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.

____________

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)

Peace

“No More War”

 Armistice Day 11 November 2020

On Wednesday 11 November 2020, the human community will once again remember and reflect on the end of the First and Second World War. Armistice Day. The number of dead and casualties from both wars are countless. The damage caused was confusing and the reconstruction was accompanied by many human tragedies.

Besides the two great world wars, we also know the many-armed conflicts in the world. Military might and strength continue to play a role in international relations, even if no one wants war and all parties know that war does not solve anything, on the contrary: “In War There Are Only Losers” (Pope John Paul II).

Importance of the numbers

The way of warfare has changed drastically in recent centuries. In the past, the large number of combatant soldiers in a war or battle played a decisive role in ensuring success. Carl Von Clausewitz, a Prussian strategist and Napoleonic general, regarded numerical superiority as the most general principle of victory.

It was 17th century French philosopher Voltaire who emphatically stated that God was on the side of the great battalions. The battle, therefore, was covered in a religious veil. Voltaire was known as one of the most important philosophers of the Enlightenment.

Others argue that ultimately it is not so much numerical superiority in battle as the will to win. Frederick the Great (King of Prussia, 18th century) already stated that the size of the population determines the wealth of states, including in terms of war victories.

The relationship between population growth and that of industry and the economy as a whole became of great importance in wartime, and even more directly so with the relationship between population growth and military power, especially on such battlefields as the First World War. Pure work force could prevail over strategic genius. Therefore, the power of the number was decisive in a military clash between advanced industrial powers. The power of the number, the number of combatants, turned out to be convincing to ultimately win a conflict.

Juvenile violence

Demographics not only influenced the outcome of the war, but also determined its causes. Rapid population growth made European societies very young, especially those of Germany and Russia. These countries had what would today be called a youth surplus, a phenomenon associated with war and aggression.

There is, therefore, a connection between the youthfulness of a society and its bellicosity. Large, young, enthusiastic populations supported the most belligerent politicians and urged them to take it one-step further. It was the young people who thronged the streets to celebrate the start of the war, and it was the young people who eagerly enlisted, in many cases sealing not only their own fate but also that of their continent.

In the 1950s, about half of all armed conflicts still took place between states and the other half within states. In the 1990s, conflicts within states are six times more common than conflicts between states.

Many believe in the naturalness of war. Politicians can take a possible war for granted. As if a nightmare has been set in motion that cannot be stopped, whereby the mind is set to zero and alternatives are hardly ever discussed.

Need for peace experts

The word “expert” is derived from the Latin “experiri”, or to experience. In this sense, our planet has produced far too many experts in genocide. Even in the recent past, following the breakup of Yugoslavia, extreme nationalists usurped territory where they settled old scores through ethnic cleansing and terrorist campaigns.

In 1994, Hutu extremists massacred their fellow citizens in Rwanda. In 1995, there is the massacre in Srebrenica, Bosnia & Herzegovina. Later that decade, terrible civil wars broke out in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and East Timor. In the early years of the 21st century, the Sudanese government repressed opposition groups in Darfur with brute force.

The prevention of genocide seems to me to be the common shared human responsibility par excellence. It is important to intervene in time to prevent catastrophic situations from developing. There is the responsibility of the political authorities and of the international community to protect civilians first and if possible with nonviolent means.

Conflicts and tensions between people and peoples are normal phenomena and customs and jurisprudence such as international humanitarian law have been developed to deal with this. Conflicts arise when people draw boundaries: this far and no further. Conflict is about what cannot be tolerated, especially in the field of self-protection. The human being has the right to self-preservation.

Defensor pacis

It would be much more efficient and cheaper, and much more humane, to resolve tensions and conflicts through dialogue, negotiation and arbitration. Invest in diplomatic resources, including economic aid, nonviolent conflict mediation, and support for political pluralism and human rights.

Avoid and detect conflicts early and act in such a way that conflicts are avoided. Restrict the arms trade and ensure that legislation on arms exports is watertight. All this requires more investment in peace education and peace building.

Reconciliation and peace is better than struggle. We know that we are all different. How can we live together without giving up our spiritual independence? People are always looking for new balances, especially after a disruption. The human being is a homo compensator. Seeking balance. Conflict resolver. Converting evil into good. Choosing the “right way” of living.

The peacemaker or Defensor pacis then puts an end to the Babylonian confusion of tongues, the disputes, the war of each against each, the fratricide, or the eternal war of words that can always get out of hand. Ending disagreement.

Preventing armed violence because every person is important. The Jewish tradition holds that saving one life amounts to saving the world. Our world needs more Defensor pacis, peace experts.

Armistice Day 11 November 2020. We do not forget. We remember.

Brussels/Antwerp, August 2020

Fr Paul Lansu

Board Member Pax Christi International and Pax Christi Flanders

Peace

Poverty and pandemics are just as deadly as war

Misery and trouble in the world does not just happen. Daily life remains human work. Conflicts, violent confrontations, world wars are also human work.

How many wars have not started because considerations of prestige prevailed over reasonable thinking and rationality? A well-known example of this is the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648).

Thirty years of religious violence

The Thirty Years’ War was the longest, bloodiest and most devastating ever fought on German soil, and it maintained that reputation until the end of the twentieth century. Fear of death was accompanied by fear of life, which had become tainted by the constant misery of war, malnutrition and disease.

During that time period it was also extremely cold. Rivers and even ports on the Mediterranean were frozen until spring, allowing entire armies to move across the Danube during the Thirty Years’ War. Speaking of climate change! The harsh winters were unimpressed by the murderous religious drive, however. In this three-decade war between Catholics and Protestants, a third of Europe’s population would perish.

Peace was not achieved by a victory of one of the warring factions, but by exhaustion. It is not only the physical exhaustion of the extremely brutal war, but also the mental exhaustion of the spiritual worldview. The nation states will take over sovereignty themselves in 1648 (and no longer the churches or religion). The sovereign unit or nation / state is then the highest authority. Human rationality became more important.

The Peace of Münster (Westphalia) was concluded in 1648. End of the war and the nation states took control of their own hands based on sovereignty and rational or reasonable thinking.

The German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) would later speak of the “disenchantment of the world”. That says that the moral basis of society rests more on rational arguments than on belief, more on an ethics of human rights and procedural agreements of democracy than on the ethics of the Bible, because the latter failed not only in the Thirty Years’ War but in so many other circumstances as well.

After the war the plague

In the wake of the war came the plague, one epidemic after another. People were so weakened by hunger and hardship that they became easy prey for the germs carried by the armies. The plague claimed more lives than the Thirty Years’ War itself. The painter Rembrandt van Rijn painted the mournful reality of death at the end of the plague epidemic in 1668.

The Spanish flu also broke out after a war (WW1). WW1 became the first truly industrial modern war. The infamous Spanish flu pandemic originated in Europe (1918/19), mostly in army units that had to spend the last months of the world conflict in particularly uncomfortable and unsanitary conditions. The number of fatalities was enormous and in many warring countries comparable to the number of people who died from the violence of war itself. Poverty and pandemics are just as deadly as war.

Some historians speak of a “second Thirty Years’ War” and that is the period from 1914 to 1945 of last century. From one world war to another. Millions of people died, cities and entire economies were in ruin, and countless lives were destroyed.

Pandemics, like wars, famines and natural disasters, have repeatedly affected human history throughout the ages. Due to increased globalisation and massive international air traffic, a global pandemic is one of the biggest security risks. Hunger and epidemics can only be tackled properly on a global scale. These are challenges that require an internationally coordinated approach.

One major trauma

A century ago, hundreds of thousands of young men went to war voluntarily or compulsorily, even though they knew they were risking their lives and their health without obtaining any economic benefit. At the time, people identified themselves in a strong social transcendence, in God and emperor and fatherland and decency and self-sacrifice.

How many people would still act like that today? How many people would seriously consider the prospect of being killed in the field of honour for even one moment? In addition, what does a society lose and what gains if its members are hardly willing to die and kill for an ideal?

To take the matters into one’s own hands

Countless people were victims of war, epidemics or famine in the last century. One big and collective trauma. Western societies responded to the murders of two world wars by attaching additional value to renewed cooperation, redistribution, peace and international solidarity.

Common stories and political projects arose based on common interests. Two examples of this are the United Nations and the European Union. Both would guarantee the functioning of the rule of law, international peace and security, human rights, development and sustainable ecological coexistence.

Brussels/Antwerp, September 2020

Fr Paul Lansu, Board Member of Pax Christi International and Pax Christi Flanders

Photo by Adam Axton via Flickr