Thursday, December 10, 2009

An open letter to the President regarding the Peace Prize

Dear Mr. President

I would like to express my views with regard to your remarks at the Nobel ceremony. May I first express my deep respect for your efforts in service to our country and let you know that I am a great supporter of you and your administration. But I have some questions to ask you.

During your remarks, you spoke of a “just war”. You spoke of certain conditions being met, the use of proportional force, self-defense and a desire to spare civilians, whenever possible. I realize that your perspective is that of the leader of the free world and the head of the most powerful country on earth, so I will accept that your sense of responsibility in matters of war are different than mine. But I want to question a few assumptions that I tripped over while reading your remarks.

First, I question your characterization of the citizens of nations in conflict as civilians. A fine distinction, but I have a point to make. Citizens are participants - civilians are victims. Ethnic and sectarian conflicts, secessionist movements and insurgencies are citizens who have become passionate or radicalized concerning the social compact that make up their nation. The civilians are citizens who have not been radicalized. But all are citizens. It is my belief that non-violent direct action can harness the passions of the insurgents and radicalize the civilians to build a new social compact. Any internal conflict is an opportunity to build a more perfect union and this can be accomplished with non-violence. It is this path I wish to follow.

Second, I agree that we must accept that evil does exist in the world. This is an issue that I have thought about a great deal. How can there be people in the world who hack their brothers and sisters to death with abandon (Rwanda) or murder millions in the name of social engineering (Cambodia). How can Hitler exist?

You stated that a non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. I agree. But what of the German people? That was Hitler’s power, not his malevolence and not his tanks. The children and grandchildren of these same Germans celebrated the non-violent end to their oppression by dancing on the wall in 1989. Could we have light the fire that lead to dancing rather than gas chambers in 1938? Let’s study what made 1989 a success and name all the actions taken between1938 and 1945 a failure.

Third, you stated, and I quote:

I believe that peace is unstable where citizens are denied the right to speak freely or worship as they please; choose their own leaders or assemble without fear. Pent-up grievances fester, and the suppression of tribal and religious identity can lead to violence.

This statement is exactly what I want to hear…until you assume a road that will lead to violence. Again, we need to study the many colored revolutions, the singing revolution of Latvia and the revival of political participation in Mexico. Why did they work? What is the formula for success?

I would ask what could we do to act as midwives to the Green Revolution in Iran. Is it possible that we could use our foreign policy, economic policy and your bully pulpit to “rock the world, gently” as Gandhi said.

I ask you to consider a radical policy. I ask you to stop viewing insurgents and secessionists as evil and consider how we can take that destructive energy of violence and channel it into the creative and positive energy of non-violence. And let’s speak of the fear that grips powerful nations when confronted with passionate partisans in an internal conflict half way around the world – we don’t know how it will end. Will the new social compact exclude us from certain resources? I understand that we can’t control these things. So what do we do?

My answer would be to look to your own words…

We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor -- we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it's easy, but when it is hard.

Dr King said it best.

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land.

May it be so.

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