#228 – Dick Bernard: Making the Change from "Swords into Plowshares"
This post relates directly to #227 – The Last Truck Out.
My guess is that there are relatively few who truly believe that Perpetual War is the path to Perpetual Peace. Even those who recite the assorted ‘might is right’ mantras probably doubt the wisdom of this position. Tens of millions upon tens of millions of war dead, especially in the last hundred years, testify to the insanity of war as solution to problems. We know we need a different formula for living together on this planet or we’re all dead.
Still, ours is a nation built on the value of military might and conquest, and huge numbers of us, including myself, have very close familiarity with the military system. So, when in doubt, the path to peace is usually more war: it is a national mantra, difficult to change. Sometimes it seems impossible to change.
Wednesday night I was heartened when that last combat truck came through the gate from Iraq into Kuwait. I was heartened even though 50,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, which is still an unstable country, politically.
I was heartened because possibly, just possibly, the scales have tipped from a military solution to every problem, to more of an emphasis on diplomacy: the possibility that a Department of State can play a larger role against an immense Department of Defense. I will continue to believe that what happened yesterday was an immense step forward, rather than a petty and unimportant one.
“We, the people” are key to encouraging this transition. How?
As I write, I have in front of me a dog-eared copy of Martin Luther King, Jr’s 1964 book “Why We Can’t Wait“. It was a used book when I received it – a plus not a minus! – a most welcome gift from my friend Lydia Howell in December, 2006. It is a book I urge everyone to read reflectively. My edition, from 1968, is the reprinted and identical edition still available at bookstores and on-line.
MLK wrote the book when he was 34 years old, and it was published shortly after his 35th birthday; and a few months after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, who he knew personally. He recounts the sorry history of race relations in this country, with an emphasis on the more recent history of the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s, and particularly the watershed year of 1963, the year of his Letter from the Birmingham Jail (which is reprinted in full in the book.) (MLK was responding to a letter from prominent Alabama clergymen who were urging moderation. It is very difficult to find their letter on-line, even today, so I have attached it Alabama Clergy MLK 63001.)
King’s true genius was not only his rhetorical skills, in my opinion.
King knew grassroots organizing, and the politics of possibility as well as the realities of politics, formal and informal. He richly recounts the struggles in his book.
In the book he gives great credit to a minister most of us have likely never heard of: a man named Fred Shuttlesworth who built the Alabama base for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “The courageous minister’s audacious public defiance of Bull Connor had become a source of inspiration and encouragement to Negroes throughout the South“, King says (pp 51-52).
The hard-hearted Bull Connor also receives some of the credit for the successes of 1963.
At page 132, King goes further: “I am reminded of something President Kennedy said to me at the White House following the signing of the Birmingham agreement. “Our judgment of Bull Connor should not be too hard,” he commented. “After all, in his way, he has done a good deal for civil-rights legislation this year.” King continues: “It was the people who moved their leaders, not the leaders who moved the people….”
King and the Civil Rights Movement worked with different issues at a different time in history than today’s Peace movement.
The Civil Rights Movement was fighting centuries of oppression; in the War and Peace environment of today, Peace leaders need to recognize that War has been successful, and re-fashion their arguments around the ultimate failure of War as a solution, especially in today’s and the future environment.
It is a difficult transition which we all have to make.
Peace and justice are the only long term solutions.