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What can we do for peace?

The following is another part of Hope magazine's John Wilson's (JW) interview of Colman McCarthy (CM), July/August 2003. His comments on Peacemaking I found challenging and insightful. I hope you do too.

Peace to you today, Jim

In 1985, McCarthy and his wife, May, established the Center for Teaching Peace, a Washington- based nonprofit that helps schools begin or expand academic programs in conflict resolution and peace studies. Today, he teaches classes at three universities and three high schools.
JW: What can we do for peace?

CM: . Few of us will ever be called on to do great things, but all of us can do small things in a great way..
It’s a sad reality that so many of our heralded peacemakers were wretches at home. Gandhi was vindictive to his wife and sons, as was Tolstoy. Martin Luther was a pathetic husband. Einstein was emotionally cruel to his wives. Yet, look at Harry Truman. He idolized his wife and was the model family man. Then he dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and killed tens of thousands of families.

JW: Of peace activists through time, who inspires you the most, and why?

CM: .... my wife has an immense capacity for kindness, for staying focused on the small things of the heart, for laughter, for being the most other-centered person I’ve ever known. she understood early in our marriage that the most revolutionary thing anyone can do is to raise honest, giving, and compassionate children. And May’s kind of love is accessible to everyone:... keep asking people what they are going through, and then acting on the answer. Love is not a mere emotion, it’s a call to action.

JW: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned in doing this work?

CM: I’ve learned that St. Francis of Assisi was right: preach the gospel at all times. If necessary use words.
With students, you can never tell. I have ones who made straight A's and then went out and flunked life, and others who were half-awake, back-row dreamers, but are now using their gifts fully to decrease violence and increase peace.

And schools have two kinds of teachers-those who want power over their students, and those who want power with their students. But students are looking for the second. Then you have teachers who want their students to learn how to think, which is fine. But the better teachers are those who want the students to learn how to think and learn how to care.
That’s where field trips come in. I do as many of them as possible, because it’s experiential knowledge, not theoretical. We teachers are forever packing ideas and theories into the kids’ heads. They leave our schools idea-rich but experience poor: unbalanced people.

The remedy is field trips to prisons, shelters, literacy centers, battered women’s refuges. And then come back to the classroom and figure out what governmental policies are keeping the poor poor, or the prisons jammed with the mentally ill and addicted, who need treatment, not punishment. Or what political decisions are being made that direct the nation’s wealth to military programs meant to kill rather than to social programs meant to heal. That’s the hard part for students-making the connections between the reality of their service and the reality of politics, and then getting the skills to keep working at both.

Would we dare send our children through twelve years of elementary school and high school with no course in math or science? No. It’s twelve years of each. Why not twelve years of peace education, which you’ll use for the rest of your life in a way that you won’t be using algebra, geometry, or chemistry?
Yet we talk about conflicts all the time. A study from the American Psychological Association found that the average American family, when it’s together, has a conflict every eight minutes. And those are the functional families!
So peace education involves much more than taking on militarism or opposing the death penalty. Peace begins with who we’re living with. The leading cause of injury among American women is being beaten at home-by a husband, boyfriend, ex-husband. or ex-boyfriend. Many women have more to worry about when they walk in the front door than when they walk out. I’m convinced that we could lower the rates of spouse abuse if schools taught the basics of conflict resolution with the same academic rigor that we teach math and the rest.

Every president, going back to General George Washington, General Andrew Jackson, General William Harrison, General U.S. Grant, General Dwight Eisenhower, has been a believer in the war ethic. The founding fathers, who were militarists, made sure by getting the phrase “commander in chief’ into the Constitution, plus telling Congress in the early articles that it is empowered to declare war and raise money for the military.
And has it ever. The last fiscal year, the military budget totaled $355 billion. that Number is too large, unless you’re an astronomer. Broken down, it comes to $972 million a day , which is still ungraspable, or more than $11,000 a second. $11,000. $11,000. $972 million a day is four times larger than the Peace Corps budget for a year. It’s five times the Teach for America budget for a year. The numbers are still a bit abstract. To make them real, the War Resisters League reports that 49 percent of all federal discretionary funding goes to the military-or about $3,000 annually, per taxpayer.
And what are we getting for all that money? Less and less security We have the FBI to protect us, the CIA, the Pentagon, and now the Office of Homeland Security The military used to be run by the Department of War. Then in 1947, Congress changed it to the Department of Defense, which sounds much better. Pretty soon, it’ll be changed to the Department of Love-

The talk in Washington now is that the military budget will reach $500 billion a year by 2010.
George W Bush is not the problem. Nor is the high-spending Congress that oils the war machine. I’m the problem. I need to figure out how to be a better husband, a better father, a better writer, a better teacher. And all of us need to figure out what our commitments are, and do more to fulfill them. On one of his good days, Gandhi had it right: “If you love peace, then hate injustice.

Peace to you today, Jim

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