Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Crimean War? Crimean Showdown? or Crimean Mediation? It's Time for Americans to Get Some New Vocabulary

An initiative has been begun to propagate the idea that "war can be abolished." This is not to deny that people disagree about things, but only to say that no thinking person believes, anymore, that the desired way to settle disagreements is through force. (See

Recent developments on Russia's border give us a good place to test this proposition.

See Wikipedia, "Russians in Ukraine"
The status quo involves force or the threat of force to influence the alignment of peoples and regions with one state or another.  Crimea is the crisis du jour, but South Ossetia and Abhkazia were a few years back, and Ukraine looks like it's just around the corner. (See the Miami Herald, "First Ukrainian soldier killed as Putin calls Kiev 'mother of all Russian cities'")

Conveniently, a large military alliance -- NATO -- bristling with weapons, has announced itself ready to step in and contest annexations of territories by Russia. For NATO, the measure of resolvability of conflict is firepower.

Most of us are ignorant about the peoples and regions surrounding Russia, and the sentiment in those places. We don't begin to have an idea about the history. I know that I didn't know the first thing about Crimea before the current crisis -- except that it was part of the phrase The Crimean War. As I sit here right now, I'm not clear on all the arguments for and against Crimea being part of Russia vs. being part of Ukraine. But what I am clear on is that I have passively allowed the U.S. government to adopt the posture that (a) the U.S. gets a say in how the question is resolved; and (b) the U.S. gets to back its position up with force. 

Columnist Bob Koehler wrote today that it's time for citizens -- ordinary people like you and me -- to get involved in demanding a different way, building on a statement by the International Peace Bureau:
The statement cites a plea by Pax Christi International “to religious leaders and all the faithful in Ukraine, as well as in the Russian Federation and in other countries involved in the political tensions” – I would simply include in this plea every concerned human being – “to act as mediators and bridge-builders, bringing people together instead of dividing them, and to support nonviolent ways to find peaceful and just solutions to the crisis.”

The idea that the world we create at a personal level can influence if not determine the sort of world we create at the national and international level seems naïve, perhaps, unless one looks at the default alternative, consigned to us by the media: that our role is to be a spectator in the global wrestling arena.

Dialogue and diplomacy are extensions of mediation and bridge-building at the personal level. Perhaps if such work were regarded as a citizen’s responsibility, it could not be so easily dismissed in the reporting of global affairs – nor could war be declared by a few absurdly powerful leaders, with the rest of the world simply following along without choice and reaping the consequences.

(See Bob Koehler, "Make It Hurt")
See Wikipedia, "Russians in the Baltic states"
In other words, we need to become advocates for a whole different way of resolving the disagreements over the borders of European and Russia regions.  We're going to have to develop the courage to say, "I didn't know that," and "I need to understand this better," and even, "I guess I was wrong," and "I need to urge you to talk about this." What we can't do is continue to just throw up our hands and say, "Let the military sort it out."

There is a distinctly American attitude that says, in effect, "I'm much too important to spend my time working patiently to resolve conflict with you" and "Don't bore me with a history lesson" and even "You're pissing me off and so it's fine with me if you get hurt." And from that a thousand military budgets have been spawned.

But American "annoyance" can no longer be an excuse for military action.

And to bring about change, we're going to have to commit ourselves to some hard work. Peace work.

I recommend a good place to start is with first principles.

Do you believe the desired way to settle disagreements is through force?

Do you believe others are able to see things as you do?

What is stopping us from agreeing that "war can be abolished"?

Who can you share this message with today?

Related posts

Many people will argue that it was only because the U.S. made a threat of force that Syria offered to enter into an agreement on chemical weapons. The sequence of events certainly suggests some relationship between the two.

(See "OR ELSE!" (What the U.S. threat of force against Syria teaches us) )

With NATO coming to Chicago, how were we, as a faith community, to engage with this historic event?  Could St. Luke’s Logan Square be a place where we can work together to understand NATO, militarism, and how conflicts can be resolved without violence?

(See NATO: A Mighty Fortress is Our God? in the St. Luke's Messenger.)

Call me a demanding citizen, but I think the President should get off his butt and go talk to the leader of Russia.  (Yes, Putin.)  It's his job.

(See Obama: Go to Moscow!)