“A vision of humanity as a unified force for peace had come alive in the form of millions of living breathing souls and an ideal of international democracy had been realized on a small but unprecedented scale. History was not only made––history was tremendously honored.” – from The American Poet Who Went Home Again (Aberjhani)
During this Easter Holy Week 2013, I find myself thinking about the challenges that Peace faces in our world and wonder why humanity seems to insist more on its destruction than its empowerment. From the recent murder of a 13-month-old baby in Brunswick, Georgia (allegedly by a 15-year-old boy), to the nearly two dozen wars (plus two dozen more conflicts of a similar nature) currently devouring human sanity from sunrise to sunrise, the suicidal lust for the annihilation of life on every scale is scarier than any vampire flick around.
Is there anything more obscene than a non-stop hunger for, and ceaseless indulgence in, the real-world violence that piles up human corpses and mutilates human souls? The answer may be a matter of cultural guerrilla decontextualization. The conscious practice of Peace has been removed from its context as one of the qualifications for nations wishing to be define themselves as civilized and been re-branded as an anomaly indicating defeatist passivity, cowardice, or weakness. The violence of war has come to represent patriotism, heroism, strength, and glory.
We saw on the weekend of February 15, 2003, that it is as possible to wage peace as it is to wage war. For some odd reason, however, while the media frequently reminds people of the anniversaries of wars and other man-made atrocities, commemorations of that worldwide event are so thoroughly ignored that even many who participated in it might doubt it actually happened. The announcement of the Global March for Peace and Unity scheduled to coincide with the United Nations’ International Day of Peace September 21, 2013, served as a reminder that what happened in 2003 was both real and significant. The essay “February 15, 2003: The History that Peace Made,” published in The American Poet Who Went Home Again, was written as the event unfolded to honor the strength and courage demonstrated by those who challenged the presumption that war with Iraq was the only useful response to the attacks of September 11, 2001. The following short excerpt is shared to acknowledge the legacies of Peace and advocate for its unwavering defense:
(from section V.)
The estimated 8 million people who demanded of the world, from February 14 to February 16, that peace be given a chance were a lot more difficult to ignore than other events leading up to the historical occasion and every major television network provided extended coverage of the worldwide phenomenon. That the world community had spoken so voluminously and unambiguously through so many made it easy to believe that the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines moving toward Baghdad would soon receive orders to execute an about face. It appeared the most indisputably intelligent and democratic course of action available. Only it never happened. History, under the guidance of those clamoring for war, took the road so often traveled in the past.
(CONTINUES BELOW VIDEO)
Video courtesy of WLTNews and CNN on YouTube
Statements from the White House regarding the overwhelming strength of the peace movement were at best patronizing; and at worst, patronizing. They acknowledged that the right to assembly––guaranteed by the Bill of Rights in the United States and in many other countries by their constitutions and bills of human rights––was a wonderful, and perhaps amusing, thing to behold. It was pointed out that such an activity was not guaranteed in Iraq and could result in imprisonment or death for those attempting to exercise it. And it was further made clear that such demonstrations, despite the good intentions behind them, were erroneous insofar as their political applications and implications were concerned. The message that came through more than any other was that millions of children had successfully thrown their tantrums and should now be put quietly to bed. Democracy as practiced in the United States during the early part of 2003 had become, apparently, much more a matter of bending and disregarding the will of the people than representing or expressing it.
If the bodies and souls of 8 million people were not sufficient to sway national policy on war against Iraq, what, then, was the meaning of such a massive uprising? Was it truly a matter of nothing more than overgrown misinformed juveniles venting fear and frustration as implied by White House officials? Could it have been part of a terrorist counter-tactic to weaken the United States’ war plans? Or was the international character of the movement an indication of a new form of global democracy evolving out of the fellowship established between like-minded individuals over the Internet?
It may be that the best answer to the meaning of February 14-16, 2003, was offered by the former assistant secretary general of the United Nations, Dr. Robert Muller, later chancellor emeritus of the University of Peace in Costa Rico. Addressing an assembly a month after the massive demonstrations in San Francisco, Dr. Muller observed of the millions marching all over earth that, “This is what waging peace looks like. No matter what happens, history will record that this is a new era, and the twenty-first century has been initiated with the world in a global dialogue looking deeply, profoundly and responsibly as a global community at the legitimacy of the actions of a nation that is desperate to go to war. Through these global peace-waging efforts, the leaders of that nation are being engaged in further dialogue, forcing them to rethink, and allowing all nations to participate in the serious and horrific decision to go to war or not.”
He may have added that these gallant warriors of nonviolence were doing something their countrymen who controlled the popular media had clearly refused to do: they were making peace visible. And by accomplishing that, despite the roar of death and destruction well underway, they succeeded, for a time, in making peace real.
Novelist Philip Roth in New York City. (Reuters file photograph)
In his September 7, 2012, “Open Letter to Wikipedia,” acclaimed author Philip Roth made an appeal to the editors of Wikipedia. Posted in his blog for The New Yorker, he asked them to correct a statement he identified as misleading in the site’s article on his novel, The Human Stain. Roth––whose literary honors include a Pulitzer Prize, American Book Award, and Man Booker International Prize––stated the following:
“The entry contains a serious misstatement that I would like to ask to have removed. This item entered Wikipedia not from the world of truthfulness but from the babble of literary gossip—there is no truth in it at all.”
He noted further that he had attempted through an official interlocutor to address the issue but was informed that site administrators required “secondary sources” to verify the proposed corrections. “Thus was created the occasion for this open letter.” Roth’s predicament created a pain-inducing illustration of a very modern techno-ethical issue: who should exercise the greater authority over individual public profiles on sites frequently referenced for factual information regarding an established literary figure?
Roth’s primary concern was accuracy in regard to a novel he had written. The editors at Wikipedia seemed mostly concerned with objectivity and authenticity in regard to the same. This is likely NOT a case of guerrilla decontextualization as some might surmise but more a matter of one website’s policy in conflict with one celebrated author’s informed preference.
The Challenge and a Possible Solution
Authors have long had to contend with the challenge of laboring first to create literary products and then promote them via public appearances and the maintenance of an accessible public biography. Others in different branches of the creative arts––actors, singers, painters––have had to do the same. That challenge has been magnified in this age of digital media culture because so many are now equipped and licensed to represent or misrepresent an individual at will. Consequently, something which should be an all-around win-win situation can and clearly sometimes does degenerate instead into a tug of war between individual creative artists and administrators of various digital platforms.
If there is a single most important solution to the issue, it may be for authors to make available on legitimate sites––such as your individual author website or other literary profile pages–– as many factually accurate document sources as possible. After all, how accurate can you really expect a reference article to remain if anyone at all is allowed to change it at will?
The apparent alternative is to spend time as Roth did composing a 2,600-word letter spelling out the inaccuracies in question and flexing one’s impressive literary muscles in the process. But how many of us would be able to get such a letter published in The New Yorker?
The headlines skyrocketing around the world at the moment are anything but inspiring. They can, in a sense, be condensed to the observation that a few (possibly a single person) ill-intended individuals created an insulting video that has allowed fanatical Islamic factions to goad generally peaceful segments of the Muslim populace into extreme acts of violence. Whereas just a year ago––actually, just a week ago as well–– many in the Middle East were calling on the United States to support rebel fighters throughout the region, now U.S. embassies are under siege from one end of the Arab world to another.
It’s a road down which too many have stumbled bleeding, screaming, and dying before. Nothing of sustained progressive value has ever been found at its end. The only truly useful final resolve may very well be that of the individual who in the face of blind violence and mindless opprobrium insists on anchoring her- or himself in responses committed to peace.
The quote above is from the well-known poem Angel of Healing: for the Living, the Dying, and the Praying. It offers one proposed form of peaceful response. The following quote is from The American Poet Who Went Home Again and offers, as we sometimes like to say, food for thought:
“Peace is not so much a political mandate as it is a shared state of consciousness that remains elevated and intact only to the degree that those who value it volunteer their existence as living examples of the same... Peace ends with the unraveling of individual hope and the emergence of the will to worship violence as a healer of private and social dis-ease. “
Contemporary award-winning author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.