November 3, 2012
Today, Americans are debating, marveling and despairing at Washington’s latest military action – or inaction – abroad. We obsess over the latest White House, CIA or Pentagon cover-up, study and deplore the latest intervention gone wrong. We wonder why it can’t be different.
We wonder why the system doesn’t seem to work, and why the actions taken by Washington overseas always lead to more death, more hatred, more destruction, and more war. We wonder what would it be like if the United States conducted a constitutional foreign policy, or maybe, a constitutional domestic policy. We wonder if there really is such a thing as a peace dividend. We wonder if authoritarian and heavily militarized governments in northern and southern hemispheres are the norm, or just a terrible phase through which we are passing through on our way to a bright and blessed 21st century.
We wonder, why not peace?
There is a new collection of thoughts that delve into and explore this very possibility. The contributors to Why Peace, edited by Marc Guttman, represent a wide variety of experience. The book consists of 78 short, compelling, eye-opening, and personal stories written by people who have decided on war, prosecuted war, fought in war, been victimized and damaged by war, those who have made careers on war and those who have been imprisoned as a result of war. There are stories from those who have worked and lived in the aftermath of war. Why Peace is a stimulating multigenerational conversation, around a comfortable table in your own kitchen, between the parents and children of war about visions of peace.
The chapters in Why Peace will take you around the world, and back to your own backyard. The perspectives, opinions, and experiences contained in Why Peace weave a living tapestry of our recent history, melding war’s ugliness and tragedy with the sanitized overworld of governments and politics and economics. The vignettes are not envisioned or dreamt of, but experienced and lived by real people, here in the United States and around the world.
Before sharing some of the inspirational portions of Why Peace that particularly spoke to me, a philosophical point must be made. Among apologists for the state, there exists a false idea that recurring destruction of humanity and property and peace through authoritarianism and war is the normal human condition. Because this condition is unavoidable, statist proponents of this fallacy contend that it is best for strong states to aspire to be stronger, and do what they can to lead these “wars,” control these “wars,” win these “wars” and benefit from these “wars.”
War is “the health of the state” and thus, the prevalence of wars. Money made by and for certain sectors, and political power consolidated and exercised by parties and politicians when a “nation” is seized by war fervor are driving factors. But war is a state disease, not a human compulsion. Above all, Why Peace illustrates this point.
The book begins with Marc Guttman’s introduction and some charming and hilarious stories about his own experiences, and those of his father, who served in a New York Army National Guard unit during the Vietnam era. At some point, Guttman mentions a precursor to the infamous 1970s Stanford prison experiments. The Asch conformity experiments of the 1950s demonstrated scientifically what Sinclair Lewis did in prose, yet twenty years earlier with It Can’t Happen Here. We are social beings, and we aspire to conform, even when that conformity is clearly wrong, unprincipled, dangerous in destructive.
Why Peace, in its entirety, will mean different things to different people. A review and a masterful assessment of the collection is a major undertaking, and like a good conversation, it would necessarily travel down more than a few rabbit trails. Reading this book, if you wish to learn, you will. If you are susceptible to emotionalism or sensitive to the truth, you will shed a tear. You will smile, and you will become angry. You will be shocked, and you will be comforted.
Kang Cheol Hwan’s story of his life as a child in the Yodok North Korean prison camp, is fascinating. The camp, a “business enterprise with gold mines, cornfields, and lodging operations, where prisoners of all ages labor endlessly,” serves as a frightening metaphor of statism and compound authoritarianism.
Les Roberts explains poignantly how “war is about shrinking circles of existence” and many of the stories in Why Peace mesh and develop this concept of unnatural state-initiated and enforced separation – of people from their loved ones, truth from media, soldiers from their faith and ethics, politicians from those they represent. The idea of prison as a mechanism of war is one of several themes that emerge from the fascinating tales from many different people with many different backgrounds. Whether North Korea, Rwanda and the Congo, Iraq and Israel, Pakistan and Palestine, or my own state of Virginia, state brutality seems to know no border and recognize no restraint. My friend Ryan Dawson, activist expat from my part of the world, shares stories of growing up not more than 35 miles from my front porch in the early 21st century – growing up afraid of police authoritarianism, abuse, and corruption.
Why Peace is filled with contributions from soldiers and military contractors who share observations and lessons learned from their time in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the Green Zone and from within Pentagon walls. My own small contribution is included here, but the amazing insanity reported by former Bush political appointee and Iraq war contractor Michael O’Brien, Josh Steiber who was part of the 2007-2008 surge in Baghdad, and Ross Caputi in Fallujah opened even my jaded eyes to the real nature of our modern wars. How participants in war make a difference, and what options of decisive action are available to them as autonomous sentient beings, is a connective theme of Why Peace. Like many of the intellectual impacts of this collection, inspiration and hope is served up with equal helpings of unanswered questions and a nagging intellectual uneasiness. What should we do?
This unease is taken on directly by a number of contributor essays that deal not with war and peace directly, but with the philosophy of human organization. Bretigne Shaffer exposes the horrific anarchy of institutionalized violence, and reminds us, much as scientists might understand from the Stanford and Asch experiments, that, “our problems are not cause by our flawed nature, but by flawed institutions.” The contributions of Anthony Gregory on connections between war and the police state, Pete Eyre on transition from statist to voluntarism, Walter Block on peace and liberty, the incomparable Butler Shaffer on the power of connectedness, and many others all help the reader work through the challenge and possibilities of honestly framing, and not just defining, the question of peace.
Why Peace also contains a variety of investigative and reflective reports covering the economics, the history and state psychology of war in general, and specific cases of state prosecuted murder. Pepe Escobar’s “From Guernica to Fallujah” is particularly insightful and moving. Some of these reports were made years ago, and yet Americans did not see them in our media in time. Finding them now, given what we now know to be true, and given the modern populist pushback against American empire gives them all the more impact and substance.
Another theme – beyond the philosophy and biology of peace and war, the locus of real fundamental humanity and strength, the battle for truth and its transformative impact – relates to how states design and fund war, and the current institutional trend towards state violence at home and abroad. Lew Rockwell’s classic “War and Inflation” is included; so is a short summary by Robert Higg of his ratchet theory entitled “War is Horrible, but…” These essays, and others, help the reader work through still more first person testimony that shows state propaganda and state financing institutions to be quite effective, difficult to change, and hard to resist.
That old military industrial congressional complex is alive and well. Property grabbing and humanity destroying authoritarianism has become a global industry. Why Peace includes chapters on eminent domain abuse, the war on drugs, the evolution of “homeland security” apparatuses in the United States, and the technology of subjugation and colonial expansion exercised by countries as culturally and politically unique from each other as North Korea and Israel. These philosophical and informed discussions work to break down the intellectual walls that sometimes separate various anti-war contingents. They also point to the way we can achieve peace, not only in our own experience, but in our neighborhood, our country, and the larger world.
Perhaps the happiest aspect of Why Peace is that for every “why,” we get several suggestions relating to “why not?” The life experiences and choices made by the various authors show us many possible paths to promoting peace, building connectedness, dissolving and collapsing flawed institutions, and empowering of the individual. Several essays propose a step by step methodology for achieving peaceful change, and in reading about how it is done, how its been done, and how it can be done is to be in a happy place. The book leads to contentment and renewed faith in a future that is peaceful, guided by love, untainted by fear.
A complete reading, over time, story by story, of Why Peace, in my opinion, equates to a full four-year college degree, broadly covering history, psychology, literature, economics, politics, technology, business management and even criminal investigation, statistical analysis, forensics and logic. For this reason, it makes an excellent gift to your favorite high school or college age friend, associate or family member. Make that anyone with whom you’d like to share a long and fruitful discussion around a kitchen table. This book, in enough hands, and these stories, in enough minds, will go a long way to creating and discovering peace at every level.
Why Peace is a revelation, with a defined purpose. This endeavor had as its most important goal “…discovery, truth and peace.” I believe Marc Guttman has achieved this goal. In becoming aware of what is and who we are and how we interact – as individuals and in social groups – in the real world, we begin to understand what real power is, where it is found. So armed, we move towards preserving, expanding and enriching the concept of peace, and we can see its manifestation not just soon, but now.