Susan Van Haitsma :
Remembering our roots: Equality rejects war

As the failures of war strategies have become increasingly obvious, the benefits of nonviolent approaches based on the principle of equality have become more obvious.

mother earth

Image from Educating Humanity.

By Susan Van Haitsma | The Rag Blog | July 30, 2014

At the root of every major religious tradition in the world is the belief that all human lives are equally valuable: our neighbors as ourselves. The fundamental equality of persons is also the thesis of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Though declared within a system of vast inequalities, the statement rang true from the beginning as an acknowledgement that equality and freedom are inextricably linked.

In my lifetime, freedom movements have made the strongest gains when they’ve modeled equality through a commitment to nonviolence. By guarding the right of one’s adversary to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, one is holding open the possibility that the adversary could become an ally, and that’s the way a healthy movement grows.

Near the end of his life, Martin Luther King, Jr. was speaking out strongly against the violence of war.

Near the end of his life, Martin Luther King, Jr. was speaking out strongly against the violence of war. The devaluation of human life in the propaganda, training, and prosecution of the war in Indochina was antithetical to both his Christian and democratic principles. As determined, disciplined activists in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement were proving, equality meant, even in the face of deadly persecution, refusing to threaten death to one’s persecutors.

By upholding the humanity of all persons in the struggle, the movement prevented the kind of carnage that resulted during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, showing that equality is not a goal separate from its means, but rather the engine of its process.

The lessons of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and subsequent freedom movements that have used and built upon nonviolent methods are exports the world is most in need of now. The U.S., in its foreign policy, has abandoned its founding principle of equality by acting as though certain lives are more valuable than others. Arming different factions against others has exacerbated divisions between people and increased proliferation and smuggling of weapons that have become more destructive and more likely to be used in crime.

“Rules of engagement” are murky and contradictory. Soldiers and civilians can be hard to distinguish. Often, civilians are armed and soldiers are youths who are forced or lured into fighting. There are no real boundaries to battlefields, as hospitals, schools and homes have become casualties in missile strikes blamed by different groups on each other.

As the failures of war strategies have become increasingly obvious, the benefits of nonviolent approaches based on the principle of equality have become more obvious, too. Maintaining open channels of communication between all sides in conflict is more effective than arming one side against another; exchanges in the arts emphasize the creative impulse in all people; fair trade is better for local economies than free trade; the health of the planet, on which all people depend, is degraded by the use of toxic weapons and weapons testing, so arms reduction must be a common goal; people power is a strong power, and each of us can play a positive role in ending and preventing war.

Groups of people all over the world are standing together for peace.

Groups of people all over the world are standing together for peace — for example, Israelis and Palestinians who have jointly protested the violence on all sides, and soldiers who have resisted conscription and deployments. Equal press coverage for nonviolent action also makes a difference.

Wars devolve into deepening cycles of chaotic retaliation. It may never be known who was ultimately responsible for shooting or selling or manufacturing the missile that ended the lives of the 298 passengers and crew members aboard commercial flight MH17 as it flew above a war zone. But, surely the tragedy, most likely a terrible mistake, confirmed that self-evident truth: all human lives are infinitely precious and profoundly equal.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover those precious values — that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control.” It’s time, and it’s always possible, to go back to our roots and say “stop.” Stop killing our neighbors.

[Susan Van Haitsma is co-coordinator of Sustainable Options for Youth in Austin, Texas. Read more articles by Susan Van Haitsma on The Rag Blog.]

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5 Responses to Susan Van Haitsma :
Remembering our roots: Equality rejects war

  1. Beverly Baker Moore says:

    I certainly agree that news coverage of peace efforts would be helpful….more truth speaking in general would be helpful. Unfortunately, the current limited, corporate-driven, narrowly-defined, sound bite mentality, mono view fed to us via mass media “news” sources is no help at all.

  2. anonymous says:

    Quick, how many of the Rag regulars have denounced nonviolence as “petty bourgeois illusion”?

    How many defend the violence of the oppressed as ethically or pragmatically justified by the violence of the oppressors?

  3. Extremist2TheDHS says:

    Violence is necessary. Not all violence, but some.

    Israel promised that as soon as an extended period of quiet could be achieved with the Palestinians, they would suspend their violent reprisals. Israel could have “Maintained open channels of communication between all sides in conflict” with the Palestinians. Or they could have engaged in “exchanges in the arts to emphasize the creative impulse in all people” with the Palestinians. But in either of those cases, Palestinian rockets would still be flying. As it is, each time Hamas punched, Israel punched harder. Each time they killed, Israel killed ten fold in return.

    And in the end, Hamas had enough and the rockets stopped flying. Random violence, or violence born of hatred or prejudiced is bad. Violence born of self defense is often effective and good. Just ask the Gazans about that.

    – Proud to be an Extremist2TheDHS.

    • Steve Mason says:

      Of course this Quaker, van Haitsma, loses any credibility, what with her or her Quaker associates’ direct coalitional actions with the likes of the Trotskyite International Socialist Association, the violent, racist Brown Berets of Aztlan, and above all, Anti-Racist Action, who call for the extinction of the White Race and whose symbol is that of the KHMER ROUGE. And then there’s van Haitsma’s endorsement of Aztec ethno-supremacism and spirituality, which is based on the promulgation of perpetual war. She knows this, it’s been pointed out to her as she stands by it. You can’t claim you are for peace if you push the Aztec ethos. Period.

  4. Deb Ziegler says:

    Thanks for the eloquent reminder, Sue, of what we all know to be true, even if fear turns us nasty, violent and reactive. Fear of having holes punched in our cultural messages, perhaps, as a friend of mine phrased it in a conversation this week. I was riding CapMetro to ACC the other day and looked up to see a poem posted there in the bus. It too had your name, and it too, as I memorized the words, spoke to me of the power of nonviolence:

    Riding the Greyhound, Memphis to Dallas
    Young, black, confident
    You and your baby girl
    Melting into one another
    On the hard, fast road
    Your gentle stasis
    Calms me in my blue, velvet seat

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