Opinion: can the language of war build a future of peace?

FreeImages.com/Tiago Rio

Many people frame the current work of governance – particularly the reaction to the Trump agenda – in military terms. They talk of fights, of battles, and of a war.

I resist this imagery, for very specific reasons.

In America today, violence is being done to our institutions and our democracy, and for some people, violence is being committed against their bodies. Our current world is, to me, a logical result of America’s original sins of genocide and slavery and the white supremacism that went along with it. It is a wound gone septic because it never properly healed.

However, this violence is a crime and not a war. It is vandalism; it is assault; it is attempted murder … and sometimes it is actual murder.

This is not a meaningless distinction: in a war, resistance requires meeting violence with violence. Directed violence is an inescapable fact of war.

Dealing with crime, however, involves identifying who has harmed and been harmed; it takes patience and talking and listening and thinking. A crime recognizes the responsible party as someone who is subject to laws beyond just the rights conferred by strength. Violence may be committed in solving a crime, but it is not required.

Simply put, one tries to “solve” a crime but “win” a war.

I look around the world and at history, and I see wars that raged for generations. I think of the contradiction of bombing people to make them be peaceful. I remember talk of our “exit plans” from our Middle Eastern misadventures.

The draft of this piece has been sitting in limbo for a couple of months, because I couldn’t decide how to finish it.

I’m still not sure how to wrap up my thoughts on the matter – how to say “this is what feels right to me” without it sounding like “this is how you should behave.” I don’t know how to put words together that will tell you why a “solution” to a crime seems better than “winning” a war. Maybe it’s because of all those wars that were “won” but sprang back to life in the next generation and beyond.

So, I’ll just leave things with a question: how can the language of war build a future of peace?

– Mary

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