Saturday January 5, 2013

CANAAN, N.Y.

Quite a few years ago my wife and I were doing three-day Alternatives to Violence workshops in Washington, CF, a medium security prison in upstate New York. Early on in one of the workshops, we put up two drawings of trees. One was the tree of violence and the other, the tree of nonviolence.

We had our group give names to the clearly shown roots of the tree of violence. Greed, fear, lust, desire for power, etc. came forth. For the tree of nonviolence, the roots were given names such as trust, love, compassion, caring, etc. Then the fruits on the branches were labeled and the tree of violence had words like rape, murder, broken homes, hostility, etc. while the fruits of the tree of nonviolence were harmony, happiness, healthy families, celebrations, sharing, and so on.

We had already done this exercise in five previous groups and it always seemed that the tree of nonviolence was clearly the preferable one to the participants. However, this time, two members of the group of 20 or so maintained that they would prefer to live in a society modeled after the tree of violence as they would feel comfortable there and knew how to cope.

We were dumbfounded and enormously educated in that moment. We discovered, and have since found further evidence that those with little experience living in a healthy, cooperative, caring environment find it a scary prospect and might choose otherwise for the sake of comfort, no matter how uncomfortable that kind of comfort really is. This was a revelation to the two of us who had experienced no significant abuse in our families as we were growing up. This does not mean that we didn’t have many bumps in our roads along the way but that we were always validated by those for whom we were a primary concern.

Of late, I had a second revelation comparable to this but on a much larger scale. Our nation’s leaders claim they want peace but do very little that is consistent with that declared aim. Part of this is their lacking the stimulation of a vision of a world without war where peaceful cooperation for the good of all is the norm. Most of them don’t seem able to envision that kind of reality and hence don’t actively pursue it.

Let’s look at this issue. After World War II our Congress established the Marshall Plan which provided $12 billion to Western European countries that were devastated by the war in order to help them rebuild. The result was that not only did they recover but Germany has been an ally for more than 60 years. Contrast that to the Treaty of Versailles, which in 1919 left a defeated Germany in such horrible condition that the rise of Hitler and World War II were the result.

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Alas, today’s leaders seem less affected by the lessons of the Marshall Plan than by our continual involvement in war from Korea, to Vietnam, Granada, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, Iraq and so on. It seems they have little vision of what a world at peace could be. It’s not as though Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. haven’t pointed the way. It’s as though Gandhi and King’s insights ran contrary to the images of those whose lives seem to depend on industrial production for the military and the military itself.

Studies have shown that civilian expenditures for health care, education, transportation, home building, and the like produce more jobs for the dollar than expenditures on the military and arms manufacturing. Total outlays for the Department of Defense in 2013 are budgeted at $673 billion but they buy no peace. Adjusting for inflation since 1947, when the Marshall Plan was instituted, that $12 billion would be equivalent to $124 billion today, 18.4 percent of our Pentagon budget. If we took that amount out of the Defense Department and spent it on promoting peace in countless ways, we could make a giant first step toward turning away from perpetual war. As we are by far the most militarized country in the world, it behooves us to lead the way on demilitarization and fostering peace.

Other countries would gladly follow. Nearly all of them are having difficulty financing their own critical domestic needs and would delight in an opportunity to divert more of their funds to meeting those needs.

In 1947, when the Marshall Plan began, we changed from having a "War Department" to having a "Defense Department." We, in fact, do need a department dedicated to our defense. However, we are the worse off for having a department fighting such as the Iraq War which was started on false premises and has taken so many lives on all sides.

Conversely, we need a Department of Peace with adequate funding to make the pursuit of peace a reality. It’s time our leaders dared to envision a more peaceful planet and what it would take from them for us to get there.

Don Lathrop and his wife Marion are organizers for Berkshire Citizens for Peace and Justice.