April 17, 2007

Peace movements past and present

The pacifist movement is a distinctly modern phenomena. Before the American Revolution gave birth to the modern age of democracy versus hierarchy, only religious leaders had the freedom to express their opposition to the military adventurism of local political leadership. Sadly, more often than not the local religious leader was in full agreement with the local political leadership, granting spiritual legitimacy to violence done for little or no reason both locally and half a world away. The only pre-modern evidences of a pacifist movement are a handful of plays written in Ancient Greece (such as Lysistrata or The Trojan Women) and the occasional odd parchment from here and there.

Ghandi is often credited with giving birth to modern concepts of non-violent confrontation and a pacifist resolve to changing the world without resorting to armed struggle. Although Ghandi deserves enormous credit for bringing pacifism into the mainstream, he was not even close to being the first modern pacifist. Listing up and attempting to describe the nearly infinite number of pacifist movements of the past century would take far more work than I'm willing to do, not to mention the widespread popularity of pacifism among both European and American neighborhood parlor clubs in the 19th Century. Almost from the day the French Revolution followed up the earlier American success, democracy has given rise to grass roots peacemakers and peaceseekers every time their elected governments have chosen to go to war.

I would, however, like to highlight one of the more unusual pacifist movements of the 20th Century: Henry Ford's Peace Ship.

There are thousands of webpages dedicated to Henry Ford's failed attempt to bring World War One to an early close. Some are kind, some are cruel, and it is a bit ironic that even now, almost a century later, no one seems quite certain just what to make of this quirky attempt by an eccentric billionaire to bring peace to a war-torn world. A quick Google search reveals some of the depth of material available. I know I only have half a dozen regular readers, if that, but please, do take the time to read up on Henry Ford's voyage.

From the moment I first learned of the Peace Ship, I regretted having been born half a century too late to participate. All my life I have tried to be a peacemaker. Tolerance is the one theme I stress over and over again in this blog, and my youthful efforts to help the unfortunate kept me even more penniless than the people I was struggling to help. I cannot count the number of homeless men and women I have fed, sheltered for a night or two, directed to the local Salvation Army, bought new clothes at Goodwill for, and in one instance, given the coat off my back.

I spent the latter half of 1980 living two blocks from an intersection in Denver frequented by half a dozen prostitutes. Once they learned I was not interested in purchasing their trade but I was sympathetic to their problems, they were at my door pounding away all hours of the day and night asking for help. I drove them to hospitals when their "customers" were too rough, fed them when they spent their night's earnings on drugs or lost everything to an opportunistic pimp or mugger, and one night saved the life of one when she was stabbed.

In raising my two sons the one iron-clad, unchanging rule I have always enforced is "no hitting". They can yell at each other all they like and I will try to mediate, but never intervene. When blows start landing, I bring everything to a screeching halt and force them into their rooms until tempers cool and they're ready to talk it out. Kids being kids, by the time they'd settled down they'd usually forgotten what it was they were fighting about to begin with, so the "talk it out" portion almost never materialized. Nowadays they are 18 and 19, and I haven't had to step between them in years.

Not that I'm a peacenik! Far from it! Although I did not approve of the invasion of Iraq, I fully supported the invasion of Afghanistan. I have always contended that America did not need to invade Iraq at all. Rather, they needed to spend that money and utilize those resources to rebuild Afghanistan in the same way we helped rebuild Europe and Japan following World War Two. We should have focused our energy on Afghanistan until the job was done. WoMD or no WoMD, resources are always finite and prioritization is a must. There was no need to invade Iraq, and as everyone can see, the result has been disastrous.

Our world is beset with conflicts large and small. Not a day goes by when one conflict ends only to have two more spring up. There are more people affected by armed conflict in today's world than there were at the peak of fighting in World War Two. I don't know if this massive global inferno is the real-world impact of George W. Bush's "war on terror", or merely the fiery "cool down" as the last convulsions of the Cold War work themselves out. I do know that the global trade in small arms is fueling this conflagration, and I also know that the real causes of these many conflicts are far more closely related to the ultimate control of our rapidly vanishing resources than they are to the political aspirations of the participants.

Farmers, fishers, students and teachers are dying in the crossfire as multiple groups fight to the death to determine who gets to profit from the local mineral wealth, regardless of whether it is oil, uranium, gold, diamonds, or ordinary tin and copper. The people who need the mineral wealth are dying while their more violent cousins waste the local resources on guns and bullets. Something needs to change, and change quickly, or the only people left will be the militias and terrorists sitting on stockpiles of inedible minerals while the rest of us slowly starve to death in refugee camps.