CONFRONTING THE ROMANCE OF VIOLENCE: OUR SOCIETY AS A CULT OF MILITARISM.
A Presentation for the Conference of the EUROPEAN NETWORK FOR PEACE AND HUMAN RIGHTS,
20/21 October 2005, European Parliament, Brussels
By Theresa Wolfwood
“At Camp Casey in Crawford, Texas and other places
anti-war protesters congregate these days the refrain can be heard: We’re
against the war but we support our brave soldiers.”
In March 2003, a 1000-pound gorilla, without any provocation, attacked a 95-year-old woman in a wheel chair. Lo and behold the gorilla easily subdued her. Does that make the ape brave?”
“The hunter crouches in his blind
'Neath camouflage of every kind
This grown-up man, with pluck and luck
Is hoping to outwit a duck.”
“In order to understand a thing, one must change it.” Maria Mies
In the information for this conference, the organizers ask: What can the peace movement do to resist the grave and growing threats to civilised life? What strategies might be most effective? What should our priorities be? Our Conference in Brussels in October provides a timely forum for activists from different countries and movements to share their various perspectives on how to respond to the many challenging questions we face.
The great threat to creating civilized life is the cult of violence that is the matrix of our separate lives and the events that connect us. Margaret Thatcher is quoted as saying there is no such thing as society. We all know that is a lie; but do we know how our Eurocentric society and many others are held together by the acceptance of the legitimacy of violence. This is the toxic soil that has spawned "Full Spectrum Dominance".
I think it is time we examined our romance with violence, within and outside the peace movement. It is time we look behind that picture and discover and understand the human longing for peace and to plan how we as a movement can be the vision of that possibility.
are hard, but it is worse to remain silent…;
….We must see all, and say all to satisfy the dead who died with such indignity….”
No More Hiroshimas. Spokesman Books. UK.
by Ken Sprague;
As a woman I stand somewhat outside the mainstream of society even though I was raised to believe in all the good values of imperialism – the superiority of the British, the honour of the military and the concept of the just war. Maybe the sight of my overworked mother making bandages for distant soldiers started my doubts. And at university I was exposed to other students who had different ideas about the cold war, the concept of freedom and injustice at home. I also came smack up against white male dominance in science at a time when feminism and sexual harassment were unknown, even in language. In my studies a man named Gilbert LaBine was held up as a model. This prospector made a name and tidy sum when he “discovered” uranium & other radioactive minerals in Canada’s north. Canada’s Mining Hall of Fame says, “LaBine richly deserved the title as Canada's Mr. Uranium; he was invested into the Order of the British Empire in 1946, and was made a member of the Order of Canada.” His discovery (helped by the native people who led him to the rocks he sought) gave the USA military a secure source of uranium, up until then controlled by Belgium, it was mined in the Congo. It was used in the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Canada is today the world’s major exporter of uranium. We seldom hear of the results of uranium mining which created a village of widows in one northern community where men were used as coolies to pack out the ore. The people of the province of Saskatchewan today enjoy good social services, thanks to uranium mining. The sickness and death of thousands in Iraq and elsewhere as a result of exposure to depleted uranium is not part of their health program information. No connections are made.
It is not only the lack of connection but the culture of militarism that makes this acceptable. Times of peace are only periods of preparation for war; Rosalie Bertell points out that after the WW2, there was no disarmament, unlike after other wars in history. The arms race continued and still does, with a brief blip in 1991. Canada’s military spending is at an all time high and so is that of many countries.
This tolerance, this assumption of militarism and the right to commit violence in the name of the state would not be possible without the cooperation and cooption of the major forces of society. Our education system, religion, the media, and popular culture reinforce the ties that bind us in a cult of violence disguised as glory and patriotism.
One blatant form of romanticizing violence is the oxymoron military peacekeeping, yet another way to control poor countries in conflict, and make them safe for profit. At the same time, increases in military budgets are justified by the explanation we are helping the world to make us feel good about our munificence. Appropriate development aid, control on arms sales, solidarity, just trade and peaceful conflict resolution would really help the people in conflict areas.
Of course we have a society that shapes and moulds us: Mrs. Thatcher just did not want us to challenge it. Remember she used to say: there is no alternative. That was a big lie; this meeting today is a response to that lie and many others. By examining the matrix of violence and militarism we can respond with a vision of peaceful, not just alternatives, but new ways of living and organizing society. The Peace movement has the responsibility to not only inform and analyze, but to be a model for a new way of social organizing – before it is too late. I believe it is never to late to work for the transformation of society.
In schools history is taught as a series of battles; generals are glorified. At schools and universities in many countries the state is allowed, even encouraged, to recruit for the military. Canada recruits children from the age of twelve as cadet-soldiers; we will not and cannot sign onto the international convention on child soldiers. Joining the cadets is presented as a a sort of free summer camp, the fun of group travel and the lure of flying lessons or other skills. For older students the military presents a way to get university education free. No one questions why summer camps and free education are not possible for all young people in one of the richest countries of the world.
And there is always the thrill of being in a band; learning music and parading in front of an admiring public or greeting important visitors. How many of us feel a rush when we hear the drums and pipes of a marching band; designed to instil bravery in those about to kill and die? I have always wondered why a government welcomes foreign dignitaries with a row of stone faced young men clutching guns, why not be greeted by kindergarten children and teachers or cleaners with brooms; do we consider soldiers more important than childcare and health workers?
by Ken Sprague;
Universities across Canada, (and elsewhere) always short of funds as governments continually shrink education budgets, are thrilled to sponsor military research. Our government uses our taxes for the military to buy scholars’ time and intellects, the USA military also sponsors research in Canada. Findings are usually secret, in spite of the claims of administrators that academic freedom (to take money from the military) is a sacred value, but the knowledge created is not available for the public. This is happening with much corporate-sponsored research as well, the results belong to the funder. And scholars love the perks of conferences, awards, special schools and chairs funded by the military and industry which is often closely related to the military. In the halls of academe where the questions of ethics and morality of a society should be considered, there is no discussion of the morality of aiding illegal wars, crimes again humanity and against the earth. Members of cults seldom analyze their own belief systems.
There is an intimacy in much of the violence we experience. When I visited Odessa 10 years ago and stood looking down the famous steps, I could recall my feeling of horror when I saw the Cossack pushed the baby carriage down the stairs in the classic film, “The Battleship Potemkin.” But in an exhibition of Russian artists in Brussels, at the same time as this conference, this scene was replayed constantly on a big screen, out of context with no explanations – violence had become an art form. In the same exhibition there was a set of paintings entitled, “The Mystic Images of War”, complete with dreamy skies and floating angels. What kind of denial could a Russian artist be in to create such a fantasy of war? In the film, “Stealing A Nation”, about Diego Garcia, I was sickened by the image of USA soldiers rounding up and killing with their vehicle exhaust pet dogs of the soon to be exiled peoples. It is these vivid fragments that often create the reaction to the horror of violence. But, many more films and novels romanticize war; showing the heroic bravery of “our boys”, particularly in WW2 – that war is now a major industrial product of Hollywood.
If you look carefully at this year’s car models, you will notice that car windows are becoming smaller and narrower, the sides of cars bulge out – making them look like tanks. SUVs, AKA Chelsea tractors in London, designed by the military for use in the first Gulf war, clog city streets and create aggressive attitudes in the smugly insulated drivers. “Family-friendly hummers” which resemble armoured personnel vehicles are marketed to people with more money than sense – using incredible amounts of petrol – for which the wars these vehicles were invented for are fought.
Peace activists are not known for high fashion consciousness, but I recently wasted time in a doctor’s office looking at this year’s fashions, many were blatantly militaristic with big double-breasted coats, thick shoulders and drab colours. We can see our immersion in the cult of militarism everywhere once we are sensitized to it.
Is corporal punishment still permitted in your schools? The UK poet, Adrienne Mitchell, says in National Pride Haiku,
if smacking children
were an Olympic event
England would take the gold.
If that is no longer true, it is because people like you stopped it. Yet as a result, probably of the constant glorification of violence in popular culture, violence in schools is still common among students and teachers. There are organizations and people that work to create peaceful conflict resolution in schools. I would like you to see the work of Hetty van Gurp. She has travelled to Serbia to work with children so traumatized by war that they do not understand peace. Hetty’s own son was killed in a bullying action in a peaceful school in Canada.
The peace movement has yet to seriously examine the violence of popular culture and its appeal to young people. We are beginning, for instance, to learn about the close links between the entertainment industries and the military. The military sell secret plans to toy manufacturers so they can replicate the weapons accurately as children’s toys. If we consider children beneath our dignity as peace activists, we miss the opportunity to help create a new peace conscious generation.
The media romanticizes the bravery of soldiers, the glory of unquestioning patriotism and the awe of technological death machines. I just read an article in a UK newspaper which followed new military recruits through their training so they could learn, in the words of the commanding officer, “We want to give them a better understanding of the values that civilian society wants. They are courage, selfless commitment, integrity, respect and discipline.” They sound like social workers, not soldiers! Are these really the values of people who kill civilians, drop bombs from miles up in the sky and bully and torture prisoners?
Even a venerable peace group in the USA has issued a lapel button that says: Honour the warrior, not the war. What ever happened to the slogan: What is they gave a war and nobody came? In other words, does not soldiering require an acceptance of violence in society and the romance of the brave soldier is thus perpetuated?
The media rarely covers the myriad of peaceful events around the world, peace brigades, conflict peacemakers and those who empower themselves to stop violence in their communities – like the government of Rio de Janeiro who used soap opera stars to convince men to give up their arms – which they did when they were confronted with the unromantic concept that maybe guns were a compensation for mall penises and poor sexual performance. Funny and successful! Not so far-fetched; in military training in the USA soldiers are taught a jingo that they have 2 guns, one for killing; one for fun.
Undoubtedly many young people are attracted to military life and military industries for economic reasons. For young men in the majority world, unemployed and unskilled with little status, the military life is one of power and excitement. Since there is little public discourse about the morality of killing for a living, even indirectly by working in arms factories, it is easy to be attracted to secure work in these insecure times. Taxes, subsidies, government agencies, easy loans- thanks to exemptions in trade agreements- feed the military industries and starve industries that work for renewable energy, public housing and education.
Again a Mitchell poem: Back to the Happidrome.
“..Tear the face off the human race-
with British Aerospace
it gives employment…”
In war ravaged, now globalization-ravaged, Mozambique, people are terribly poor, but some groups have combined these issues into a stunning solution; rewarding people to turn in stashes of armaments – which are later destroyed and the materials used for many things, including sculpture. Some are in the British Museum. A representative from one of these groups that gives farming and other useful equipment for self-sufficiency in return for weapons told me: “Maintaining a Culture of Peace Requires an Economic Solution.”
Here the peace movement has to make connections. We have to work to create a just and equitable world where the labour of life is rewarded with economic security and status – be it garbage collection, nursing or farming. Why not? We all produce waste, get sick and eat food; those who make that possible deserve our respect.
Our governments have given incredible powers to large corporations through many international agreements and institutions – from the World Trade Organization, to the International Monetary Fund (known in Africa as the Infant Mortality Fund) to strip our lives of public services, the commons of resources and knowledge. In return we have been reduced to commodities ourselves. Vast numbers of people have no meaningful work, farmers and villagers are driven from their lands by wars, dams and industrial development to benefit the rich. Life for the dispossessed of many nations offers little hope; hence the ease with which they are persuaded that their plight is caused by a different ethnic or religious group and hatred is easy to arouse. Even women, in a warped form of feminism and desperation are willing to kill for a living. In a massive perversion of International Women’s Day and its purpose, women in the Russian army were given perfume, flowers and a card by the president.
We give away our birthright when we adhere to these military solutions and international giveaways. Yet many countries are beginning to say NO. In Latin America, the deadline for signing onto FTAA, Jan.1, 2005, passed without a whisper and several countries –Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela kept their pens at home. In Canada, the injustice of the USA in refusing to honour NAAFTA, an agreement it rammed down our throats, is an example to the world and a wake-up call to Canadians. We are beginning to understand another ramification of “Full Spectrum Dominance.” We see the many attempts to overthrow the government of Venezuela as well as long standing efforts to destroy Cuba – the only country in the hemisphere with free education and healthcare for all. When all these economic and political efforts – all forms of violence – fail, military violence is threatened and used – Colombia to Iraq. But people who understand the connections between the violence of military dominance and the violence of economic dominance are amazingly resilient. All of us in the new global resistance are challenging full spectrum dominance everywhere. Many, like Wangari Maathai, Nobel peace Laureate, 2004, now understand the connection between global resource depletion, conflict, poverty and climate change.
Rosalie Bertell believes we can overcome our addiction to violence by changing our core values; as many of us have in the issues of children’s rights, women’s rights, and the right of differently gendered people. Once we recognize our addiction to the romance of violence we can work to change it.
But I keep returning in my mind and heart to the most intimate and accepted form of violence – and the most prevalent. I ask you, as I ask myself, if a man can treat with violence, sometimes even murder, those who are closest and most intimate persons in their lives, then is it not easy to understand why they are willing to torture, injure and kill strangers?
We all recognize the arms trade as part of the evil of militarism. Do we acknowledge that the sex trade is also part of militarism? In the UK this year, the sex trade was reported as a flourishing business in England. Women from many countries were victims of a human trafficking operation in which women were enslaved, raped and beaten. The sex trade is as profitable and as widespread as the arms trade.
Women are the main victims of violence in the world from the home to warfare. Yet, in our society still, this violence is often a matter of humour, in others it is the romance of religious purity. If we can understand the rage and power posturing of individual men, we may understand why so many men are willing to go to war. The peace movement also does not often address the issue of power. We need to…soon.
Last summer I visited the memorial in front of Vancouver’s bus/ train depot to the 14 Montreal women, murdered in 1989, While I walked the circle of benches and read the donor names on the bricks, I read on one brick in the circle: “In memory of the women of Vancouver’s Eastside. We dream of another world when the war on women is over”. There is a war on women in the home, on the street; in the forests and plains of war; the peace movement must confront and expose this war and its root causes.
We in the peace movement are beginning the complex and necessary work of connecting all kinds of violence. We are taking our place in the new global movements of the world, of people who do not want power for greed and dominance but power sharing for a new and urgently needed way to live. Peace activists who envision culture of peace will have to embrace democracy and rights advocates, environmentalists, artists, education and psychology workers as companion activists for peace. We will soon realize that the way forward for citizens of peace is to work for peace in every aspect of life. I would like to close with the inspiring words of Rosalie Bertell.
“The continuity of life, the call for making things better for the next and the next generations blots out all hesitation…We have to be part of something larger than ourselves, because our dreams are often bigger than our lifetimes.”
Theresa Wolfwood, Barnard-Boecker Centre Foundation,
REFERENCES & READING LIST
Journal, Canada www.alternativesjournal.ca
Canadian Dimension. Canada. www.canadiandimension.mb.ca
New Internationalist, UK/Canada. www.newint.org
Peace News. UK www.peacenews.info
Press For Conversion! Canada. www.coat.ncf.ca
The Whole Circle. Canada. www.bbcf.ca
TO WAR: Why the US Can’t Kick Militarism. AK Press. USA & UK www.akpress.org
EMPIRE NO MORE! Ken Coates. 2004. Spokesman Books, UK. www.spokesmanbooks.com
FREEING THE WORLD TO DEATH: Essays on the American Empire. William Blum. 2004. Common Courage Press, USA.
and Anti- Empire Report. Monthly list serve. www.killinghope.org
MISSING SARAH: A Vancouver Woman remembers her vanished sister. Maggie de Vries. 2003. Penguin. Canada
PLANET EARTH: The Latest Weapon of War. 2000. Women’s Press. UK
ROSALIE BERTELL: Scientist, Eco-Feminist, Visionary. Mary-Louise Engels, 2005. Women’s Press, Toronto, CANADA
THE SHADOW KNOWS: POEMS 2000-2004. Adrian Mitchell. 2004. Bloodaxe Books. UK
THE SUBSISTENCE PERSPECTIVE: beyond the globalized economy. Maria Mies & Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen. ZED BOOKS, London, UK & New York, USA.
THE SUICIDE BOMBERS. Ed. Ken Coates. The Spokesman. # 87. 2005. www.spokesmanbooks.com
WOMEN AGAINST THE IRON FIST: Alternatives to Militarism 1900- 1989. Sybil Oldfield, Basil Blackwell Ltd. Oxford, UK.
STEALING A NATION. 2004. John Pilger. www.pilger.carlton.com If we learned in all the sentimentality of the reporting of the Tsunami tragedy of December 2004, that lives could have been saved if the USA military had passed on the warning from its gigantic base on Diego Garcia, we have John Pilger to thank.
TEACHING PEACE IN A TIME OF WAR Directed by Teresa MacInnes. Produced by Kent Martin & Peter d’Entremont. Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2003. 54 min. In Canada phone: 1-800-267-7710. International see: www.nfb.ca This film is the story of a remarkable Canadian woman, Hetty van Gurp, who founded a growing organization, Peaceful Schools International. The daughter of a man disturbed by his experiences in WW2, Hetty changed her life when her 14-year-old son, Dan, was killed at school by a bully. She gave up regular school teaching and decided to devote her life to teaching peace.
VILLAGE OF WIDOWS. Peter Blow, Lindum Films, Peterborough, ON Canada firstname.lastname@example.org. Few Canadians know that Canada provided most of the uranium for the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Few of us know the devastating effect that the uranium ore extraction had on the Dene people of Great Bear Lake.
June 23-28, 2006.
To get involved or for further information, contact the World Peace Forum Society at:
Tel.1- 604 687-3223
Fax: 1- 604 687-3277
The Daily Telegraph. London, UK. Oct. 1, 2005
THE BARNARD-BOECKER CENTRE FOUNDATION website is the site of some of my writngs, speeches, quotes and ideas. www.bbcf.ca
Re: Gilbert Labine. http://www.halloffame.mining.ca/halloffame