Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Searching for today's Gandhis and Kings

There are 22 days until Jan. 20, 2009.


Searching for today's Gandhis and Kings


Washington Times - Washington, DC, USA

By Daniel L. Davis, Thursday, December 25, 2008

More than 2 million people have been displaced and 200,000 have been killed in the four-year-old conflict between government-backed Arab militias and the mostly black African Darfuris in Sudan. Some foreign leaders have accused the government of genocide.

Romans 12:17-18:
Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

The Bible:
Sura 8, chapter 6: And if they incline to peace, then incline to it and trust in Allah

The Koran:
We are today in one of the world's most violent and unstable periods since perhaps World War II.

In the past seven years the world has seen major terror attacks in the United States, Great Britain, Spain, Africa, Indonesia, Russia, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and India, horrific genocidal slaughter in Darfur and outright war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of citizens, soldiers, insurgents, men, women, children, the innocent, the guilty and the in-between have been killed, wounded, maimed, blown apart, beheaded, executed and otherwise dispatched from the land of the living. Tensions are heating to the boiling point and could explode into major war between India and Pakistan; the Kurds and Iraq/Turkey/Iran/Syria; Iran and the United States/Israel; Hezbollah and Israel; and Russia and Georgia - among others. War and rumors of war dominate our lives.

Somehow the spirit of joy and happiness that normally characterizes this time of year seems strangely out of place. Far more than presents this Christmas, we are in desperate need of the gift of peace.

The editorial pages of the nation's leading newspapers are stocked full of pundits explaining how we can "win the war on terror" by using strong-armed tactics, co-opting the weak and employing intimidation to attain our ends. Many recommend we threaten military action against Iran if it doesn't bend to our will. Others argue that the new president ought to hold to a tough and aggressive policy regarding Russian "aggression."

Still more enthusiastically endorse a deepening and widening of the war in Afghanistan, perhaps even to Pakistan - whether the government in Islamabad agrees to it or not. What is consistent about all these efforts is that they posit that to achieve peace, we must employ ever greater amounts of violence and force. The result seems only to be a festering of the violence, an increase in the amount of terrorism and more antagonistic relations between nation states.

But what we need now more than ever is the emergence of strong, powerful, disciplined and visionary men and women of peace to show a new and better way.

Not at all referring to anti-war protesting, I believe the world needs courageous and driven people who are willing to stand against the tide of increasing violence and the militarization of conflict resolution, to aggressively promote peaceful solutions and reason; and to appeal to the better side of man's nature. It is a commonly held belief among rational and educated adults that such ideas are "pie in the sky" comments better suited to fairy tales than serious policy discussion. But such dismissive attitudes would be factually wrong. History provides powerful and recent evidence to the contrary.

In my view, the five most historically significant and consequential leaders in American history are George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Our nation would not be what it is today were it not for the cumulative efforts of all five men. King is most commonly lauded for the courage and passion he displayed in his fight for the equality of black Americans during the turbulent '60s. But such a view fails to illuminate the powerful intellect, wisdom, moral courage, discipline and iron will of the man I believe was the most consequential American of the 20th century.

The passage of time has dulled contemporary understanding of the humiliation, the violence and outright evil King endured to bring justice and equality to American citizens who happened to have black skin. Had he responded with "an eye for an eye" and answered violence with violence, I am convinced that King would have only been a footnote in history and the cause for which he fought would have foundered. But he did not follow the path of violence, and the 300 million residents of our country are today the lucky beneficiaries of his efforts.

King, who himself was inspired early in his life by the example of nonviolent resistance demonstrated by Mahatma Gandhi, wrote in his autobiography that "Gandhi resisted evil with as much vigor and power as the violent resister, but he resisted with love instead of hate. True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to evil power. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love, in the faith that it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflictor of it, since the latter only multiplies the existence of violence and bitterness in the universe, while the former may develop a sense of shame in the opponent, and thereby bring about a transformation and change of heart."

In his famous "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963, King expanded on this theme when he said, "Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force." King did not simply lay the foundation of equality for black Americans, he elevated American society and culture itself with his commitment to nonviolent resistance. Where, I ask, is the Martin Luther King Jr. of the 21st century?

Perhaps somewhere in America this day there lives a man or woman in whose soul burns a King-esque passion for the betterment of our nation and world. Someone who believes that the solution to violence is not simply the application of more and greater force, but the way of understanding, respect, honor, wisdom, creative ideas and humility. But maybe that person is somewhere in Pakistan. Or maybe Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Canada, Germany, Russia, or even what we might consider the unlikeliest of places - Iran, some obscure madrassa in the Islamic world or a former member of Hezbollah. Better yet, how great it would be if a number of new Gandhis or Kings rose from each of those locations, working within their respective spheres of influence for the common good of both their own nation and the world around them.

Conventional wisdom in today's world ridicules the idea that a violent world can be changed using nonviolent means - just like British authorities initially ridiculed Gandhi and American leaders in the South dismissed the efforts of King. But I submit the absence of such visionaries, coupled with the currently prevailing concept for the escalation of violence to solve violent problems, could lead to the same globally volatile environment that existed in 1914.

On the eve of the "Great War," leaders in countries all over Europe were intent on not appearing weak in the eyes of their competitors, and thus took strong action after the Sarajevo spark, answering strength with strength, violence with escalating violence so that their adversaries would "get the message." Instead, as has happened all too often in mankind's history, violence took on a life of its own, spiraling out of anyone's control. Millions paid with their lives; whole generations of European men were gutted.

For there to be even a chance of avoiding their fate, new leaders cast from the molds of Gandhi and King must arise. Pray such leaders show themselves soon.

• Army Maj. Daniel L. Davis is a cavalry officer who fought in Desert Storm, Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom.


Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] verizon.net


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


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