War – Again and Again and Again

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After
September 11th several friends called, asking if I was still a pacifist.
Others asked the same question following the savage attacks against
Israelis in Haifa and Jerusalem. When Naomi Goodman and I co-edited
the book, The
Challenge of Shalom: The Jewish Tradition of Peace & Justice

in 1994, we tried to answer those who asked how it was possible
for a Jew to be nonviolent after the Holocaust, in a world still
committing monstrous acts of violence.

My
personal response is that in religious, secular and practical terms
I remain a pacifist, a Jewish pacifist no less. In the long run,
nonviolence has a far better chance of maintaining peace than B52s,
cluster and daisy cutter bombs and a very lucrative weapons industry.
And where Israel and Palestine are concerned, the never-ending reprisals
and retaliatory raids have led to nothing but sheer hell for all
parties.

Pacifists
know very well why wars begin and how hard it is to stop once underway,
when appeals to uncritical patriotism drown out and stigmatize critics.
We aren’t “passiv-ists” but are instead activists opposed to killing,
including those motivated by religious zealotry and governments.
I – and we – know very well the role economic greed, arms races,
imperial triumphalism, diplomatic myopia, hypocrisy, lies, and religious
and ideological fanaticism has and still plays. That we recognize
it, is one thing. That few, if any, listen to our alternatives before
the shooting starts, is quite another. Still, we are always asked – no, challenged – during wartime: What would you do NOW? This
was true again after the calamitous attack on the World Trade Center.

I
do not have the answers that would bring these killers to justice,
end worldwide terrorism and bring about peace and justice. But neither
do bellicose and sheltered Washington-based syndicated columnists,
politicians, neoconservative hawks and 24/7 cable station screamers.
I certainly understand why many otherwise decent and outraged Americans
want to punish the 9/11 murderers and that “love” is hardly a prescription
for the world’s ills. Yet for those who were queasy about the war
and possible future escalation, merely to raise questions in traditional
media about the attack and past and present American policies has
become taboo. Those who do have been excoriated in varying ways
for daring to voice differing opinions.

I
ask: Can America’s military might actually cleanse the world of
terrorism? Hard-line war hawks in Washington – many of whom have
never even served on active military duty – think so. They are
articulate, have exceptional access to the media and are savvy about
the Byzantine world of Washington politics. They demand that President
Bush avoid repeating his father’s role in not going after Saddam
Hussein in the Gulf War. With impunity, Washington-based warriors
criticize Colin Powell and others seemingly reluctant to invade
Iraq, while many mainstream editors and TV producers have generally
ignored dissenters, pacifist and non-pacifist alike. If our homefront
hawks have their way, who’s next? Iran? Syria? Libya? Somalia? Sudan?
Yemen? North Korea? America’s potent military is quite capable of
destroying a lot of terrorists (and a lot of guiltless civilians
too) but may very well create a new generation of terrorists.

Sadly,
with few honorable exceptions, the mass media seems to have become
a transmitter of government statements. Small wonder, then, that
for a long time relatively few Americans have heard or read little
of options from right and left and pacifists too that might have
prevented some of our wars, including those we’ve armed and supported,
as, for instance, in Central and South America.

Where
Israel is involved, she is hardly the ogre too often portrayed in
some left and rightwing circles. Intifada 2 is an outgrowth of many
mistakes on both sides and to me, a mutual tragedy. Had Palestinians
adopted a policy of nonviolent civil disobedience rather than their
disastrous Intifada 2, they and Israel might be closer a political
solution than now. It is also fair to condemn Arafat’s refusal to
meet Barak’s unprecedented proposals. Had he done so, wouldn’t there
now be a Palestinian nation (truncated, but potentially viable)
and far fewer dead, wounded and traumatized? But it is equally fair
to point to Israel’s harsh occupation and colonization of Palestinian
lands while recognizing that these too played a crucial role in
helping to create the hatred of a new generation of Palestinian
bombers. The fact is, there is and always was peaceful and reasonable
policies available in the Middle East -as there were and are in
many of the world’s wars today. But not many have paid heed. Neither
Palestinian suicide bombers nor Israeli tanks and F-16s have brought
peace. “War does not bring Peace,” a sign at a Peace Now rally in
Israel in December poignantly reminded us. It never has.

January
4, 2002

Murray
Polner [send
him mail
] served
in the U. S. Army and now chairs the Jewish Peace Fellowship. He
wrote No
Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran

and co-authored Disarmed
and Dangerous
,
a biography of Daniel and Philip Berrigan. Versions of this article
appeared in Shalom:
The Jewish Peace Letter
and SocialAction.com, two
Jewish publications.

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