Peace

Hohourongo: Reconciliation and Peace Making

The following is a contribution to our Peace Stories blog and to the Pax Christi International movement from our friends in Aotearoa (New Zealand). This is a contextual theological contribution on peace making. Photo: Pedro Szekely via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Led by Kevin McBride, our Pax Christi Aotearoa New Zealand section thinks it is important that we develop a spirituality of peace that is right for our part of the world and that there is much we can learn from Māori as the indigenous people of our country. To be in dialogue with Māori about these things is a way of addressing the harm and disrespect that was generated by colonisation. It is a dialogue that restores healing to all in our country.

At a recent study on Pax Christi and a Spirituality for Peace, Rangi Davis shared this lovely reflection on the Māori concept of Hohourongo. It is a model she uses in her teaching and counselling practice. Rangi explained that to move along the pathway to hohourongo, other important Māori principles are needed, namely, tika, pono, and aroha working alongside tapu, mana, noa and turanga (see explanations below). Rangi’s understandings developed under the guidance of Pa Henare Tate (Rev. Dr. Henare Tate) who was a preeminent scholar and teacher of Māori theology and spirituality.

Hohourongo

The imagery is:

picking up the pieces, putting together again, binding the wounds,

healing the wounds, mending the rifts, re-connecting the severed links,

 replacing the lost, empowering, reclaiming wellness,

reclaiming relationships, balancing the scales,

casting off the rubbish, entering the house of Rongo (Peace)

Hohourongo indicates a violation has occurred to Atua, tangata and whenua (God, people and land) and there is need for restoring tapu and mana through reconciliation or settlement. Hohourongo heals and restores wellbeing to people. The restoring of spiritual wellbeing restores psychological wellness and physical health. Violation severs relationships. Hohourongo re-connects and strengthens the severed three-fold relationship with God, people and land.

Violation ignores and tramples upon tapu restrictions and weakens the power of that safety measure. Hohourongo restores to tapu boundaries the power to safeguard the tapu and mana of all things that exist.

Hohourongo and tika, pono and aroha

Violation is the result of failing to act according to tika, pono and aroha.

Tika is needed to re-establish and maintain right relationships to make right responses and for the right exercise of mana by following the process of hohourongo.

Pono in the first place reveals the reality of the act and the effect of violation on the victim and perpetrator and their whānau (family, community). Secondly, it reveals the reality of the damage done. Thirdly it ensures all steps are taken to repair the damage. Fourthly, if there is no truth or integrity, hohourongo is not effected.

Aroha must always be a part of hohourongo because there is always need for compassion, sacrifice, generosity, and even affection during the process of victim, perpetrator and whānau.

Elements for Hohourongo

Admission, sorrow for the violation, resolve to mend and make right, utu or compensation is required of the perpetrator.

Signs/Whakamā, tears, sorrow, maybe relief.

The victim and whānau can determine the format of the hui hohourongo.

Acceptance of confession, sorrow, admission of guilt and utu, the compensation, granting forgiveness if hohourongo is to be achieved.

Signs/ Maybe tears, karakia, hariru and hongi.

Kua houtia te rongo – reconciliation has been achieved.

Kua tau te rangimarie – peace has been established.

I end with this Psalm 119:10:

“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light to my path.”

“Ma te tini me te mano kia taea” With all our contributions we can achieve it.

Arohanui, Rangi

The Essence of Peace for Aotearoa

It is very important as we in Pax Christi Aotearoa-New Zealand explore the foundations of our work for peace, along with other sections and associates across the world, that we ground our principles in the vital essence of the land, the taha wairua of its Tangata Whenua, the Maori people. 

And while it is fully appropriate that we do this, it is also very much in the spirit of the founder of the Pax Christi movement, Marthe Dortel-Claudot, who saw it as a means of reconciliation and of mending the divisions that had been caused by years of warfare among European neighbours. In a similar way, we can heal the wounds of colonisation in our own land and become a sign of hope to others in our region and beyond engaged in working for peace for all, everywhere.

In the spirit of justice, love and peace

Kevin McBride 

Peace

A force stronger than war

20 years after 9/11, an American reflects on the power of friendship

By Doug Hostetter, Pax Christi International United Nations Representative (New York)

This article was originally published on the Anabaptist World website on 26 August 2021.

Photo: Abdul Hadi, pictured with Doug Hostetter in August 2002, returned to his home in Qala Kuja, Afghanistan, three years after it was destroyed in fighting between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban. Mennonite Central Committee and Church World Service helped him rebuild. — Doug Hostetter

When I arrived in Afghanistan to deliver humanitarian aid seven weeks after 9/11, the first question an Afghan farmer asked me was, “Why is the U.S. attacking our country? Your government was so helpful when we were occupied by the Soviet Union. We thought America was our friend.”

Fumbling for a response, I said, “A group of militants, from an organization with headquarters in your country, destroyed two buildings a half kilometer tall in New York City, killing almost 3,000 people.”

He looked confused. This appeared to be new information. We were in Kunduz, a province with no electricity, running water or paved roads, where the tallest building was one story high.

Twenty years later, people still are asking questions about the U.S. military response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Many of these questions center on the impact of U.S. military action and the consequences of the 20-year war. Many Americans understand the U.S. did not win the war, and they question its high cost in blood and treasure. But they might not know what other choices their country might have made.

In Afghanistan, and earlier in Vietnam, I have seen the futility of war and the power of compassionate assistance to restore hope and build friendship.

My reflections on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 are informed by my convictions as an Anabaptist Christian, service with Mennonite Central Committee in Vietnam 50 years ago, conversations with Afghans 20 years ago and my role as MCC liaison to the United Nations from 2006 to 2018.

The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, and the 20 years of war that followed, have had profound and disastrous effects on the U.S. and Afghanistan. By making war, the U.S. turned a country whose people thought Americans were their friends into an enemy.

For many Americans, the logic of the Afghan war was clear: As the innocent victim of an unprovoked attack, the U.S. had to retaliate. On closer examination, things get a bit messier.

It is true Al-Qaeda militants based in Afghanistan hijacked the planes that destroyed the World Trade Center and struck the Pentagon. But the hijackers were all Arabs, mostly Saudis, with not a single Afghan among them. Given Al-Qaeda’s secrecy, it is highly unlikely the Taliban leadership of Afghanistan even knew the 9/11 attacks were going to happen.

When it was determined that ­Al-Qaeda carried out the attacks, the U.S. government demanded Afghanistan immediately arrest or expel Al-Qaeda leaders.

The Afghan government requested a few weeks to organize a Loya Jirga (grand assembly of Afghan traditional leaders) to make that decision. The U.S. refused and responded militarily with massive bombings followed by ground troops.

The war was a blatant violation of the United Nations Charter and international law. The U.S. chose not to bring the matter to the U.N. Security Council but instead to initiate a war with NATO allies.

The attacks of 9/11 were serious crimes that should have brought decisive responses from law enforcement. Had the U.S. responded through INTERPOL, the international police organization, most nations would have given their support. Russia, China, the European Union, the United Nations and even most Muslim countries would have joined the effort to bring the 9/11 criminal plotters to justice.

Instead, the U.S. alienated the Muslim world, and many of our allies, by starting a war that resulted in more than 241,000 deaths, including 2,400 U.S. service members.

As the most powerful country in the world was preparing to attack the poorest country in Asia, I contacted MCC and the American Friends Service Committee to ask if they would join with a previously planned October trip to deliver food to Afghanistan. A small Afghan American organization, Help the Afghan Children, had organized the trip.

MCC and the AFSC agreed. They asked if I would represent them and accompany the organization’s director, Suraya Sadeed, to deliver food to displaced people in northern Afghanistan.

Sadeed played a key role in a story of compassionate ministry to Afghan people who suffered great tragedy due to the U.S. war.

She and her husband had emigrated to the United States in the late 1970s as the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. A decade later, after the Soviet defeat, she returned to Afghanistan and discovered great need. She came back to the U.S., started a small charity and returned regularly to assist children.

I asked Sadeed how she could work in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. How was it possible to have a medical clinic for women and girls in Kabul?

“There are good people in every country, every religion and even every political organization,” she responded. “I found a Taliban leader I thought I could trust. I asked, ‘What would you do if your wife or daughter had a difficult pregnancy?’ ”

He responded, “I would pray to God.”

“Yes,” Sadeed told him, “but there are professionals who can save lives in childbirth.”

“We could never allow a doctor to see a woman during childbirth,” he responded.

(All female doctors had been dismissed when the Taliban took over.)

When she promised to staff the clinic only with women, he agreed.

Then, in an instant, years of work was undone.

Just before we entered Afghanistan, Sadeed learned that chief pediatrician Dr. Belquis, internist Dr. Rahma and a registered nurse from the clinic were all killed in the U.S. bombing of Kabul.

American bombs had also killed four boys from the Help the Afghan Children Vocational Training Center in Jalabad.

Friendship and hope can be fostered through love and compassion — or destroyed in an instant by the weapons of war.

Positive change cannot be imposed by outsiders, but culturally sensitive assistance can make a difference. With funds from MCC, the AFSC and my family and friends, I was able to collect $60,000. Together with $70,000 that Help the Afghan Children collected, we were able to bring $130,000 to neighboring Tajikistan. There a supplier would convert our funds into 239 tons of wheat, sugar and cooking oil, which was loaded on 19 trucks and brought across the northern border into Afghanistan.

Sadeed and I traveled ahead. A few days later in Afghanistan, our supplies caught up with us. Afghans who had fled the U.S. bombing further south warmly welcomed us. We had enough supplies to feed 3,600 families of seven for one month.

As the U.S. withdraws its last combat troops, some will say the military must remain so Americans can build schools, modernize the country and protect Afghan girls.

Despite the rhetoric of politicians, wars are fought for material and strategic reasons, never for development, education or human rights.

From years of working in a war zone (I served three years with MCC in Vietnam at the height of that war), I have learned the military does not have the right equipment or training for nation building or the empowerment of women.

The U.S. has been in Afghanistan for 20 years. We have sacrificed the lives of thousands of U.S. service members and contractors and tens of thousands of Afghan civilians. Yet most Afghan people’s lives are worse today than when the U.S. invaded two decades ago.

Change in Afghanistan will need to be led by Afghans, not by foreigners whose weapons have caused great suffering and claimed many lives. Social change must be driven internally, not imposed through military occupation.

Eight months later, in 2002, when it was safe to travel to Kabul, MCC asked me to return to Afghanistan to visit a home-rebuilding project in Parwan Province. MCC was working with Church World Service to rebuild Afghan homes destroyed by war.

I met again with Afghans who had lost everything in the war. Once again, people welcomed me warmly as I brought a token of hope from people who believe love is stronger than vengeance and nonviolence a better choice than war.

Doug Hostetter served with MCC from 1966 to 1969 in Vietnam and October-November 2001 and July-August 2002 in Afghanistan. He directed MCC’s United Nations office from 2006 to 2018.

Peace

The gentle strength of nonviolent witness

By Judy Coode, coordinator of the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative

On January 6, many watched in horror as thousands of people stormed the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. in a furious, chaotic, and deeply misguided attempt to nullify the November 2020 election of Joe Biden as president of the United States. The insurrectionists broke windows and furniture, swarmed offices, menaced members of Congress and their staff, stole property and inflicted a sense of terror on those who work in and near the U.S. Capitol. In the aftermath, five people were dead, at least 140 injured, and unknown more were traumatized.

The January 6 attack was violent: in attitude, language, action, and result. Rather than stabilizing our democracy it has painfully accelerated social divisions.

The United States has a history and culture of nonviolent demonstrations, most of which are peaceful. As the nation’s seat of power, Washington, D.C. is accustomed to protestors, both individuals and groups. Anti-war demonstrations have been as large as 500,000 people; the 2017 Women’s March brough out 470,000; and the annual anti-abortion marches also bring out tens of thousands. A few protests include isolated arrests for minor offences (although several times in recent years, D.C. police have tried to corral and arrest large groups of demonstrators. These incidents have been challenged in court and authorities have been forced to drop the charges.)

Twenty five years ago, in 1996, Washington experienced a different type of protest: Sr. Dianna Ortiz, OSU, wanted to know who in the U.S. government was involved in the kidnapping and torture she had endured in Guatemala in November 1989. She took extraordinary steps to find the answers.

On March 31, 1996, Palm Sunday, Dianna began a vigil across the street from the White House (then occupied by Bill Clinton) in Lafayette Park. Wrapped in a sleeping bag for warmth, with a straw hat for sun protection, Dianna projected a silent message of dissent to the reigning world order. Without speaking, she demanded to be seen and heard. Without violence of word or action, she insisted on changing the tide away from secrecy and corruptive power toward transparency, honesty, and justice.

Eventually, Dianna would spend 23 hours a day for five weeks in Lafayette Park, distributing a written statement explaining her action to passersby who expressed curiosity. She would leave the park each morning around 7 am to go home for a shower. She’d return to her spot as soon as she was able. She was often joined throughout the day by one, two, or several people who would sit with her and speak to tourists and others who asked about her vigil. Then-National Security Adviser Anthony Lake dropped by several times to see her. First Lady Hillary Clinton invited her to the White House for a meeting. (She had met with President Clinton in 1994 asking for information on her abductors.)

Friends of Dianna took turns staying overnight with her in the park — it wasn’t an especially dangerous place, under the nose of White House security, but it did have a regular community of unhoused persons who claimed space there during the evenings. And plenty of rats emerged after dark gnawing through trash leftovers from the day. Dianna’s vigil spot was “next door” to Concepcion Picciotta, a woman who had lived in Lafayette Park since 1981. Concepcion, who had made a permanent peace camp in front of the White House to raise awareness of and to protest nuclear weapons, gave Dianna advice about how to survive in the park, especially at night.

Dianna Ortiz, Lafayette Park, 1996 / photo by Rick Reinhard

Over the weeks, until the vigil ended in early May when the CIA declassified many of the documents Dianna had requested about torture in Guatemala, members of the Washington faith and human rights advocacy community spent time with her. Her quiet dignity was a beacon–or perhaps a magnet. For those of us fortunate enough to sit with her, to join the daily noon prayer services, to spend the night, those weeks in the park felt full of grace and a powerful clarity. It was a holy time and source of deeper conversion for many.

In mid-May 1996, a series of simple, nonviolent civil disobedience actions took place. Over the course of a week, every day about 25-30 people blocked the White House sidewalk in order to elevate Dianna’s request for information about her case, to draw attention to the gross human rights violations taking place in Guatemala, for which the United States had given covert permission. They were arrested and charged with “demonstrating without a permit.” Many of those who exercised their right to peacefully protest for Dianna’s sake were members of Catholic women’s religious orders; many had never been arrested before.

Ultimately, although 20,000 pages of documents were released, Dianna was denied the information she hoped to uncover: She never learned the real name of the North American man known as “Alejandro” who was present during her torture, a man she was sure was an agent of the U.S. government. Despite that frustration, the community that encircled Dianna received a tremendous blessing from that time of vigil and prayer. Dianna’s gentle, persistent nonviolent witness was strategic; it was spiritual; it was active; it was deeply powerful. At the time, Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory wrote, “In a campaign year, nobody will challenge [CIA director John Deutch] but somebody like Sister Dianna.” The political world may have betrayed us but our hearts and souls were touched and strengthened.

All that was 25 years ago this month. At the beginning of 2021, Dianna (who was still living in Washington, D.C.) was diagnosed with a reemergence of cancer. With unexpected swiftness, she died. While our paths often crossed, the pandemic had kept us apart, so I had not seen her for several months. I never had the chance to ask her thoughts about the January 6 insurrection. I never asked her what truth she thought it revealed, whether it converted people to a deeper peace or to a thirst for justice grounded in compassion and prayer. What a contrast the raid on the Capitol was the powerful prophetic witness and action of Dianna Ortiz back in 1996.

Dianna Ortiz and Bishop Tom Gumbleton, Lafayette Park, 1996 / photo by Rick Reinhard
Dianna Ortiz, Lafayette Park, 1996 / photo by Rick Reinhard
Dianna Ortiz, Lafayette Park, 1996 / photo by Rick Reinhard

[Edited to add: Read Dianna’s memoir, The Blindfold’s Eye, published by Orbis Books.]

Peace

The right to have rights.

The human rights of the individual person and the rights of the peoples are the fruit of long historical efforts and achievements. Today it is a matter of maintaining and further applying existing human rights. The ever-existing inequalities must be processed so that equality and justice prevail for all. International governmental bodies and several local, national, and international human rights organisations (NGOs) are monitoring the implementation of the rights.

We must keep asking: Who has access to rights and what do we mean by human rights? Human rights stand as a triumph of the human spirit and intellect. Rights enhance our capacity to be more fully human.

The adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR) of 10 December 1948 is a landmark. “Universal” means that human rights apply to everyone. Rights also means that we have duties and obligations to others. All people are equal, and all should be free and none a slave to others.

Human rights are applied in the context of the nation-state. Today, there are 193 nation-states. The history of nation-states is the history of human rights.

Many individuals, not least philosophers, have pioneered the achievement of basic rights. For instance, French anthropologist Emmanuel Levinas stated: “Human rights do require recognition of the other as a fellow human being who, by his or her very existence and nothing more, possesses the right to have rights.”

Slavery is abolished.

Humankind has succeeded in abolishing slavery after several centuries of action. The conditions of slavery signified the absence of all rights, the opposite of citizenship. Slaves were unfree by definition; they had been deprived of recognition, social death. The possession of slaves was a marker of wealth and status. In addition, that included the clergy. The further up the hierarchy, the more slaves a priest, bishop, or cardinal owned. Today, there are still different forms of slavery, modern slavery such as human trafficking, forced labour, child marriage and more.

The nation-state and minority rights

The Berlin Treaty of 1878 and even more the Paris Peace Conference treaties after World War I were primarily about nation-states and the liberal principles that undergirded them – rights, constitutions, representation, and the rule of law. National belonging became a major criterion to get rights.

World War I began only thirteen months after the end of the Balkan Wars. A war among states, it too swiftly became a war among peoples, and thereby opened all the issues of nation-state creations; majorities and minorities, and who, precisely, would have the right to have rights. The war shattered much in four years, first soldiers’ lives; over seventeen million dead in total, more than twenty million physically wounded many more who suffered psychologically from the experience of battle. Women endured exploitative conditions in war factories, severe food shortages at home, and fractured families.

After WWI, the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations brought the concept of minority rights and protection into the very centre of the international system. The concept of minorities was created from 1878 to 1919 and remains with us today. It is a category of the nation-state. Minorities are an invention of the nation-state. The right to have rights.

Religion and the nation-state

Religion in the past has both limited rights and made rights possible. Religious identity took on newfound political meaning in the age of nationalism mainly developed in the 19th century. For instance, Orthodoxy was the state religion. The identity of a nation and of a religion coincided completely. In some constitutions there was no place left for Muslims, Jews, or other minorities. A minority was always a visible disruption of the unity of the nation, and therefore a “problem”.

After World War II, activists, individual states, and the international community sought to create such a world, one in which everyone – no matter his or her nationality, race, or gender – can exercise human rights, while those who violate these norms are subject to accountability. Equality of women became a founding principle.

Dictatorial nationalism

Our history, however, has also known dictatorial nationalism combined with terror. Authoritarian systems and individual dictators and warlords are among the supreme violators of human rights. For example, the USSR experienced Stalin terror: Millions of people were experiencing denunciations, deportations, internments in labour camps, torture, and execution. Can we talk about human rights in a system that was bloody repressive, that killed, tortured, and deported millions of its own citizens? That allowed over six million of them to starve to death in 1932 during the collectivisation of agriculture campaign.

After World War II, the Soviet Union supported decolonization, nation-state founding’s, and international human rights. This position would win the Soviets sympathy in the Global South, which the USSR actively cultivated through support for guerrilla movements and national liberation struggles as well as cultural exchanges and economic development programmes with newly emergent countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

Human rights dissidents

Later, human rights activists in the USSR demanded the rights of free speech and assembly. They called for freedom of movement, within the country and abroad, including the right to emigrate.

The Helsinki Accords of 1975 marked a critical advance in human rights. “Helsinki” became a banner that activists of all stripes held high together. Many dissidents in Central and Eastern Europe used the Helsinki umbrella to criticize the existing regimes by promoting individual freedom such as the right to free speech.

Andrei Sakharov was a well-known dissident in the USSR. He was one of the “fathers” of the hydrogen bomb. However, later he questioned the usefulness of an underground nuclear test because of the health and environmental costs, which were too high. Sakharov, like Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer, had helped create the weapons of ultimate human destruction and then recalled from what he had done. He focussed on the intellectual freedom. He wrote about human rights. His perspective involved the recognition of the other, of our common future, the fundamental prerequisite for human rights. According to Sakharov, the basic aim of the state is the protection and safeguarding of the basic right of its citizens.

Western countries and dictatorships

Immediately after World War II and into the raging Cold War (1945-1989), Western countries and democracies supported right wing dictatorial regimes worldwide because they would act as a buffer against communism. Many dictators could do their own thing, such as Salazar in Portugal, Mobuto in DR Congo, Pinochet in Chile, Marcos in the Philippines and more. Western democracies such as the USA kept their eyes closed against the apartheid regime in South Africa. Colonial states also held back the decolonization of many countries in the Global South.

Genocide Convention

The UNDHR remains the fundamental document for all human rights endeavours. One day prior to the passage of the UNDHR, the UN approved the convention that defined, for the very first time, the crime of genocide and made its perpetrators liable for prosecution. The Genocide Convention built on the Nuremberg and the Tokyo tribunals, in which leading figures of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan were tried for war crimes, crimes against peace, and crimes against humanity. The Nuremberg Tribunal was the more innovative of the two. It established the fundamental human rights principles that individuals, and not just states, can be held responsible for criminal actions. The claims by defendants that they were just “following orders” no longer suffice when the violations against peace and human rights are grave.

Crimes against humanity constituted a new doctrine, one that elevated into intern national law the fundamental principle of personal security against unwarranted and unjust state violence. In addition, at the turn of the twenty-first century the International Criminal Treaty (Rome Treaty) was finally established. Violators of human rights can now be hauled before international tribunals. Truth and reconciliation commissions, pioneered by Argentina and South Africa, have established a new form of transitional justice.

In 2005, the UN General Assembly unanimously passed the Responsibility to Protect (RtP), a resolution that profoundly limits state sovereignty in cases of massive crimes against humanity.  Protecting citizens is first a major task of the nation-state and, when it defaults, it is a task of the international community. This principle has not yet shown its effectiveness.  Powerful states often abuse the principle of RtP, whether through self-interest or power politics.

Since the passage of the Genocide Convention in 1948, genocides have taken place in Burundi and Rwanda, Guatemala, the former Yugoslavia, Darfur in Sudan, among Yazidis in Iraq and Rohingya in Myanmar. The Chinese government has launched a vast “re-education” campaign of Uyghur, placing tens of thousands of them in detention. Much of the world still lives under dictatorial regimes and in conditions of extreme inequality. On a global scale, democracy seems to be in retreat. In addition, today we are witnessing the largest refugee crisis in history, more than 81 million people.

Role of civil society

Every human rights advance, from slavery abolition to minority protection to democracy has been the product of popular movements. We have seen the dramatic growth of NGOs. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of others have been founded, some local in character, others well-funded and with a global reach, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, with a high degree of professionalization.

Nation-state citizenship is still fundamental to our ability to exercise rights. The UN General Assembly passed in 2007 the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which affirmed Indigenous peoples’ full enjoyment of human rights and self-determination. Self-determination has become enshrined as a fundamental principle of the modern state system.

Human rights provide a powerful affirmation of the human spirit. They require that people be respected and afforded recognition no matter what their specific gender, nationality, or race. They demand that all people have access to the necessities of life, and have the freedom to express themselves, to work, build, and create as they wish, to join with others, as they desire, and to be free of the scourge of violence and forced displacement. Those are our fundamental human rights. We should demand nothing less from the worlds we inhabit.

Most nation-states have diverse populations. Diversity of all sorts is the intractable reality of human existence. How we can live with that difference is the critical issue.

Antwerp, 25 January 2021

Fr. Paul Lansu

Board Member Pax Christi International

Peace

In Thanksgiving: Remembering Sr. Ardeth Platte in this season of peace

By Mary T. Yelenick

The night of September 29, 2020, Sr. Ardeth Platte – having spent the hot summer working daily in her garden at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House in Washington, D.C., supplying people in need with fresh produce; and having, just two days, earlier delivered a rigorous online presentation for a school of theology; and the previous day having stood on the street corner holding a sign calling for the end of nuclear weapons – curled up on her mattress on the floor of the tiny room she shared with her longtime co-activist, Sr. Carol Gilbert. 

When Carol tried to rouse Ardeth a few hours later, eager to share news about the most recent ratification of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (“TPNW”), she was stunned to discover that Ardeth – who was still wearing the radio earphones she usually wore when retiring to bed, in order to keep up with global news – had quietly slipped away.

At the age of 84, Ardeth Platte had lived a life of selfless devotion to the cause of peace.  Over the course of her 66 years as a member of the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids, Michigan, she had been a teacher, school principal, director of alternative education, member of the City Council, and Mayor pro tem of Saginaw Michigan. Sr. Ardeth had served the poor, and had advocated for local environmental issues. She worked for more than a decade as coordinator of the Home for Peace and Justice in Saginaw. Eventually, she and Sr. Carol turned their focus to issues of nuclear abolition, and joined the Catholic activist community of Jonah House, in Baltimore, Maryland.

While living at Jonah House, Ardeth participated in four “Plowshares” actions at various nuclear-weapons facilities, including Andrews Air Force base, seeking symbolically to transform “swords into plowshares,” pursuant to the admonition set forth in the biblical Book of Isaiah. Each of those four Plowshares actions drew its inspiration from one of the various aspects of creation threatened by nuclear weapons: water, air, space, and land.

Those actions also entailed spilling her own blood, symbolically representing that of the hundreds of thousands of people already killed by nuclear weapons. 

In  2002, Sr. Ardeth, Sr. Carol, and Sr. Jackie Hudson, dressed as weapons inspectors, entered onto the Rocky Flats “Minuteman III” nuclear missile silo in Colorado. (This action became  the focus of the documentary film “Conviction.”) The trio was arrested, convicted on felony charges, and jailed, with Ardeth being imprisoned for three years in Danbury, Connecticut (where she became the inspiration for a character in the book, later a Netflix show, “Orange is the New Black”). 

Ardeth and Carol also took part in other anti-nuclear actions, including at the Y-2 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, for which they were also jailed. Over the course of her life, Ardeth spent more than six years incarcerated for actions opposing nuclear weapons. 

When not in prison, Ardeth persisted in  actively speaking, protesting, and agitating against nuclear weapons. Her tireless work led to articles about her in “The New York Times,” “The Washington Post,” “The New Yorker,” and numerous other publications. 

In recent years, Sr. Ardeth was an active member of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (“ICAN”), spending weeks as an ardent campaigner at the United Nations in New York working to advance the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (“TPNW”), which was approved in July of 2017. After ICAN was awarded the Nobel Prize for its work on the TPNW, Ardeth and Carol traversed the country, addressing student and community groups, displaying a replica of the Nobel Peace Prize medal, and explaining the significance of the TPNW.  They also visited global military bases – from Colorado to Buchel, Germany –
hand-delivering to base commanders a copy of, and explaining the significance of, the TPNW.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Ardeth had also participated regularly  at protests at the Pentagon, and been arrested at “Fire Drill Friday” climate-change actions in Washington. She had also been arrested for participating in a peaceful protest at a Senate office building, calling for an end to the forced separation of refugee children from their parents. When the pandemic forced the cancellation of her travels, Ardeth turned to internet media sources, continuing to advocate fiercely for the social justice, and the global abolition of nuclear weapons.

At the time of her death, Ardeth was eagerly awaiting the crucial 50th ratification of the TPNW, triggering its provisions – which occurred, with the ratification by Honduras, just three short weeks later. A number of anti-nuclear advocates only half-jokingly attributed that ratification to Sr. Ardeth’s advocacy in higher places.

Ardeth Platte was indefatigable. Purpose-driven. Creative. Inspirational. 

Above all, Ardeth was kind. She was interested less in proselytizing, than in having deep conversations – with listening being as important as speaking. She had at her disposal more facts and figures, and had more deeply plumbed the depths of the moral issues surrounding nuclear weapons, than had most of those with whom she engaged in conversation. And yet she did not dismiss those whose beliefs did not align with her own. Instead, she shared what she knew and believed, and invited others to do the same. 

As she told “The Denver Post” in 2017, “I refuse to have an enemy.  I simply won’t.”

While, at the age of 84 – having been subjected to multiple arrests and incarcerations over the course of her life – she suffered from a very painful and debilitating arthritis, she never complained. Instead, to deflect others’ concern when they observed her involuntary winces, she would simply crack a joke, her gentle eyes gleaming. Her smile, and her deep joy, were infectious. 

In the end, Sr. Ardeth passed from this earth – which she had worked so assiduously to improve – in the same manner as she had lived: raising a ruckus. Because she died at home, the 911 call resulted in the responding police unit cordoning off the room where she died. As Sr. Carol later stated, only half in jest, “Even in death, Ardeth ha[d] to make a scene, making our bedroom a crime scene.” One can only imagine the deep chuckle, and crinkled-eye smile, which that observation elicited in heaven.

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Mary T. Yelenick is a member of the Pax Christi International delegation at the United Nations. She is also a member of the Pax Christi USA Anti-Racism Team (PCART).

Peace

A Militarising Asia Pacific: A Modern Threat to Peace

Caesar D’Mello*

Pax Christi in Australia recently organised a webinar on Sustainable Peace or a Militarised Asia Pacific? to address growing militarisation of this region within the framework of the Nonviolence Initiative (CNI). Is the militarist mindset of nations the way to sustainable peace?

As the centre of contemporary geopolitics and economic activity continues to shift to the East, developments here will have serious implications for peace or instability globally. Already hosting the three biggest economies in the world – the US, China and Japan – India will join them in a few years to form a quartet of the world’s top economies based in Asia Pacific.

Comprising nearly 2/3rds of the world’s population spread across several countries, this region is again impacted by strategic rivalries, especially between the US and China. As alignments and alliances multiply, countries are divided along adversarial lines.

Alliances  The QUAD, or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, is a source of much regional anxiety. Involving India, Australia, Japan and the USA, it was initiated by Japan in 2007 as an “Asian Arc of Democracy” but ceased operating a year later. However, on the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) meeting in 2017, US President Donald Trump urged a new security strategy for the democracies of the region that he designated “Indo-Pacific”, a term now widely used. The Indo-Pacific is promoted as “a zone of peace and prosperity”, as “free, open, inclusive and stable”. Nevertheless, the QUAD’s diplomatic objectives go hand in hand with military objectives, the two becoming interchangeable. QUAD countries participate in regular joint naval exercises called the Malabar exercises, while each country’s increased defence outlays and bilateral agreements within it strengthens it further.

Australia, for instance, warned of  “a dangerous future” by its Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has allocated US $300+ billion to upgrade its military technology and hardware over the coming years, in addition to the annual budgetary amounts for defence. Inter alia, it has signed a 10-year secret Defence Cooperation Agreement with the US that will bolster a US military base in Darwin in northern Australia. There is already a longstanding top secret US-Australia satellite surveillance facility known as Pine Gap near Alice Springs.   

The most recent defence pact in the region was signed (17 November 2020) between Japan and Australia. This landmark agreement will allow more maritime war games, military aviation exercises, the stationing and deployment of troops in each other’s countries more quickly and with less red tape. China has expressed its deep unhappiness at the pact.   

Focus on China All these moves and negotiations between the countries speak of security without naming any country in particular, but it is broadly understood that China is their focus. The reference to the two oceans in ‘Indo-Pacific’ serves to put pressure on China, with whom each QUAD country is in conflict. China has repeatedly attacked the invigorated alignments between the four countries, considering them as a strategy for its “encirclement” or “containment”. It views the QUAD as an Asia Pacific NATO structured against its rise. As suspicion and mistrust grow, the consequence of all this is a tit for tat Arms Race as well as dispute in other arenas, especially trade that affects people’s livelihoods.

Visionary diplomacy is urgently needed to de-escalate the tension and reverse the direction of the parties away from the brink. In the circumstances, awareness of China’s history, and of what it  considers its more than a century long “Age of Humiliation” at the hands of Western powers would help greatly. The reinstatement of Deng Xiaoping in 1978, and his interpretation of Chinese-style Marxism have provided the impetus for China’s presentday economic pre-eminence and enable it to recover its standing in the world. There is particular sensitivity when actions and policies by Western powers (and its allies) today are perceived as reminiscent of its past. A spokesman recently declared, “If you make China the enemy, China will be the enemy.” Kowtowing to China and not holding it accountable for its Human Rights and other violations is not what is suggested, but more sophistication in how we deal with a complex power is.

Just before the Japan-Australia defence pact was signed, the world’s biggest regional trade deal known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) was announced. It brings together the ten Southeast Asian nations and China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, and over time will eliminate tariffs and quotas on 65% of goods traded in the region.  Covering 30% of the world’s population, and accounting for nearly 28% of global trade in 2019 figures, some hope that RCEP will offer a platform for resolving differences. Time will tell if geopolitics will play a bigger role in this regard.    

The Pax Christi Nonviolence Initiative, inspired by Pope Francis, asserts that militarism does not secure lasting peace, that violence invites violence. Leaderships that place their trust in weapons and military preparedness, without acknowledging that investment in arms has not made the world safer, will only lead us to more insecurity. Policy making that meaningfully incorporates the soft diplomacy of mutual trust and confidence building, the systems and institutions committed to peace-making, and voices advocating nonviolent ways of transforming conflict is a better and humane pathway to genuine peace.       

Caesar D’Mello is a member of Pax Christi Australia, and formerly led Church and ecumenical international aid, development and justice agencies.            

Photo: Royal Australian Navy photo by POIS Andrew Dakin via Flickr Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)