Wednesday, January 30, 2013


I believe in peace.  If I didn't, I wouldn't have moved my family over here to work at a center that was built to promote peace and bridge divides.  For no monetary compensation.  To be fair, if they would have had to pay me to come over here and work, they probably would have done more research and realized that growing up in farmland Ohio, in a middle class home I actually know very little about the peace process aside from my parents telling me that I had to apologize for ripping the flesh off my brother's face when he did something to piss me off, like change the television station without asking. (I was an angry teenager, weren't you?)

I am a passive pacifist.   I basically made that phrase up, but it means that I despise war and think it is terrible, don't agree with any form of killing or debilitating other nations, but I do absolutely nothing about it.  Well, I do watch made-for-Hollywood movies about massive violent genocides and then go into a depressive state for days afterwards, but I wouldn't call that "active" pacifism.

I also struggle with pacifism in my mind.  I grew up with a good life - no doubt, a life made possible by the wars that proceeded me, and by the giant missiles and guns that make my country so powerful and scary to other countries.  My life was peaceful because my country was rich (even with an enormous debt).  I always had so much to eat.  I was told about those poor children in Africa who were starving because of war, but they were a distant movie playing in the background.

So I struggle with this.  I want genocide and civil wars to end, and I want us to end them, but I want my country to stop going into all of these places with their guns.  I want to live a good life of freedom and luxury, but I don't want people (including our members of military) to lose their lives for it.  How can I claim to be a staunch pacifist when I find myself admiring the people who are willing to go to those wars and free those people - by whatever means necessary?  How can I sit in my warm comfy house, in my cozy pajamas that cost me next-to-nothing to buy, eating the food that runs plentiful from my fridge, typing on my laptop (probably made by a person poorer than me) and talk about plans to end wars, disengage bombs and put down the guns?

I can't.

So if you want to turn this off now, I don't blame you.

But here's one idea I've had from my safe and cozy bed which doesn't have bombs wizzing overhead or the fear of a knock on my door at night.  To be honest, it's probably a lame idea by a girl that doesn't know any better.  But hear me out.

People usually begin fighting because they are oppressed.  They are oppressed because someone is oppressing them.  They are angry, hurt, and really ticked off.

What if we started before the wars began?  What if we helped the oppressed when they couldn't help themselves?  What is our country's leaders, or the UN leaders, or you and me...what if we did something before the machetes and guns came out?

This is easy for me to write about because at this stage I don't have to do anything except for move my fingers over the keyboard.  It scares me to act.  It scares me to take initiative.

But more than that it scares me that I'm going to move home in July and forget this feeling.  I will start in to my 9-5 job (that doesn't yet exist) and will get caught up in raising my kids, cooking dinner, and decorating my house.

But this is a reminder to myself that it doesn't have to be big.  It can be so-so-small.  The oppressed are everywhere, and my definition of oppression can be of my own making.  I don't have to travel to Syria or Northern Ireland to find someone to help that needs it.

I can start small.  It can be simple.

Because sometimes a simple thing can end a war that hasn't yet started. 


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Governments around the world, the international civil service (UN, OSCE, and others), talk about conflict prevention, "do" conflict prevention, have specialists that research it, and yet, I only know of one example where state/ethnic conflict conflict was successfully prevented (there might be more out there, not saying it's just one). In reality though, there is just an intention, or a realisation that yes, this would be a good idea: why wait for all this to happen and then rebuild if we can prevent it? Truth is, there are many, many constraints to it, blaming is not really justified. For example, economic interests. Wars means arms trade, and arms trade=money. This is why Russia doesn't give up on the Syrian government. This is why everyone, including the US and and the EU continued to sell tons and tons of guns to Sri Lanka, although the government was ethnically cleansing the Tamil population, and everyone knew it. They made a ton of money, which means more jobs and economic security for their own population (more accountability and more power). If only a small fraction of the population could veto war, just like one person can veto saving people's lives. I may be a realist and highly pessimistic here, I blame it on studying all of this. All you learn is how destructive we are. How little we can do. How small the impact we're making is. And this is true, as long as there will be power, greed, and guns. Among all of this though, there is the hope in humanity, which keeps us going. Most likely we will not change the world, but that is not necessarily what matters. What matters is that we tried. The outcome is not always what's important, the process could mean much more. In Bosnia, a woman stopped me in the street looking a bit mad, and at first I was scared. She wanted to talk to me because I was a foreigner, to tell me what she's been through. She was very poor, but they did not ask for any money, she just wanted to be heard, to tell me about it,and that was it. As my friend translated the last phrase I was in tears. She said to go back home and tell people what has happened to her so that it wouldn't happen in my country as well. And I promised, and here I am, still telling her story.
Regarding the fact that oppressors are everywhere, before I go on again about systems and challenges, you should look up Johan Galtung, who wrote a lot on the topic (structural violence, positive/negative peace). If you haven't already and you're interested/have the time.