Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Opposing War is not the same as Making Peace

Reflections on President Obama's Speech on the Afghan War

Soon after listening to the President's speech, and even before, I found messages in my email from organizations objecting to his decision to send more troops into Afghanistan. I, too, am deeply saddened by this turn of events. I, too, had hoped that somehow our new President would find a way out of the fighting and bring our troops home from both Iraq and Afghanistan. However, I have come to the conclusion that objecting to war is not the same thing as building for peace. I consider myself a pacifist, but I do not feel called to object to the war or even to the increased deployment of troops. I have a vision of a more nuanced and perhaps more difficult approach. I am still opposed to war, and I am deeply grieved for those who will go or return to the arena of war. With all that in mind, I have come to the belief that as a pacifist, my job is to build for peace, to consistently prepare in a steady and methodical way for peace, and to lay the groundwork and foundation at every turn. As an individual, I can be non-violent, but as a member of society and a citizen of a country I believe that my job as a pacifist is different. Over the last forty years, I have known many friends who preferred to distance themselves from any identification with America in times of war. I can understand the sentiment, but I have come to value a different approach. I believe that as true pacifists, we have a more difficult, challenging and productive role to play. To attempt to alienate oneself is the game and illusion of the individualist; peace is a participatory process. It is not simply the absence of war and is certainly not the absence of conflict. Peace is found within our essential response to conflict. As pacifists, we cannot force others into our point of view or understanding of the world. Our job is more difficult. We must work to humanize the view of our enemies, increase the understanding of the politics and policies involved, prepare the way for more opportunities for peaceful resolutions in the future and to never give in to discouragement or cynicism. And perhaps more importantly, we must give up our self-centered desire to believe that we as individuals or even our generation is somehow entitled to be the one to see an end to war. Millions of people across the world must be prepared for peace, understand the processes of peace, and be willing to interact accordingly for that to happen. All we can do, and the very best we can do, is to fulfill our role, carry our small bucket to the flames and trust that though we may not see the benefits, we have done our part. Even when we act without intent, we build what we cannot see, we trod paths to a future we will not know. Instead can we build with intent, making the way for more opportunities in the future for peaceful solutions to increasingly complex problems?

Though the work is universal, we must understand, know, and reflect that the work of the pacifist is a continual act of patriotism. One small act for peace is to claim the label of patriot for those who diligently work for peace alongside those who, with great integrity and character, believe that war is necessary. Instead of blocking their way, can we help them find a new foothold toward peaceful resolutions in difficult times? I am cognizant that it is easier for me to take this approach because we have a President in whom I have confidence. It would be much more difficult if I viewed his decision as one made without regard for the realities of the situation. But because of the character of this President, it is easier for me to believe that productive work towards peace by American citizens will not be in vain. I believe he is someone who will take advantage of any foothold we can help provide to move in that new direction and bring us closer to a world that knows how to engage in finding solutions without armed conflict.

At this point, I have no desire to hear about signing petitions, taking to the streets or other like activities on the issue of war. I have done them all before, now I am ready to try something different and though this writing is paused for today, the work to determine specifics will continue.