Published on Friday, January 18, 2002 in the Seattle Times
Nonviolence or Nonexistence
by Glen Milner
How do we compensate for the violence of our time? In what has become a cycle of unquestioned madness, we may be beyond the return to moral comprehension. Our condition may be so traumatized, so automatic, we become passive spectators of our own historic demise. It is as though the world ended some time ago, and only our violence remains.
In the ashes of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, many of us saw the next logical step in our succession of horrors. While political leaders tell us of bringing "justice to the terrorists," many of us know the dangers ahead among them, detonation of a nuclear device in a U.S. city.
In a recent interview, former Secretary of the Navy John F. Lehman stated, "They (terrorists) have the will, they now have the funding, and they have the nuclear materials. So it is only a matter of time before those are combined in New York Harbor or Baltimore Harbor or some other highly populated place. And then the casualties will be in the hundreds of thousands, not just the thousands."
Meanwhile, our military planners are advancing more-useable types of nuclear bombs. The nuclear B61-11 "bunker buster," "mini-nukes" for specific targets, and even the tactical or "sub-strategic" use of the Trident missile system is contemplated. These new warheads and strategies could be used for preemptive strikes against suspected weapons facilities or as a wartime response. The fact that new nuclear warhead designs violate international agreements no longer matters to most of our political leaders.
One of the more cynical signs of our times was the assault in the media upon peace activists and "pacifists" as bombs fell on Afghanistan. Any thought of understanding or restraint became an act of treason. The peace movement became "irrelevant" as our political and military leaders paved the way for revenge.
We now evolve into a state of permanent war in which there are no announced boundaries. Declaring the rest of the world is "either with us or against us," we become ill with our own sense of destruction.
In 1967, our nation's greatest prophet, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., stated, "We can no longer afford to worship the God of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation." Dr. King stated our only options for the future of humanity: "Nonviolence or nonexistence."
King, like Mohandas Gandhi, and their teacher, Jesus, felt that in truth there were no limits to nonviolence.
Dr. King states: "... we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind."
How do we make this transformation? Steps developed through action by Gandhi and Dr. King are well known, which include information gathering and education of self and others, negotiation, direct action and reconciliation. After the Sept. 11 attacks, people around the world were horrified and offered assistance. We lost our moral position, however, when we began dropping bombs on innocent victims, no less deserving of life than those in New York and Washington, D.C.
Nonviolence is the unshakable belief, as Gandhi said, that everyone has a piece of the truth. Let the voices of alienated people of the Middle East be heard, not assaulted by our missiles in vengeance.
Jesus, a realist if there ever was one, said we need to settle our differences. As a Jew in a corner of the Roman Empire, Jesus of Nazareth knew what the center of power could do. Jesus knew that society in his time needed to understand and think beyond the spiral of violence. The destruction of Jerusalem, 40 years later, prefigures the end of our own world, which we seem equally incapable of imagining.
"Love your enemies," as Jesus said, is in the nuclear age not the counsel of perfection, but a ground rule for survival.
At the Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967, one year before his death, Dr. King declared, "Now let us rededicate ourselves in the long and bitter, but beautiful struggle for a new world. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who posses power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight."
We are not helpless. We still have a choice. It is time we recognize what we are now choosing nonviolence or the end of the world.
Glen Milner lives in Seattle and is a member of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action in Poulsbo (www.gzcenter.org).
Copyright © 2002 The Seattle Times Company