The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Martin Luther aKing, Jr.
In the six months leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, I began to stand with Olympia’s chapter of Women in Black. Mostly attended by middle-aged and older women, it was a lovely and determined group.
Together we witnessed that even in Olympia, with the heavy influence of Evergreen, the draw of violence was far greater. In a country that claims a love of democracy and civil liberties, there was surprisingly little tolerance expressed to us.
As we demonstrated against the military violation of a nation the United States had already been bombing for over a decade, we watched as people—generally young males—leaned out of the windows of passing vehicles liberally dropping f-bombs. And when a bus load of young recruits passed by with their middle fingers prominently displayed, I wondered, “What sort of ‘defenders of liberty’ will they make?”
Howard Zinn once reasoned that “it’s exactly when you are about to go into a war, that you need your freedom of speech. You need the most sharp and honest discussion of what is going on because lives are at stake. War is a matter of life and death. That’s when you need to be sure you are doing the right thing in national policy.”
Not quite a decade later, I listened to a radio commentator who had originally supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but had eventually come to believe they were mistakes. His statement of reversal was not surprising, but his criticism of peace activists was. Instead of saying he erred in judgment and regretted the deaths and damage done, he complained that once Obama had been elected the demonstrators against the wars had disappeared. (He apparently doesn’t live in Olympia.)
Many soldiers who went to Iraq have come back broken. Whether death, injury, or emotional trauma, what has been brought back to the States has been a tragedy and a burden to soldiers’ families and communities. The hazards this country put them through were needless and barbaric. As we all know, it was an unnecessary war. Iraq was not involved in 9/11; there were no weapons of mass destruction. They lied.
Is it biological?
In the early 1980s, Robert Sapolsky, a Stanford biologist, was studying a baboon troupe in Kenya. Typically hierarchical, baboon troupes are dominated by aggressive males over females and less-dominate males, not too dissimilar to Western culture.
The data Sapolsky recorded revealed the dominate males were the healthiest and long-lived of the troupe. The rest suffered from various illnesses and early deaths. There is a twist to the story however. At one point the dominate males began to regularly feast on refuse from a local tourist lodge. Unfortunately, some of the garbage was laden with tuberculosis. They all contracted TB and died off. Gone.
This dramatic event had an immediate effect on the social dynamics of the troupe and was an important message for Homo sapiens. With the aggressive males dead, the ratio of females to males became two to one. The remaining males were much less aggressive. This changed everything. Baboons are matrilineal so when additional young males joined the troupe they were taught by the surviving baboons to be cooperative rather than aggressive with the interesting outcome that the health of all members improved significantly as well as life expectancy.
Violence, as this study shows, is not biological; it’s cultural. So, do we drink the Kool-Aid or not? We have a choice.
Violence vs. nonviolence
In Raphael S. Ezekiel’s book, The Racist Mind: Portraits of American Neo-Nazis and Klansmen, he spoke of people raised in a world where there are no competing concepts of how the world is constructed and who and what matters. People’s beliefs about the world are then held “in a dull and muddled and jumbled fashion,” oftentimes contradictory. This is frequently evident when this nation honors the memory and works of Martin Luther King, Jr.—an unflinching proponent of non-violence. It singularly focuses on King’s civil rights efforts and his desire for racial equality, but fails to acknowledge King’s equally important message that we “must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation.”
The United State Army on its website, in additional to its commitment to diversity, states its intention to “lift up our fellow human beings both at home and around the world to honor Dr. King’s memory and reaffirm our common humanity.” While the military member who wrote those words is probably sincere in his intent, the late Margo Adair once wrote, “action is the lifeblood of belief.” The purpose of military organizations is antithetical to King’s core beliefs.
In his Nobel Peace prize acceptance speech in 2009, Obama also honored Martin Luther King and quoted him. “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.” And then, incomprehensively, Obama prattles on for thirty minutes on how the “use of force can be not only necessary but morally justified” and that “the United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms.”
When we as a nation edit out inconvenient ideas that challenge our beliefs and limit our ability to reflect on the outcomes of our actions, we commit immoral acts and demand unreasonable expectations. What would have been our memories of King if he, too, had met force with force; if he had said we have no other option but to meet oppression with aggression?
King was a moral man with unalterable convictions who was willing to live and die by them. Contrary to Obama’s view that King was naïve of the dangers in the world, King, as an African-American living in the Deep South during Jim Crow, most certainly was aware. And he was not moved.
Veterans as victims
Veterans’ Day is coming up and every year I do not celebrate it. I think about those who have been sent to WWII, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, and the deaths and injuries. I think about the emotional turmoils and the doubts some have shared with me and the memories they will and have carried until the end of their days. I do not think of them as heroes. I think of them as victims.
These wars have not been for any good purpose. WWII was because of the effects of the Treaty of Versailles following WWI and WWI was about nothing but foolishness. Vietnam was fought on a false belief. When the U.S. lost, the domino effect did not happen. The Taliban was not involved in 9/11 and Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction. None of these wars were righteous and all of them were horrible.
And now there is ISIS. What are we to believe about that? If what they say is true, then we are responsible for its creation as the WW I Allies were responsible in setting the stage for the Nazis.
And don’t think that WWII was a good and noble war. After discovering that Hitler was primarily interested in seizing the Soviet Union, Churchill was willing to sacrifice Eastern Europe and change sides, but Roosevelt refused. (The Nazis: A warning from history)
Churchill was able though to delay the Western Front so Germany could inflict as much damage in the USSR as possible, which unfortunately also gave the Nazis plenty of time to design, build, and operate the death camps killing millions.
We, and the soldiers who may be our future victims, cannot hope to be as fortunate as the baboon troupe. We alone must make the alterations to our nation from the bottom up that will lead it to one based on cooperation and mutual respect for all. We must stop believing the untruths we are told including the falsehood that violence is the only solution. If you doubt my words, ask the people of Iraq if they are better off.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Hate multiplies hate; violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction…
The chain reaction of evil—hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars—must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Sylvia Smith is a long-time member of Works In Progress and a niece of Phillip J. Anderson, Sr. who fought hand-to-hand combat in the Aleutian Islands during WW II.