How does this statement hold up against the current global state of affairs? For nearly 20 years, our world has been in an almost constant state of emergency and it seems to be getting worse.
American scholar Noam Chomsky points out that before 9/11, Al-Qaeda was a fairly insignificant, marginal group operating primarily in isolated regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. After the violent response to their attacks in the United States, they’ve morphed into even more extremist organizations and mushroomed all over the world. Each time one of these groups commits a crime, the West responds with a greater act of violence and radical Islam is strengthened.
It’s also important to listen to the rhetoric of marginalized states. North Korean leaders, for example, regularly point at American bombings of other sovereign states to justify the need to build up their own military and have weapons of mass destruction. The perceived need to protect themselves from a foreign despot is a powerful rallying cry and it has cast this region of Asia into a frightening state of insecurity.
Although violence and retaliation satisfy a very human impulse for vengeance, it’s not the only solution.
It’s important to recognize the sacrifices of those who have served and died in the military, and there are indeed times when armed intervention is necessary. Usually it’s because nations have failed to do what was necessary to establish peace. The Rwandan genocide, for example, happened in part because of the failure of colonialism, but primarily because of the failure of powerful states to take the necessary steps to intervene when, and even before, mass killing became imminent.
At other times, we do respond effectively. The Second World War happened largely because of the failure of the Treaty of Versailles. Few would argue with the notion that this intervention was necessary.
The Second World War also demonstrates what happens when we respond effectively to previous enemies at the end of a conflict. Lasting peace was established because the victorious Allies invested in the rebuilding and development of Germany and Japan.
Keep in mind as well that the animosity toward these nationalities was very similar to what many in the West feel toward Muslims today. When we can see beyond our prejudices and build toward the common good, we’re able to create powerful and long-lasting relationships.
Although today’s political climate may inhibit efforts to bring effective aid to some nations, a great deal can still be done. Instead of sending weapons, we can build schools and hospitals. We can also encourage our young people to work overseas and assist them in doing so. Nothing builds empathy like sharing a meal, or even a smile, with a person in another country. Although we may think we’re merely giving to those in need, our young people invariably return home much richer in heart and spirit than we could ever imagine.
We’re all empowered to create peace by whatever means are available, even if we never leave our living rooms. As American author Edward Everett Hale said, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something.”
We may always need armed forces to ensure our safety. If we want lasting peace and true security, however, we need see beyond our fears and prejudices, and invest in global development that promotes justice and progress for all humanity.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.