The Emerging Pro-Peace Culture

It is Wednesday March 19, 2003 and I am sitting numb in front of the television screen and asking myself how this could be happening. How could a nation who boasts of being a righteous nation of justice be moving into Iraq with bombs? Since September 11th I have watched a fearful nation led by an administration hell bent on revenge go from victim to victimizer. This is what often happens when injustice occurs. You become the very thing that ravaged you.

Yet among the call for more firestorms and vengeance I have heard another voice calling strong from behind the lines of war. The voices of The People — not just people of The United States but the voices of the world, and they are calling for peace. We took to the streets in unprecedented numbers to express clear opposition of a pre-emptive strike against a country that has never attacked us. Massive letter writing campaigns were launched and emails and faxes stuffed the computers and offices of Congress. There were petitions and candle light vigils with people of all races, gender, age, political and religious backgrounds. Countries, states, cities and towns across the globe spoke out against war in Iraq. The support of The United Nations faltered as the evidence against Iraq didn’t seem to add up. World leaders and the People wanted more proof and the proof never seemed to come.

So I sit here numb in front of my television watching the bombs of fire rain down on Baghdad while the statistics of that nation ring in my ears: 50 percent of the population in Iraq are children. How many of them will become “collateral damage?” We marched, we wrote, we spoke up and asked the hard questions that never seemed to get answered. It seemed as though no one was listening. The coverage of the pro peace movement in the media seemed to take a back seat to the glory of war.

In the shadow of this sadness for yet another loss of trust and faith in the ones leading my country there is something else rising within the tidal wave of my confusion and grief. There is the clear undeniable fact that the world is changing. The People are trying to see through to a new way of dealing with conflict. The answers may be unclear right now but we must ask the questions. We must take the old ways of dealing with conflict to task. If we continue to ask the questions, answers will emerge. There is no quick fix to the complexity of the situation now. In the words of the Muslim prayer for peace: “If thine enemy inclines towards peace let thee incline towards peace as well.” I hope it will prove to be true that if the people lead the leaders will follow. People are tirelessly organizing and mobilizing this new peace movement and with the help of the Internet this global movement is more united than ever before.

Groups of both the Israeli army and the Palestinian army have declared on public television in an interview with Stone Phillips that they refuse to fight any longer. They are tired of the fighting. These brave souls are the beginning of a new possibility. If there are no warriors, who then will do the fighting?

Margaret Mead declared this truth: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” In our hearts and minds we know that war has never created peace. I keep wondering, if the end justifies the means then what, in the name of all that is good, justifies the end? The end for us will be a shift in news coverage, a sudden halt to the endless hours of war coverage, but in Iraq the end is nowhere in sight. Nothing justifies the massive terror and suffering that war leaves in its wake and it seems to be increasingly obvious that many other people are coming to this very conclusion. In old, outdated ways of thinking war was believed to quell a larger problem for a time, however the truth slowly emerges as time goes by. The nation never recovers, the fear left behind festers for that entire generation and the fear grows and spreads. Only war is the winner in the end. The tension between North and South Vietnam is still thick and a military presence has been constant since the embarrassing outcome of that war.

Korea, well they might be next on our long list of nations that need some strong-arming as the wounds of that occupation come back to haunt us now. What of World War II? If something wasn’t done about Hitler we would all be speaking German right now, right? The case was far more clear cut there and I cannot in good conscience compare this pre-emptive strike to the ghost of Hitler. However it is clear that our problems in the Middle East can be traced directly back to the political decisions made during the years following the second World War and are only coming back to haunt us now. The consequence of war haunts us for years and the true estimates of damage to human life, the environment and good political relationships can never be truly calculated.

What can be offered in place of war? We must repair the relationships that have been so badly damaged with years of this kind of politics. Should this country or any other go to war as a preventative measure against a suspected, possible future threat? There will be no end to violence once we slide down the slippery slope of using aggression to control other nations. Despite the fact that President Bush has made it clear that the American lifestyle is not negotiable, The People of America have made it known they think differently. Our involvement with the Middle East is largely due to our need for their natural resources. What if we start reducing our dependence on the natural resources that this administration believes are ours at any cost? We could start using more solar panels and less oil. We could start to reuse everything from scrap metal to paper. We could begin to market and buy the new hybrid vehicles in larger numbers and build our homes with sustainability in mind. We can raise our children to love and not to fear and hate. It seems a huge undertaking and from what I have seen that is how a culture evolves. Small, cumulative, consistent changes in lifestyle do add up.

A shift in core beliefs is slowly emerging and once it hits the level of critical mass no institution will be able to hold it back. Over the past year, as the Peace Movement has grown, I have stood among thousands and thousands of people who could be deemed as strangers to me. They are people who I may otherwise never have come into contact with and I have learned so much from them. I have marched with Grannies for Peace, The Women in Black, Veterans for Peace and Muslims for Peace. I have had great company from teenagers that amazed me with their understanding of this situation, to my heart being blown wide open at the sight of a group of 8-year-old girls standing silently holding candles in the night. I have met people who are my neighbors that I knew nothing about. They drive SUV’s and live in big fancy houses and I have never felt inclined to think I would have a thing in common with them. It turns out they are compassionate, deep-thinking people who see into the future as I do. The package may appear different, yet they are much like me even in their differences. I have had fulfilling discussions with business people, mothers, artists and 50-year-old Republicans. As a devoted member of the Green Party I never thought it possible that I would have such a heartfelt exchange with a 50-year-old Republican.

People are looking into the past at what we do know about the outcome of war and looking forward to the future with a vision of global disarmament. Once considered impossible, this idea is now taking hold. If we begin to look at a foreign country as a place filled with our fellow human beings rather than snarling evil-doers, our hearts and minds begin to open. As I stood in front of the Natick Army Labs with one hundred other people, someone drove by with a sign that said “Nuke Iraq” and he yelled, “Support our troops!” How could I support our troops any more than by begging for the war to never begin? The hatred of our country so prevalent in the Middle East will only grow now that we have dropped yet another arsenal of bombs upon their precious land, a land no less precious to them than ours is to us. After we have killed more of their sons and daughters, more grandmothers and uncles how can we talk of peace? How can we ever ask them to view our people and our buildings as precious to us?

Yes, we were struck on September 11th as we have never been struck before. But the people who did this are not in Iraq. They could be anywhere. They belong to no country and if we bomb one country in the Middle East for the evil brought upon us, we may well find ourselves bombing the entire region to try to make that day go away. It wasn’t a country that bombed us. It was the culmination of years and years of pain and suffering, of cultural misunderstanding, of short-sighted, poor decision making that gave rise to terrorism. The boasting of our power with phrases such as “shock and awe, the likes of which has never been seen before,” only inflamed this situation. To this, former Democratic Congressman Bob Edgar of Pennsylvania replied, “I believe if you really want to show shock and awe you should show love and justice. That would shock the world.”

We need to keep searching for a new way, a way that will emerge if we keep asking the hard questions and searching through the quagmire of half-truths blended with the old reflexes of fear and aggression. I, for one, am not discouraged. I am looking forward to what we can become, even against all odds. The human spirit on fire is the most powerful tool on Earth and it can be harnessed to change the tide of hate, fear, ignorance and greed. I have felt it and been in its midst and little else feels better to me than that kind of power. We are living in some very exciting times and I look forward to the challenge of what author Paul Ray calls the task of the “cultural creative” — the ones who live with the intention of great respect and concern for our entire ecosystem, the web of life that connects us to all living things. We are stewards of this sacred trust and I am here to be a part of this movement of cultural change. I know I am not alone.

Mare Tomaski is a massage therapist, KMI practitioner and cultural creative with a private practice in Framingham, MA.