I don’t editorialize on many of these chapters in advance, preferring to let the text introduce itself to you and let you experience it your own way. But I’ll make a brief exception in this case to tell you that this is my favorite, as we accelerate into the final chapters and the conclusion of Powerful Peace…which is really just the beginning of living out the concepts.
War is good
From leaping into action for humanitarian reasons we turn to leaping into action with the necessary intent to destroy. Sometimes the worst we can imagine turns out to be a blessing. A family suffers financial ruin, then finds its true riches come from one another. A tyrant brutalizes his subjects, then (when all other options are exhausted) courageous nations initiate what Washington called that “plague of mankind” —war. The paradox of conflict includes also the need to integrate women into the male-dominated culture of war, and the martial artist’s understanding that sensitivity helps us fight better and end war sooner…with less destruction.
If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.
Our dojo, c. 2009: I’m third from right in standing row; also standing, with goatee, is my good friend and very dangerous teacher, Corey Capone; behind the standing boy is Corey’s even more dangerous teacher and the master of our school, George Parulski. Devon Hayden, Corey’s daughter, stands to left; my sons Gabe and Jack kneel/stand to right.
I hope the subtitle hooked you.
It is a true statement. Read through to the end and you’ll see the point.
I’m a retired SEAL, so you can believe this: I’m not squeamish about the readiness and willingness to cause harm. It’s a simple fact of life that there are some in this world who target innocents and won’t choose to stop. They can only be stopped. Someone must be prepared to stop them.
While accepting this cold reality, we need to respect another: governments with the means to stop those who harm innocents have to be conscious of the potential consequences of their use of force. Put another way, the worthy surgeon knows his tremendous power to heal with a knife must be managed with tremendous care, because misuse of his gift may cause injury or even death.
No doubt about it; there’s plenty of room for debate on the question of how much hard power is appropriate. There can be no debate, however, that it’s absurd for innocent bystanders to be hurt as a consequence of our protecting innocent bystanders.
As Maslow said, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” I see this one-tool dynamic at work in the behavior of some of my fellow soldiers and in the imaginations of some soldiers’ supporters. To be effective, however, we need as many diverse tools as can possibly be assembled. Most of them are not designed to kill. Many are intended for building up households, neighborhoods or regions.
What I’m trying to say should be pretty obvious: whatever idiocy we adults may choose, the children whose flesh and spirit are torn by our petty struggles deserve to have us fight much, much harder…toward better solutions. Restraint is possible, and careless fighting spawns fighting.
There is another tremendous paradox inherent in conflict. War and violence instinctively stimulate rigid and closed resistance by those threatened…but solutions are most easily discovered through open sensitivity to the root causes of a conflict. War is traditionally the domain of men, and men traditionally reject sensitivity as an acceptable behavior or identification. In discussions on the topic of women and war at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), the New America Foundation (NAF) and other venues, we have reached two conclusions:
Firstly, “women’s” issues in war are unique to females, yet simultaneously universal. Consider the epic tragedy of mass sexual violence waged strategically against a population. The immediate victims are (usually) women and girls…yet the terrorizing effects are often targeted against the men in their lives. Husbands, fathers and brothers of potential or actual rape victims are emotionally damaged along with the emotionally and physically traumatized female victims. These men are often responsible heads of households. They often hide their families or flee with them instead of stepping forward and participating in armed resistance.
I’m humbled to be acquainted with Abigail Disney, filmmaker of the documentaries Pray the Devil Back to Hell and Women, War and Peace. Her work is at once heartbreaking and inspiring. Women—and men—Abby shows us come through as incredibly powerful, courageous and resilient human beings instead of helpless victims.
The other inescapable conclusion on women and war is that males have too long dominated in this arena. Perhaps a better way to say this is that if women had enjoyed a more equal voice in governing the affairs and disputes of state throughout history, there would have been less war.
Three of my other female heroes co-edited the USIP book, Women and War (Endowment of the United States Institute of Peace, 2011). Kathleen Kuehnast, (Director of USIP’s Gender and Peacebuilding Center of Innovation); Chantal de Jonge Oudraat (Director of USIP’s Jennings Randolph Fellowship program); and Helga Hernes (Senior Advisor on women, peace and security issues at Oslo Peace Research Institute) are highly accomplished individually; but in this partnership their results are inspiring. Their active and able cohort on gender issues and war is Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. Gayle is the author of The Dressmaker of Khair Khana (Harper, 2011), the true account of an enterprising Afghan woman, her family and their town under the Taliban.
Abigail, Kathleen, Chantal, Helga and Gayle personify the insight and ability necessary to build powerful peace. While on the subject of gender and conflict, of course, as mentioned in chapter 19, I strongly recommend Half the Sky; Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009).
The value of sensitivity in conflict won’t surprise those with experience in traditional martial arts. Since my earliest military days I’ve practiced various Japanese and Korean fighting styles, and consider my “home” art to be jujutsu—the hand-to-hand style of the Samurai warriors and parent of today’s karate, judo and aikido. To put it mildly, an insensitive jujutsu-ka, (jujutsu practitioner) is a losing jujutsu-ka. Success depends on maintaining a quiet mind and relaxed body, effectively turning oneself into a living, breathing sensor. The more sensitive a martial artist, the earlier he can perceive an intended threat, respond appropriately, and survive.
I like the description provided by Jonathan Maberry in Ultimate Jujutsu; Principles and Practice (Strider Nolan Publishing, 2002):
“The word Jujutsu may be translated freely as ‘the gentle art,’ but the word ‘gentle’ is often misunderstood, a result of poor translation from centuries ago. A more accurate translation would be, ‘the art of gaining victory by yielding or pliancy.’ Gentleness refers to the art’s approach to self-defense, as well as to the spirit of the warrior. A gentle spirit is one that does not seek to fight, and in modern Jujutsu this is the very core of honor: to fight only in defense, and never through desire, or anger, or hatred.
“The ultimate goal of Jujutsu is not to kill, or even maim. Rather, it is to control a situation so that it never becomes violent. This requires common sense, a balanced ego, courage and a keen knowledge of psychological cause and effect. Sometimes violence is unavoidable, and in those circumstances the Jujutsu-ka has a variety of available defenses depending on the level of threat, from simple non-destructive control techniques to far more severe responses.”
Sounds a bit like Powerful Peace, doesn’t it? Readiness to fight, combined with determined restraint. The pursuit of victory without force.
Sensitivity allows an individual to literally “go with the flow.” Conflict is, at its core, resistance. In jujutsu we happily go with the flow and make full use of an opponent’s resistance energy. If he pushes, I get out of the way and pull. If he pulls away, I push him faster and farther than he intended. This push-pull, pull-push harnesses available energy and magnifies the “resources” (energy and motion) available to accomplish my goal of no longer being in a fight. And flow itself is very important. Stopping and starting not only steal valuable time in a critical situation, but discard the kinetic power of momentum.
One final diversion to reinforce this concept of paradox; with this one, I hope to throw your comfortable mental state and assumptions right to the mat. (That’s jujutsu humor.) My own personal “guru of stress-free productivity” and supporter of Powerful Peace is David Allen, author of Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and Business of Life (Viking Adult, 2008). In his original, wildly-successful personal productivity process and book, Getting Things Done (commonly known as “GTD,” Penguin Books, 2001), he points directly at the same concepts as acquired through his own martial arts experience. Here they are applied to management of the self:
“In karate there is an image that’s used to define the position of perfect readiness: ‘mind like water.’ Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or underreact….
“Anything that causes you to overreact or underreact can control you, and often does. Responding inappropriately to your e-mail, your staff, your projects, your unread magazines, your thoughts about what you need to do, your children, or your boss will lead to less effective results than you’d like. Most people give either more or less attention to things than they deserve, simply because they don’t operate with a ‘mind like water.’”
David’s simple explanation of the ineffectiveness of reactiveness and imbalance in daily tasks is immediately translatable to the realms of interpersonal and international conflict:
“Reflect for a moment on what it actually might be like if your personal management situation were totally under control, at all levels and at all times. What if you could dedicate fully 100 percent of your attention to whatever was at hand, at your own choosing, with no distraction…?
“It’s a condition of working, doing, and being in which the mind is clear and constructive things are happening. It’s a state that is accessible by everyone, and one that is increasingly needed to deal effectively with the complexity of life in the twenty-first century.”
To me the linkages are obvious between an awareness of gross abuses against women, the martial artist’s appreciation for balance, the management of the self and the practical conflict reduction of Powerful Peace. We humans are far more connected than not. Grasping this connectedness allows us to understand both our real ability to act for positive change and a real sense of responsibility to do so. Being “connected” is so significant to daily life and conflict that another important book has been written under that very title. We’ll come to that closer to the end.
Returning to our original paradox: War is good…but for one thing, and one thing only: establishing a secure peace. As stated in our dojo, “avoid rather than check…for all life is precious and no one has the authority to take it away.” An intolerable wrong like Hitler’s conquest must be confronted, but no healthy person desires a perpetual state of war. A powerful peace does not come about by accident but by deep sacrifice, willingness to seek middle ground, and a reasonable sense of urgency. It results from pouring our souls into the efforts of restraint and considered response…no matter how much we want to kill back.
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