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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: October 12, 2001
Latest Update: October 12, 2001

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Reactions to War Rhetoric

Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors: September 2001.
"Fair use" encouraged.

The following Peace Education Commission post points out the use of rhetoric in war/peacemaking issues. Nag me to link to Hirschman's discussion of the Rhetoric of Reaction. Ben Graham points out that of course we must be adversaries at the point of violence such as that of September 11. But that doesn't mean that we have to be complicit with those who have become obsessively adversarial by denying the long line of failures at diplomacy that led to such readily roiled hatred of US policy. The whole issue of empire and of exploitation and domination leads us to a much more sophisticated argument in which we are not obliged to demand vengeance agains the "EVIL ONE."

Theories, amongst others, I would like to discuss in reacting to this piece are:

  • Attitude change and persuasion theory in social psychology
  • Stereotyping and labeling and links to postcolonialism and critical race theory
  • Gordon Fellman's paradigm shift away from extremes of adversarialism
  • Gandhi's philosophy and its fit into the present dilemma of terrorism.
  • Foucault's perception of surveillance and punishment, and its effect on social theory today.

On Friday, October 12, 2001, Ben Graham posted to the PEC list:

Where is the Accountability?

This thought stems from a common frustration experienced by pacifists and other proponents of nonviolent action. When the pacifist position is presented to most people, a common response is, "Sure, I would rather that violence not exist, but if one's self or one's country was being attacked, how could one just stand there and allow themselves to be hit, bombed, shot, looted, etc.?" Certainly, in these moments we can cite Gandhi's success in subduing the colonial superpower of Great Britain or Denmark's burning of its fields and destruction of its factories in WWII. However, confined within an extreme war situation, it does create a difficult case.

What I find frustrating is the constriction of a specific war event as the only domain in which war proponents assess the pacifist position. What have fields as diverse as public health, medicine, dentistry, and environmental science been harping on for the past several decades? Prevention! You don't wait to treat a problem until it has festered into a full-blown, life-threatening condition. And this, is of course, is what the pacifist view has been all about in regard to international relations, and why if I hear another "Are you telling me that if Adolph Hitler and you were alone in a room, you wouldn't try to kill him?" I am going to scream.

Imagine that the US is an overweight, 55 year old man. One day in September, he has a heart attack after a lifestyle of one cheeseburger w/ fries, two packs, and no exercise per day for the past 35 years. He is rushed to the hospital, emergency operations are made, and thankfully he is able to go back home to recoup. Imagine that his large extended Family holds an emergency meeting to ensure that this Great Man will never again experience this horrible brush with destruction. Image that, after days of deliberation, the Family comes up with a comprehensive plan to ensure this Great Man's safety. Key highlights of the plan include:

  • Said Great Man will only frequent McDonalds that are located in close proximity to hospitals.
  • Family will purchase a flatbed pickup. Since over 5 hours, 21% of the Great Man's day, is spent on the couch watching television, this precaution will make it so the family can simply lift the sofa into the truck and whisk him to the hospital should another attack occur.
  • The ball bearings on the wheeled stretcher at the hospital in all likelihood slowed down the Great Man's arrival to the operating table. The family resolves to work with the hospital to ensure that only precision bearings, well oiled and greased, be used in all stretchers from hence forth. Furthermore, the electric doors at the ER should be modified to open significantly faster.

    And so it is with war, and with our analysis of the events of September 11. Much talk and media coverage has focused on shortcomings in intelligence, airport security measures, and anti-terrorism efforts. Where is the analysis of how our (U.S.) policies have resulted in turmoil in the Middle East, strong-arming & undermining of the United Nations, and isolationist pursuits of missile defense, thus ushering in, as Lifton puts it in his analysis of the Hiroshima & Nagasaki bombings, an "atrocity-producing situation"? Why are we scrambling at the last-minute to build coalitions that should have existed long ago? And why aren't we holding our elected officials accountable for their failures in diplomacy?

    As the United Nations and Kofi Annan are awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, I feel it is paramount that we do everything we can to insist that the U.S. government cooperate fully with the United Nations in addressing terrorism, bringing Middle Eastern countries to the table, building a sustainable Afghanistan, and seeing that terrorist criminals be brought to justice through international courts. Let our global hearts be healthy!