“Sir, you are an idiot.” Wow, an insult wrapped in such old-fashioned politeness. I let the words hover and reach, as I always do, for peace: for clarity, connection, common humanity.
Last week I raised the idea of unarmed policing, as practiced in half a dozen countries around the world. I wasn’t calling for immediate gun surrender but, rather, the diversion of human energy away from short-sighted, violent responses to conflict situations — at pretty much every level of society, from interpersonal to geopolitical — and to the complex, courageous, creative task of building a culture of peace.
Being called an idiot for making such a plea is to be expected, of course — it happens all the time, and I relish it because it means my words have reached people on the other side of the great political divide. That’s what building peace is all about.
How will human society let go of violence — “good violence,” which is the most seductive and most destructive of all — when its utterly crucial necessity permeates the media, permeates collective thought? Good violence is so simple, so “surgical.” You take out only the problem situation and innocent people everywhere are instantly safer. Then you close your eyes and refuse to see what happens next.
As violent conflict runs wild in the Middle East, the result, the New York Times glibly and mindlessly informs us, “is a boom for American defense contractors looking for foreign business in an era of shrinking Pentagon budgets.” The article also explains: “Saudi Arabia spent more than $80 billion on weaponry last year — the most ever, and more than either France or Britain — and has become the world’s fourth-largest defense market.”
And: “Qatar, another gulf country with bulging coffers and a desire to assert its influence around the Middle East, is on a shopping spree. Last year, Qatar signed an $11 billion deal with the Pentagon to purchase Apache attack helicopters and Patriot and Javelin air-defense systems. Now the tiny nation is hoping to make a large purchase of Boeing F-15 fighters to replace its aging fleet of French Mirage jets. “American defense firms are following the money. . . .”
Wow, gosh, a “shopping spree” — so reminiscent of George Bush’s injunction to the American public to go shopping as the War on Terror was being launched. What the Times article fails to mention, however, as Qatar and Saudi Arabia and other anti-Iran U.S. allies go shopping for state-of-the-art weaponry, is that hellish conflict zones all over the planet — aflame with violence catered by U.S. and other Western defense contractors — are not merely killing innocent people directly but wrecking life-sustaining social structures and causing the displacement of millions of people, who are left without the means to live.
These conflict zones include Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, according to Thalif Deen, writing for Inter Press Service. And the United Nations, charged with the task of assisting the displaced, is overwhelmed.
Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist. [Abridged]