This is one of those entries where I wish I had something profound and insightful to say. Unfortunately, all I have are questions.
Last week, while we were all watching the opening ceremonies the Olympics (or for those who despise the sports mania, you were doing something to distract yourselves from said event), the Russians were invading the Republic of Georgia. To many, especially people in the Baltic States and Eastern Europe who were once part of the “Soviet bloc,” this event seemed hauntingly reminiscent of Russia’s 1953 invasion of Czechoslovakia. Poland and Ukraine have made it clear that they fear they may be next on Russia’s list of projected targets. The world stood shocked at Russia’s bold move caught flat footed by their act of aggression.
To hear the Russians talk, it sounds like they are only seeking to “liberate” the oppressed people of South Ossetia. To hear the Georgian leaders speak, it sounds like a brazen move of aggression. Where does the truth lie? Of course it depends on who you listen to.
As a person committed to peaceful, non-violent means of conflict resolution, I was speechless and felt inadequate when I read about these events. The U.S. government’s response was to make strong statements of support for Georgia and to deploy “humanitarian aid” delivered by members of the U.S. Navy and Air Force. NATO seemed paralyzed. President Sarkozy of France brokered a peace agreement, which the Russians seem to be saying they would agree to while continuing to advance deeper into Georgia. However, the peace community was silent.
At times like this, I wish we peaceniks of the world were better organized. I wish we had a contingent of people whose mission it was to enter such situations to stand between the warring factions and advocate for reconciliation. During the 1980’s when the U.S. carried on its covert war in El Salvador and Nicaragua, Witness for Peace made such forays. At the beginning of the current Iraq war, Christians Peacemaker teams drove to Baghdad even as the bombs were falling. Numerous groups have sought to serve as “human shields” between the Israelis and Palestinians. However, usually such groups are small and take months to organize because they are not “at the ready” when such conflicts arise. In fact the Christian Peacemaker website asks the question: “What would happen if Christians devoted the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war?”
Part of the problem lies with the kind of people peace folks tend to be. We peace folks tend to be a bit anti-authoritarian and don’t like too many rules. We balk at too much organization (that’s why there are so many anti-Iraq war groups all bickering with each other). This divisive attitude hampers us when we need to act quickly and the people in need are halfway around the globe. We become strangely silent when there an act of naked aggression by an perpetrator who could care less about Gandhi’s concept of satygraha (truth-force) or Martin Luther King’s notion of redemptive suffering or the South African concept of ubuntu.
I have to believe that in Russia and in Georgia there are people who are committed to the ways of peaceful conflict resolution and non-violent direct action. I have to believe that there are people whatever their spiritual heritage who have found a deeper truth and personal inspiration in teachings such as Jesus’ directives on non-violence and redemptive suffering in the Sermon on the Mount. Somehow we must find ways to connect with such folks, support them and if need be stand up with them to counter the impulse to military violence that snags our leaders anytime actions like this occur. If we believe, as I do, that the way of non-violence is the way human beings are created and wired to live, then we have to find ways to creatively respond.
In the buildup to World War II the great Christian leader and theologian Reinhold Niebuhr renounced his youthful pacifism as being impractical in a world threatened by Nazism. When events such as the Russian invasion of Georgia occur many would-be pacifists silently thank their lucky stars we’ve got some big guns trained on the “enemy.” The hawks in our country, such as John McCain, feel emboldened to threaten military force on our supposed adversaries. But we peace folks, where are we?
I, for one, don’t want to go down the military road, but at this point, I have far more questions than constructive responses. Any ideas out there?