One peace at a time
During the Cold War, New Mexico writer-activist Chellis Glendinning published her book Waking Up in the Nuclear Age: The Book of Nuclear Therapy. In it she confronts the nuclear awakening that brought us all face to face with the possibility of destroying entire countries—if not the planet—as a result of a nuclear conflict between Russia and the United States. Granting that each of us is born to die, the author focuses on the particular anxieties about our mortality we faced after the dropping of the atomic bomb in 1945.
In the book, Glendinning recounts her experiences as a therapist helping groups come to grips with a nuclear Armageddon. She relates how different people worked through their fear of nuclear disaster to seeking survival instead of extinction. That is, choosing peace over war.
The text makes interesting reading today, even though the Cold War is over, since we are still faced with forms of catastrophic violence from terrorists and the effects of a government that tells us each day what the threat level from such violence is. In short, we are still required to individually and collectively choose despair or affirm life. The latter case requires that we seek sweeping political, cultural, and spiritual changes that will create a transition from perpetual war into lasting peace.
Glendinning tells us that like Demeter, the Greek earth goddess who labored to recover her stolen child, Persephone, from hell, we must persevere in the face of insurmountable forces until we restore the harmony and peace that is our natural state on Earth. In the myth, the insurmountable force is symbolized by the supreme, male god Zeus. Demeter triumphed by cleverly using her power to stop the earth from producing fruits and flowers until her daughter was returned. She then struck a deal with the frustrated Zeus which resulted in establishing the four seasons, including winter, when the now freed Persephone must return for a time to her unwelcome suitor and kidnaper in hell. Precisely what this mythic solution becomes in our struggle against terrorists armed with nukes is difficult to say. However, history shows us that such power deals have been struck one peace at a time for millennia. From this perspective, there is every reason to have hope and not despair by going to war, although that option has also been used frequently throughout time.
A recent book by Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed titled The War on Freedom: How and Why America was Attacked September 11, 2001 is less hopeful than provocative and reveals some of the complexities and problems of wars. It is a compilation of documents, reports by researchers, and news coverage which purports to present all the facts and background leading up to the 9/11 attacks. From these sources the book purports to analyze the responses by our government to the attacks. The author concludes that 9/11 and its aftermath is primarily a war waged against our individual freedoms by our own government as much as it is one being waged against our cities, people, and national interest by terrorists for their purposes. Many of the reviews of Ahmed’s admittedly controversial book use the word “chilling” to describe it, but others, like the Canadian journalist Barry Zwicker of MediaFile, laud Ahmed’s “organization, methodology, timeliness, [and] clarity of purpose.”
Ahmed is the executive director of the Institute for Policy Research and Development, a British think tank devoted to work on human rights, justice and peace. Most interestingly, a “backword” at the end of the book by publisher John Leonard provides broad historical perspectives and a working hypothesis for what some (but not Leonard) might call the conspiracy theories swirling around the as yet unexplained details of the 9/11 attacks. Leonard begins his essay with a quote by the fourth President of the United States, James Madison, in 1793: “Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies: from these proceed debts and taxes. . . [such] are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few . . . .No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare. . . .”
Clearly, Madison believed our democratic republic must remain inherently peaceful in order to survive. Ahmed and Leonard, focusing on the dark side of history, remind us that our republic has frequently been involved with violent civil or foreign wars. What Glendinning and others of her persuasion have worked on is a grassroots, spiritually based approach to transforming all that violent history by empowering individuals and small groups to achieve liberty and security through achieving one peace at a time—beginning with the peace in one’s own self.