Category Archives: World Peace

Cutting the endless chatter

This has been quite a week, starting with the magnificent display of a solar eclipse that was seen across much of the country. Even those of us who were unable to see the show in the sky, it was breathtaking to view it on the various screen that surround us these days.

solar eclipse

Solar Eclipse Aug. 2017

Unfortunately the week spiraled downward from there. Our President decided to send more troops to Afghanistan to pursue an endless war that has been unwinnable for sixteen years and will continue to be unwinnable for the foreseeable future. As the President said in answer to a question about why his strategy would win when so many others have failed, his reply was couched in terms of how many terrorists would be killed. But that has never worked and is unlikely to work now.

Eleanor Roosevelt once wrote, “I cannot believe that war is the best solution. No one won the last war, and no one will win the next war”. The world has had a chance to see the truth of that statement over and over again during the last half century, most recently in the Middle East. Israelis and Palestinians have been struggling and fighting ever since the creation of Israel and no one has won. Many people have lost—lost their lives, their families, their freedoms—but there are no winners. There are no winners in Syria or Central Africa. Wars keep exploding and then sputtering out in temporary truces and ceasefires, but no one ever wins.

And things kept getting worse. The same American hatemongers who brought violence and death to Charlottesville started planning demonstrations in other cities for the coming weekend. A huge storm swooped down on the Texas coast and under cover of the attention being paid to that, the President announced that he was pardoning a convicted violator of our constitution, Joe Arpaio, who had not even been sentenced yet. Mr. Trump also announced, for no apparent reason, that he doesn’t want any transgender people allowed to join the armed forces. Hatred and fear is being spewed out by our leaders with the result that our society becomes more toxic and unlivable every day.

I won’t be posting here again until after Labor Day. I think I’ll spend some time watching the ocean and trying to disconnect from the news and the poisonous atmosphere of some of our commentary. I’ll concentrate on the sounds of the sea and the seagulls crying over the eroding beach.

ocean beachBreak, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.
Alfred Lord Tennyson
 

2 Comments

Filed under Current Affairs, World Peace

Too much idealism for Angela Merkel?

 

These Strangers, in a foreign World,
Protection asked of me—
Befriend them, lest Yourself in Heaven
Be found a Refugee—. Emily Dickinson

Two or three years ago the German Chancellor Angela Merkel was one of the most popular European leaders of the 21st century. She appeared unbeatable as her party swept to an angela-merkeloverwhelming victory in 2013. Her success seemed an anomaly in the male-dominated German politics of recent years. Journalists wondered how a plain-spoken middle aged woman whose nickname was “Mutti” (Mommy) could wield such power amid the turbulent struggles of the European Union in difficult economic times.

Merkel grew up in East Germany when it was a Communist country. Although a bright student, she was not a natural leader. In university she studied science and became a physicist and did not engage in public life. It wasn’t until the fall of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany that she was drawn to political life, and few people would have predicted that she would become a leader. But, improbable or not, this quiet woman made her way past the bombastic male leaders of the party and eventually emerged as the leader.

But then came the refugee crisis. When thousands of Syrian refugees tried to make their way to safety in Europe, Merkel announced that Germany would accept them. She called on other European countries to do the same. Some were welcomed, and many Germans angela_germanymigrantappeared at first to be willing to make sacrifices to find housing and food for refugees. Then the inevitable bitter violence broke out. Demonstrators were soon calling for an end to refugees and a retreat to a “Germany for the Germans” mentality. Merkel’s CDU party suffered severe electoral losses. Undoubtedly the influx of refugees caused some voters to turn to severe anti-immigrant policies.

But the verdict is still out on what Angela Merkel will do—whether she will stand for Chancellor again or not. She seems to be sticking to her guns and insisting that the decision to accept refugees is the only morally defensible policy. Many idealists and religious people would agree with her. The refugees are still fleeing unbearable conditions in many countries. Despite a backlash; despite the fears; it was a proud day for Angela Merkel when she decided that Germany would be a moral leader in that path.  Let’s hope that by working with other countries, and international organizations, she will be able to make it work. The quiet woman from Germany has been a strong leader—a strong “Mutti” insisting that the world should honor its deepest ideals. Good luck to her!  refugees-are-human-beings-oki

3 Comments

Filed under Women in the news, World Peace

Blessed are the peacemakers

Perhaps the week that the Republican candidates held their final debate of the year was not the best week to reread Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, but quite by accident that is what I did for my reading group. Vonnegut’s book was beloved by young people during the 1960s when the

dresden-bombing

Dresden view from City Hall after bombing in 1945

Vietnam War made pacifists of so many of us. In 1945, during World War II, Vonnegut, a young American soldier, was a prisoner of war in Dresden and was a witness to the destruction of the city by British and American bombers. The carpet bombing of Dresden killed about 25,000 people and destroyed one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. As Vonnegut’s protagonist Billy Pilgrim would say in the most famous phrase of the book “So it goes!”

Seventy years have passed since then, but the destruction of cities and the indiscriminate killing of people continues. As the Republican candidates made clear on Tuesday night, they believe the answer to the unease felt by many Americans now is to send bombers over to the Middle East to bomb and bomb and bomb until the unease passes—if it ever does. Ted Cruz even talked about “carpet bombing” although he didn’t make clear just which cities would be carpet bombed or how many thousands of people would be slaughtered before he and his supporters would feel safe.

The fear and hatred exhibited in the debate were in sharp contrast to the calm patience with which President Obama is going about the job of

Obama_Kerry

President Obama and John Kerry

defeating extremists and establishing peace in the Middle East. That, of course, is the real solution to most of the terrorist threats in this country. It takes a strong leader to ignore the chattering of politicians and to stay focused on the important work of government in preserving peace and freedom. As Rudyard Kipling wrote in this poem (more familiar to our grandparents than to most of us) being a leader calls for good sense, patience, and courage:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise…

So during this holiday season let’s wish good cheer to President Obama for all of his patient, well-considered work on defeating terror and maintaining peace, and to Secretary of State John Kerry whose diplomacy will keep America strong and safe without shedding the blood of innocent civilians.

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

3 Comments

Filed under World Peace

Travelling the world but seeing very little

How difficult it seems to be for Europeans and Americans to visit Africa without being unwanted outsiders. And how easy it is to see why that Africans would feel that way. During the nineteenth century, Europeans visited Africa as explorers and were astonished by what they saw. Mary Kingsley, an intrepid Englishwoman, was one of the first women who traveled extensively in Africa. She started out in the 1890s and wrote popular books about what she observed in a

Mary Kingsley in Africa

Mary Kingsley in Africa

continent that few Europeans had ever visited. Most of the people she had known in England assumed it was strange, uncivilized and riddled with irrational traditions and superstition. Kingsley recognized better than many explorers and missionaries that African culture, which seemed so strange to Europeans,  had developed because it worked for the local people. She understood, for example, why many Africans clung to polygamy.  She pointed out that polygamy made sense because “it is totally impossible for one woman to do the whole work of a house — look after the children, prepare and cook the food, prepare the rubber, carry the same to the markets, fetch the daily supply of water from the stream, cultivate the plantation, &c, &c.” (Travels in West Africa, 211).

Kingsley was sympathetic, but she always viewed Africans from the outside, more as a curiosity to be observed than as people to be known. We can excuse her for being so provincial in her point of view, but surely in the more than a century since her books were published, we have learned better. Unfortunately many modern travellers act very much as Kingsley did. A modern tourist descending from a cruise ship or a tour bus will often stare at African women pounding grain while carrying a baby tied to their body with a cloth sling. Most tourists snap picture after picture to post on their Facebook page. But watching tourists snap pictures of people working and going about their ordinary lives is a chilling experience. Should people ever be reduced to objects of curiosity? Haven’t we moved beyond that in the many years we have been traveling around the globe and intermingling with other cultures?

European colonists moved to Africa in large numbers during the 19th century, especially the more temperate areas of Southern Africa such as Rhodesia and South Africa. There grew acclimated to the climate and learned to love the continent. Surely the barriers between the races should have broken down over all that time. Yet recently reading a book written more than 100 years after Kingsley’s Travels in West Africa, I was struck by how little some things had changed in relations between the races.  Alexandra Fuller’s memoir,  Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood,  is a fascinating account of growing up in a white family in Rhodesia as it achieved freedom and became Zimbabwe during the turbulent years of the late 20th century. I was surprised when I came upon this passage:

And this is how I am almost fourteen years old before I am formally invited into the home of a black African to share food. This is not the same as coming uninvited into Africans’ homes, which I have done many times. As a much younger child, I would often eat with my exasperated nannies at the compound (permanently hungry and always demanding), and I had sometimes gone into the labourers’ huts with my mother if she was attending someone too sick to come to the house for treatment. (pp. 235-236)

Surely after having spent almost all of her life among black Africans, it is surprising to realize the distance between this girl

Zimbabwean women with a new well.

Zimbabwean women with a new well.

and the people who lived around her. Naturally a child takes on the attitudes and habits of her parents and mirrors the ways in which they interact with others, but it is sad to see how vast the gulf between black and white Africans even those who have lived as neighbors for years and sometimes generations. Western colonists in all countries seem to have lived in their own small, narrow world side-by-side with, but never truly integrated into the lives around them. And the saddest part of all is that we are still doing it.

Western diplomats, tourists, aid workers and troops travel around the world living sometimes for years in the midst of societies they seldom understand or value. Life in a gated and fortified community can seem much like life in an American suburb, completely remote from the “locals” who we are trying to influence.  Americans are famous for not bothering to learn the language of the countries in which they spend time, even long periods of time. Sarah Chayes in her recent book Thieves of State tells us how a lack of knowledge and an unwillingness to listen to local citizens in Afghanistan has led to mistakes and problems that might have been avoided.

How long will it take for us to learn that a global world requires listening and interacting, not just traveling and imposing our ideas wherever we go?

3 Comments

Filed under World Peace

“Scars upon my heart” Women and War

Poppies at War MemorialIt seems that America will celebrate Veteran’s Day this year by sending more troops to Iraq, thus continuing the endless cycle of war and regret. Every year we celebrate the service given by our veterans but we have never reached the point where we stop creating veterans who have to serve yet again.  Back in the long-ago twentieth century, it seemed that every man was a veteran—fathers, uncles, cousins—there was a brotherhood of veterans (some women too, but very few in those faraway days). Each of them celebrated their own war, which at last was going to end all wars. But they never did.

Now there is a small band of men and women who are sent back again and again to fight the same war—two, three or even more tours of service on the bleak sands of Iraq. Only a small percentage of the population suffer the losses of war; only a few families welcome back veterans who are suffering in body and mind. Have we forgotten how terrible it is to live with the scars of war for years and decades?

The quotation “Scars on my heart” is from a poem written by Vera Brittain for her brother in 1916. Ironically the poem was written four days before her brother was killed in action on June 15, 1918, almost a century ago

Your battle-wounds are scars upon my heart,

Received when in that grand and tragic ‘show’

You played your part

Two years ago.

Widows of the Civil War

Widows of the Civil War

Women’s role in wars has often been to suffer as war widows or bereaved mothers. After the American Civil War, women lined up to receive the pensions their husbands had won for them by being killed in battle. After every war the scars are left not only on the bodies of the men who fought, but on the minds and hearts of the women who live with their suffering or with their deaths. And yet it seems we cannot stop.

Every year we create more veterans, not only Americans, but the people around the world who fight against us. Thousands of women in Iraq and Afghanistan have been widowed and bereaved by the loss of sons and brothers. Their scars will never heal.

Afghan war widow

Afghan war widow

War solves nothing, as Eleanor Roosevelt once wrote. And yet on Election Day we heedlessly vote for people who have told us they want to send more troops overseas. They want America to be strong, which often means being ready to fight at any time. Creating more veterans, more hatred, and more suffering will never build a better world. It’s about time we demanded that our leaders think more and fight less. They can make peace work if they stop listening to bullies and start paying attention to what most Americans really want for themselves and their families.

1 Comment

Filed under World Peace

No one wins at war

Eleanor Roosevelt once wrote, “I cannot believe that war is the best solution. No one won the last war, and no one will win the next war”. The world has had a chance to see the truth of that statement over and over again during the last half century, most recently in the Middle East. Israelis and Palestinians have been struggling and fighting ever since the creation of Israel and no one has won.Eleanor_Roosevelt Many people have lost—lost their lives, their families, their freedoms—but there are no winners. There are no winners in Syria or Central Africa. Wars keep exploding and then sputtering out in temporary truces and ceasefires, but no one ever wins.

The same is true in all the wars against abstractions that America keeps declaring—the War on Cancer, the War on Drugs, the War on Poverty—some have produced some limited good, but not one has ever been won. None will ever be won.

There is something wrong in the way we call for war every time we see something we don’t like. The only wars won these days are the fantasy wars on TV and movie screens where unreal villains are vanquished by unbelievable supernatural heroes. And only children believe in those.

The truth is, as the Friends’ Committee on National Legislation keeps telling us War Is Not the Answer.

It is not war that solves the world’s problems; it is hard work. That means the hard work of negotiating even with people we don’t approve of; the hard work of rejecting the schemes of arms manufacturers and refusing to send weapons to combatants; the hard work of education so young people will learn the value of compromise and conciliation; the hard work of listening to all the members of the UN no matter how unwelcome their comments.

War tries to exclude people—to push aside and overcome anyone and anything we don’t like, but life is lived by including as many people and opinions as we can, by hammering out agreements and compromises to keep the world moving ahead. How many of us remember the poem by Edwin Markham, a mostly forgotten poet, who wrote a verse favored by many anthologists and teachers?

He drew a circle that shut me out–
Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!

Eleanor Roosevelt knew that peace had to be won by drawing people in; the Friends Committee on National Legislation knows it too. How long will it be before our political leaders learn that simple truth?

3 Comments

Filed under World Peace

St. Patrick’s Day 2014

19th century Irish harp in the Boston Museum

19th century Irish harp in the Boston Museum

St. Patrick’s Day is here again with parades and songs and shiny green hats and beads not only for the Irish but for anyone who enjoys a party. But while people are busy celebrating, the world seems to be trembling on the edge of more violence and possible wars. The Irish are famous for writing verses, so this year let’s not forget the Irish tradition of anti-war poetry and songs including the familiar “Johnny I hardly knew ye”.

While goin’ the road to sweet Athy, hurroo, hurroo
While goin’ the road to sweet Athy, hurroo, hurroo
While goin’ the road to sweet Athy
A stick in me hand and a tear in me eye
A doleful damsel I heard cry,
Johnny I hardly knew ye.

Chorus:
With your drums and guns and guns and drums, hurroo, hurroo
With your drums and guns and guns and drums, hurroo, hurroo
With your drums and guns and guns and drums
The enemy nearly slew ye
Oh my darling dear, Ye look so queer
Johnny I hardly knew ye.

Where are the eyes that looked so mild, hurroo, hurroo
Where are the eyes that looked so mild, hurroo, hurroo
Where are the eyes that looked so mild
When my poor heart you first beguiled
Why did ye scadaddle from me and the child
Oh Johnny, I hardly knew ye.
(Chorus)

Where are your legs that used to run, hurroo, hurroo
Where are your legs that used to run, hurroo, hurroo
Where are your legs that used to run
When you went to carry a gun
Indeed your dancing days are done
Oh Johnny, I hardly knew ye.
(Chorus)

I’m happy for to see ye home, hurroo, hurroo
I’m happy for to see ye home, hurroo, hurroo
I’m happy for to see ye home
All from the island of Ceylon
So low in the flesh, so high in the bone
Oh Johnny I hardly knew ye.
(Chorus)

Ye haven’t an arm, ye haven’t a leg, hurroo, hurroo
Ye haven’t an arm, ye haven’t a leg, hurroo, hurroo
Ye haven’t an arm, ye haven’t a leg
Ye’re an armless, boneless, chickenless egg
Ye’ll have to be put with a bowl out to beg
Oh Johnny I hardly knew ye.
(Chorus)

They’re rolling out the guns again, hurroo, hurroo
They’re rolling out the guns again, hurroo, hurroo
They’re rolling out the guns again
But they never will take my sons again
No they’ll never take my sons again
Johnny I’m swearing to ye.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized, World Peace