Friday, March 28, 2014

Renouncing War: An Opportunity Not To Be Missed

[One servant said] "I went and hid your talent in the ground."

[The master said] "[C]ast the worthless servant into the outer darkness."

             (Matthew 25:25,30)

Sometimes the stars align, and you see the world in a new way.  Here's how it happened for me.

First, as I started to describe recently, 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 Part of this initiative involves getting into the nitty-gritty problems, particularly the fact that nations tend to cling to the idea that fighting is "the" way for them, in the final analysis, to settle disputes; and the problem that, "sure, I want to renounce war -- but it's the other guy (group, nation, whatever) that's the problem!"

Second, I've been deeply impressed by the work of Mohamed ElBaradei in working against nuclear proliferation, as described in his book, The Age of Deception: Nuclear Diplomacy in Treacherous Times.Through this book, I have been schooled by ElBaradei in the little-discussed fundamentals of the nuclear non-proliferation regime, in particular, that the NPT -- and all the prevention of new weapons acquisition that it is aimed at -- is predicated on the elimination of nuclear weapons by the existing nuclear "haves"!

Third, I have been alerted to developments in Japan by my friend and colleague, the scholar and antiwar activist Kazashi Nobuo. In a Skype call just a few weeks ago, Kazashi urged me to learn more about the trends in Japan that may lead it away from its "peace constitution," and to tell others.

Finally, I attended a series of excellent workshops at this year's Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Washington, DC, just last week. One was a session on "Costs, Dangersand Alternatives: Military and Economic Competition in Asia and the Pacific" led by Mark Harrison, Director of the Peace with Justice Program/UMC-GBCS, Joseph Gerson, American Friends Service Committee, Chloe Schwabe, Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, and Yuichi Moroi, Temple University. I was struck when Prof. Moroi projected the actual words of Article 9 of the Japanese constitution on the screen:
ARTICLE 9. Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. (2) To accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized. [emphasis added]
The combination of all these influences made me see the words of the Japanese constitution in a new way. It suddenly occurred to me that the point of Article 9 has not been what it means for Japan, but what it means for the rest of us.  Article 9 is an invitation -- a creator of a special space -- in which we have the opportunity to consider what we want our constitution to say.  Do we ignore Article 9, and just carry on with business as usual?  Or do we rejoice in the space that Article 9 has created to allow us to consider renouncing the use of force as well?

I've posted here some pictures from Japan, reflecting various dimensions of the movement there to resist the impulse to war, as a reminder that Article 9 is not just a few words in a document.  It stands for an enormous amount of effort that people in Japan have invested over decades to emphasize their commitment to renouncing war and stopping the nuclear threat. (Have we been paying attention?)

I fear that we have not been good stewards of the opportunity that Article 9 has provided to us. Instead of taking that small beginning and making something glorious out of it, we have squandered it through inaction. I can't help think of the "Parable of the Talents" (Matthew 25:14-30):
14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Source: Bible Gateway)
We have had a window of opportunity -- nearly 70 years in which the constitution of Japan has explicitly renounced war, pointing the way for the rest of us. What have we imagined we were supposed to do?

Whatever we have imagined, what we have done is . . . not much. And so . . . are we any better than the "wicked and slothful" servant?

We have not taken this parable to heart in anything even resembling the seriousness intended. I can't help thinking that we have not had the courage to imagine that we are called to be stewards of the fate of the earth. I regret that in the past I myself have, too often, heard this parable in the most literal and, frankly, trivial way.

But all that's changed.  I'm tempted to be angry, like the master in the parable. However, I realize that what I am called to do is to try to be "good and faithful" in response to the opportunities that do still exist, and to convince others to do so, too. (The alternative -- the darkness -- is not pretty.)

On November 16, 2014, many Christian denominations (such as the ELCA) that follow the common lectionary will feature the Parable of the Talents as the Gospel reading at their Sunday services.  I wonder how many ministers will be preaching on the 21st century variant of this story of wasted opportunity and the darkness that ensues.

UPDATE: September, 2014

I just read that "The war-renouncing Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution has gained recognition and honor in the Asian region while facing harassment in Japan where the Abe government is working to make a war-fighting Japan by reinterpreting the supreme law. The Malayan Second World War History Society, a citizen’s organization in Malaysia, has granted the first Asia Peace Award to a Japanese civic group working to have Article 9 win the Nobel Peace Prize, Akahata reported on August 29."

(See "Article 9 of Constitution wins first Asia Peace Award," Japan Press Weekly, August 29, 2014)

Related posts

You might think that each person is just another face in the crowd, but if you look closely, they're all carefully drawn to depict an individual, and it's all these individuals working together that is going to stop Japan's return to militarization and war.

(See People Power Against War in Japan: A Lesson for Us All? )

Soon, Kazashi was able to visit the U.S. again, and we had the opportunity to renew our friendship. He told me about his work: "When I obtained a position at a university, it turned out to be in Hiroshima," I remember Kazashi telling me. "So it was very natural that I became connected with the peace movement. I became a peace worker."

(See Obama in Japan: How About a Pivot Toward Peacemaking? )

It's time for us to get honest about the true costs of war, including the long term health consequences for people who serve in the military, and the corresponding long-term costs that our society must commit to bear.

(See How to REALLY Honor Veterans)

Elaine Scarry demonstrates that the power of one leader to obliterate millions of people with a nuclear weapon - a possibility that remains very real even in the wake of the Cold War - deeply violates our constitutional rights, undermines the social contract, and is fundamentally at odds with the deliberative principles of democracy.

(See Reviews of "Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom" by Elaine Scarry )

FLASHBACK: 2012 protests against NATO in Chicago: As the Obama administration expressed fury at Pakistani resistance to further NATO war operations and excludes Pakistan's president from the NATO Summit, members of the wider community gathered to memorialize people killed by U.S. airstrikes and drone attacks in Pakistan and in the U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as U.S./NATO operations in Yemen, Libya, and elsewhere. Recognizing what veterans on Sunday called "the burden of blood that has stained these medals", Trinity Church opened its lawn to expressions of grief and remembrance by the entire community.

(See #NATOvictims )