October 17th, 2004

Real Solutions

Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is easier to lead men to combat, stirring up their passion, than to restrain them and direct them toward the patient labors of peace. -Andre Gide

Peace and friendship with all mankind is our wisest policy, and I wish we may be permitted to pursue it. -Thomas Jefferson

Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is dynamism. peace is generosity. It is a right and it is a duty. -Oscar Romero

As part of my art business, I have started selling note cards at the shows I am doing. I decided that I wanted to put together some "Christmas" type cards with some interesting quotes on them. As I was searching for mostly either religiously universal or encompassing or religiously neutral things that seemed to work well with images, I did a search for "peace" quotes. These were a few of those I found which, while not at all something that would sell Christmas cards in this insanely charged political climate, have been haunting me for several days now.

I keep hearing from Bush supporters who claim that their reason that they are pro-Bush is that we have a responsibility to the rest of the world as its most successful nation to "step in" in matters of importance.

I have done some reading of Noam Chomsky in not too distant memory, and what he has to say is really fairly disturbing. For those of you who do not know who he is, he is a world famous linguist who is responsible for a great deal of our current understanding of linguistics. He is also perhaps one of the greatest thinkers alive today. His fame as a linguist has allowed him a life of internationality that most of us are not afforded. He has traveled the richest and the poorest parts of our world today and read newspapers in many languages and many places for many years.

In all of the years of his adult life he has been writing, as a sideline made possible by his career as a linguist, books about political structures and international perceptions of the US. He has testified in war criminal trials in other countries and is considered to be one of the most important men of our time.

He is a small and mousy man. He appears to hate public speaking and the limelight, swallows his words, stumbles through his notes and in every possible way indicates with his body language that speaking to people is the last thing on earth that he wants to be doing. And yet he has been traveling and talking in front of people to attempt to educate them in a couple of hours about the vast gulf that exists between what we, in this country, hear and believe, and the perceptions and thoughts of the rest of the world at large. For those of you who want to write him off as a conspiracy theorist, he is not. He has carefully analyzed how we slid to where we are today on mostly our own good intentions and failing to understand the consequences of our actions.

He has written about the major policy failures of the last several presidents and the terrifying connection between human rights atrocities world wide and American military aide. In nearly every case of horrifying human rights atrocities, that has been the price that we paid for whatever government we showed favor in exchange for their UN votes and more power for us. The problem is that we aren’t the ones paying that price. We are so far removed from that price that most of us aren’t really even aware of the atrocities and certainly not of the connection between those atrocities and our military aide. Our leaders, of both parties, are consistently sliding things under the radar because we as a people are not paying attention. Many of them even believe they are doing the right thing, or at least the necessary thing, but they are wrong and we aren't paying attention.

I offer all of this as background to where my head has been lately. I have been stewing on the issue of our responsibility to other nations. And I believe that we do have a responsibility. I absolutely agree with the Bush supporters who have been saying we have a duty to step in. But I think that most of them are failing to understand their own choice of words on a conscious level. Step-in. Think about that for a moment. Stepping in doesn't mean watching from a distance, dropping leaflets from planes, or even sending ground troops. Those are all our Band-Aid "solutions" that in no way really address our need to step in. I think that our responsibility will not even remotely be met by our selection of a president, and we are utterly failing at that responsibility.

Our responsibility is simple. Its concept exists in nearly every major religion in the world.

Love thy neighbor as thyself.

I think the meaning of that is lost on Americans. We are so busy arguing about the inane details of ad homonym attacks against people, so mired down in minutiae about things several levels removed from our most essential needs, so lost in litigation and our own self involvement that We. Are. Not. Getting. It.

The point that some Arabs are trying to make in their deadly game of playground tantrums, despite their complete failure as far as methods go, is that we are utterly failing our responsibility to the world. Their point, if not their methods, is a legitimate one. We as a culture have looked for a way to say “oh, they’re bananas” or “oh, that’s unfair” or “they’re just extremists” to discredit their frustration instead of trying to put ourselves in their shoes or really understand their issues.

But if you pay just a little bit of attention to our own political systems and history, it is often the people who are bananas and extremists who paved the way for all of our basic human rights as we see them today. The bananas and extremists are the ones who muster the force of will to fight or peacefully protest, often to their own death, for things the rest of us feel desperation about but fail to act on because our personal price is too high. In our country the bananas and extremists have the ability to gather on the steps of our government and express their pain in relatively peaceful ways. We do not even notice when Arabs gather on the steps of our embassies. We do not allow them access to our country or our media so that they can express their pain about our misuse of power. All we leave them with to get our attention is violence. And even small violence won't do it.

Their point? We have been bank rolling their torturers, preventing the settlement of their disagreements, writing blank checks from the couch for all those starving children so that we can feel better about ourselves, and then not even remotely paying attention to what is done with that money. We persist in killing their families and justifying those casualties for our causes, selling them weapons to make it easier to kill each other and ultimately us, interfering with their religions, buying the continuation to their wars to aid our voting status within the united nations, while at the same time we have been the vote in the united nations that consistently causes laws about human rights atrocities to be voted down, because it would get in the way of big daddy America and our “military aide”. If you do not comprehend where I get this assessment, try reading a middle eastern paper that isn’t from the Israeli government. Put aside your “BUT THAT ISN’T HOW WE MEANT IT!” for long enough to read through highlights for several months, and you will find that we have paved this road to hell with all of our “good” intentions.

These people have every reason to hate us. You know why? It’s not because we did all those things as deliberate cruelty, because you and I both know we didn’t. Its not just because that’s how they see it, either.

It is because we are fat and lazy and complacent and couldn’t care less about the rest of the world, their problems and pain. Those people and their lives are meaningless to us, novelty to be consumed on the nightly news, not something that makes us cry for them. Sally Struthers appears before us and we send off the price for a cup of coffee so that we can sleep peacefully and night and tell ourselves that we’ve done all that we could.

We are lying to ourselves. We see it in the faces of the starving children, in the weeping pain of the mothers of dead sons. And we have become so selfish and jaded in our personal lives that while we cry at telephone commercials, we feel nothing for these people because we do not relate to them at all and do not choose to know them personally so that we could understand them. We, each of us, you and I are sitting at home letting that be the government’s problem, and we don’t genuinely care how they handle it so long as it isn’t too much of a burden to any one of us personally. We genuinely don’t care to show them that we are trying to help them. All we care about is returning to our state of ignorant complacency and relative safety as quickly as possible.

We elect officials based on all of the hundreds of years of male ruled, war based systems, and we write them a blank check and turn a blind eye. We think that we can’t fix it all and we leave it to our “leaders” to take care of. They do with it what leadership has done for thousands of years. They use it for their own ends and justify it to themselves and to us as us “doing the right thing”, “creating peace in the world”, “thwarting oppression”, "liberating", "fighting for freedom" and a million other blanket labels that when you boil them down, amount to “we killed people, or helped people kill people or funded people killing people out of self righteous “justice” and political power jockeying."

Until we can take responsibility for that fact, we are going to continue to struggle as a nation, and people are going to continue blowing up our building and sending poison through our mail systems, because it is the only way the people paying the price for our sins have even the remotest chance of getting our attention about it.

With just a little bit of thinking outside our self-righteous box, some things occurred to me in the car on Saturday. I have trouble imagining that this is actually a new idea, but maybe we’ve all bought the rhetoric, hook, line and sinker, and we genuinely are failing even to see alternatives. But, here goes.

What if, we as a nation, stopped starving people (sanctions), and killing them (fighting an impossible war on terror), and preventing their resolutions of disagreements with arms and help to every single under-dog the region has put forward. What if we did the impossibly radical and cut our own military and military “aide” funding in half?

What if we told half of those soldiers that they’d been exceptional helpers for our cause, but that we were shifting our cause now, and that they had the option to sign on or get out now? And then what if we took all that money and all those people, and we committed them to living in areas torn with frustration and hatred and religious conflict. I mean really living in them. Making these people part of those communities. Making them the neighbor down the street, who in exchange for food and housing and training and structure and uniforms, would go out every day and help 5 people they meet in the street. Help them find the store they are looking for. Help them get to a hospital. Help them know that they need medical attention. Help them begin to learn to read. Help them bury their dead children. Help them understand their government and their choices.

Missionaries have been showing us the way for at least a couple of centuries, now. You live with these people. You give them a face to associate with America that is a face of kindness, a face of caring. You offer a different perspective with your help. You give them an America who shows them how to start grassroots causes, teach them to build structures that withstand earthquakes, establish health standards and education standards.

Show them the America who so values human rights that we collected in a mob in Boston 200+ years ago and threw rocks, because it was all we had, at the red coats who were the “big daddy boss” we fought so hard to get out from under, instead of being their red coat army. Show them the America that is about one person doing all that they can to genuinely help through education and kindness. Give them one person they know and trust and cherish. Just one person in their neighborhood who helps carry their groceries, and transports those in pain back home for free would do what billions and billions in military aide packages, and billions and billions more in military funding, all the pamphlets and pop-tart drops can never do.

We are lying to ourselves when we say that what these people need is just food, clothing and freedom. Food, clothing and freedom are some of the physical manifestations of their real need. That need is for those of us with the power to genuinely show them as individuals that we care. That need is to know that we are willing to get our individual hand dirty to help them rather than enjoying ourselves and turning laughter, or worse, indifference toward their pain. That we do not consider them beneath our aide. That we are willing to relate to them one on one and try to fathom their struggles and pain. We tell ourselves that we’ve done what we could, because we dropped foods on people of a religion we care so little about respecting, that we didn’t bother to think about the fact that we were insulting many of them with our choices of food. And we dropped it in the middle of a mine field in between strafing runs wherein we killed their husbands, wives, mothers and children.

So lets take half that military funding. Let’s vastly expand the red cross and the peace corps, and the corps of engineers into a government agency just as powerful as our military is today. Let’s set up rank structures, programs, branches with different focuses. Let’s devote academies too it, offer college credits and pay tuitions for participating. Let’s market it to all those people as the way to show your patriotism, demonstrate your manhood, and display your honor. Let’s run proud commercials that these people do more kindness before 9am than most people do all day. Let’s decorate them with medals, devote cemeteries in honor of their service to our country and our world. Let's give them half or more of our military bases.

Let’s send them thank yous from our school children and our most talented entertainers to rally their spirits. Let’s create programs to help them find jobs using the skills we teach them in management and running charities and founding educational systems and such.

And I can tell you how we staff it in such a way that we meet both our needs at home and their needs abroad. It is a voluntary service like the military is today. People who cannot afford college or want to learn a trade that it teaches, or just those who need to get our of where they are and into a structured environment that will make them more capable people should be encouraged to join with all the benefits now afforded military enrollments. One of those benefits afforded military enrollees is that they sign a contract in exchange for government housing, aide, food, medical care, clothing and training. And, lets solve our country’s struggle with the welfare and long term disability systems at home.

Let’s stop writing blank checks at home and abroad, and get people who need the government’s help to work off the aide that we provide. Have them sign a five year contract to join our international help force. We will train them, feed them, house them, clothe them and provide for their needs. We will give them structure and assistance transitioning their new skills back into our society at the end of five years if they choose not to re-enroll.

This takes care of how to tell the people who deserve welfare from those who are milking the system. We stop the free handouts without any price and use these folks for the price they can afford to pay. Even the long term disabled and war veterans can help our country and our world. They can teach people how to build buildings to withstand earthquakes even if their backs will not allow them to build them anymore. They can help the limbless casualties learn to cope with the frustrations of their new lives because they have been there. They can be trained to teach farming and basic first aide skills to people. They can be made CPR instructors. They can teach classes and talk to people in need. They can hold the dying children in their arms and really listen to the pain in their parents' hearts.

We take medical recommendations for exceptions for people who are too insane or too debilitated to help because they require constant supervision, are completely paralyzed or in a coma. The rest we offer two choices. They can get the help they need for themselves and housing and education for their families in exchange for providing aide either through help services or the military depending on their preference and abilities, or they can find a way to make it on their own without the government assistance.

Those people will come back with marketable skills. They will also come back with humility and respect for just how much we really do have in this country simply by virtue of having clothing choices, indoor plumbing, buildings that don’t kill us in earth quakes and on and on and on. They will come back knowing that they are in fact of use to our country. They are valuable and they can provide things this country needs, rather than destroying themselves in their own self doubt after the physical tragedies that have limited them or the difficult situations they were born into.

They will come back proud to be Americans and we will be proud to give them medals for exceptional service and have them march in our parades. We will have a force of people who we do not have to constantly struggle with the distinction between supporting our men and women and hating the destruction and failures of the larger cause.

And they will come back to us trained as teachers and counselors and nurses and EMTs and aide workers and managers and community leaders.

We have had thousands of years to prove to ourselves over and over again that our current methods are failures. Isn’t it time that we seriously made some DRASTIC changes to our methods? We gain the respect and love of people everywhere. We give them a face and a hand from which they see real assistance. We give them the knowledge that while we fuck it up sometimes, we as a people really do care intensely, respect their struggles, and are willing to see them as equals in need of help instead of people beneath us to be ignored.

If the communities respect us, one person at a time, they will help us keep their extremists in check. They will help thwart the efforts to harm those who have reached out with understanding and kindness. They will return the love and respect that we show them, five fold.

And we will teach our own people their value to us even in their difficult times and our belief that they have something of value to give the world. We will give them a place to be when no place helps them. We will empower them to help others as we are helping them and thus encourage a culture of kindness and support. We will no longer be forced to worry that everyone hates us and thus we must buy their UN support with the lives of their citizens and ours. We will no longer have to fear UN retribution for the complete mishandling of our “aide.” We will provide those people who do not want to be part of or do not believe in violence, an option which allows them to voluntarily serve their country and serve our cause of respect world wide.

Just imagine for a minute what we as a culture could do in service to ourselves and our world with just a change in tactics and caring. In the face of that image, can you honestly say that you are doing all you can? Can you say that your election decision should be justified based on who will further our current approach most effectively? Can you really believe that we are doing the right thing for the right reasons? Can you really justify this mode of “stepping in”?