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Articles from the Peace News log: Visionary thinking

Articles from the Peace News log.
For articles in this category from the whole site, look here

Obituary of a great voice.

ImageThere are a lot of things I could say about Harry Leslie Smith. He was a husband, a father, and the son of a coal miner. He was a writer, activist, and defender of the working classes. He was a vocal campaigner for the rights of refugees. He was a survivor of poverty, of the Great Depression and of the Second World War. He was a link to our history; a voice from the past bringing us a warning of where the future could go if we fail to act. After striving tirelessly to make the world a better place, he passed away from pneumonia, with his son John at his side, at 3.39am this morning (Ontario time).

Harry's life is a story of love, of loss, of poverty and of triumph. His books, Harry's Last Stand, and Don't Let My Past Be Your Future are powerful reminders of what life was like for the working classes and indigent poor of Britain before the creation of the NHS and the welfare state. I won't try to tell Harry's story – he does it powerfully enough himself – but I will tell you that his early story is a sad one, one none of us would wish to see repeated. The death of his sister Marion from spinal tuberculosis affected Harry deeply, especially as his parents could not afford the treatment to even keep her comfortable. She died in a workhouse infirmary, like thousands of other desperate people. The was no funeral, no headstone – as Harry said; 'My family, like the rest of our community, was just too poor to afford the accoutrements of mourning.' Marion's sad and needless death must be remembered by us all; our overloaded and underfunded NHS is being allowed to disintegrate, our welfare state continues to be dismantled, and avoidable deaths like Marion's are once again becoming a feature of the lives of Britain's poor.

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Rather than trying to mitigate against the numerous problems posed by cars why not try to get rid of them altogether?

ImageEvery one knows the environmental damage that cars cause, but the response is usually to make them greener and cleaner... but why not try to get rid of them altogether? Because that’s just not possible? Because we love our cars too much? Because we need them? This article hopes to explain why we’re in this mess, and to show that we can in fact park the car...for good.

Understanding Car Culture...

When the car was first invented it created huge excitement, but it also caused huge resentment and fear. One of the biggest myths surrounding the car is that everyone embraced it immediately. In fact, there was considerable opposition to what people rightly saw as a dangerous and dirty machine invading their space. But with the weight of big business and willing governments behind it, the car was slowly forced into our lives, whether we wanted it or not.

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Virginia Moffatt on the "p" word ...

Chris’ recent  stay in Wandsworth Prison has led to some interesting conversations lately. And that’s got me thinking about when I became a pacifist and why I still am one.

I’m not sure I can pinpoint an exact moment in my life when pacifism made sense to me. But I know the milestones. The first was reading the World War 1 poets – particularly Wilfred Owen - whose  lines in Dulce et Decorum Est still resonate  with me today: “My friend, you would not tell with such high zest/To children ardent for some desperate glory, /The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est/ Pro patria mori.”  (The old lie being, ”It is sweet and fitting to die for your country.”) Then there was the terror of growing up in an age where a nuclear war seemed a real possibility. I was an over-imaginative teenager, and spent many a night thinking planes overhead were Russian bombers. Finally, the Falklands War terrified me in a different way, as I realised many friends were turning 18, old enough to join up if the war escalated.

I never did much about it as a teenager. I vaguely thought war was wrong, but most of my reasoning was due to the pity induced by poetry and my own self-interest in imagining the effects of war on me.  Anything more than that was squashed my Dad’s stern warning that MI5 monitored CND protesters, and the sense that the War he’d fought in (World War 2) must have been OK because it got rid of Hitler didn’t it? I certainly never thought about it in the light of  my Christian faith, and at University proudly considered myself apolitical. (In fact, I was anything but, being involved in a variety of community groups, Amnesty International and the student newspaper, I just had a narrow view of politics at the time.)

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A paper submitted to the Movement for the Abolition of War

Zimbardo suggests that just as the trial of Nazi official Adolf Eichmann demonstrated the ‘banality of evil’, so a survey of known good actions demonstrated the ‘banality of heroism’. He suggests that most people seem to be capable of heroism, which includes a willingness to risk social sacrifices (in terms of ridicule or ostracism or harm to one’s career) as well as physical danger, and long-term, enduring, considered action as well as spontaneous responses to unforeseen events.

What people committed to the abolition of war need to do, as well as dismantling military policies and institutions, is to increase the capacity of people both inside and outside the military to stand up for their values even in the face of ridicule, disapproval, ostracism, and damage to one’s career. What many of us find most difficult is that taking a stand on serious matters can involve status and economic losses not only for ourselves, but for our families and loved ones.

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A paper submitted to the Movement for the Abolition of War

This violation of conscience may occur as much in the pacifist society as in the munitions factory or the research laboratory.

Having said this, different institutions and different social frameworks make different kinds of behaviour more or less likely. In professor Philip Zimbardo’s famous Stanford Prison Experiment, college students were randomly allocated the roles of guard or prisoner in a mock prison. Zimbardo wrote later: ‘We selected only those judged to be emotionally stable, physically healthy, mature, law-abiding citizens.’ The two-week experiment was terminated after six days and nights because of the escalating abuse of the prisoners, and the evidence of unbearable psychological distress. Zimbardo wrote in his book The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil (2007) that the Stanford Prison Experiment was ‘a powerful illustration of the potentially toxic impact of bad systems and bad situations in making good people behave in pathological ways that are contrary to their nature.’

An extremely important study into war was carried out by anthropologist Douglas P Fry, in his book Beyond War: The Human Potential For Peace (2007). Fry investigated the historical evidence for war, finding that though anatomically modern humans have existed for 200,000 years or so, the earliest possible evidence for war came only 14,000 years ago. (Evidence could consist of unambiguous fortifications, specialized weapons such as clubs and daggers not used in hunting, depictions of martial scenes in art work, substantial number of burials with projectile points either embedded in bones or lying within the frames of skeletons, massive fires followed by change in cultural artefacts, reduced number of male remains in cemeteries, suggesting significant male death elsewhere.)

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A paper submitted to the Movement for the Abolition of War

It turns out that it is quite hard to train soldiers to kill.

Former US army ranger, and later professor of military science at Arkansas State University, lieutenant colonel Dave Grossman has written two books dealing with the psychology of inflicting lethal violence: On Killing – The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society (1995); and (with Loren Christensen) On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace (2004).

Grossman started with a startling historical fact. US brigadier general SLA Marshall, a US Army historian during World War II, found through interviews with thousands of soldiers immediately after they had been in close combat with German or Japanese troops that, of every hundred men along the line of fire during a period of encounter, an average of only 15 to 20 soldiers “would take any part” with their weapon. The others would not fire at the enemy; they would not run or hide, and many would take great risks to rescue comrades, get ammunition, or to run messages.

Though Marshall’s work has come under sustained attack, Grossman found a wide range of other studies that confirmed this finding, pointing to something that he later termed ‘the universal human phobia’ against killing another person. (Grossman also found evidence that the phobia had declined over the decades among US soldiers, as the rate of solders shooting to kill increased to 90% during the Vietnam war; Grossman also believes that violent video games – which he calls ‘murder simulators’ – also erode the phobia against killing.)

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A paper submitted to the Movement for the Abolition of War

The argument of this paper is that for a long time we in the peace movement have been looking in the wrong places when we’ve been looking for the deepest roots of war. This has led to misdirection in creating strategies for abolishing war.

The common argument against the effort to get rid of war is that violence is innate in human nature, and that therefore there will always be war.

I would like to suggest that arguing against this position is the wrong move.

If we as abolitionists allow ourselves to be trapped arguing about violence-as-part-of-human-nature, it will be very difficult to move forward.

The first thing we need to do, I suggest, is separate ‘violence’ from ‘war’.

The most constructive way of responding to the argument that ‘violence is inherent in human nature’, I suggest, is to point out that: ‘War is not primarily about violence.’

Our starting point should be that, whether or not violence is inherent in human nature, war can and should be abolished. To put it in stronger terms, even if we are ‘inherently violent as a species’, that is not the reason wars happen, and it does not pose an obstacle to the abolition of war.

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Milan Rai reports from the WRI Triennial in India

On the second morning (the third day) of the Triennial, we had our first “reflectors” session. The reflectors were five people who had been chosen to give their reaction to the conference so far. There were four women (all English-speaking, one African, one Australasian, one European, one North American) and one man (Spanish-speaking, Latin American).

Incidentally, this reminds me of something Jai Sen said about the book he co-edited: World Social Forum: Challenging Empires. They set themselves a very difficult standard in terms of contributors: achieving balance between continents and genders. (For more about the book, and other valuable publications on the way: http://www.cacim.net)

Two of the women (I didn’t catch their names, but later found out one was Vanessa Boaz of the International Centre for Nonviolent Conflict) said that we had so far had a lot of “the problem”, but not a lot of “the solution”. One said that we had not lived up to the “nonviolent livelihoods” element of the conference. The other said we had not been sharing the many successes of small movements, no exchange of strategies and tactics. At the moment it felt like the problems were so big, there was no impossible to succeed by nonviolence.

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