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Official Frank Serpico Blog
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
The truth we were all born with before our parents infused us with their own beliefs.

Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:Chronogram
As you sow, so shall you reap. Jesus said it. He even demonstrated it. He fought the establishment with seeming foreknowledge that he was provoking his own demise. One might say he was a man of violence ("I did not come to bring peace, but a sword") and he got what he had coming. Unlike most aggressors who see violence as a valid means of achieving their goals, are drunk with power, or are simply psychopaths, Jesus used his revolutionary life and violent death to make a point. In either case the lesson is the same: Violence begets violence.

Each day's newspaper headlines depicting ever-increasing mutual destruction bring the lesson home. For me today's are particularly striking. There was a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. Reading further I find an account that brings tears to my eyes: A man in shock gathers his children who had just watched their mother torn apart. "The children were screaming: 'Mom! Mom!' She wasn't answering, she was dead already." My thoughts flew to my cousin who lives in Tel Aviv with her family and I vainly search the web for a list of the names of victims.

This example is called "terrorism" because it is inflicted by a rogue individual or group. But most instances are institutionalized forms of terrorism, directed by official government policy (a laser-guided missile inspires the same terror as a man in a jalabah wearing an exploding belt). Indeed, the work of Palestinian suicide bombers is relatively small compared with the havoc wreaked by the Israeli army that kills almost daily in the occupied territories, under state sanction.

Our own government is overt in its policy of torture and gratuitous killing as an acceptable if not laudable political tactic. At home there's 1 in 14 citizens in prison cages—about 3,500 facing the death penalty (60 were executed in 2005). And abroad, the hundreds of thousands maimed and killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years demonstrate barbarity comparable to Genghis Khan and his horde (though at least his mission was clear and sincere—to wipe what he saw to be the evils of agrarian civilization from the land).

"The enemy" is a constantly shifting target drummed up to support the industry of violence. For the last half of the 20th century our war was against the "Communists," a convenient generalization that could be applied to any country or group that threatened US interests. Now there's the "Terrorists", and our absurdly general "War on Terror" which appears designed to produce precisely that which it claims to fight. Indeed, evoking new violence is the logical goal of those that profit from destruction.

If violence produces more violence, it follows that peace begets peace. In recent history we have the example of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission which helped opposing sides of a longstanding conflict understand one another. When the apartheid regime came to an end in South Africa many expected a bloodbath of retributive violence. By facilitating communication and understanding, the commission seemed to ease a transition into a new society and took the energy out of the cycle of destruction.

What can we do to take the energy out of the cycles of violence and bring about reconciliation between the ever-shifting opposing sides of a conflict? To begin with we can begin to loosen our identification with contrived structures of political affiliation, nation, religion, and all the factional edifices of the old world. These institutions, as well as their more modern counterparts, the multinational banks, munitions manufacturers, war infrastructure, oil, and other corporations that profit no matter which side of a conflict "wins," are like the dinosaurs.

They have huge, sprawling, profit-driven bodies with tiny brains incapable of apprehending the havoc they wreak on humanity and life on the earth. They can't see the bleakness of how these results will play out in the future.

It is up to us not to subscribe to the shallow stories of "us versus the evil-doers" that dumb us down with banal dichotomies. It is up to us to recognize that we profit from peacemaking as richly as Halliburton and the Carlyle Group profit from warmongering. Only everyone profits from making peace.

We become peacemakers by bringing the force of reconciliation into the small, personal events that confront us at home and in the world. Can we allow ourselves to be impinged upon? Can we let go of pride, and the need for credit and recognition? Can we yield in situations where we are drawn to fight? Can we give respectful attention even when we feel attacked and reactive? Can we consider the good of our community before our personal desires? If we can answer yes to one of these questions even once in a week we can call ourselves peacemakers.

—Jason Stern

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