Nonviolence or Nonexistence

We are at a point in the great human experiment at which we have to move, with all our science and technology, beyond the simplistic thinking of war
Nonviolence or Nonexistence

The day before he died, Martin Luther King said these wordsat a packed church in Memphis:

"Men for years now have been talking about war and peace.Now no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice betweenviolence and nonviolence in this world, it is nonviolence or nonexistence. Thatis where we are today."

That's where we are today. . . half a century later!

Here in the U.S., we have a military budget pushing atrillion dollars annually, which is a hell of an investment in nonexistence.But we also have a growing peace consciousness that cannot and must not stopuntil it changes the world.

One of the people working tirelessly to make this happen isMel Duncan, co-founder of Nonviolent Peaceforce. Just over a month ago, he didhis best to bring some peace consciousness to a House Appropriationssubcommittee, in an effort to get funding for a global lifesaving programthat's in place in some of the most conflict-ravaged regions of the world. It'scalled, simply enough, Unarmed Civilian Protection, but there's nothing simpleabout what it is or how it works.

For instance, in South Sudan, according to Duncan'sstatement to the subcommittee, "Nonviolent Peaceforce has a team that has grownto 200 protectors since we were invited in 2010. Since the re-ignition of thewar in December 2013, thousands of people have been killed and millions ofpeople have been displaced. Tens of thousands have fled to U.N. complexes whereimpromptu camps, known as Protection of Civilian areas, have been established.Women living in these POCs have to go to the bush to collect firewood,sometimes walking more than 30 kilometers. Soldiers from both sides often rapethem. Rape is used as a weapon of war."

For some people, enduring such hell is part of life. Duncanadds, however: "What is instructive is that during a two-year period when NP'scivilian protectors accompanied them, these women were never attacked."

Protection, he explains, isn't just functioning asbodyguards, exuding sufficient threat of force to intimidate the bad guys andimpose "peace" from the outside. Nonviolent Peaceforce "scouts the routes inadvance, letting combatants know that a group of women accompanied by NP willbe coming through," Duncan points out. "Part of our ability to protect dependson being able to communicate with the combatants. If we surprise someone in thefield, then we have not done our job."

He adds that Unarmed Civilian Protection "is built on thethree pillars of nonviolence, nonpartisanship and the primacy of local actors.By working nonviolently, civilian protectors do not bring more guns intoenvironments already teeming with violence. By utilizing diverse nonviolentinterventions they break cycles of retaliation. Modelling nonviolent behaviorsstimulates nonviolent behavior in others. And practicing active nonviolenceboosts the sustainability of peace operations and builds the foundation for alasting peace."

Here's how Annie Hewitt put it at Truthout: "Nonviolentpeacekeeping allows people to see humanity visibly manifested; unarmedpeacekeepers must be decent and kind, they must listen actively and make allparties to a conflict feel as though they matter. In doing so, humanity isrevealed to be not the property of one side or another, nor something that mustbe imported from outside."

This is the sort of consciousness that lacks politicaltraction — certainly in the United States — despite two stunning realities: Itworks and it's relatively inexpensive, at least compared to the cash hemorrhageof war and war preparation. It costs Nonviolent Peaceforce about $50,000 a yearto keep one peacekeeper in a given country, compared to as much as a milliondollars per year for every soldier stationed in one of our war zones.

And these wars will not end by themselves — certainly notthe wars that have evolved in the 21st century. Thus: "Every two seconds aperson is forced to flee their home. There are now 68.5 million people who areforcibly displaced," Duncan told the congressional subcommittee members, citingthe U.N. High Commission for Refugees. This number is the highest ever, worsethan during World War II.

And with climate change creating environmental chaos, thecollapse of social infrastructures around the planet will intensify.

"Climate disruption is mainly hitting the poorest people inthe world — those who consume the least," Duncan said. "There's a good chancethere will be more and more conflict. We have to look at ways to deal withconflict constructively and nonviolently. We have to support those approachesthat are effective and affordable."

Nonviolence or nonexistence.

We are at a point in the great human experiment at which wehave to move, with all our science and technology, beyond the simplisticthinking of war. Congressional funding for a program such as Unarmed CivilianProtection — a decision on which will probably be made within a month — is acrucial step.

Author of "Courage Grows Strong at the Wound", Robert C.Koehler is an award-winning Chicago-based peace journalist

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