Friday, April 22, 2011

Protesting the Wars with the Socialists

Guest post by Ben Carmack

Funny: I've never met a socialist who didn't care about others, or a capitalist who did. -- Fred Reed,

Peace and honest friendship with all nations--entangling alliances with none. -- Thomas Jefferson

The most alarming sign of the state of our society now is that our leaders have the courage to sacrifice the lives of young people in war but have not the courage to tell us that we must be less greedy and less wasteful. -- Wendell Berry, "Peaceableness Toward Enemies"

Today I finally followed through on a promise I had made to myself: to participate in an antiwar demonstration. I successfully stood and was counted for the antiwar position in front of the Court House in Lexington, Ky., holding a sign that read, "WE'VE BEEN LIED TO." It fairly summarizes my view of the (now) three wars the U.S. government is waging in the Middle East. At every step of the way, the U.S. government has lied to the people about the reasons for the wars, as well as the conduct of the same. This is nothing new; we were lied to about Vietnam, Korea, World War II, World War I, the Spanish American War and the War Between the States, among others.

I had the chance on the long drive home to reflect both on my humble protest and the protest of the handful of the other activists, mostly committed student members of Socialist organizations in Kentucky. I share some of my reflections here with some suggestions, if wanted.

Our desire as protesters was to call for an end to the Middle East wars, as well as to call upon government leaders to spend the resources currently set aside for war making to build up the people of the United States, specifically through education and gainful work. We chanted something to this effect.

While I agree with the general aim of my socialist friends, I must admit here that our sloganeering was far from an adequate response to a very complex problem. Many well-paying jobs in the U.S. today are connected to the war economy, supporting countless prosperous communities around the country. These jobs are both military and civilian government jobs, and private sector jobs with defense contractors. These jobs often provide good pay and benefits. The defense industry is subsidized by government, and can afford to pay good salaries with benefits because it is insulated from competition.

In the meantime, the productive industries of America not subsidized by the war economy have largely disappeared or weakened. Americans now import much more than they export. Quality jobs are hard to come by. The armaments industry is one of the few strong industries standing: cutting out the American Empire would devastate the American economy, not help it, at least in the short run. Ending the Empire is the right thing to do, but (if done) it will be very costly and difficult. This was not mentioned at our protest but should have been.

While we were happy to distance ourselves from the actions of "our government," all of us today remain connected to the monstrous system that survives by committing violence against innocents. Case in point: with (perhaps) a few exceptions, all of us, me included, drove to the protest, some quite a distance, perpetuating our nation’s dependence on oil that led to the wars in the Middle East. Thus, while we were saying the right things, our actions were saying something contradictory. At best we were walking contradictions, at worst insincere and not worthy of being listened to. We rightly criticize the violence and the oppression of the present economy, yet we also participate in it, abetting its violence and injustice.

What I am getting at here may seem to be a kind of hopelessness and despair. From a purely material point of view, the situation surely is hopeless, but humans are more than just material: we are sustained by the Spirit, the Tao (or Way) of Creation. In the natural world as it is today, violence and greed are virtues: by them many have conquered and grown wealthy. Fortunately their victory is temporary, because it is contrary to the Way.

I have used the term Way for convenience, but I should be plain and say that I am a Christian. The Spirit I refer to is God. God provides for us a standard of Good and He is the Good. He sent His Son Jesus into the world to show humans how to come back to the original Way of Creation, a Way of peace and brotherhood, without corruption.

The Way can be found by accepting forgiveness, which God freely offers. We are corrupt and full of contradiction; forgiveness is our only healing. The world’s corruption killed Jesus, but God raised Him to life, proving that the Way will triumph in the end. Lao-tzu once said that the man qualified to rule the world would be the man willing to lay down his life for the world. Jesus was that man. We remember this during the season of Lent.

I bring religion into the political questions of war and peace not because I favor theocracy but because I want to have hope, and if we judge the effectiveness of our protestations by our lives and actions in the here and now, we will have no hope. God’s forgiveness can erase our weakness and turn it into strength.

I believe that responsible citizens should from time to time petition the government for a redress of grievances, but ultimately the effectiveness of such petitioning is limited. It can even become counterproductive if protesters adopt a smug and unforgiving tone. We protesters should maintain a healthy doubt of our motives and our adequacy to do what we say we ought to do. We should not only talk about peace but live out peace. We should forgive even the criminal leaders of the U.S. government. We should forgive especially our enemies.

Everything material, everything real, is sustained by an unseen Spirit. In the same way the change we protesters demand must be sustained by a Spirit. It must become flesh and walk among us, which means that before the System can change, we must change. A good word for it is metanoia, "repentance." Here's to the long, quiet work of change, and to its occasional public face and protest. Here's to high ideals, and the quiet knowledge of our inability to live up to them.

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Thanks, Ben.         Comments welcome, pro, con, and otherwise.

1 comment:

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