Headlines about averting or creating the conditions that seed wars and violent disputes will never flash past your Internet screen.
Big disputes usually have countless small origins, few of which are widely seen or understood at the time they happen. Someone's decision to make a grab for someone else's resources. A theological dispute from centuries back, perhaps used to assert the power of one group of people over another. A nasty comment by a government official about an adversary, repeated in angry conversations. All form small burning pockets of hostility and incitement to aggression, waiting to be waved into full infernos.
But countless tributaries to peace in precarious times also exist and are similarly anonymous. Books sent to schools. Sister city relationships. Student exchange programs. Friendships created around meals. Dialogue structured between adversaries.
And in nations with potential for democratic representation, a crucial sponsor of peace is accurate information and genuine democratic process.
Such tricklings of hope are rarely noticed. But they can and often do quietly snuff out sparks before they become wildfires, helping to maintain a peaceful world.
Peacemaking is especially important in the face of large forces motivated and eager for a fight, because sometimes governments don't leave the potential for war to chance.
The Bush administration's long-standing ambitions for military action in Iran as well as Iraq prompted a new strategy last February. Dissatisfied with minimal public concern about Iran's alleged nuclear preparations, the administration sought to create an antagonist's favorite national condition -- fear and anger. Officials made loud claims of Iranian support of Iraqi terrorists, but substantiated these claims so poorly that they were largely dismissed as nothing more than warmongering propaganda.
Undeterred, the Bush officials continued their strategy, including disclosing alleged assertions of Iraqi prisoners of war who claimed to have been trained by Iranians. Again, these claims were deemed spurious by most observers.
But that didn't stop two pro-military senators from attempting to include a resolution in last week's Senate military funding bill that would justify fighting Iran's "aggression in Iraq" and designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization.
With the administration's efforts to create an anti-Iran climate proving insufficient so far, new monied interests may be forming to help seed dissent. The new group Freedom's Watch, formed a few months ago with an early focus on supporting the U.S. military surge in Iraq, is said to be considering adding Iran to its agenda. The $200 million mouthpiece for military action -- many founders contributed $1 million each -- casts itself as a conservative version of MoveOn.org, the progressive electronic advocacy group opposing both the Iraq buildup and any military action in Iran.
One major difference between the two groups is that MoveOn's agenda is driven by a democratic process of surveying its more than 3 million grass-roots members, whereas so far the Freedom's Watch agenda is driven by a few very wealthy conservative members. MoveOn's impact on the nation's agenda has been built from the power created by small meetings in homes across the nation, small tricklings that have created tremendous force for change on military and other matters. It will be interesting to see whether Freedom's Watch will generate the same passionate call for military action among its supporters that MoveOn's has found for peace.
Peaceful efforts are rarely needed among friends. It's the dangerous situations that need the efforts most. So I was heartened that just as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was making foolish and inflammatory statements at the United Nations, Quaker and Mennonite leaders led 100 U.S. religious leaders in meeting with him to continue a dialogue begun in February. Religious leaders were clear that they did not meet with Ahmadinejad in the spirit of validating his views, but to "begin the process of reconciliation and pave the way for future constructive relationships."
At a time when monied interests are actively trying to sow the seeds of war, it's important to affirm the quiet, continuing wisdom of grass-roots peacemaking.
Margaret Krome of Madison writes a semimonthly column for The Capital Times.
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