Sunday question: is peace macho?


Source via Wikipedia.

First, an aside.

Until fairly recently, Sunday was a national day of slow down. Most businesses–other than restaurants–were closed. In virtually all communities, this was legislated–so-called “blue laws.”

My grandmother, who emigrated to the US and landed on the Lower East Side of Manhattan–a predominantly Jewish immigrant community at the time she arrived early in the last century–enjoyed some commercial benefits from the blue laws. In NYC, an exception was made to retail restrictions on Sunday for the Jews who ran businesses on the Lower East Side–this because the day of rest in Judaism is Saturday. (Everything was shut down down tight beginning at sundown on Friday night and lasting until the end of the Sabbath on Saturday at sundown.)

Sundays were, in general, a day for church, family, rest, conversation around the dinner table. It was semi-imposed by societal and religious custom, but it was part of the national fabric and we all calmed down a bit once a week. We had made a majority decision to stop commerce, to worship or just relax.

Yesterday, my husband and I were talking about a different type of peace by public decision, in light of the national and international debate about whether the US and other countries should intervene in Syria.


Source via Google.

Bill said this, “Opting for peace is as strong an action as opting for war. It is not a passive or weak decision.”

Regardless of where you stand on the issue of intervention in Syria, I think this is a profound observation. Like our Amish neighbors, who eschew fighting or aggression of any kind, it takes commitment and a strength of purpose to choose peace and to grow toward peace.

For those of you who pursue religion or religion-based philosophies, do you see choosing peace as an act of determination and a demonstration of fortitude? Choosing to go to war is often described this way: “it takes determination, commitment, seriousness of purpose…” etc. You know, guys (mostly) have been “girding their loins” for millennia and getting down to business.

How about peace as a choice? Is it just as macho as war? Does it take the same grit to make the decision to go to peace and stick with it?


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14 Comments on “Sunday question: is peace macho?”

  1. Laura Rediehs says:

    Yes, I think it takes much more courage to walk into the midst of a conflict unarmed than armed. You have to face angry people without writing them off as “just plain evil”; instead you dare to look for their humanity. Both sides are likely to be suspicious of you, simply because you do not demonize the other side. It’s not easy to maintain neutrality, face the angry energy, and try to get beyond and beneath the highly charged energy into the deeper roots of the conflict: the actual needs and values of both sides, and the common ground that undergirds the dispute. It takes not only courage, but psychological and intellectual skill. You face complexity and open yourself to seeing the situation in a whole new way as you get past your own prejudices, interests, and preconceptions in the pursuit of what is really going on and what is really at stake.

    Now, let’s look more closely and honestly at war: it is powerful, wealthy, privileged, and protected people commanding young, not-so-wealthy, perhaps idealistic, and certainly courageous people to do the actual fighting for them. Of the latter, those who survive often come home wounded and traumatized, and have great difficulty finding adequate healthcare or support in re-adjusting to civilian life. Usually they struggle financially. Meanwhile, many (most? all?) of those who ordered the military action profit enormously because they have financial connections to the arms industry, and so increased military action thus “makes” them more money.

    Yes, it takes more courage to try to address conflicts nonviolently.

    Your question mentioned religious perspectives, specifically. Look at the Quakers in the seventeenth century: they were often beat up, imprisoned, and even killed for nonviolently standing up for religious toleration and sometimes (ironically) for refusing to fight in armies. Yes, their nonviolence required considerable courage. Look at Gandhi’s nonviolent revolution in India. And look at the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. In both of these cases too, religion helped motivate the commitment to nonviolence in the face of persecution. In these cases too, the nonviolent activists faced considerable risks, sometimes getting beat up, imprisoned, or killed. Religion helped people hold strong to the discipline of nonviolence. Religion helped them steadfastly maintain the principle of respect, looking for the humanity in their adversaries, even when those adversaries were not treating them very well!

    Effective nonviolence requires careful planning and training just as military action does. The difference is that nonviolent activists refuse to demonize or kill those who oppose them. They seek instead to break through the differences, seeking shared humanity, common ground, and new solutions that address the legitimate needs on all sides. And nonviolence is far more likely than violence to transform unjust structures of power into just ones, as all of the three above examples demonstrate.

  2. Laura Rediehs says:

    And here is one Quaker organization’s recommendation about how to respond to the situation in Syria:

    And further details:

  3. Freak Out says:

    The current political breakdown in the US is all about bravery. Look at the GOP’s main “issues.” Gay people are going to force your church to marry them! Young Black teens are going to rob you! Latino illegal immigrants are dangerous! Union thugs! Poor people are leeching your money! Atheists are going to ban Christmas! Fear! fear! fear! Better carry a gun with you at all times!

    The ‘tough talk’ we hear from Conservatives is laughable. I have never seen a more cowardly bunch in my life.

  4. Ellen Rocco says:

    Freak Out: I think the impulse to go to war crosses party lines. For example, right now, the President seems to be pushing the hardest, both nationally and internationally, to initiate military action against Syria–and many in Congress who identify themselves as conservative disagree with him. (My sense is that this is not simply a ploy to oppose any proposal from the other side of the aisle but rather a true difference of opinion.)

    Another question: the proposed strikes against Syria are not being called a declaration of “war.” If it’s not war, what is it?

  5. Ellen Rocco says:

    Laura: Thanks for the Quaker links. Quakers, like the Amish, have a deeply held commitment to finding non-violent solutions, even if it means giving up something to achieve peace. My question for pacifists and adherents to non-violence is this: is there any point at which the line may/should be crossed (to take up arms)? Is there ever a point at which too much must be given up to maintain peace?

  6. Laura Rediehs says:

    Ellen – great question. And yet, to a pacifist, it sounds strange. It is by fighting that we give up something: we sacrifice human lives, and so we give up morality itself. Nonviolent conflict resolution never requires giving up true needs or values. But it may require giving up other things: injustice, greed, “might makes right,” and entrenched positions or specific (win-lose) strategies that demonize the Other. Pacifism does not mean giving in and letting others oppress you. It means working for win-win solutions.

  7. Terence says:

    If all parties to a conflict have good intentions and are open to reason, pacifism may work. But if someone wants to harm you, you must defend yourself.

    Just to make clear: I’m a fairly liberal Democrat and am against the idea that the US should police the world. But it is clear that some people on the street have no qualms about victimizing the weak and manipulating well-intentioned attempts to ‘understand’ the causes of crime or to find ‘win-win’ solutions — so if this is true at the individual level, it probably holds true for large groups as well. By not fighting back, you merely shift the burden of protecting you onto others.

    Let’s take one recent example from the news: the ‘knockout’ game that some groups of teenagers play by punching unsuspecting bystanders in the face. What is the appropriate response to such attacks: to engage in endless discussions about the root causes, or to prepare for such an attack and respond with force? Perhaps both?

  8. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I agree with the Quakers in the long term. Their solutions are the correct ones in a world we have not yet managed to create. Unfortunately the International Criminal Court is basically toothless. They have indicted some people and even brought a few to justice but usually far too late and far too sporadically for anyone with despotic tendencies to take them seriously.

    Diplomacy, given sustained effort and plenty of time, works. But there must be some credible threat or other sort of inducement in order to get some parties to talk. We are nowhere near the point of offering it at this point, but sometimes an offer of exile and removal of the threat of prosecution is the best solution to end a threat – think Idi Amin.

  9. Pete Klein says:

    I don’t see peace or war as a question of macho. It depends.
    I don’t have a problem with war when it is needed for self defense. But this idea of using the military as a world wide police force is just insane. It will break us economically and cause us to lose more friends and gain more enemies. It’s like we are becoming the bully of the world.
    The last war that made any real sense was WW II. Once Pearl Harbor was attacked, peace was not an option.
    Afghanistan made some sense because the attack on 9/11 was launched from there.
    It’s getting so that almost every president, no matter the party, feels the need to attack some country some where to prove whatever they think needs proving.
    After listening to Kerry and Biden, I wouldn’t vote for them for anything.

  10. Pete Klein says:

    One other thing.
    Since we have never attacked a country known to have nuclear weapons, I think it is pretty obvious why some countries want to have nuclear weapons. Having nuclear weapons just about guarantee the USA will not attack you. I’m certain places like Iran want nuclear weapons for the purpose of preventing the USA from launching an attack to prove whatever we feel the need to prove.

  11. It’s easy to say “Something must be done,” a phrase that’s both passive and generic. “Something must be done” puts the onus on SOMEONE ELSE do that whatever ‘something’ becomes and lets SOMEONE ELSE, in the current case: Syrians, deal with the mess that inevitably results.

    Responsible adults (and countries) not only consider the consequences of inaction but the consequences of action. And they do so with the highest degree of intellectual honesty, factoring in the law of unintended consequences. Responsible adults (and countries) understand that pure motives do not automatically by themselves equal favorable results. They realize that action should only be done if it is likely, beyond a reasonable doubt, to improve the situation not merely to assuage one’s guilty conscience.

  12. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    The latest twist in the Syria situation indicates that the credible threat of use of force may have stimulated a diplomatic solution. We will have to wait and see, but it may be that Obama’s foreign policy has worked.

  13. Ellen Rocco says:

    Here’s a really obscure question: looking way back in human history, in cultures/societies that have been categorized as matriarchies, was there any difference in the inclination to use war to settle conflicts? Maybe the use of force is part of what’s expected by any governing power. Are women, by nature, less likely to use or encourage the use of physical might? Is this all about testosterone?

  14. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    In order for any society to work there must be some means of persuading members of the society and those from outside the society to conform to societal expectations and it seems unlikely that many societies completely unwilling to defend themselves through use of force would survive long. If we were to look to examples in nature it is often the female of the species that performs duties of hunting and killing, defending young or even killing during the act of procreation. Let’s not idealize women to the point of not being human.

    Not necessarily a real matriarchy, but the legendary Amazons were warlike and even captured male slaves to perform certain functions, like making weapons of bronze and iron. They would break the leg of those metal-workers, crippling them to prevent their escape and echoing the crippling of Hephaestus the god of metalworking.

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