“Can We Abolish War In Our Lifetime?”

Report on the panel discussion held at the Hawley, PA United Methodist Church:

On Presidents Day, 2008, The Peace Academy @ Liberty held a contentious panel discussion in which the audience often led the way.  The panelists were Rev. Martin Cox of the host church, Rev. Jeff Rarich, and Rev. Robert Kolvik-Campbell, all of whom were prepared for a discussion of such questions as: Homo sapiens' genetic tendency toward violence, the history of religion in peace and in war, and the theory of just war.  The moderator was The Peace Academy's own executive Gadfly, Mort Malkin, who quipped that as a born again Pagan he would try to counterbalance the three Methodist ministers.

Each of the panelists was given ten minutes (plus two minutes grace) to present his views.  The moderator followed by asking everyone to consider the question of whether our Paleolithic ancestors were essentially violent or cooperative.  He proposed that our female forebears, the gatherers, were nurturing and loving; else our species would not have survived.  Then, the discussion among panelists and audience began — sharp questions, comments, replies, and replies to the replies.  Mort also spoke briefly of the pacifist traditions of the Quakers, Mennonites, and Leo Tolstoy, and read a quote from Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker movement who said that the anarchists she knew were the most peaceful and orderly of people.

The discussion turned to a consideration of a) the Iraq war which, it was noted, the Methodist Bishops in the US opposed, and b) WWII which both the panelists and most of the audience felt was justified in order to stop Nazi Germany.  The moderator took the opposite position re: the "good war," not as devil's advocate but because he has some credible evidence for that view.  He opined that if France and England stood firm and backed Czechoslovakia which already had fortified the Sudetenland border, Hitler would not have marched into Prague, nor overrun the rest of Europe. Pacifism, it was noted, requires not silence but widespread social-political action, tenacity, patience, and creativity.

One member of the audience widened the discussion to the relationships between governments and organized religion in matters of war and peace.  He accused the church in all its denominations of complicity with governments in waging war, from ancient times right up to the present.  Another in the audience questioned why the religious community was not speaking out forcefully to oppose the torture techniques used in interrogation.  She felt that the church has lost much of its moral authority by failing to do so.  The moderator took a long range and more optimistic view, noting that over the centuries, mankind has declared many immoral, unjust, and cruel practices to be unacceptable in civilized society — murder, genocide, slavery, torture, burning at the stake, military conscription of children …  The abolition of war would be the last step.  One of the panelists expressed agreement with the historical facts but observed that there are still many such atrocities occurring around the world.

The two hours of intensive discussion, during which most of the audience had a chance to speak out, seemed sufficient for one night, and so the formal meeting was ended.  High energy levels did not dissipate, however, and several small groups kept the colloquy alive, though a bit more relaxed.  A few people also purchased The Lilac Book of Peace Axioms & Quotes, the source of the Dorothy Day quote.  Most folks departed with a promise to think about the ideas that are so infrequently addressed in our communities.  That, when all is said and done, was the purpose of the meeting.


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