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Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010 07:57 pm

As Iraq war ends, invest in peace

 “It is well that war is so terrible – otherwise we would grow too fond of it.” (General Robert E. Lee, statement at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Dec. 13, 1862)

Whether we as a nation are too fond of war is subjective opinion. That we continue to engage in war and build newer, more destructive weapons is fact.

The Iraq war claimed 4,420 U.S. soldiers’ lives. More than 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed.

Yet the war’s cost isn’t only in the loss of human lives, though that is tragic. The physical and psychological trauma to surviving soldiers and Iraqi civilians will mount over the coming years. The infrastructure destroyed means that electricity is sporadic or barely exists, roads are difficult to travel, clean water is at a premium and damaged sewage systems pose a health hazard. Limited access to food and health services adversely affects people’s lives. Early child malnutrition affects later education, labor and productivity outcomes, and that nation’s future leadership.

The farmers’ need to work in the fields is weighed against the fear and the possibility of being kidnapped. The toxicity of modern weapons contaminates the soil and makes it unfit for growing. Millions of unexploded cluster bombs and land mines left over from wars over the last 20 years need to be cleared.

More than 2.8 million Iraqis are displaced inside Iraq but far from home. Like refugees, internally displaced persons have lost their homes, property and livelihoods. They’re often separated from their families and may face violence in their host communities. Unlike refugees, however, they are not formally protected under international law, and post-conflict governments often lack the capacity to protect them.

If war is so terrible, are we willing to learn other ways to solve problems? Are we willing to financially invest in other practices?

In 2009 the world spent approximately $1.5 trillion on military forces. The United States accounted for 43 percent of that and its expenditures exceeded the combined total of the next 15 countries. By contrast, the budget of the United Nations is 2 percent of worldwide military expenditures.

As resources are poured into training for war, we need to put resources into training for nonviolence, for developing a culture of peace. Nonviolence is not passivity. It is action, but action which is nonviolent, not inaction. Nonviolence resists evil and oppression, but does not seek to defeat or humiliate the opponent, rather to win friendship and understanding. Nonviolent communications skills help this to happen.

Each year we celebrate the International Day for Peace and Cease Fire, a day established by the United Nations in 1981. As the U.N. Resolution that established the International Day of Peace was discussed, it was suggested that “Peace Day should be devoted to commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples” and a call for all to work in cooperation for the goal of worldwide peace. This year’s Peace Day theme is “Peace, Youth and Development” under the slogan “Peace = Future.”

The International Day of Peace is also noted as a Day of Ceasefire – personal or political. We can take this opportunity to make peace in our own relationships as well as impact the larger conflicts of our time. Imagine what a whole Day of Ceasefire would mean to humankind and all of creation.

Here are local events planned for public participation.

Monday, Sept. 20, 6:30-8 p.m.: A Conversation on Nonviolence, Carnegie Room North, Lincoln Public Library featuring panelists Kathy Kelly, Proshanta Nandi and Robert Blackwell. Cosponsored by Pax Christi Springfield and the Springfield Society of Friends (Quaker) Meeting.

Tuesday, Sept. 21, 7-9 p.m.: The Strangest Dream, Liberty Brew and View, City Lights Theater, Capital City Bar and Grill.

Saturday, Sept. 25 – Sunday, Sept. 26: The Grassroots InterFaith Team and 21 faith communities will participate in a 24-Hour Prayer for Peace, beginning 6 p.m. Sept. 25. Each faith community will take one hour to pray for the inhabitants of a different time zone. Spaces remain for participation by other faith communities and families. For more information, contact Diane at 544-3997 or go to https://sites.google.com/site/spfldgrassroots/.

Sr. Marcelline Koch, OP, is a member of the Dominican Sisters of Springfield and a peace activist.
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