and War Drums: Strong Words on Nonviolence
The Satya Interview with Colman
Colman McCarthy is
a veteran peace activist, animal advocate and educator who founded and
directs the Center for Teaching Peace in Washington, DC. He was a columnist
for The Washington Post from 1969 to 1997. McCarthy is the author of
All of One Peace: Essays on Nonviolence and editor of two anthologies,
Solutions to Violence and Strength Through Peace: the Ideas and People
of Nonviolence. He recently shared his views on the September 11th catastrophe
and the American reaction, as well as his hopes for the future, with
What first came to mind when you realized that the Twin Towers had
been deliberately crashed into?
Shock but not surprise. The depth of the horror was initially beyond
imagination. But the attack itself was not a surprise. On April 4, 1967,
Martin Luther King, Jr., said that the greatest purveyor of violence
in the world today is my own government. He was right then and
is right now. In only the past 20 years, the U.S. government has sent
troops to kill or threaten to kill people in Lebanon, Grenada, Libya,
Panama, Haiti, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia and now Afghanistan
again. All are poor nations and mostly people of color.
The U.S. has military bases in more than 100 countries to protect
our vital interests, which really means to protect our vital privileges.
The U.S. is the worlds largest maker and seller of weapons, often
to dictators or governments that abuse human rights. Its military budget
this year is $343 billion, a sum 23 times larger than the combined military
budgets of our seven alleged enemies. Unless youre an astronomer,
$343 billion is too large a number to grasp. It comes down to about
$900 million a dayfour times more than what the Peace Corps gets
in a yearor about $11,000 a second. It means also that an American
family of four pays about $8,000 a year in taxes to the military. Half
of the federal budget goes to the Pentagon. On any given day that we
are spending $900 million for the illusion of security, about 40,000
people are dying around the world from hunger or preventable diseases.
Thats a daily death toll. On top of that, while much of the world
starves, a major preoccupation in America is how to lose weight.
And after all that, we wonder how come the world doesnt love us?
Take it to the neighborhood level. Suppose the wealthiest person on
the block routinely walks up to people and smashes them in the face
or cracks their skulls with a crowbar. It keeps happening. But one day
someone swings back. Are you surprised?
How has the Bush Administration handled its response to September
The same way every administration has responded to a conflict: Order
the military to go kill people. At the same time the Bush Administration
began killing Afghanis, he was telling Israel and the Palestinians to
negotiate, deal, compromise, reach a peace agreement, learn to live
together and stop the killing. It was what Clinton advised the sides
in Northern Ireland. Why dont we follow our own advice and do
the same with the Taliban regime, one that we militarily supported when
the Russians invaded a decade ago? Instead, Bush arrogantly says he
wont negotiate: Were freedom-lovers, theyre evil doers.
Its the familiar pattern of U.S. foreign policy. On September
11th, U.S. leaders began to theorize about who did this and why. Days
later, they began to demonize. On October 7th, U.S. pilots dropped bombs
to victimize. And the cheerleading American media played its expected
role: it glamorized. Whether it was Noriega in Panama, Qadhafi in Libya,
Aidid in Somalia, Milosovec in Yugoslavia and now Bin Laden in Afghanistan,
the scripted response is: theorize, demonize, victimize and glamorize.
Anti-war activists are often criticized for being against
violence and for peace, but then dont give concrete
solutions. What sort of peaceful solutions should peace activists be
discussing and to whom do you think they should be directing their message?
It helps to keep in mind that more than 35 wars or conflicts are being
fought in todays world. On average, some 40,000 people a month
are dying as a result, and mostly its the poor killing the poor.
The wealthy rarely go to war. During Vietnam, only one member of Congress
had a son who saw combat. Bush was all for the Vietnam War, but not
for him. Richard Cheney sought, and received, five deferments. Pat Buchanan,
George Will and Newt Gingrich ardently supported the war in Vietnam,
but not for them.
For the U.S. vs. Afghanistan, four solutions exist: military, legal,
political and ethical. Bush and his generals chose the first, predictably.
A legal solution is to use international tribunalswhere Milosovec
is nowto try suspected terrorists as murderers. The U.S. refuses:
A superpower relying on some no-name judges in the Hague, wherever that
is, to create justice? Those same judges might get uppity and haul in
Bush, or belatedly, Henry Kissinger, for violating international law
by carrying out an armed attack against another country.
The political solution is to follow our advice to Israel and Northern
Ireland and negotiate. There is also the precedence of Richard Nixon
going to China in the early 1970s to dialogue with the Communists, who
were long demonized by him. Ronald Reagan went to the Soviet Union to
talk with what he called the evil empire. Now both nations
are trading partners with the U.S. Both China and the Soviet Union were
once portrayed in far more monstrous ways than the ragtag
Taliban regime is now.
Finally, the ethical solution, which is in the tradition of Gandhi,
King, Dorothy Day, Jeannette Rankin, A. J. Muste, Isaiah, Rabbi Christ,
Andre Trocme, Howard Zinn, Dan and Phil Berrigan, John Dear, Jane Addams,
Joan Baez and a long list of other pacifists, including the Fellowship
of Reconciliation, the War Resisters League and the International Womens
League for Peace and Freedom. It says to those behind the attack: We
forgive you, we reject vengeance, we will not reply to your killing
by our killing. And then, summoning still more courage, to ask them
to forgive us for all our violence. This rational approach is not about
to happen. Instead, we are getting jingoism, as when Bush said, Our
nation is chosen by God and commissioned by history to be a model for
the world. A model for what? Vengeance, retribution, score-settling
by killing civilians in their homes in Afghanistan?
Whats your response to people who feel that those who are
not in support of military action are anti-American and
Id suggest they read Tolstoys essay on Patriotism
or Peace in which he denounces patriotism as nationalistic self-absorption
and egotism. After Tolstoy, some Martin Luther King, who said: A
nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military
defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
And then read the former Marine Corps commandant General David Shoup:
America has become a militaristic and aggressive nation. We have
an immense and expensive militaristic establishment, fueled by a gigantic
defense industry, and millions of proud, patriotic and frequently bellicose
and militaristic citizens. Militarism in America is in full bloom and
promises a future of vigorous self-pollination. Then some Barbara
Ward: There is an old Roman proverb that says, If you would
wish for peace then prepare for war. Rubbish. If you would wish
for peace than offer alternatives to war.
Whats your alternative?
I thought youd never ask! Education. For the past 20 years, Ive
been teaching courses on nonviolence to high school, college and law
students. Ive had more than 5,000 students in my classes. This
year, I am teaching courses at two public high schools in Washington
as well as at American University, the University of Maryland, the Washington
Center for Internships and Academics, and the Georgetown University
Law School. Since 1985, Ive directed the Center for Teaching Peace,
a nonprofit which helps schools at all levels begin or expand peace
studies programs. Ive been lecturing at about 20 colleges a year.
I know first-hand that students are hungry to learn about alternatives
to violence, and not just military violence but also alternatives to
domestic violence, environmental violence, death penalty violence, verbal
violence, violence to animals. The leading cause of injury to American
women is being beaten up at home by a husband, boyfriend, ex-husband
or ex-boyfriend. Twelve million animals a day are slaughtered for food
in the U.S. The literature of peace is vast. Schools are where the peace
movement needs to be. Unless we teach our children peace, someone else
will teach them violence.
What have you seen or heard lately that inspires hope in you for
I see it everyday in my classrooms when students begin to devour the
literature of nonviolence and slowly commit themselves to living a life
in which conflicts are settled through the force of justice, the force
of organized resistance to abusive power, the force of truthsatyaand
the force of love, and at the same time not the force of fists, guns,
bombs, nukes or armies. Pacifism is not passivity. Gandhi said it is
direct action, well-organized and designed not to bring adversaries
to their knees but to their senses. It is not foolproof. On this planet,
nothing is. Joan Baez came to my class once and explained to the students
that the only thing thats been a worse flop than the organization
of nonviolence has been the organization of violence. I think
Of late, pacifism has been denounced, even called evil, as on the op-ed
page of The Washington Post, or mocked as nonsense in The Wall
Street Journal. It brings to mind what Hermann Goering, the Nazi leader,
said: The people can always be brought to do the bidding of the
leaders. That is easy. All you do is tell them theyre being attacked
and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism.
The peaceable society wont be brought about in our lifetime. So
what? Dont worry about being successful, worry about being faithful.
Its true that a small daily act of peacemaking often doesnt
seem like much. While few of us are called on to do great things, all
of us can do small things in a great way.
To learn more about the Center for Teaching Peace or to order Colman
McCarthys two anthologies, Solutions to Violence and Strength
Through Peace: the Ideas and People of Nonviolence, contact the Center
for Teaching Peace, 450l Van Ness St. NW, Washington, DC 20016. Tel:
(202) 537-1372. Each costs $25, plus $3 for shipping. See Satya,
August 1997, to read about McCarthys views on animal activism
and the media.