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An aerial photograph released by the US Department of Defense after a March 16, 2017 US airstrike in al-Jinah, Syria, showing damage to part of a mosque. (Photo: 2017 US Department of Defense)

Beyond Redemptive Violence

Robert C. Koehler

Sometimes our tame and compliant media upchucks a piece of truth. For instance:

“American officials had predicted that the missile strike would result in a major shift in Assad’s calculus, but the U.S. attack appeared to be symbolic in reality. Within 24 hours of the strike, monitoring groups reported that warplanes were again taking off from the bombed Shayrat air base, this time to attack Islamic State positions.”

This paragraph in a Washington Post story refers, of course, to the 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles Donald Trump earned such plaudits for launching against Syria on April 7. Suddenly he was our commander in chief, waging war — or, well . . . waging “symbolic reality,” whatever that means, at a cost (for the missiles) of maybe $83 million and change.

And speaking of “cost”: Since then, U.S.-led coalition airstrikes have hit several Syrian villages, killing at least 20 civilians (lots of them children) and wounding dozens more. And Human Rights Watch has just issued a 16-page report debunking the official U.S. justification for the mosque it bombed near Aleppo a month ago, which killed dozens of civilians as they prayed.

“The U.S. seems to have gotten several things fundamentally wrong in this attack, and dozens of civilians paid the price.” So said Ole Solvang, deputy emergencies director of Human Rights Watch, as quoted by the Associated Press. “The U.S. authorities need to figure out what went wrong, start doing their homework before they launch attacks, and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Attention, U.S. military: What went wrong is that bombing runs accomplish pretty much nothing, except to spew death, fear and hatred. They don’t work. War doesn’t work. This is the most ignored truth of the 21st century. The second-most ignored truth is that we can create peace nonviolently, through hard work, patience and courage. Indeed, humanity is already doing so — mostly, of course, beyond the awareness of the corporate media, which does nothing so much as perpetuate what Walter Wink has called the Myth of Redemptive Violence.

“In short,” Wink writes in The Powers That Be, “the Myth of Redemptive Violence is the story of the victory of order over chaos by means of violence. It is the ideology of conquest, the original religion of the status quo. The gods favor those who conquer. Conversely, whoever conquers must have the favor of the gods. . . . Peace through war, security through strength: these are the core convictions that arise from this ancient historical religion, and they form the solid bedrock on which the Domination System is founded in every society.”

Enter Nonviolent Peaceforce and other courageous peacebuilding organizations across the planet.

Since 2002, NP has been training, deploying and paying unarmed professionals to enter war zones on this troubled planet and, among other things, protect civilians from the violence and establish crucial communication across religious, political and other lines that divide warring factions. Right now, the organization has field teams in the Philippines, South Sudan, Myanmar and the Middle East, including Syria — where it has a three-year grant from the European Union to engage in the protection of civilians.

NP cofounder Mel Duncan, reflecting the other day on the president’s recent, utterly pointless missile barrage at Syria — and the cost that is never part of the reportage — told me, with, I would guess, intense understatement, that if that kind of money were invested, instead, in organizations involved in mediation work across factional lines and the protection of civilians, “We’d see a much different outcome.”

Unbeknownst to the clueless media, there are thousands of people in Syria doing such work. Yet: “Nowhere in the media,” he said, “do we see people who have done peacebuilding work given any kind of respectful hearing.”

And thus violent military action is endlessly reported and discussed as the only option, at least anywhere the U.S. and its allies and its enemies have interests to protect. And the myth of domination — the myth of redemptive violence — is perpetuated in the collective consciousness of much of the world. Peace is something imposed from above and maintained only with violence and the infliction of punishment. And when there is negotiation, the only people at the table are the guys with guns, who in all likelihood represent their own interests far more than any communal interest.

Also missing from most peace negotiations are women. Their “interests,” such as the safety of their children, are so easily minimized and ignored. But what we need is “full women’s participation,” Duncan noted. “If there are women fully involved in the peace negotiation process, the chance for peace is advanced greatly.”

Furthermore, women’s own safety and survival, not to mention their freedom, is yet one more casualty of war that is generally ignored or shrugged off. Just one example, from “In conflict and post-conflict countries, maternal mortality is on average 2.5 times higher. More than half of the world’s maternal deaths occur in conflict-affected and fragile states, with the 10 worst-performing countries on maternal mortality all either conflict or post-conflict countries.”

According to the UN site, the total estimated cost of violence globally for the year 2015 was $13.6 trillion, or “more than US $1,800 per person on the planet.”

The insanity of this defies comprehension. Half a century ago, Martin Luther King put it this way: “We still have a choice today: Nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.”

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Robert C. Koehler

Robert C. Koehler

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, "Courage Grows Strong at the Wound" (2016). Contact him or visit his website at

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