There is a simplicity to life that is so complex, the greatest minds couldn’t figure it out no matter how hard they might try. What is up, is down. What is left is right. And the very things that we think are the “best way to handle the situation” are in fact the very things that complicate and extend the turmoil of that moment. To believe that violence begets peace, or oppression begets freedom is as absurd as it is to believe that mud produces diamonds.
The world was believed to be flat, not because of scientific evidence, but because the fear of the unknown withheld the genius of generations from proving it to be otherwise. In the same way, violence might be thought of as the “only option” to thwart injustice on a global scale. That way of thought, I must argue, is due to fear of the capacity to which we are capable of as human beings to instill justice in holistic and creative ways. Much like our capacities for great good and great evil, the capacity to which we are capable of great violence, we must also be capable of great creativity in establishing peace and justice without violence.
The peace I speak of is not merely the sensation of violence upon one group by another, but a multi-layered, multidimensional, multi-faceted justice that strikes to the heart of any injustice (injustice being understood as the disintegration of right relationship between human beings). Because, as Mother Teresa so wisely observed, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
The TRC Trials in South Africa, the peace efforts in Chile, the Civil Rights Movement in the United States- these are exceptional instances of true justice being established where there once was oppression and violence. Why, though, are we content on keeping them as that, as just “the exception”? We are capable of so much more than that!
Humanity has advanced by leaps and bounds over the centuries. Electricity, the wheel, the telephone, modern medicine. We do not limit our capacity to reach into me unknown in these areas. We do not cease to “reach for the stars” in our ever increasing medical research, space programs, and technological advancements. Why limit ourselves to greatness in just these areas? Why not strive for greatness in the really difficult parts of living in our world of 7 billion people?
End world hunger, provide clean drinking water and proper medical care the world over- we have the solutions to all of theses problems! We also have it in us to tackle the issue of using violence to perpetuate peace, because this way of thought will never work. Violence will never bring about peace. A system of violence, as Walter Wink points out in his book The Powers That Be, will ever only bring about more violence. The oppressed become the oppresser, the abuser becomes the abused. And the cycle of violence just perpetuates itself.
We must stop fooling ourselves into thinking that we can bully our way to peace; this is insanity. Our creativity as human beings is far too great to allow systemic injustice to continue, and our ingenuity is far too great to allow violence to be the answer to our desire to see justice brought about in our world.
At the end of his life, Einstein wrote this about his involvement in the creation of the atomic bomb, “I made one great mistake in my life…when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending the atom bombs be made; but there was some justification- the danger that the Germans would make them.” Even during the process of creating the atom bomb, Eistein wrote this to his colleague, “When the war is over, then there will be in all countries a pursuit of secret war preparations with technological means which will lead inevitably to preventative wars and to destruction even more terrible than the present destruction of life.” Even in his self-justification of of his minor involvement in the creation of the atom bomb, Eistein still recognized that using the violence of the atom bomb to end the on-going violence of the World War, while it would end that violence quite quickly, it would also result in much more far-reaching and devastating than anything the world had ever seen. He was right, but his fear does not have to be where we stay forever. We can move away from violent peace toward sustainable non-violent peace and justice. We can, and we must.