Originally Published in Common Dreams

What makes a peacemaker these days? Apparently with the nomination of President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair for the Nobel Peace Prize, being a peacemaker means that you can drop bombs on civilians, offer few options for reconciliation to your enemies and reduce spending on social services in favor of funding an already disproportionate military budget.

I try to explain to my students who take “Solutions to Violence,” a semester-long course on peacemaking for high schools that pacifism works and offer evidence to that fact. Nominating Bush and Blair for the Nobel Peace Prize undermines this effort significantly. So as their teacher, I have tried to note a few characteristics of peacemakers which might help to clarify the quandary we as a global community face when people who fit more in the category of war criminals are heralded as peace heroes.

Someone seeking to be a peacemaker uses violence only as a last resort. Violence has a very simple dynamic: might makes right. Nonviolence on the other hand uses creativity with unlimited possibilities to resolve problems and seeks to evoke the human spirit in their enemies, that undeniable conscience which ought never be shelved. Alexander Solzhenitsyn speaks of the futility of separating the evil people from the good people and destroying them – the same language George W. Bush is using to delineate the evildoers from the benevolent – only Solzhenitsyn truly knows that the line between good and evil runs through each human heart. When we desire to kill evil, we commit to killing a piece of ourselves.

I continue to remind my students of Gandhi’s message that the goal is not to bring our enemies to their knees but to their senses. To do this, we must offer ways for them to save face, rather than give them ultimatums which back them into a corner and force them to lash out in frustration of lack of options. To grant our enemies the dignity they are due as human beings is to take a step toward reconciliation. We can love the evildoer while hating the evil act.

Many religious leaders have blessed many wars throughout the years, and just last week I heard a Catholic priest at an interfaith dialogue making excuses for the “Just War Theory.” My students sitting near me beckoned for my response. On a sheet of scrap paper I asked them if Jesus embodied “Just War Theory” – if his actions represented justifications for hatred and retaliation, or if his message called us to a greater level of understanding. Walking with our enemies. Loving them because they are difficult to love. Showing compassion and mercy. Where is this dialogue happening nowadays in our war frenzy? Dare we speak out for moderation – or are even clergy being swept away in this flood of madness and hatred? Certainly the voices of peace and justice have been drowned in the swiftly moving tide.

A peacemaker these days would not continue to bomb Iraq while calling for an end to terrorism and violence. In the past two weeks, the United States has bombed Iraq four times, while calling on the United Nations to keep their negotiations with Iraq “short”. Talk is cheap, I suppose, when we have bombing to maintain! A peacemaker would allocate more than enough resources so that housing, health care and education never went needy. Dr. King said that any nation spending more on its military than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. We are already there.

It’s quite handy for our government to do this, though. We cut funding for social spending and overwhelm the Pentagon’s budget. This way, our students who are prone to fall through the cracks anyway will realize that there is no future for them in school, or in the workforce, and then believe that they have no other choice than to join the military. We’re eliminating options and free will under the guise of national security, underhandedly denying educations and futures to young people who deserve them. We are killing the dreams of many young people who want to create better lives for themselves and their families.

The most important quality of a peacemaker these days, I believe, can be summed up in a line from the Manifesto by Wendell Berry on the Mad Farmer Liberation Front: Be joyful even though you have considered all the facts. A peacemaker knows the obstacles ahead. A peacemaker cries with the families of those killed and labeled ‘collateral damage’. A peacemaker lives the spirit of peacemaking and is not afraid to take risks in the name of justice. A peacemaker these days aligns with the unpopular causes, speaks up for the people we’d rather hate, and questions the authority which condones cultural genocide, mass murder and rampant militarism.

This is what my students deserve to know about peacemaking.
*Leah C. Wells teaches high school classes on nonviolence and serves as Peace Education Coordinator for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. She traveled last July and August with Voices in the Wilderness to Iraq and condemns the economic sanctions as genocidal.