My father, Judge Blase Bonpane of the Superior Court, died here in Santa Barbara in 1977. He arrived in the United States in 1898, probably without papers, and that is one reason why some people were called WOPS (without papers). Dad went to law school at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio. On January 16, 1914, dad gave the winning oration at the Dr. Albert Edwin Smith Annual Oratorical Contest. The prize money of $50.00 covered his room and board for almost six months.
The title of my father’s oration was, “The Call of Our Age.” World War I had begun in Europe. There was no League of Nations; there was no United Nations, but the second Hague Conference had been held in the spring of 1907, giving the global hope of making war illegal. World War I crushed that hope. Here are some of dad’s words that cold and snowy evening in Ada, Ohio.
Public opinion has enacted a law against murder; so should international public opinion demand a law against war, which is merely organized murder. Shall we execute a man for taking a single life, and glorify nations for slaughtering its thousands? To curb crime, to protect justice, police powers are instituted in all realms. Why not go beyond the transitory interest of a nation and establish an international police power? Let the representatives of the world powers meet in one body! Let a world code be compiled! God made humanity one. But man is now divided against himself…through common interest, through common needs, the world must move towards the unity of all its peoples. Let internationalism be our watchword, our aim, our duty. Let us hear the call of our age! Then the “Golden ‘Cestus of Peace” shall clothe all with celestial beauty; and serene, resplendent, on the summit of human achievement shall stand the miraculous spectacle, the congress of nations, with a common purpose of agreeing, not upon military plans, not to foster cruelty and incite other people to carnage, not to bow before the god of battles, but to announce the simple doctrine of peace and brotherhood—our only hope, our only reliance against which all powers of the earth shall not prevail.
That was January 16, 1914. Dad’s entire oration is found in my book, Common Sense for the Twenty-First Century. On that same date, January 16th, exactly 77 years later, I had just returned from Iraq, my wife Theresa, my son Blase Martin and I were handcuffed and on our bellies on the marble floor of the Los Angeles Federal Building because we blocked the doors of that edifice with scores of other protesters in a massive act of national civil disobedience. Later that day, from holding cells deep in the bowels of the Federal Building, we heard that the bombing of Iraq had begun. Eighty-eight thousand tons of bombs, very dumb bombs, represented the beginning of a war initiated by George Herbert Walker Bush, continued by Bill Clinton and still raging out of control with the current incumbent in the White House. Anyone igniting a one-pound bomb against innocents should be called a terrorist. Just what name do we have for an opening salvo of 88,000 tons of bombs on a civilian population?
So here we are, nearly a century after my dad’s oration, living in a run-away war system. We are living in the midst of the greatest crisis in history. Our Constitution and Bill of Rights have been placed on hold. There is a plan in place to attack Iran. Actually there are many possible futures. The best of those futures depends on our response to the current crisis.
The greatest myth in our culture is that we are powerless. I hear that myth frequently, “we are so powerless!” But we are not powerless; we are powerful and every worthwhile change in our society has come from the base, not from the top down. What makes us feel so powerless? Mass commercial media has a large role in this. Television creates a sense of passivity—life going by as a river over which we have no control. But we can transcend that passivity.
As we hear of wars and rumors of wars we are inclined to ask: what can I do? I certainly will not attempt to tell you what to do, but I can tell you some things that are being done and some things that need to be done. Here in Santa Barbara, as well as in Santa Monica and many other locations, we have the amazing statement of Arlington West on the beach. Markers representing the troops who have died are placed on the beach every Sunday. Respect is shown for the Iraqi dead as well, but the Veterans cannot put up 650,000 markers every Sunday, so they express their respect for the Iraqi dead in a poster (that figure is only the dead from 2003; millions have died since 1991).
The Veterans are a vanguard of the peace movement. A parade of military people are coming forward and following their conscience. They are refusing to serve. Some have exposed the rampant practice of torture, which now, to our shame, has been codified.
Let’s not have any parlor games about saving the whole world by torturing someone into telling us where they hid their nuclear bomb. Torture is nothing else but a classic form of terrorism designed to get people to agree with the torturer and to frighten other members of the society into compliance. But justice does not permit exceptionalism. Our hypocrisy rattles the heavens as we chip away at others doing nuclear research, while we have planet-busting nukes ready to fire in all directions.
No exceptionalism in regard to weapons of mass destruction. No exceptionalism regarding torture. Our dogs and cats are protected. If we should torture one of them the way we torture our “suspected terrorists,” we would be guilty of a felony.
What is to be done? We need you to volunteer with these Veterans of Arlington West on your beach every Sunday. We need you to support them financially as well. I also want to mention a nuclear vanguard. Sister Ardeth Platte, Sister Carol Gilbert and Sister Jackie Hudson symbolically disarmed weapons of mass destruction by pouring their blood on a nuclear silo in Colorado. Forty-one months in prison for Ardeth Platte, 33 months in prison for Carol Gilbert and 30 months in prison for Jackie Marie Hudson. The vast majority of us may not imitate such acts of heroism by the nuns. But we can be in solidarity with them and so many others like them who are standing up in the face of evil. We can tell their story; the commercial media is certainly not telling it. The commercial media has new and meaningless stories to tell us about the rich and the famous.
What can we do? Imagination and creativity are required. We can ask the corporate sector to come out against our wars as many did during Vietnam. We can tell our political servants that they do not have a future in politics unless they demand an immediate end to the rape of Iraq. Surely the Congress must become more than a group of clappers who stand around and applaud the president as he fosters organized murder and mayhem.
Ours is a spiritual quest. The struggle to end nuclearism and war forever is doable. We have the technology and legal structure to outlaw and destroy every nuclear weapon on the planet. We can have a functional peace system, and we have the basis for such a system in the universal declaration of human rights.
We must demand that our media cover the acts of peacemaking rather than attempting to marginalize or demonize them. Let us live each day as if it were our last; let us do now what we want to be said in our eulogy. If we are retired, let’s get back to work for peace and justice.
Please bear in mind that we who believe that an international peace system is possible are the realists of our time. On the contrary, it is the militarists, as the title of Bob Woodward’s new book states, who are in a state of denial. These people are not realists. They are living in a fantasy land of unreality. The military of the world at peace is the biggest threat to the global environment. And should militarism and nuclearism prevail, there is no future for life on this planet. So it really makes no difference how much some may love war. They can’t have war and also have the planet.
We are now in the fifteenth year of the Iraq disaster. We will never be able to count the dead or the myriad of ruined lives of Iraqis and of our young and trusting troops. We have yet to do protests that are proportional to the Holocausts we have created in Korea, Vietnam, Central America, Iraq and Afghanistan. None of our peace actions have been proportional to the evils committed in our name. Actually, war is the most prominent expression of conventional wisdom, and conventional wisdom is a waste of time.
There is another wisdom which I would call the wisdom of the ages. This is the wisdom that says, happy are you who work for peace, you shall be called the children of god. This is the wisdom of the ages:
Happy are you who hunger and thirst for justice, you shall be satisfied. Indeed this is the answer to what we can do. Junk the conventional wisdom which surrounds us and live with the wisdom of the ages.
We must use new and sacred instruments of change in place of the clubs, guns, bombs and nukes of the past—the general strike, the boycott, mass mobilizations, non-cooperation with the war-making machine. These are non-violent instruments of change. And taxation without representation is still tyranny. There is not one thing to do; there are many things to do. As Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero said, “Everyone can do something.”
Yes, electoral politics is a legitimate place for our peacemaking efforts and so are the plethora of non-governmental organizations such as the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and the Office of the Americas. We must make use of peacemaking efforts in education and recall the mandate of Einstein that we concentrate on creativity and imagination. I fail to see creativity in standardized tests and I certainly don’t want to see any standardized students.
War is made sacred by the very manner in which young students study our revolution and the endless wars that followed. As we change our way of thinking, we will continue to study the past, but we must make it clear that to repeat the past is to be unfaithful to the past. To be faithful to the past, we must foster change in our static educational practices. The only question to ask after students study a war is, “now tell us how that war could have been avoided.”
We have become isolated by our militaristic nationalism, but at this time the nation state as the terminus of sovereignty is as outdated as the city states of old. We live on a small planet that is in extreme danger. Various religions have developed by way of anthropology and geography. Corrupt politicians have used and continue to use religion as a cloak for malice. But the ideals in religion are known as the fruits and gifts of the spirit. These are the qualities that will unite the planet as one family. Sectarian, dogmatic and fundamentalist approaches are counterproductive.
I am a Roman Catholic and served in Guatemala as a Maryknoll priest, but I would have more in common with an atheist working for peace than I would have with a fellow Catholic who happens to be a war monger. The name of our religion or non-religion is really not very meaningful. We are known by the fruits of our labors. Let us join together with like-minded people to create an international community of justice and peace.
Blase Bonpane was the recipient of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s 2006 Distinguished Peace Leadership Award