One of the really frustrating things about being a person who does not believe violence works is that much of the public discourse on war seems completely insane to me. At the same time, people who share my views are marginalized. Our views are not taken seriously, and consequently are not heard or acted upon, even on those fortunate occasions when we happen to be in the majority.

For example, if you bring your mind back to the days following the September 11 attacks, you may recall an eerie feeling of possibility in the country. It was a time when we had a chance to really, seriously, radically rethink our foreign policy. Nearly the whole world was on our side. 9/11 was a wonderful opportunity to wage peace, and a lot of Americans wanted to. But that never became part of the national discourse. Why not?

An article published by PressThink, an online news blog published by the journalism institute at NYU, talks about why political speech in the U.S. is so constrained and how that is now changing.

I’m not going to quote the whole article here, because you should go read it, but I’ll quote one nugget that I think may tease you into going and reading the whole thing:

Deciding what does and does not legitimately belong within the national debate is—no way around it—a political act. And yet a pervasive belief within the press is that journalists do not engage in such action, for to do so would be against their principles. As Len Downie, former editor of the Washington Post once said about why things make the front page, “We think it’s important informationally. We are not allowing ourselves to think politically.” I think he’s right. The press does not permit itself to think politically. But it does engage in political acts. Ergo, it is an unthinking actor, which is not good.

If you have been noticing this too, and wish there were something that could be done about it, I recommend the article. It might give you some much-needed hope. The good news: what we are doing here on the Pax Pac blog is part of the solution.

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So, I have always admired the statement, “Better to keep one’s mouth shut and be thought stupid, than to speak and confirm it. But I’m afraid this also leads to not speaking when one should. As Martin Luther King once said, “The time is always right to do the right thing.”

And sometimes that means speaking.

I’m a child of an alcoholic and there was a minor amount of physical abuse and a larger amount of emotional abuse in my childhood. Unfortunately, one of the most common results of these kind of experiences is to replicate the same behaviors. It seems that as nations these kinds of behaviors are also replicated and often for the worst of reasons.

I’m not going to say anything terribly profound today, but I would like to repeat this, a quote from Jo Walton that graces the front page of the Making Light blog:

“Peace means something different from ‘not fighting’. Those aren’t peace advocates, they’re ‘stop fighting’ advocates. Peace is an active and complex thing and sometimes fighting is part of what it takes to get it.”

So, peace activism. Active. Not passive. And not simple.

I would like to live in a world without war. I think it’s possible to live in a world without war. I think that even now we are developing the tools that would allow us to live in such a world.

I think that in most peoples’ minds this is a very radical idea – that it might be possible to end war. I think the reason this seems like a radical idea is that we have a very convincing set of stories that we tell ourselves about why we wage war. In general we believe these stories, and so we wage war not because we want war, but because we are resigned to war – we see no alternative.

So what stories do we tell each other that lead us to our faith in war? The main story we tell is the one where the country or organization against whom we intend to wage war is a villain. You hear this in the justification for Israel’s attacks on Gaza, in our bombing of Kandahar shortly after the September 11 attacks, in our invasion of Iraq, and we were hearing it again about Iran towards the end of the Bush presidency.

What I mean by villain is that our opponent can’t be reasoned with. They have no goals. They are just evil. So peace isn’t an option – if we choose not to fight them, they will just keep attacking us. There is no solution to the problem other than war, so, reluctantly, we take up arms and begin the necessary killing.

One of most amazingly clear-cut examples of this in recent years is the Somalian Pirate situation. We’ve been hearing a very one-sided story on the news. Somalia is a lawless country. Full of violent warlords. These warlords are taking advantage of the situation. Their only goal is plunder. They must be stopped. We must stop them.

So imagine my delight when I read this story in the Huffington Post today. If what this article says is true, there is another solution to the piracy problem off Somalia’s coast.

Let me be clear: I don’t know that this article is telling the truth. But what is said here is certainly plausible, and is something I’d never heard before. And this shading of information, where we hear only one side of the story, is a very common theme in our public discourse.

If we really want peace, if we want to seek alternatives to war, it is not enough that we who want peace pay closer attention to the stories being told. It is not sufficient even that we publicize these stories. What we need to fight is the culture of story-telling that justifies wars. We need to start seriously trying to create and spread a culture of critical thinking. It’s not enough to deny the stories once they come out – we need to actually inoculate people against these kinds of stories.

I’m glad Will has started this online peace project. I’m going to be curious to see what shape it takes on over time. So here’s my introductory post….

I won’t call myself a peace activist — that term implies putting in lots more work in the peace movement than I have ever done — but I registered with the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors when I was 17 and have considered myself a pacifist ever since. Now I’m a Unitarian Universalist minister, and I tend to look at pacifism and peacemaking from a post-Christian religious perspective.

This crazy war in Iraq and Afghanistan has begun to really gnaw at me recently, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to take action. I’m planning to go down to Washington to participate in the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq’s worship and witness event April 29-30. I’ve been considering heading down to the Olive Branch Interfaith Peace Partnership’s Washington celebration of MLK on January 19.

But I’m not sure worship and witness is enough. So I told Will I’d help him out with this online peace project. Seems to me we all have to do something to end this silly war.

What about you? What do you think might be an effective way to bring pressure to bear on Washington to end the Iraq/Afghanistan war — and go beyond that to truly promote peace in the world? Street demonstrations seem outdated, but will Web 2.0 movements be enough? What do you think?

Cross-posted in a slightly different form on my blog “Yet Another Unitarian Universalist.”