Thoughts on War and Peace

Firefighters regularly go door to door or to community events to talk to people about fire safety and to install smoke detectors. They are doing so with the hope of having to do their job less often.

Police officers go out to schools and community events to explain the laws and educate people about them. They are doing so with the hope of having to do their job less often.

Search and rescue professionals go out and teach kids and adults how not to get lost or get hurt. They are doing so with the hope of having to do their job less often.

Emergency room doctors go out and speak to the public about the dangers of drunk driving. They are doing so with the hope of having to do their job less often.

So why is it so weird in our culture that a soldier might to out and promote peace in the hopes of having to do their job less often? Why do we assume that if one is in the business of war, they are pro-war and anti-peace. No one accuses the fire fighter of being pro-fire or the doctor of being pro-injury.

I easily admit there are folks in the military who are pro-war. Often on some quest to prove their toughness, avenge a perceived wrong, or simply to see if they can do it. There are those in all these fields who have a misguided desire for hero status.

Case in point #1, a reserve soldier I know recently said on social media in response to someone commenting about concealed carry laws: “I don’t carry a gun because I want to shoot people. That’s crazy. I carry a gun so I have the option of protecting myself, my family or the weak and innocent from the forces of evil.” Admittedly, I’m not sure how much “evil” lives in his small rural Midwestern town.

Case in point #2, a police officer I know who has a hard time walking away from his job. When he is off duty he still reads emails and listens to his radio and then laments that he wasn’t there “on that bust” or “on that call.” As opposed to lamenting that it had to happen in the first place and spending his free time trying to keep it from happening.

But the folks with this pro-hero mentality aren’t all or even most of the people I’ve encountered. The problem is, we let them dominate the conversation. We in the military and first responder community let those folks get away with spouting off those things. And then we begin to think that we are the minority. And then we start to think that those of us who are perfectly happy only having to use our skills as a last resort are the few and far between. We aren’t. We are the silent majority.

That impacts how other people see us outside of our agency as well. The military is the worst about it because so many veterans claim to speak for the the entire military and say absurdly pro-war things. The the anti-war veterans remain quiet. Or worse yet, some of the biggest pro-peace, anti-war advocates I know, are veterans but don’t mention their veteran status and don’t include it in their biographical info. Because they too have succumb to this idea of thinking they are a minority. And they think it will detract from their message.

We need to change this thinking. We need more military leaders who say “this war isn’t a good idea” to the President, Congress, and public. We need more military folks invested, passionate, trained, and leading in the peace process. How do you expect to establish peace with a bunch of folks that only know war and don’t see peace as part of their job? The principles of establishing a lasting peace have to be part of the conduct of war not the opposite of it.

“Good policing” can not be based on the number of arrests. It has to be based on the lack of crime.

“Good war” can not be based on the number of kills. It has to be based on the lasting peace.

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Why no one, let alone a U.S. state, should celebrate Confederate Memorial Day

Let’s talk about the “heritage” that comes with the Confederacy. A failed, four-year attempt at establishing a nation based on the enslavement of black people. The succession documents and speeches of the leaders are very clear that slavery is the heart of the issue. Mississippi said: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.” (source)

If you have been fooled into believing that the Confederacy was about “state’s rights” you are not only historically illiterate, you also don’t understand state’s rights. The “state’s rights” that were at stake related slavery. And even then, it was a fear — a fear — not a forgone fact, that slavery would be ended by the federal government. Racism in the North meant that slavery probably would have existed (though not expanded) for sometime still.

The primary complaint of the states that succeeded was that non-slave states were not returning their runaway slaves to them. Those states were not doing it because they had laws that didn’t recognize people as property. Therefore, there was no property to be returned.

If you argue state’s rights was the issue think about this. Hand gun laws, marijuana laws, and umpteen other laws are not universal in the US. The right of states to set their own laws is still in place. So clearly the issue wasn’t a state having their laws trumped by the feds. In fact, the constitution supported slavery. The state’s rights issue concerned if a state was obligated to search for and return escaped slaves to another state. Southern states wanted their stolen property returned (even if it ran off on its own). Northern state’s did’t view people as property. So which state’s right was at stake?

The other state’s rights issue, which likely has a better argument but brought up much less often, was that the federal government was outlawing slavery in new territories and determining which new states would be slave and which would be free. As opposed to allowing the residents of those territories and states to decide if they would be free or slave. I’m no constitutional law scholar, but yes, one could argue that might have been overreach on their part to dictate what the laws would be in those states without consent of the governed. However, the argument among the pro-slavery extremists was that since the Constitution recognized slavery, it didn’t matter what people there voted for, all of the US had to recognize slavery. Hence a constitutional amendment was later necessary.

So let’s not memorialize and celebrate the Confederacy. That four-year failed attempt at establishing a pro-slavery nation. There are so many wonderful things about Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia. I’ve lived in those states. I know they have some wonderful pieces of their history that have nothing to do with the Confederacy. Let’s celebrate the total history of those states from their start through now and not just the four year peak of racism.

 

Is your church a photograph or a movie?

For some folks, church is what it is the moment they joined it. At that moment they agree to accept it and it accepts them. Very few people join a church for “where it is going.” People join a church for “where it is” socially, culturally, theologically, spiritually, and physically at that moment. From that point on, any change, difference of opinion, or adaptation to circumstances means a derivation of what they agreed to on the day they joined. And if all parties don’t agree, then obviously they have the option of leaving. No one is forced to stay. That includes the fact that as church culture, doctrine, or social issues change over time, they resist that change.

I like to think of that moment as a photograph. A beautiful photograph capturing a special moment when you joined the church. A moment now locked in time and not able to be changed. And a picture is further limited. You can’t look just outside the frame or see what is going on behind the camera. You don’t see what else was happening or people who weren’t in the picture. Nothing comes or goes from a picture.

 We need to stop dwelling on those photographs. We need to change this mentality. The memories are beautiful, informative, and fun to reminisce about but their limitations put limits on us. We need to think of our church as a movie. We need to start filming movies. We need to tell stories over time with actors. There may even occasionally be a plot twist. Your opinions of characters, ideas, and sub-plots change as the movie goes on. A movie is constantly full of new revelations about characters, places, and sub-plots often from places outside of the view of the first camera angle. And new characters, new scenes, and new issues come into the script.

Our goal should be that the church is constantly moving. Our members are all actors in the story, not bystanders or extras. We all need to take a role and help work on the plot and work towards a happy ending. Use the photographs to reflect and tell the backstory in the movie but don’t spend the whole movie staring at them.

 Pictures are worth a thousand words but they are words locked in time. When we constantly try to keep only that first photograph as our view of the church, we not only limit the church, we limit ourselves and our own opportunities for growth.

Permission to speak freely?

What is free speech? I mean, we use that term all the time. I’m sure there is some legal definition somewhere that almost nobody knows. In pop culture, we think it is some guy standing on a street corner protesting the nuclear bombs or the right to write whatever you want in a blog and post it on the internet. That’s free speech right?

Is free speech an action or a concept? Is it a social construct? Is it subject to change, interpretation, and more importantly – situational?

Is yelling “fire” in a crowded theater free speech? What about yelling “bomb” on a plane? If you have a gun in your hand and yell “I’m going to kill you!” at someone, is that free speech?

If you and I both have something to say that opposes each other, do we both have a right to say it? What if one of us intimidated the other into not speaking? Were someone’s rights infringed there? What if one of us just shouts over the other is that still free speech? If I bring my friends to help me shout over you?

Does free speech protect a minority opinion? Was it what protected the civil rights movement? Abolitionists? Does it protect the Klan and Neo-Nazis? How minority of an opinion can it be and still be protected?

If we say that we are open to all, and one of those all espouses an opinion we don’t agree with, are we open to all? Or are we only open to those whose speech doesn’t offend us? If we are only open to speech that doesn’t offend us, is that really free speech?

Does a group have a right to invite whoever they want to speak to the group? Is that free speech? Does religion matter? What if it is a religious view we totally disagree with? A political view we totally disagree with? If the group is threatened by those who want to shut down their opinions and views, do we as a community have a right to defend them and support them?

At what point does majority rule and over ride your freedom of speech?

 

Can straight white males be progressives?

It’s a question that as a straight white male, I have struggled with. Not to mention adding in the additional layers of being a parent, a veteran and a regular “church-goer” (to those outside UU, we are typical church). There are several lens with which to view this question. (Leave it to a philosopher to correct his own question.)

First, can I overcome my straight white maleness to see the issues of people that are historically marginalized by a society run by straight white males?

I think I’ve tried. I don’t know that I will ever be perfect at it. I don’t know that anyone is ever perfect at overcoming themselves and their own experiences. I read, watch, and listen to feminist, GLBT, and racial/ethnic minority perspectives as well as attempt to include them in my thinking. I agree with them most of the time. I’m historically literate and know that there is bias in history that leads to present-day issues.

Second, if I use my straight white male privilege to amplify the voices and perspectives of marginalized persons, am I not invoking the very privilege I’m trying to dissolve?

For instance, a couple years ago, a group of older white males were repeatedly dismissing the issues my twenty-something female colleague was bringing up in a patronizing sort of way. I fired off an emotionally charged email (rarely a good idea) about their unwillingness to deal with the problem because of who was voicing the concern. After some chastisement from my supervisors, the issue was immediately addressed and resolved. They have since listened to her repeatedly but at least initially, it was more out of fear. (They seem to listen now out of both habit and respect.) But often I don’t have the longevity to see if my use of my privilege has a lasting impact.

Third, and maybe the toughest, when it comes to employment, when I do I allow my career ambitions to take a back seat to the promotion of historically underrepresented persons?

It happens that I work in a field with a strong collection of women, racial minority, and GLBT persons. So when an opportunity for promotion comes open, there have always been candidates from these groups also applying. When I am selected over them, regardless of qualifications, I hear remarks about the persistence of the straight white males in positions of power and privilege and how it is a shame I was hired over an equally qualified person who was not a straight white male. At times, knowing a qualified colleague who was not a straight white male was putting in for a position, and wanting to support them, I have chosen to not apply and openly supported them. But how often do we expect, encourage, or accept, straight white males who are willing to do such a thing? Even when it means passing up a career opportunity or a financial incentive for a working-class family. And has mentioned in the previous question, how you do such things also has career ramifications.

Last, is the question of voice. Is my voice less valuable in the diversity conversation?

When I work with people from marginalized groups, I find I am often shunted into a role of limited agency. When I write about the history of women or African Americans, there is the inevitable question “Why is a white guy doing this work?” As if straight white male historians are limited to only straight white male history. Isn’t that the problem?

I don’t say this out of seeking some pity or “woah is me” attitude. I say it out of answering an earnest question from a colleague about why aren’t more straight white male allies of women and minorities.  There are still more straight white males in this country than any other single group. And as a whole, they are more conservative and hold more power than any other single group. It isn’t easy for a straight white male to try to offload some of that either philosophically, physically, or financially. Hence, the limits to what many are willing to do.