mad in pursuit journal

DISPATCHED FROM THE CROSSROADS, AT THE intersection OF vengeance & reconciliation

Gandhi Follow-Up, 3

(Still following up the Gandhi essay that appeared in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle on Friday. This continues from yesterday.)

I like this exchange because I think it shows how two people can disagree but can still have an open-minded conversation. Dan wrote me an email with 3 points. Below each point is my answer to it and then his response.

Dan: (1) Your first paragraph insinuates that those in power assert that "if you don't want to bomb, you must favor doing nothing" and "eye for an eye". I have never heard President Bush or his colleagues ever present either idea. Unless you have specific references that I am not aware of, these would best be considered "straw man" assertions and detract from the validity of your argument.

Susan: There have certainly been plenty of references lately to "appeasement," shorthand for refusal to confront and fight. And "cut and run" seems to be the standard response for any alternative to Bush militarism -- the Republican's own straw man to deflect any alternative. 

Dan: Yes, guilty as charged.  But, probably accurate descriptions, given the dearth of alternatives presented by our friends on the left — not a straw man if the label fits the data. (Note: I did not fault you for the "appeasement" business, but, rather, for the "doing nothing" and "eye for eye".)


Dan: (2) You indicate that current leaders lack the necessary courage and talent to adequately respond to the terrorists. This assertion is as ironic as it is illogical, as you are attacking the ability and character of others- so much for nonviolence.

Susan: You got me there! I've never claimed to be Gandhi-like -- only struggling to understand the choices we have. But even Gandhi got angry at what he perceived to be injustice and wrongheadedness. I believe he also struggled with how to convert his outrage into effective action rather than violence.

Dan: I understand and your are correct — nobody has ever mistaken me for the "Gandhi of Fairport" either. Yes, you identified the struggle —- what to do, what to do...especially in the face of an enemy that is not behaving nearly as rule-bound as the British and who would most likely enjoy detonating a nuclear device in our neighborhood as soon as possible.


Dan: (3) In my humble opinion, you will demonstrate both courage and talent if you can do the following in your next effort: Provide an outline of specific next steps for the US in promoting global peace and security. You did mention "framework for dialogue and recognition of our interdependence". What does that mean? What would it look like? Where would it get us? Lay your (or Arun's) plan out there and let's put it to the test of public debate. Like most critics of our current leadership, your arguments are long on grand ideals and void of substance. Until you have the specifics of your plan presented and vetted by others, I am hoping we stay on offense.

Susan: The D&C only gave me 500 words, isn't it a pity. What the Nixon administration did to engage China, what Reagan did to engage Russia, what Truman & Eisenhower did to engage (rather than humiliate) Japan and Germany after World War II, as well as Kennedy's forbearance with Krushchev and the Cuban missiles -- these are all looking downright Gandhi-esque compared to Bush's "World War III" (Newt Gingrich term, not mine). I'm not naive enough to think that peace will come anytime soon to the Mideast. The trick there is not "the peace process" but the "hostility management process." Cajoling leaders to sit at a table in Paris or Camp David, hashing out treaties, handing out peace prizes -- sometimes the blah-blah-blah actually lengthens the ceasefires and occasionally the ceasefires start lasting longer than the jihads -- just a crazy notion of mine that people can actually talk themselves out of hating one another if they keeping shaking hands and posing for pictures together long enough. I used to think I was an idealist but when I see how hard-headed the Bush Admin idealists are, the real-politick approaches of people like Henry Kissinger look much smarter: roll up your sleeves, accept where everyone is at the moment, and start talking (& signing trade agreements).

Dan: I like your thoughts about the "blah, blah, blah" and the hostility management — I get that, though the phrase "after World War II" pretty well speaks for itself and Kennedy used an imminent threat of force — so, not really a nonviolent approach. Yes, Reagan brought the Soviets to their knees, despite the opposition from the left, who demanded, of course, that he (dare I say it) appease them (I am sure you remember the nuclear freeze crowd).  Anyway, my suggestion: Hold onto your paragraphs immediately above- you have the beginning of your next 500 words, i.e., from a nonviolent model, specific steps to advance the cause of peace and security in the face of radical Islamic terrorism.  I like your reference to Kissinger, and it reminds me of Skinner's "Walden Two", which is fiction but challenges one to think of how to solve cultural problems intelligently; by the way, I think "solving problems intelligently" is a more apt description of what you are advocating rather than Gandhi's "nonviolence".  I wish you the very best.

Susan: Looks like we found some common ground!


Since it's my webpage, I guess I can have the final word (at least for today).

Dan is probably right saying that "solving problems intelligently is a more apt description of what you are advocating rather than Gandhi's nonviolence." Very few leaders have Gandhi's savvy or ambitious cleverness or willingness to throw themselves on the front line. Most of us would make hash of the effort. So "solving problems intelligently" is a good fallback — as long as intelligence means fact-based and that certain principles of peacemaking and mutual respect apply.

Dan and I could probably blab on about which wars resulted in a net benefit to mankind — World War II, I think, and probably the American Civil War. Oh, and the American Revolution — that was pretty cool. But some of them, like World War I, just managed to spawn another war. I love a good freedom fight, but the "velvet revolutions" are way more astonishing.

And we could argue all day about whether Regan "brought the Soviets to their knees." I think the Soviets did themselves in. Regan did some good-spirited saber-rattling, to be sure, but I suspect his most effective action was simply to step back and give Gorbechev what room he needed to facilitate a soft collapse rather than a bloody one. (And how did Gorbechev get in power and what made him so ultimately nonviolent?)

My husband Jim, who went to medical school, used to tell me that one of the most important things a doctor could do was "watchful waiting" — close observation of the body as it either heals itself or better reveals what's wrong. Regan had the knack with the Soviet Union. Bush the Elder had the knack with eastern Europe. George W... needs to chill.

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