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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Klager

Non-peacebuilding and Placing the Burden of Proof on War Advocates

“Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.” —Thomas Merton

I have very strong peace convictions, but I am also very aware of how difficult it is to love my enemies and repay evil with good. Yet, we need to also understand that there are thousands of peace workers — scholars and practitioners — who are constantly working on these issues (in peacebuilding, development, conflict transformation, mediation, etc.) in ways that recognize that human beings react best to meeting their needs and interests and alleviating the sources of frustration and desperation that can eventually view violence as an attractive option. Peacebuilding is difficult work that requires much creativity, but there are many who are devoted to this field — one that we all need to familiarize ourselves with to alleviate our own sense of hopelessness. My foray into the field of peacebuilding is the most important factor in my renewed hope.

And with this in mind, it's imperative that we put an end to the outdated dichotomy that violence = doing something and nonviolence = doing nothing. It’d be more productive to start referring to our actions as peacebuilding and non-peacebuilding to place the burden of proof on those who advocate for militarism — or for using the cause and trigger of cyclical retributive violence as somehow also the solution, or the disease as the cure. The tireless creativity, development projects, navigation of human emotions and desires, analysis of human needs and interests, dialogue to affect attitudinal change, and strategic long-term planning of nonviolent conflict transformation — all without succumbing to the same mimetic impulses and sacred violence that killed God incarnate — is much harder and is doing much more than carrying out knee-jerk violent interventions that refuse to do the hard, creative work of nonviolence.

Without taking anything away from their monumental achievements, inspiration, and legacy, I also think it's a bit distressing that if nonviolence = doing nothing to most folks, it's also equated almost exclusively with MLK and Gandhi's acts of civil disobedience and peaceful demonstrations to the rest. Although powerful and effective, I think that these events have become somewhat of a distraction and a basis for thinking that nonviolence is an exception to the rule, a rare one-off, defined only by MLK and Gandhi's actions instead of initiatives that are more substantive and coordinated and comprehensive, and have become inadvertent diversions away from sustainable and practical peacebuilding and conflict transformation. And yet, it may be true that this dynamic was orchestrated deliberately by those governments and corporate special interest groups that advocate for military action as the norm: by making MLK and Gandhi's actions so "larger-than-life," it has placed nonviolence out of reach, an overwhelming standard that few of us can measure up to, and made it the exception rather than the rule and has monopolized what nonviolence means or can mean — again, becoming a paralyzing distraction from the more accessible yet hard and creative work of sustainable peacebuilding, conflict analysis and resolution, development, mediation, trust- and relationship-building, affecting attitudinal change, education, meeting the needs and interests of those desperate enough to use violence, etc. This is what needs more exposure; this is what needs to become the norm as alternatives to military interference.

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