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Pivot to Peace

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OK, the history of the United States is one of a nation built on robbery, murder, massacre, exploitation by armed force, and predatory capitalism. We all know that. Few of us lose sleep over it, but it’s all documented.

Knowing this and reckoning with it all are two vastly different things. If ever a people showed us the path forward, it is the Standing Rock Sioux, peaceful but forceful, warriors but nonviolent, confrontational but invitational. They just want to preserve the land, sacred sites, maybe a bit of indigenous lifeways. They will even take the initiative to greet and shake hands with those who douse them with pepper spray and sic biting, snarling dogs on them.

Meanwhile, what has rich white powerful militarized US society done with the land?

Just think of Fort McClellan, in Alabama, polluted above, below, and all around. Even the local Anniston Star editorial board is at wit’s end about the failure of the US Army to clean up its colossal mess there. Alabama, it may be noted, is a Muskogean word and Anniston is in the general vicinity of the Alabama and Muskogee tribal lands. When they lived there before Europeans the environment was pristine.

To be fair, the US Army made much of this gigantic polluted mess, and many others across our land, before there were any meaningful environmental protection laws in the US. Or, as one colonel once stormed at an environmental group attorney, “We here to defend the land, not protect it!” Huh?

All cultures bring much good to our society; at this tough point the mature, wise citizenry would ask, what is the best from each that we can take? What has outlived its utility and should be discarded? What is hurting us and can be transformed?

At the core of most societal ills, from pollution to climate change and even to our general sense of well being, is how we manage conflict. We even have our high-ranking military officers acknowledge that climate change is a serious national security threat and that “inaction is not a viable option.”

Since the US military is the single largest polluter in the US and the single largest consumer of oil products (and therefore a major driver of climate chaos), we have to challenge ourselves at a deeper level to examine new methods of dealing with conflict that don’t involve thousands of military jet flights daily all around the world, thousands of truck-miles of military vehicles on every continent daily, and millions of gallons of fuel use daily by the hundreds of ships and thousands of boats deployed by the US military on the seven seas.

Over on the peaceful methods side, we are getting new research, new competencies, and new successes constantly—the most recent being the strong, innovative, and effective participation of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute in the long-sought peace in Colombia. There are now no more wars being waged in the Western Hemisphere. That is historic.

As we make history, let us learn from it and turn away from destruction. Perhaps it “worked” in the past. It no longer does and even the readiness and preparation and ongoing investment in destruction and threat of destruction is clearly massively harmful to us now and will only get worse until we take a breath and pivot toward peace. Let the activists—like the Standing Rock Sioux—and the researchers—like Erica Chenoweth—and the transformational practitioners—like John Paul Lederach—be our new generals and champions.

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Tom H. Hastings is core faculty in the Conflict Resolution Department at Portland State University and founding director of PeaceVoice

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