Editorial: “We choose non-violence—or extinction”

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 34, Spring 2005

Martin Luther King Jr

Sixty years ago, on 6 August 1945, the world changed forever. On that day, the US military devastated the Japanese city of Hiroshima with an atomic bomb. Three days later they detonated another over Nagasaki. All told, more than 240 000 died. By the time the bombs were dropped, Japan was already on its knees and ready to surrender. However, President Truman wanted to show the Soviet Union that he had the bomb, the amount of devastation it could cause and that he would use it if required. The US remains the only country to use nuclear weapons in war.

Along with the Hiroshima commemoration, four other issues of huge global concern have recently been making headlines. Early in July the simultaneous bombings on the London transport system shocked the world. More than 50 died, hundreds more were injured. It took place on the eve of the G8 leaders meeting in Gleneagles where thousands had gathered to press for economic justice for the world’s poor. In the weekend following the London bombings, fifteen suicide bombers struck in Iraq. One attack in the town of Masayyib killed 98 and wounded 75 others. At the same time in Zimbabwe, the Mugabe regime continued to bulldoze dwellings in its efforts to cow the population.

The common link joining these events is violence. Deadly violence caused through political decisions, bombings and poverty linked London, Hiroshima, Gleneagles, Masayyib and Harare.

Theologian Walter Wink argues, ‘violence is the ethos of our times. It is the spirituality of the modern world.’ He is right. Immediately after the London bombings, a shaken Tony Blair went on television to state that ‘we will do whatever is necessary to defend our values, our way of life.’ Isn’t this precisely the problem? The Blair government has done what they considered to be necessary to maintain ‘their way of life’. As a result it has evoked this indiscriminate bombing response. Few doubt it would ever have happened had British forces not been in Iraq. British forces are in Iraq at the behest of the US for the oil. Access to oil will maintain ‘our way of life’. It’s a simple equation. This policy of violence has had violent consequences.

Much of the world lives in poverty. This was repeatedly emphasised during the build-up to the G8 meeting. Thirty thousand children die each day from preventable disease or hunger. That means 30 000 families are devastated each day, 365 days a year. That’s about 11 million families annually devastated by grief in much the same way the London families were devastated. Every year, 11 million families. Devastated. This is systemic violence exercised against the world’s poor.

It doesn’t need to happen. But it does happen largely by means of unfair trade and exploitation through the global economy. The beneficiaries of this lopsided economic system are the major western nations and in particular, the rich elite who control them. One of the major reasons why many of these millions starve is that the world Tony Blair represents absorbs too many resources and uses its economic and military power to maintain ‘our way of life’.

That was classically illustrated by the G8 reaction to climate change. The watered-down commitment from the meeting, which in reality is already a life and death issue for some poorer Pacific nations, meant that very little is going to change the disastrous course the world is currently on. The G8 leaders in effect finally torpedoed the Kyoto Agreement. The political will is not there to save the planet from climate warming. This inertia is led by the largest polluter of the G8 countries – the US. None of the G8 countries is willing to spend the money required to literally clean up their act. They would rather spend it on preparations for war.

There is a huge price to pay. A culture that makes ‘violence the ethos of our times…and the spirituality of the modern world’ should not be surprised when other organisations take up the same violent processes as nation states.

Having said that, there can never be any excuse for indiscriminate bombing under any circumstances. The embracing of non-violence, as taught by Jesus and other religious figures throughout history, is the only way forward. It makes so much sense. It is life giving in so many ways. In the 1970s, Dom Helder Camara used to talk about the ‘spiral of violence’ and how to break it. He held that economics sat at the heart of that spiral. That was the message Gleneagles failed to hear properly.

Australian peace activist Donna Mulhearn recently sent this anonymous quotation from Iraq. ‘The army that will defeat terrorism doesn’t wear uniforms, or drive Humvees, or call in air strikes. It doesn’t have a high command, or high security, or a high budget. The army that can defeat terrorism does battle quietly, cleaning minefields and vaccinating children. It undermines military dictatorships and military lobbyists. It subverts sweatshops and special interests. Where people feel powerless, it helps them organise for change, and where people are powerful, it reminds them of their responsibilities.’

Martin Luther King said, ‘Non-violence is a powerful and just weapon. It is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and enables the one who wields it. It is a sword that heals. With a practical and moral answer to the oppressed peoples’ cry for justice, non-violent direct action proved that it could win victories without losing wars.’

Jesus preached and practiced non-violence. He made it clear that we were to share what we have with the needy, forgive our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, give our extra cloak to the person without one, walk the extra mile. We were invited to live a radically different lifestyle to what we generally live today. His disciples were to walk the path of gospel non-violence, become salt in the bread, a light to the world. Such a response constitutes a way of life, a loving way of being in our relations with one another and our relationship with the earth. Radical stuff. Of such is the Kingdom of God.

Comments are closed.