Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Decolonize Lutheranism -- A Northern California Installment

NICE . . . !  But have you got something in Jello???

Pastor Jeff Johnson was telling people about #decololonizelutheranism ("hashtag decolonize Lutheranism") on Sunday at University Lutheran Chapel in Berkeley.

I got a kick out of it for three reasons:

(1) It's exactly what I've been thinking about -- at a low level since moving to Berkeley from Chicago in recent months, as I've tried to get my bearings, and with growing intensity in the past few weeks since hearing Mark Braverman from Kairos USA speak in Santa Cruz. (See KAIROS: The Moment You've Been Waiting For?)

(2) Pastor Jeff put it in terms of what we're going to be doing over the coming months at the Chapel. (Some churches use the rubric "ordinary time" for these months between Sunday and Advent; we call it "movement time.")

(3) I got to see my Chicago friends like Kwame Pitts and Francisco Herrera in the #decololonizelutheranism video Pastor Jeff shared as part of his sermon. :-)

To be sitting in Berkeley and seeing in front of my eyes the spreading of this idea that started in Texas and was nurtured in Philadelphia and got agitated in Chicago felt like a real Pentecost moment.

Looking forward to seeing how this develops in the weeks ahead . . . !

Related posts

The exhibition at the Chapel invites you to look into the eyes of the people affected by the war, and enter into their stories. There are dozens of examples I could share with you.

(See Syria: Do you dare make a human connection?)

I adapted the text of Exodus 4, about the way an "unexpected leader" -- Moses -- was encouraged to act, to tell the story in terms of the way leaders came forward against slavery in the US . . . .

(See Salvation History: "Follow the Drinking Gourd")

Perhaps what makes a book good for a discussion group is that it combines startling candor, brevity, and the courage to leap again and again into the middle of mysterious questions.

(See Finding Accidental Saints in Berkeley)

Friday, May 27, 2016

Obama's (and Putin's) Missed Opportunity at Hiroshima

At Hiroshima, Barack Obama missed the connection between the number of WW II deaths, 60 million, and the killing power of a single nuclear exchange today.

Barack Obama's Hiroshima speech was a missed opportunity.
(Please retweet this message.)

Obama's Hiroshima speech was well crafted and seemed to hit all the right notes. But it said, essentially, "war and violence is a bad thing." It was as if he was trying to dilute the importance of the nuclear threat by mixing it in with human suffering since the dawn of time. By talking broadly about peace and the need for a moral awakening, Obama sidestepped the urgency that exists for him to act.

Speaking of World War II, Obama said, "In the span of a few years, some 60 million people would die." Yes, that was a time of horror --take a minute to let the number 60 million sink in.  (If you've got a strong stomach, read Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder.)

But, if anything this should have alerted Obama to point to the difference between then and now.

Then, massive violence was being carried out by large states taking advantage of the fragility of smaller states. Today, that pattern continues in many ways, but the scale is just not the same.

The August 6 and 9, 1945, atomic bombings were, more than anything else, an announcement by the United States, principally for the benefit of the USSR, that the way of doing violence was going to be different in the future.

Today, we may not be seeing kinetic (currently unleashed) violence on anything like the scale that consumed Europe and other parts of the world and resulted in 60 million deaths. Instead, thanks to technology, we have potential (waiting to be unleashed) violence -- nuclear devastation just the push of a button away.

Obama knows it. Putin knows it. The arsenals of the US and Russia are far and away the greatest threat to all of us. I fault both of them for missing the opportunity at Hiroshima. You should, too.

I've spelled out this logic in this post: OBAMA: First stop, Hiroshima; second stop, Moscow. Here's what Obama's speech at Hiroshima should have been about:

Putin and Obama: #talk

If they won't act, we must.

Related posts

That's right . . .  just take a map of your local metropolis, spread it out on the floor, and put the whole family to work learning the geometry of nuclear strike using high quality wood-crafted educational aids.

(See Obscene Geometry: The Hard Facts about Death and Injury from Nuclear Weapons )

Perhaps most startling of all, the area affected by 3rd degree burns would extend far beyond the city limits to encompass towns as far north as Waukegan, as far west as St. Charles, and as far south as Crete, and as far east as Gary, IN.

(See What Would a Nuclear Weapon Do to Chicago? (Go ahead, guess . . . ) )

Do we have a way to immerse ourselves in the experience of what the use of those nuclear weapons would really mean -- prospectively -- so that we can truly cause ourselves to confront our own inaction?

(See Stop engaging in risky behavior )

There are three centers of power that will impact nuclear disarmament: the President, the Congress, and the people. One of them will have to make nuclear disarmament happen.

(See Countdown to U.S. Nuclear Disarmament (With or Without the Politicians) )

The following is a transcript of President Obama’s speech in Hiroshima, Japan, as recorded by The New York Times:

Seventy-one years ago, on a bright cloudless morning, death fell from the sky and the world was changed. A flash of light and a wall of fire destroyed a city and demonstrated that mankind possessed the means to destroy itself.

Why do we come to this place, to Hiroshima? We come to ponder a terrible force unleashed in a not-so-distant past. We come to mourn the dead, including over 100,000 Japanese men, women and children, thousands of Koreans, a dozen Americans held prisoner.

Their souls speak to us. They ask us to look inward, to take stock of who we are and what we might become.

It is not the fact of war that sets Hiroshima apart. Artifacts tell us that violent conflict appeared with the very first man. Our early ancestors having learned to make blades from flint and spears from wood used these tools not just for hunting but against their own kind. On every continent, the history of civilization is filled with war, whether driven by scarcity of grain or hunger for gold, compelled by nationalist fervor or religious zeal. Empires have risen and fallen. Peoples have been subjugated and liberated. And at each juncture, innocents have suffered, a countless toll, their names forgotten by time.

The world war that reached its brutal end in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was fought among the wealthiest and most powerful of nations. Their civilizations had given the world great cities and magnificent art. Their thinkers had advanced ideas of justice and harmony and truth. And yet the war grew out of the same base instinct for domination or conquest that had caused conflicts among the simplest tribes, an old pattern amplified by new capabilities and without new constraints.

In the span of a few years, some 60 million people would die. Men, women, children, no different than us. Shot, beaten, marched, bombed, jailed, starved, gassed to death. There are many sites around the world that chronicle this war, memorials that tell stories of courage and heroism, graves and empty camps that echo of unspeakable depravity.

Yet in the image of a mushroom cloud that rose into these skies, we are most starkly reminded of humanity’s core contradiction. How the very spark that marks us as a species, our thoughts, our imagination, our language, our toolmaking, our ability to set ourselves apart from nature and bend it to our will — those very things also give us the capacity for unmatched destruction.

How often does material advancement or social innovation blind us to this truth? How easily we learn to justify violence in the name of some higher cause.

Every great religion promises a pathway to love and peace and righteousness, and yet no religion has been spared from believers who have claimed their faith as a license to kill.

Nations arise telling a story that binds people together in sacrifice and cooperation, allowing for remarkable feats. But those same stories have so often been used to oppress and dehumanize those who are different.

Science allows us to communicate across the seas and fly above the clouds, to cure disease and understand the cosmos, but those same discoveries can be turned into ever more efficient killing machines.

The wars of the modern age teach us this truth. Hiroshima teaches this truth. Technological progress without an equivalent progress in human institutions can doom us. The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution as well.

That is why we come to this place. We stand here in the middle of this city and force ourselves to imagine the moment the bomb fell. We force ourselves to feel the dread of children confused by what they see. We listen to a silent cry. We remember all the innocents killed across the arc of that terrible war and the wars that came before and the wars that would follow.

Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering. But we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again.

Some day, the voices of the hibakusha will no longer be with us to bear witness. But the memory of the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, must never fade. That memory allows us to fight complacency. It fuels our moral imagination. It allows us to change.

And since that fateful day, we have made choices that give us hope. The United States and Japan have forged not only an alliance but a friendship that has won far more for our people than we could ever claim through war. The nations of Europe built a union that replaced battlefields with bonds of commerce and democracy. Oppressed people and nations won liberation. An international community established institutions and treaties that work to avoid war and aspire to restrict and roll back and ultimately eliminate the existence of nuclear weapons.

Still, every act of aggression between nations, every act of terror and corruption and cruelty and oppression that we see around the world shows our work is never done. We may not be able to eliminate man’s capacity to do evil, so nations and the alliances that we form must possess the means to defend ourselves. But among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them.

We may not realize this goal in my lifetime, but persistent effort can roll back the possibility of catastrophe. We can chart a course that leads to the destruction of these stockpiles. We can stop the spread to new nations and secure deadly materials from fanatics.

And yet that is not enough. For we see around the world today how even the crudest rifles and barrel bombs can serve up violence on a terrible scale. We must change our mind-set about war itself. To prevent conflict through diplomacy and strive to end conflicts after they’ve begun. To see our growing interdependence as a cause for peaceful cooperation and not violent competition. To define our nations not by our capacity to destroy but by what we build. And perhaps, above all, we must reimagine our connection to one another as members of one human race.

For this, too, is what makes our species unique. We’re not bound by genetic code to repeat the mistakes of the past. We can learn. We can choose. We can tell our children a different story, one that describes a common humanity, one that makes war less likely and cruelty less easily accepted.

We see these stories in the hibakusha. The woman who forgave a pilot who flew the plane that dropped the atomic bomb because she recognized that what she really hated was war itself. The man who sought out families of Americans killed here because he believed their loss was equal to his own.

My own nation’s story began with simple words: All men are created equal and endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Realizing that ideal has never been easy, even within our own borders, even among our own citizens. But staying true to that story is worth the effort. It is an ideal to be strived for, an ideal that extends across continents and across oceans. The irreducible worth of every person, the insistence that every life is precious, the radical and necessary notion that we are part of a single human family — that is the story that we all must tell.

That is why we come to Hiroshima. So that we might think of people we love. The first smile from our children in the morning. The gentle touch from a spouse over the kitchen table. The comforting embrace of a parent. We can think of those things and know that those same precious moments took place here, 71 years ago.

Those who died, they are like us. Ordinary people understand this, I think. They do not want more war. They would rather that the wonders of science be focused on improving life and not eliminating it. When the choices made by nations, when the choices made by leaders, reflect this simple wisdom, then the lesson of Hiroshima is done.

The world was forever changed here, but today the children of this city will go through their day in peace. What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child. That is a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

#WednesdayWisdom: Ho Chi Minh's Spirit

"Hoping to accomplish great things?
Then your spirit will need to be greater still!"
- Ho Chi Minh
(Please retweet this message!)

Every Wednesday, I think about the wise activists who inspire and inform me, and share some of their wisdom via Twitter using the #WednesdayWisdom hashtag. Today I'm thinking about Ho Chi Minh.

By the time I was old enough to be aware of current affairs in the late '60s, the media already seemed to have caught on to the fact that the US was wrong in Vietnam, that the US was certainly not succeeding, and that Ho knew something we didn't.

For me, Ho stands for the proposition that the US fundamentally misunderstood what was going on in Vietnam -- namely, a movement of national liberation.

Barack Obama was in Vietnam this week, and at the state dinner in his honor, Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang quoted Ho Chi Minh: "Bear the cold winter, and we shall be welcomed by spring." (See "Vietnamese leader quotes Ho Chi Minh in toast to U.S.")

I discovered the source of the quote in a poem by Ho:

Advice to Oneself
(trans. Mark Chmiel)

Without the cold and desolation of winter
There could not be the warmth and splendor of spring.
Calamity has tempered and hardened me,
And turned my mind to steel.

Ho wrote many poems, including a collection written while a prisoner of the British in Hong Kong. His poems are in Chinese, and you can read them online.

Here's one I have translated:

Ho Chi Minh, Prison Diary
(Chinese original)
無題 (I)

Vô đề (I)
Thân thể tại ngục trung,
Tinh thần tại ngục ngoại.
Dục thành đại sự nghiệp,
Tinh thần cánh yếu đại.

(English - my translation)
My body is in prison,
but my spirit lies without.
Hoping to accomplish great things?
Then your spirit will need to be greater still!

(Source: Thi Vien website)

'Nuf said . . . .

Related posts

The memorial designed by Maya Lin did something that hadn't occurred to anyone before: separate the grief for dead soldiers from the valorizing of war.

(See Maya Lin: Separating Grief from Glory)

When we encounter the human experience of immigrants, we can begin to feel empathy. The answer to the question of "what's the right thing to do" suddenly becomes obvious.

(See Wanna Fix the U.S.A? Welcome an Immigrant Today! )

It has required years and years of reflection to sort out the good and bad aspects and conclude that the diplomatic and commercial opening of China was part of a massive move away from conflict and toward peace.

(See THE EYES AND EARS OF HISTORY: A Perspective on the Iran Deal)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Pacific Fisheries' Futile Conflict: How about sharing?

In much of the 20th century, conflict and war centered on oil resources and the Middle East. Will the 21st century see conflict and war center on fisheries, particularly in the Pacific?

The UN International Day for Peace 2016 has been tied to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Life Below Water is goal #14. With Barack Obama visiting Asia, and the G7 meeting in Japan, it's a good time to see how Life Below Water ties to issues of war and peace.

I was intrigued by an op-ed by outgoing Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou in the Wall Street Journal.  It was a closely argued piece on the appropriate way to observe (and adjudicate) economic rights in the Pacific. (See "Taiwan's Stake in the Western Pacific") This was Ma's swan song -- it appeared on the eve of his retirement from the presidency, and the (historic) swearing in of the Taiwan's new (woman) president.

I know that these ocean rights are important. But really? Why ask people to consider a point-by-point analysis of the respective merits of Taiping Island and Okinotori Reef claims by Taiwan, the Philippines, and Japan?

I've lived in Taiwan. I knew there were a lot of fish in Taiwan.
I just never stopped to think about where the fish came from.
It made me stop and think: Ma felt this was the most important topic to talk about as he walked out the door. In effect, Ma was saying: Hey! Pay attention to these fishing rights! They will be the most important thing of all to us in the years to come!

(N.B.: not "the Mainland"!)

Consider: "Oceans serve as the world’s largest source of protein, with more than 3 billion people depending on the oceans as their primary source of protein." (See Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources) Won't that percentage grow steadily as more and more people turn away from beef, pork, and other land-based and farmed sources of animal protein?

So this is causing me to think differently about a topic I've written about before: the growing tensions in the South China Sea. In a previous post, I emphasized oil and gas rights there, and wrote: "[A]ren't the assets that lie under the South China Sea precisely the kind of oil and gas properties that are rapidly becoming valueless in light of the carbon bubble?  Given that the oil companies already have five times as many reserves as they can ever put to use without breaking the planet, aren't those South China Sea hydrocarbons destined to stay beneath the sea where they belong?" (See SOUTH CHINA SEA FACE OFF: Does this make ANY sense?)

Now I'm waking up.

"It's the fish, stupid." 

It's not just a question of one country or another being entitled. It's a question of how we are going to share this . . . and how we're going to make sure we don't mess it up.

Red indicates extreme over-fishing. (Source: Trashpatch.org interactive map)

A good place to start is to examine UNCLOS -- the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It "defines the rights and responsibilities of nations with respect to their use of the world's oceans, establishing guidelines for businesses, the environment, and the management of marine natural resources."  It is the authority that nations are referring to in dealing with the current conflicts in the South China Sea, for instance.

The US has refused to ratify UNCLOS and so stands outside of it. Perhaps it's time for the world to tell the US that to come to the table and participate in the conversation about the future of life below water as an equal partner with the other nations of the world. And to leave their warships at home.

Related posts

It will benefit us antiwar activists in the US to attend to and reflect upon the importance of these Sustainable Development Goals to achieving the goal of ending war.

(See PEACE DAY 2016: What comes first? Demilitarization? or Development?)

What people in Asia (and others) have seen for the past century is that something is happening in the Pacific, and it's being driven in part by advances in naval (and, subsequently, aviation and electronics) technology, and in part by powerful nations (principally, but not limited to, the U.S.) proximate to the area.

(See The Imperialized Pacific: What We Need to Understand)

As I read the Chinese language paper every day, it is clear to me that -- in the absence of sustained civic discourse on the security issues in the Pacific region -- our future is being shaped by military posturing.

(See SOUTH CHINA SEA FACE OFF: Does this make ANY sense?)

My hope and belief is that a Berkeley forum on peace and prosperity in the Pacific would reveal a shared interest in de-escalating the South China Sea confrontation, and dramatically increase awareness of shared Pacific prospects for well-being.

(See 21st c. Berkeley: More Relevant Than Ever to Antiwar Movement)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

21st c. Berkeley: More Relevant Than Ever to Antiwar Movement

As a "peace" enclave within California's concentrated military/defense economy, Berkeley and the East Bay have a role to play in the discussion about China.

BERKELEY: Looking west -- the bay, San Francisco . . . and beyond.

As I set out to understand California's entanglement in the military-industrial complex, I started where I live: Berkeley.

Reading a letter to the editor from our representative in Congress, Barbara Lee, a few days ago reminded me that the 13th district is kind of unusual: "As the National Defense Authorization Act comes up for a vote, I will once again co-lead a bipartisan amendment to audit the Pentagon." (Read more on Barbara Lee's position on the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF).)

Yup, this is different than the town I just came from. Chicago's star corporate citizen is mega military contractor Boeing.

Of course, Berkeley was ground zero for the antiwar movement during the '60s. But what's its relevance today?

A bridge to China

As a long-time student of China and the Chinese language, I am enchanted to find myself in a city whose university attracts lots of the very smartest students from China and other parts of Asia. (See "Berkeley - International Student Enrollment - Fall 2015") Many other Berkeley students who are US citizens claim Asian ethnicity. (See "Berkeley - Enrollment Data")

If California, and especially the Bay Area, is the historic link between the US and China, Berkeley is a particularly vital US-China hub right now.

We all say things like "youth are our future" . . . . What would happen if we encouraged a serious discussion between the diverse people in the Berkeley community (and from other communities) about the future of peace and security in the Pacific region?

Does this make ANY sense?
The discussion we need to have

I wrote recently about the growing tensions in the South China Sea.

As I read the Chinese language paper every day, it is clear to me that -- in the absence of sustained civic discourse on the security issues in the Pacific region -- our future is being shaped by military posturing.

I think a good way to re-direct the conversation would be to get a large number of young people who know and care about the situation in the region to get together and talk. It should include people from the various countries and territories concerned. It should be directed at the future we're all trying to build together. It should place a strong premium on listening. It should be open-ended.

Some possible starting points

The good thing about a university town is that it has many of the ingredients necessary to conduct forums.

Now this I understand . . . !
(Image: Android Authority)
Here are a few available in Berkeley that might assist the type of discussion I am suggesting:

* Student associations, including Chinese Students Association, Taiwanese American Student Association,
Hong Kong Student Association, . . . .

* University departments, including International Relations and  Institute of East Asian Studies

* Citizen groups, including United Nations Association - East Bay

* Relevant University affiliates, such as Office of International Relations and International House - UC Berkeley

My hope and belief is that a Berkeley forum on peace and prosperity in the Pacific would reveal a shared interest in de-escalating the South China Sea confrontation, and dramatically increase awareness of shared Pacific prospects for well-being.

Related Posts

In four hundred and thirty-five Congressional districts, there is an inseparable relationship between campaign funding for Congressional races and the military contractors. How do we push back?

(See IT'S A LOCK: Why the US Can't Break Its Addiction to War)

What people in Asia (and others) have seen for the past century is that something is happening in the Pacific, and it's being driven in part by advances in naval (and, subsequently, aviation and electronics) technology, and in part by powerful nations (principally, but not limited to, the U.S.) proximate to the area.

(See The Imperialized Pacific: What We Need to Understand)

"Although we know the end from the very beginning," says Walker, "the story is no less compelling to watch." A man, gloriously alone (except for his own reflection) on an ice-covered lake; the soothing pastel colors of the distant sky; and what seems surely to be a circle he is digging around himself with a pick-axe. A perfect parable for our headlong rush toward climate crisis?

(See How Do You Say "Suicide Narcissus" in Chinese?)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Should US People Learn from Venezuela on Refugees?

Venezuela's policies and economics are under stress. It has everything to do with oil prices. And government spending. Oh, and also refugees . . . .

Area of 2015 Colombia-Venezuela migrant crisis
(Source: Wikipedia)
An editorial in The New York Times -- "Venezuela’s Downward Spiral" -- caught my eye yesterday. The piece was tsk-tsking "years of catastrophically bad rule" in that country.

As I read it, I thought to myself, "Yes but . . . . "  Wasn't there something about the issue of large numbers of migrants from Colombia to Venezuela? I seemed to have an impression that "the rest of the story" involved Venezuela embracing huge numbers of people in need.

I went back and found the story I remembered: Venezuela's welcome to migrants became news in the US last year, when Venezuela began some deportations - between several hundred and a few thousand people. The article I read mentioned 604,000 migrants from Colombia living in Venezuela. That seemed like a lot. And I think that fact lodged in my mind because the recent progress on the peace process in Colombia has reminded me of the decades of conflict there.

I think it's significant that the same social benefits provided to Venezuelans under Chavez' "Bolivarian Revolution" are reported to have been extended to the migrants from Colombia.

The magnitude of Venezuela's generosity is certainly significant. I plan to take some time to learn about this in more detail, but one source indicates the total migration from Colombia to Venezuela in the past 40 years is 5.6 million people.  In a country of 31 million, that's huge. More information on Venezuela's role as a net receiver of migrants can be found on the website of the International Organization for Migration.

If US people -- who live in one of the richest countries in the world, one that has a very, very, very problematic attitude to migration in its own region --  want to talk about Venezuela, they should at least bother to learn about and consider the broader context.

They might actually find cause to rethink their own behavior.

Related posts

Perhaps, like me, you will read a sentence like, "In 2001, many people came to her neighbourhood looking for a new home, fleeing from the Naya River where the paramilitaries had massacred and displaced the Afro-Colombian communities," and wonder what it refers to.

(See COLOMBIA: Where did the violence come from?)

Sergey Ponomarev won first prize in the 2016 World Press Photo awards: General News for this November 16, 2015 photo: "Refugees arrive by boat near the village of Skala on Lesbos, Greece."
(See Image to Action: Sergey Ponomarev on the Refugee Crisis)

It will take me multiple posts to spell out everything that I feel needs to be said about the Ayotzinapa 43.  People in the US need to work to change their own attitude about Mexico, and about the culpability or all of us here in the US in the wrongs that are being done down there. The Ayotzinapa 43 were persecuted for saying "the future can be different." It's time for us to take up their cry.

(See Ayotzinapa43: US People Need an Attitude Adjustment )

Sun Raid is a searing reminder that people in the US have always been happy to welcome immigrants to help make their businesses profitable and make sure they had cheap stuff and cheap labor . . . . but how dare they expect to be treated like people!

(See WELCOME MAT USA: Come in! Come in! (Get out! Get out!))

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Gender Equity and Peace: Let's ALL have a say in conflict resolution

What does gender have to do with war and peace? Old view: "men are from Mars, women are from Venus." New view: it's about equity.

The UN International Day for Peace 2016 has been tied to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Gender Equality is goal #5.

When I was a young adult, a popular book was Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: The Classic Guide to Understanding the Opposite Sex. It encouraged people to accept different styles of interaction it recognized in men and women. Since men were inherently "competitive, individualistic, not into 'caring and sharing,' wanting to be admired for their ability to hang tough and deliver the goods yet unwilling to communicate the fact they need admiration" and women inherently "craving respect from their men, looking for emotional bells and whistles and not so much material status symbols as their men might suppose, prone to cycles of emotional fatigue and dependent on their mates to cherish them" (so the theory went, as summarized by one Amazon reviewer), the way for everyone to get along best is to accept the world as it is and try a little harder to speak each other's language.

This view of two starkly different "sexes" ends up reinforcing a common view about war and peace: it's the guys who are responsible for war -- they can't help themselves, it's biological -- and it's the women who make good peace activists -- because, you know, they're more peaceful.

Boys fight wars, girls heal. (Right?)
(Florence Nightingale -- Natl Lib of Medicine image)
I confess to reaching, myself, for the convenient and comforting idea that women are civilization's great, reliable backstop against the looming destruction of human society via wars cooked up by men. According to this rather magical line of thinking, women's biology provides a kind of guaranteed reservoir of peace elixir, which will surely prevail once unleashed.

But gender is a social construct . . . .

In large part due to the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the movement for LGBTQ justice, I have begun to understand the ways in which categories like race and gender are social constructs, i.e. they function principally to bestow or deny power.

I've come to understand that gender cannot be understood just on the basis of body morphology or biochemistry. A big part of gender -- and a part that is of enormous consequence for conflict and cooperation -- is socially constructed. How we treat each other when we're together has overwhelming importance to this thing called gender.

Walt Whitman, Civil War nurse
Just as focusing on skin pigmentation makes us miss the point that "race" exists to enable some people to claim and maintain privilege, so focusing on estrogen or testosterone makes us miss the point that "gender" exists to enable some people to dominate the conversation and dictate the course of action.

Surprising findings on gender equity

About 18 months ago, I read some startling findings about women and men working together.

Some researchers wanted to know what predictors could be found for teams that were successful at achieving results. To their surprise, they found that the predictors that you might expect -- particularly expertise, past experience, even hard work -- were not the ones that correlated closely with success. Here's what did:

* Successful teams consisted of members who were capable of reading each other's verbal and non-verbal clues, in order to better listen to them.

* The members of successful teams each spoke about an equal amount of the time.

* On average, successful teams had more women.

(See the description of the findings, originally published in Science, in "Why Some Teams Are Smarter Than Others" by Anita Woolley, Thomas W. Mallone and Christopher F. Chabris)

Hey, it's science!
What I found really exciting is the potential to take these findings and follow them up in our own environments. We're all on committees and teams right? We all attend meetings. So go into a meeting and watch what happens. Who gets to speak? Does one person (or a few people) dominate? Are people listening to each other? Have people heard each other, or do they talk over each other?

And what I discovered when I started to pay attention to how these factors operate in my own environment was that there tended to be a very "gendered" environment in a lot of group settings -- a few people (mostly men) doing all the talking, and the rest (mostly women) unable to get a word in edgewise. I also noticed that the gendered nature of the gatherings would tend to snowball -- once people realized there wouldn't be an equal chance for everyone to be heard, they stopped trying to listen to each other and became anxious to simply get a chance to speak.

I noticed a couple of other things. For one thing, I noticed that the more a given meeting fit this pattern, the more likely people were to leave the meeting and behave as if it had never happened. People would just go their own ways, and do whatever it was they were originally planning to do.

I also noticed that if a small effort was made -- "Hey, let's hear from some of the people who haven't had a chance to speak yet" -- it was actually possible to move the proceedings toward equitable participation. And those tended to be the meetings that had noticeable follow-through.

So when we say conflict resolution and peace may have something to do with gender, maybe what we're really saying is that something different happens when people listen to each other . . . when everyone gets an equal chance to speak . . . and when people who are most likely to be denied a place at the table actually get to participate.

Gender Equity, the SDGs, and Peace

Having a say:
Pray the Devil Back to Hell
I have my doubts about whether every single one of the SDGs is of equal importance in bringing us to a world without war.

(I frankly wonder whether eliminating war isn't a precondition for some of them.)

But there is no question in my mind that gender equity is foundational to moving us closer and closer to a world where conflict is addressed through cooperation and compromise, and not through domination and violence.

In fact, in some ways "gender equity" as I understand it -- "everybody gets about an equal chance to be heard" -- may very well be synonymous with "conflict resolution."

Related posts

It will benefit us antiwar activists in the US to attend to and reflect upon the importance of these Sustainable Development Goals to achieving the goal of ending war.

(See PEACE DAY 2016: What comes first? Demilitarization? or Development?)

In a composition suggestive of a yin-yang symbol, a woman in a burka (but wearing audacious red glitter platform heels) is surrounded by genie-ish tableaus of the many male obsessions/pastimes that some of us rail about frequently -- sexualized pop singers, professional sports -- as well as some that we probably should rail about more (such as patriarchy in religion and political violence).

(See VIOLENCE: " . . . and the women must live with the consequences . . . " )

Women Without Men is a recent movie by the artist Shirin Neshat, based on the novel by Shahrnush Parsipur.. The first time I saw it, at the end I walked straight to the ticket window and bought another ticket and walked right back in and watched it again. The film contains haunting scene after haunting scene, and it makes it clear that Iran is a place where people are able to ask questions about patriarchy and about what it is going to take to overcome it.

(See Women Without Men as a US-Iran Cultural Bridge)

Monday, May 16, 2016

Confronting Permawar: 5 Lessons from Captain Smith

Captain Nathan Michael Smith -- US Army photo

US Army Capt. Nathan Michael Smith has sued the commander-in-chief, President Obama, for ordering war in violation of the US Constitution. Therein lie 5 lessons.

(1) What we've got: permawar
"Permawar" (who benefits?)

The US is making war in so many places, and so continuously, that it not longer makes sense to speak of this war or that war; it is a state of permanent war -- "permawar."

George W. Bush's "Mission Accomplished" stunt only serves to underline the fact that it's never mission accomplished -- the US rolls from conflict to conflict to conflict -- Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq . . . .

The next war is always just around the corner (e.g. Iran) or being carried out by a proxy (e.g. in Palestine).

Many people seem to have forgotten this is not the way it's supposed to be. But Capt. Smith hasn't. (He remembers the Constitution he's sworn to to uphold.)

(2) Why we've got it: Congress is asleep

One explanation for the
Congressional coma . . .
People can disagree over Congress' performance in general, but there can be no disagreement that Congress has failed to do it's job with respect to war. Under Article I, Section 8, of the US Constitution, the Congress shall have Power...:
* [Clause 10] To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;

* [Clause 11] To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

* [Clause 12] To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

* [Clause 13] To provide and maintain a Navy;

* [Clause 14] To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

* [Clause 15] To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

* [Clause 16] To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

(3) PS: WE're asleep!

Tell Congress: say NO to war!
And before we ordinary citizens get all huffy, we need to remember: Congress works for us!

Ask yourself:

* do you know the details of Congress' war powers under the US Constitution?

* when was the last time you told your congressman in detail how you wanted her/him to represent you in war deliberations?

* which advocacy group(s) do you work with on issues of war and peace?

(4) It's not hopeless

On Syria, It's Time for Congress
to Remember Who They Represent
It's important to remember that there is a very recent example of the People telling Congress, and then Congress telling the President, that the US should not go to war.

In summer/fall 2013, President Obama was on the verge of going to war in Syria. Congress debated the issue and the US public resoundingly told their members of Congress they opposed war.

The US finds all kinds of ways to contribute to war and violence in places like Syria. But there's no question that US citizens and the US Congress can slow it and stop it when they try.

(5) It will take courage

I am (I will become) Bradley Manning
I can't imagine the courage that Capt. Nathan Michael Smith has mustered to challenge his commander-in-chief.

However, I've noticed we're seeing more and more people come forward to put the truth and justice above their own personal convenience and comfort.

For those of us who lack the opportunity and/or courage to make such big contributions, we can still ask: what can I do to lift up and support the work of such citizen leaders?

Related posts

In four hundred and thirty-five Congressional districts, there is an inseparable relationship between campaign funding for Congressional races and the military contractors. How do we push back?

(See IT'S A LOCK: Why the US Can't Break Its Addiction to War)

Anyone who has had to write a speech knows that the hardest part is to land on the main idea. Once you've got that right, the rest practically writes itself.

(See "The way to respond to ISIS is not through violence." )

First Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) called the U.S. on the carpet for dodging the call from the international community to come clean about its drone killings. Then Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Walter Jones (R-NC) submitted a bill calling for drone transparency. So ... are we finally going to get the truth?

(See REAL Progressives Demand that the U.S. Come Clean on Drone Killings