasion strategy: Literacy Drones fly over villages and identify those without libraries; vehicles called Book Tanks (photo) move in to give away books to children; finally Seuss Troops visit schools to read aloud to them. Delivering books instead of bullets to children is a more effective way of fighting terror and raising living standards. Artist Raul Lemesoff already has a prototype Book Tank delivering free books all over Argentina, including to rural areas where there are few schools. Read about him in English or visit his Spanish website.

Syria

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

As Assad continues killing and maiming innocent people in Syria it begins to feel as if there is no alternative to using force against cruel tyrants like him. But military intervention is seldom a good solution and should only be a last resort. It can spark civil war or worse and it’s usually innocent civilians who suffer the most. About 62 million civilians were killed in the wars of the 20th century, compared to 43 million military personnel who died.

There are alternatives to violent intervention, but these are seldom seriously tried (there’s been hardly a peep of protest from our government about Syria). The peace scholar, Gene Sharp, came up with 198 non-violent alternatives. Possibilities include UN peace-keepers, negotiation, banning arms trade, blocking key investments, political non-cooperation and persuasion. Meanwhile the people of Syria stand in the streets for freedom in the most courageous of protest marches.

The Boy Who Went To War

Saturday, February 18th, 2012

I’ve read many books about Hitler’s Germany but none as remarkable as Wolfram, The Boy Who Went To War, by Giles Milton (Hodder, 2011). It overturns clichés about the War and helps answer the old question ‘Why didn’t more Germans resist Hitler?’

Wolfram was the child of freethinking, artistic parents who resisted by not joining the Nazi Party and refusing to display a swastika flag – their Gestapo file described them as ‘dangerous eccentics’. Wolfram was 9 years old when Hitler came to power in 1933 and spent his childhood trying to avoid the Hitler Youth so he could draw and sculpt. Through his peace-loving family we see how the Nazis tightened their grip through brutality, laws, and a system of local informants.

One can’t help ask, ‘Would I have had the courage to resist?’ Wolfram was conscripted and became part of the War nightmare in Russia and Normandy. The story of his survival is completely gripping. (Note: not a children’s book, but would interest teens.) Wolfram is still alive and you can see his stunning paintings here.

This is a study in enforced conformity as Milton shows how the Nazis became increasingly intrusive in the lives of ordinary Germans Guardian review

Syria?

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Tyrants… the more is given them, the more they are obeyed. If nothing be given them, if they be not obeyed, without fighting, without striking a blow, they remain naked, disarmed and are nothing. Etienne de la Boetie, 1577

Year of the Scamp

Monday, December 26th, 2011

I’m reading a remarkable book, The Importance of Living, by Lin Yutang, written in 1938. His thoughts on ‘The Scamp’ seem timely in a year when people have taken to the streets and dictators have fallen:

The scamp is probably the most glorious type of human being. In this present age of threats to democracy and individual liberty, probably only the spirit of the scamp alone will save us from becoming lost as serially numbered units in the masses of disciplined, obedient and regimented. The scamp will be the last and most formidable enemy of dictatorships. He will be the champion of human dignity and individual freedom, and will be the last to be conquered…

The scamp (or vagabond) is a type glorified in Chinese literature; and Lin Yutang describes the scamp-like qualities of humans as ‘a playful curiousity, a capacity for dreams, a sense of humour to correct those dreams, and a certain waywardness.’ There’s hope for us yet. (Year of Protest, New Yorker comment)

A dangerous idea

Monday, September 19th, 2011

Non-Violence by Mark Kurlanksky is an excellent, opinionated history of a dangerous idea. Non-violence is not pacifism, it is active opposition to oppression. The book shows it’s both inspiring and depressing to see how the idea has been tried through-out history, but knocked back by every war. But ‘the advocates of peace and non-violence come back stronger and more numerous each time.’ As the brave people of Syria continue to resist, it’s a reminder that other countries can help non-violently with ‘investment/arms ban, isolating, and cyber-attack’ before using force.

It is odd that we can accept the need for courage to do battle with an enemy, but not the courage to stand bare-breasted before an enemy’s guns A C Grayling review

Anything is possible

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

This is the beautiful Burmese name for Aung San Suu Kyi who is giving the 2011 Reith Lectures (listen here); recordings smuggled out of Burma. Her wisdom, determination and sense of humour come through in these talks. When asked how she lives with the likelihood of being shot, she says ‘that’s always a possibility, but on the other hand there’s always the possibility that you might be knocked down by a bus…’ The programme includes an audience discussion of ways to approach Burma; engagement and targeted sanctions seem to be the favoured options.

My very top priority is for people to understand that they have the power to change things themselves.Time article

Brilliant film-making

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

The world didn’t end yesterday as predicted, but one thing is for sure, we’ll all die one day.  Of Gods and Men is a powerful movie about facing death and questioning one’s purpose. This story of monks  caught in the Algerian civil war has 2 stunning scenes: the monks facing down the guns of extremists armed only with their convictions about peace; and a meal where they agree to face death together.  Peter Bradshaw says this scene  ‘is an overwhelming fusion of portraiture and drama, and perhaps one of the most sensational things I have seen on the big screen’ (read review). I agree, it’s a riveting moment of film-making. (I’m biased – the monks were beekeepers).

 

Peace

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

Peace is not the product of terror or fear.

Peace is not the silence of cemeteries.

Peace is not the silent revolt of violent repression.

Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all.

Peace is dynamism.

Peace is generosity.

Bishop Oscar Romero (1917–1980)

Happy Days

Saturday, April 9th, 2011

All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast – John Gunther

I’m on holiday.

Photo: me at Akaroa, age 2?

Dawn Breaks

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

A link to an excellent reflection by Penelope Todd.

People Power

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

I admire the courage of the people power movements in Egypt and Tunisia in facing their military rulers. As Tolstoy said,

For us to struggle (the forces being so unequal) must appear insane. They have millions of money and millions of obedient soldiers. We have only one thing, but that is the most powerful thing in the world: Truth.’

The ‘truth’ here refers to peace and non-violent protest. Non-violent action has been successful in bringing political change. It even worked briefly against Hitler when much of the population of Denmark resisted the Nazi occupiers. Danish workers organised large-scale strikes and succeeded in slowing the supply of war materials to the German army.

People power has blossomed over the past fifty years. In the 1970s the military rulers of Argentina were confronted by a group of mothers who’d lost children in the ‘dirty war’. Their protest drew the attention of the world and the government fell. And don’t forget the massive strike by Solidarity workers in 1980 leading to  democracy in Poland; and tens of thousands of civilians who deposed a dictator the Philippines; the wonderfully named ‘Singing Revolution’ (1987–1990) restored independence in the Baltic States; peaceful protests in Chile in 1988 helped to remove Pinochet; and 100 000 people gathered in Wenceslas Sq to end communist rule in Czechoslovakia in 1989. There’s been social change too, such as civil rights movements in the US and South Africa.

But any confrontations between civilians and the military state are a ‘slippery zone’. So to quote our Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, I hope that Egyptians continue to ‘express their views non-violently’; and ‘the authorities exercise restraint’.