"The Argument for Peace and Non-Violence," Why? Radio episode with Kathy Kelly
4:42PM Sep 1, 2021
Jack Russell Weinstein
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The original episode can be found here: https://philosophyinpubliclife.org/2021/08/11/the-argument-for-peace-and-non-violence-with-guest-kathy-kelly
Why philosophical discussions about everyday life is produced by the Institute for philosophy and public life, a division of the University of North Dakota's College of Arts and Sciences. Visit us online at why Radio show.org
Hi, I'm jack Russel Weinstein host of why philosophical discussions about everyday life. On today's episode, we'll be exploring the argument for peace and non violence with Kathy Kelly. There are at least two difficulties a philosopher faces in discussing peace. The first is that on its face, the concept seems empty. If I were to ask you how to define peace, you would likely start with other ideas that sound substantive, but are themselves just containers for other more complex theories, ideas like non violence, justice, empathy, coexistence, and trust. Each of these are vitally important and meaningful, but they like peace have been mired in philosophical controversy for millennia, they offer an unsteady foundation upon which to build. The second difficulty with discussing peace is that it feels passive. In our everyday vision of things. Peace is the result of taking things away not of creation, is the absence of war. It is the avoidance of conflict, it's the eradication of justice, in a certain sense, to steal a phrase from Adam Smith peace is a negative virtue, it is best realized when we are doing nothing, it happens to us if both of these notions are true. If the concept of peace is both empty and passive, there can be no clear road to a peaceful world, we might develop utopian visions through which human nature changes. That's what Marx described, we might improve humanity's that all people act purely rationally, and for the good of everyone at all times, that's Kant. Or we might look deep in our hearts, such that we meet one another with love and generosity, that's Jesus. But the fact of the matter is, we haven't had much luck with any of these options. You don't have to be a radical skeptic to look at the violence and degradation of the modern world and conclude that communism, the Enlightenment Christianity have failed. Again, this would be the conclusion if both of these notions were true. If it were indeed the case that pieces empty and passive, there would be no room for agency and no blueprint for future action. Thankfully, it's not that we think of peace. So two dimensionally reveals nothing about the concept itself. It only reflects our laziness and our biases. Peace, for example, has been dismissed as feminine in a world that glorifies the masculine war makes the man we're told only the martial virtues of a true path to excellence. Peace has also been condemned as childish, the pipe dream of those who can't understand how dark and conflict prone the human spirit really is. Pieces also been described as a fantasy, the tall tale of false prophets who sell a better afterlife for the sake of political power. But what happens if we stop dismissing women children and the imagination and embrace them for their own sake? What might we accomplish if we change the rules of the game, instead of succumbing to the nihilism that feels violence and oppression? This alternative approach illustrates exactly how peace is an active rather than a passive pursuit. It gives us an agenda for the future and common ground upon which we can organize. It tells us that to seek peace, we must be participants, challenging those in power and attending to the details that get overlooked when we're convinced that the world is what it is, and can be nothing better. No one exemplifies this better than today's guest, someone who has voluntarily traveled into war zones to help its victims, who supports the forces of descent by challenging the persecution of those who reveal secrets, and who was featured in a video subtitled 60 years old and 60 arrests, and that was seven years ago. Whether you support the particulars of her causes or not, you can't deny that anyone who was willing to be arrested this many times for what she believes can be called passive pieces of vocation, it is not a gift. So pieces not passive, but it is still ambiguous. Yes. In order to define it, we have to rely on controversial terms such as Justice and trust, but their own unresolved nature is not a true barrier to realizing peace. It's actually the other way around. We will make no realistic headway and understanding what trust is if we dismiss peace as a valid concept. piece is a precondition for justice, even if somewhat paradoxically, Justice is a precondition for peace, there codependence. We learn about one by going through the other. Today's episode is going to embrace this process. We're going to take one person's lifetime of activism and mindset for philosophical meaning. We're going to look at specific acts of resistance, care and courage and seek within them the universal that philosophers have long sought. We will not initiate a discussion by feigning futility. We will embrace a quest by celebrating possibility. What is peace? I can't answer Yet, how do we create it? That's an easier question. We do it by taking a deep breath and diving right in full speed ahead.
And now our guest, Kathy Kelly is a peace activist, pacifist, an author. She's a founding member of voices in the wilderness and was a co coordinator of voices for creative non violence. She has traveled to war torn Iraq, Afghanistan and regularly publishes on issues of social justice. Kathy, welcome to why.
Well, jack, thank you for that very thoughtful introduction, I can easily say that's the most thoughtful introduction to this topic i've i've ever heard. Thank you.
Well, I really appreciate you saying that. And you know, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to enter into the conversation, I realized that what I wanted to address was my own concerns in grabbing on to the into the concept, but before I ask you the first question, I'd like to remind our listeners that if you'd like to participate, you can share your favorite moments from the show and tag us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Our handle is at why radio show why radio show you can always email us at ask why umd.edu and listen to our previous episodes for free at WWW dot why Radio show.org? So I guess I want to start by visiting the theme of the monologue, which is why is it that you Why do you think that piece is so often dismissed and maligned and? And how does that affect your approach to changing people's minds about things?
Well, I think that there are some people who are so heavily invested in war, and in marketing wars, that there's a sort of a cycle that get that spirals and builds and builds and becomes entrenched. And it's really difficult when systems provide jobs for people and corporate profits, to uproot those systems. So pieces, in a sense, I think, facing a very uphill struggle, because of some extremely well funded well oiled machinery that constantly promotes war. You know, jack, I think, once upon a time, you know, we might have said, well, nations manufacture weapons in order to wage wars. But don't we kind of have to turn that around now and say that, or at least our nation, manufactures wars in order to sell weapons. And when you think about it, I mean, just name some of those big companies, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, General Dynamics, General Atomics, all of those companies are essentially marketing products that require a war in order for those products to be sold. And so they start acquiring other industries, they own entire media companies that produce newspapers and produce news shows. And they make huge investments in universities that are crucial for research and development. And so increasingly, even when you come down to the faith based groups, you find that these huge military contractors are invested in and controlling many faith based universities and even church groups when you get into the nitty gritties of investment. And so it doesn't surprise me that there's an effort to sideline or silence or squelch voices that are critical, heavily, sharply critical of war making. It's not hard to criticize war making. Let me tell you, when you come back from a war, you know, that you've seen people acting in inhumane and be still and cruel ways that affect children. But it's very difficult to sell the maligning of war. In our culture today. It doesn't seem to me to be too difficult to understand. I think that there's a profit motive. And of course, our elected officials suffer from that almost more than any other group when it comes to having a really short lease. Because these military contractors and the United States Pentagon have got their bases in the sense in every single congressional district all across the United States. And that's not even beginning to talk about The 800 United States military bases and forward operating bases all around the world. Do you think that
the sort of this capitalist, military industrial, self serving argument for war has replaced the old fashioned idea that human nature is prone to war? I mean, from from, from the inception of philosophy from classical Greeks on is this idea that when there's scarcity, when there's conflict, people are always at their worst, and that war is inevitable. But that's not your argument. Your argument is that the system itself is so constructed for profit for self interest for dominance, that people are persuaded to accept wars. Do you think those those two approaches work hand in hand? Or has the modern structures that you're talking about really replace that old fashioned idea?
Well, I do think we ought to pay attention to fear. Even some of the most well heeled, comfortable corporate executives, I believe, actually have a deeply ingrained fear. It's kind of like the fight or flight, a fear motive. And when you combine fear, and greed for profit, with weapon capacity, then you're likely to have war after war after war. And, you know, when you look at Imperial histories in the in the wide sweep, it's an interesting analysis, because Empire after Empire began to decline, in part because they'd invested so much of their wealth and their research and their energy and their talents and skills, in building up military capacity to control other people, whether they were doing that through building up enslavement or building up plantations, or building massive trade capacities, but then, you know, needing to protect all of that with weapons. And then, at the same time that these empires were building up their weapons, strengthen their militarism and their dominance in their control. There were always some groups that were the antithesis of that. clamoring, clamoring for some kind of change, maybe I mean, one person I think of as a fellow, you don't hear very much about bartolome de las cosas. And during the height of this Spanish, Portuguese, they call it sometimes the Iberian Empire, he and a small crew of people were saying, This is wrong, it's wrong to enslave Amerindians, you can't square this with Christianity. And then, you know, people will or I will enslave Africans. But then, you know, they said after a while, you know, that's not right, either. And it was they're clamoring, they're preaching they're writing that formed the basis for the human rights, work and establishment that we have today, actually. So I think the seeds of risky and rigorous peacemaking, even though they're the antithesis of these war making empires, the seeds are, are there, it just takes a couple of centuries before they begin to flourish. Now, of course, we don't know jack, do we have even one century on our planet today, given climate catastrophe, climate scorching? So I think there has to be an accelerated flourishing of the seeds of resistance to war making, because we can't even have a rational discussion about how to deal with the major terrors we face, climate change, or climate catastrophe, and pandemics. We can't even begin to discuss how to cope with that unless we first discuss dismantling these enormous militarized systems that so dominate our world today.
Do you think that the voices for peace have to be those outside of power outside of government? Is it possible or do you have examples of leaders who were really peacemakers and who really wanted their empire, their nation, their community to flourish in a peaceful way or given the example that you just cited? does this come from outside power and from the People who who is it necessarily a challenge to power as opposed to from within power structures?
Well, I think that initially, we are speaking about grass roots determined movements, which may include martyrs, who campaigned for something that, as I said before, it seems like the antithesis of Empire. But let's think about tobacco. You know, tobacco poisons, people. And for years and years and years, the tobacco industry was so powerful, no one could ever imagine seriously questioning the sale and the use of tobacco. Well, um, you know, things have changed. I remember being a young teacher and in the teachers lounge, as soon as you know, the last class ended, the teachers filed in and pretty soon there was a miasma cloud of smoke up at the ceiling. Today, a teacher in a US school would not dare light up a cigarette inside the institution, nor would you smoke inside a hospital or, or a restaurant or an airplane. But I'm old enough to remember when all of that would happen. So how did that come about? It really, it was the steady hard work of public health professionals, nurses, teachers, people who figured out we're poisoning ourselves, why should we do this. And eventually, it became regulated and normalized, and thank goodness. So I wish that war would be similarly stigmatized, maybe in a more positive thought. People who identify themselves at young ages as being gay or you know, at any rate, not the gender that was considered acceptable, in our time when I was a youngster would not breathe a word about themselves and their choices and their dreams and their hopes, with regard to sexuality, and we've watched that change significantly now, so that there's a tremendously different reality for young people growing up today. And that's not happening worldwide, that's for sure. But some very, very brave people are struggling to make that movement more normal, even in parts of the world, where people are so terribly discriminated against based on gender. So I think that changes can and do happen. But with regard to the war making system, it is so very, very entrenched. And I think that the media, you know, understandably, in some ways, has a great interest in war, because war sells, you know, films about war, and novels about war can be very, very popular to redress that. I believe we need to see much more active, deliberate, sustained, work toward peace coming forth from the academic community and the faith based community to name two groupings, which I think could do a great deal more. I don't know why they don't really, I really don't understand it. But I think those are two groups that we ought to challenge and push.
I want to pull that thread about movies and literature, before I start asking more specific questions about peace and non violence, which I want the majority of the show to be about. But I'm thinking of a very famous movie called The third man, Orson Welles film, and in the climactic scene, the antagonist is on a ferris wheel in Vienna, and he's talking about war profiteering. And he says, In Switzerland, they've had 500 years of democracy and peace, and their greatest invention is the cuckoo clock, right? One of the arguments for war is that it is essential to human innovation, that it is what makes people and minds. Great, do you buy that? Do you buy that it's a necessary element of technological and human advancement?
No, I don't buy that at all. I believe that scientists will make what people tell them to make. And if they're told to make weapons and weapon systems, that's what you'll get. If scientists are told to design capacities for solar and wind energy, if they're told that this is what they're to work on that I think we would find an a much more vibrant effort to install solar and wind energy all around the world commensurate to what we need. Right now, with regard to climate change. Scientists are told, you know, retrofit the housing stock all across the United States, so that people can use alternative forms of energy if they're told to develop different kinds of transportation that are more in keeping with survival in terms of the planet that that's what will be done. But I don't think that we should say that people who are told to design ways to blast bodies apart I mean, can I just mention that the latest unmanned aerial vehicle drone the General Atomics has created for the mq nine predator is a hellfire missile, that first plows into say the roof of a home or the roof of a car, when it's assassinating, perhaps the intended target perhaps not with 100 pounds of metal, and then imagine a lawnmower, the the the weapon begins to swivel in a sense with with 12 inch blades, six of them designed to slice up a body, or whatever material has been hit. Man, this is a grotesque, torture, torturous, terrible, traumatizing weapon that could descend in somebody's family home or on a roadway, or at a mosque and, and the idea that people are designing these and designing ways to deliver them remotely from 8000 miles away from the target. I mean, you know, I'm from that Ferris wheel. In the film you mentioned the people below look like dots. That's part of the film, I believe. Down below, well, this fellow Daniel Hale, who was just sentenced to 45 months in federal prison, the same morning that we're speaking together, he said that he was told, you know, those people that we assassinate when he was an Air Force analyst helping choose and arranged for people to be targeted, he was told they're cowards. They're the kinds of people who would plant an improvised explosive device, and then, you know, detonated from a safe distance. And Daniel Hill thought to himself, well, wait a minute. What about when you press the red button to fire a hellfire missile? From 1000 miles away in a safe office space? So no, I don't think that we have to have the, the the militarists, designing our new products so that we can build a better world. That's nonsense.
When we get back from the break, I want to follow the trail that you just started, I want to talk about the particulars of your activism. But I'll tell you in advance what I'm going to ask when we come back, which is given how horrifying the description is that you just offered? Does it make sense to talk about peace and non violence abstractly? Or do you have to engage in the grotesque particulars Do you have to get down to the reality of the situation? meditate on that for a second? our listeners should as well. We'll be back right after this. You're listening to Cathy Kelly and jack Russell Weinstein on why philosophical discussions about everyday life.
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You're back with why philosophical discussions but if they left in your host, jack Russell Weinstein, we're talking with Kathy Kelly about war and the argument for peace and non violence and when I left the conversation. Cathy had given us a description of a horrific weapon. And she mentioned in passing the name, Daniel Hale of someone who has just been arrested for speaking out and telling government secrets about the the awfulness of the weapon. I guess Kathy, I just want to dive in. Right there. Those stories, we live in a culture of such violent literature, violent movies, we live in a culture of such graphic pleasures is is it possible to create empathy for victims? Is it possible to get past the horrors of war? Or does it all just become just more fuel for voyeuristic pleasure? does it become pornography?
Hmm. Well, you know, I'm, I'd like to go to a story that is probably older than some of your listeners. But there was a time when I and just about everybody I hung around with was was very, very invested in ending the economic sanctions against Iraq. We had learned that, according According to the UN, those economic sanctions weren't causing Saddam Hussein, the dictator in Iraq to miss a meal. But hundreds of 1000s of children under age five, were dying as a direct result of those economic sanctions. And so some of us who had been in Iraq during the 1991 War, by 1995, we felt, you know, we can't just pretend we don't know anything about children living in that country. We've been in their hospitals, we've been in the homes, we know those children are not responsible for Saddam Hussein. So we started to break the economic sanctions, we started to go over to interact with medicines and children's vitamins, and we organize 70 such delegations, I guess I went over there 27 times. And our purpose was to wake people in the United States up because the government threatened us was 12 years in prison and a $1 million fine and a $250,000 administrative penalty. And we said to the government, thank you for the clarity of your warning. We understood those penalties in the first place. But we find that we can't be governed by unjust laws that punish children to death. And we invite you to join us. So this is what we try to use as kind of a platform through which to educate us people create this small drama, and tell people the stories of what we had seen and heard at the bedsides of children in Iraq. Now, at the same time, when we were trying so hard to appeal to the mainstream news media, not to pay attention to us, but pay attention to what was going on in Iraq. There was a story that was very persistent in the US mainstream news media, about a little girl JonBenet Ramsey was her name, I still remember her name, and I can see her face. And she was a beautiful child. And it was alleged that she had been persecuted, really tortured, and then killed by her own parent and guardian. And so this was a drama people all through my family network. Former co workers, neighbors, everyone knew on a daily basis, what had happened, and what was happening in the case of this little girl JonBenet Ramsey, why did they know about it, because the media journalism now had the media paid attention on the same regular almost daily basis to the story or stories of children suffering in Iraq, beautiful children, children cradled in their mother's arms, children hungering, for food who had been diseased because they couldn't get antibiotics, or they'd had surgeries without any painkillers. I think those economic sanctions would not have withstood more or less the light of day but that light was never shown. It was never spotlighting those children. They weren't considered worthy victims, I suppose. But I feel certain That it when people truly understand the ravages of war and who pays the price, it doesn't have to be presented as, as war porn. People in the media can talk to mothers can speak up. And mothers all around the world have some very, very common experiences. And again, not only the mainstream media, but certainly professors can choose, especially tenured professors to instruct their students and their colleagues is to as best they can to focus on the realities of how wars affect other people's lives, and how we could pursue alternatives to war. And the same thing in the faith based communities.
I can hear in my head, the voices of contemporary activists responding to that story by saying, there were two fundamental differences between JonBenet Ramsey and the victims of war. The first and most obvious one is that she was white. And how we define White is complicated, but But nevertheless, the Choose white and the second is that there was prurient interest, because as a beauty pageant child, there was this undertone of sexuality. And there were theories about her and her father and all this kind of stuff. Is that how much credence Do you give to the idea that it's harder to empathize with people who look differently than you do? Or that there is the sense in America, that white lives are more valuable, or white children are more valuable than non white children, whatever that might mean, right, that that this is, of course, the core argument of the Black Lives Matter, folks. Do you think that plays a part? And how do you overcome those sorts of things when you're trying to get people to see the victims of folks who they may see as other as opposed to fellow people on this planet?
Well, I think that that's a very challenging question. And I don't want to act as though there are simple answers. One thing about academia and learning is that in the United States, we're sort of notoriously limited to English as a predominant language. And in many other parts of the world, people routinely learn six or seven different languages and dialects. So there's something very limiting in in the very language preferences that people tend to make here in the United States. And that's something that could change. And maybe it will, and maybe it will, in part because of internet capacities. And but but I certainly think it's important to instill greater capacity for speaking different languages. You know, we're in a cold war with China. And I have to ask how many people speak Chinese, in the State Department or in the United States military or within the United States media. I also think that there's a lack of curiosity, you know, you can find people who can tell you the batting averages and the touchdowns and, you know, loads and loads of details, in terms of sports, and often in terms of entertainment. And there may not be as much curiosity in terms of consequences of United States, militarism, both within the United States and abroad. But that could change. But there'd have to be more of a push for it, there would have to be more of a an expression on the part of average ordinary people to say, look, we are interested in this, we do care. Some have said you know, well, war is God's way of teaching geography to United States people. But, you know, the the people who first invaded in the United States who so horrifically displaced the indigenous peoples and cultures, those people were often fleeing from pretty grotesque and hideous circumstances that convinced them it's time to leave to to run away in a sense, and many of the people who first invaded or you might say, settled or colonized, the United States came from circumstances that were traumatizing. And and I think that as people are encouraged to be curious about their own history and background, it's possible To discover linkages that are actually quite deep with people who are fearful and running away from war making and violence and militarism, in in other lands, it's not so difficult to to emphasize those bonds. And I think there are many films that do do that, and certainly many novels. But again, we get so easily distracted by the kind of more childlike pursuits, which I think sometimes sports can represent. I don't want to be harshly over critical of sports especially like right now as we speak, the Olympics are happening and there's much to respect about people have shown so much physical prowess but but the idea of big arena and entertainment, being so consumptive of our energies and our curiosity, I find a bit troubling, particularly when it's clear that people don't have time or energy to be as invested in learning about what happens when our militaries and our control and our greed, overcome people in other parts of the world and and said their blood.
You know, you started off that answer by talking about language. And that's a really compelling response. My long term listeners know that I'm Jewish, and I'm very open about it. I lived in Vienna, Austria for a while in grad school learned German, my daughter is actually as we speak, in German language camp. She's This is her 10th year of doing it. And whatever history there is between the Jewish people and German speaking people, it doesn't interfere. It. It doesn't. I don't know how to say we had a German exchange student, we love going to the German speaking countries, all of that just went away, although we're very obviously aware of the history. Do you think that if Americans started learning Arabic in schools, if we started learning Persian, we'd be less likely to bomb Iraq to bomb Iran to decimate the Middle East? Do you think that? I don't want to say it's that simple? But do you think that it's that intimate that that part of the the way of getting people together is just to learn how they speak? Would that be a path that you think would be fruitful?
Well, I think it is possible that if people spoke Arabic or Persian, and then we're, consequently, more curious about the places where people live and work and the history the the things that people need in those areas, the ways in which they have educated themselves in the past, if that kind of curiosity existed, sure, I think it would be very possible that people would be far less tolerant of the kinds of responses that people had, when the 1991 war began, people would go into bars and raise a beer and look at the TV screen and see explosions and say, rock, rock, rock slams at me Say hello to Allah. And that was just considered normal because people weren't thinking very much about actual human beings and neighborhoods and communities that were being targeted and bombed. And and when I think about, again, that the very robust refusal to allow United States intervention into central and Latin America, America, you know, there was that an increasing rise and ability to interact, both in terms of language, but also kids going to school and sitting next to kids who are from other trees. Now, we are beginning to see that in the urban areas. But if it was just commonplace for the United States, to be learning about the cultures and the histories and the experiences of people that were supposedly in conflict with, and and figuring out ways to collaborate with those people in order to solve the problems, we all share, like pandemics and climate catastrophe. I think we'd see a very different outcome.
I remember that 1991 VR experience very well. I was I was a senior in college. And I remember how it felt like we were watching a video game because in addition to you know, the The watching the missiles and blow things up. And it wasn't very wasn't crystal clear they kept showing over and over again, the footage of the successful smart bombs and how the you would watch the crosshair go into the someone's chimney and blow up the factory and how it was all designed to deep personalize it right it was all designed to make it feel not just us versus them. But there's us and there is no them. They're made up of buildings, they're made up of a cityscape, they're made up of their targets, they're not people. And so what you describe is is is really reminiscent of my own experience. And I want to make what what may be an awkward transition. But one of the, in your interviews, one of the experiences that you describe is most profound is going to prison, you were sent to prison on numerous occasions, but but you were sent to prison for a year. And for four, and I'd like to talk just a little bit about why you were sent to prison for protesting in Iraq. But also, what is it about being in prison that allowed you to see and then advocate for the prisoners advocate against the conditions? Because that sounds like an analogous immersion experience, right, that you're learning about the culture of prison in order to feel for the prisoners. So I wonder if you talk just a little bit about that. It's not again, it's not the most seamless transition, but I definitely see an analogy between you learning the conditions of prison and Americans learning the condition of people who are suffering for war.
Well, you know, maybe an anecdote would be a way to respond to this. I've gone to federal prison three different times. And the first time was for planting corn on top of nuclear missile silo sites, something I don't know why I don't do more often, actually, it was a good thing to do that I got a year in prison for that. And then the next time I went to federal prison, for any length of time, was after I had been in Iraq during the night, the 2003 War, the shock and awe bombing. And I had gone to prison for crossing the line at a military base, where tactics of torture disappearance, murder, they were being taught to soldiers primarily from Central and Latin America, and graduates of that program, it was called the Western Hemisphere school. It was at Fort Benning, Georgia was formerly called the School of the Americas. And then was turned to the Western Hemisphere, his Institute for Social control or something. But anyway, graduates of that program had assassinated Archbishop Romero had murdered six Jesuit priests at the University of Central America and El Salvador had caused the massacre of 1000s of people in the almost a massacre. And I mean, the list goes on and on and on the rape and the killing of Mary no missioners sisters, and I mentioned those Westerners that were were slaughtered because it can you imagine if you're a peasant, and if they'll do this to an archbishop, or to a Catholic American nun, what chance does the peasant have, and so that kind of fear and reign of terror was communicated very, very effectively. And these soldiers were being trained in
hideous tactics at the School of the Americas. So I crossed the line at that school. And I was sentenced to prison for a short sentence of three months sentence. And before I went some Catholic nuns who had also served three months sentences in prison for crossing that same line, took me out to dinner, and they said, you know, Kathy, go easy on your politics when you get into the prison, don't don't go in talking about the war in Iraq, because a lot of the women are mothers of children, might be soldiers in Iraq. So you know, don't don't make yourself unpopular right off the bat. They were giving me good advice. And I kind of knew this already. Actually, it wasn't my first season out going to prison. And I went in very, very quietly. But eventually women started to come to me, and show me pictures of their sons and say, I'm really really worried for my boy because he's over there in Iraq. And then There was one morning when a group of women came running into the prison library. They said, Oh, girl, you got to see what's on CNN. And it was the photograph that had come out of Abu Ghraib. And this was a prison in Baghdad. And there were terrible photographs, just heartbreaking photographs that have gone viral. You know, a man who's naked and a US woman soldier has a dog on a lease, but looks like the dog has been a mall, the man or naked men in a pyramid that were kind of posed for the photographs. They were terrible pictures. And the women in the prison were upset, and even tearful, and I thought, well, they're crying because they're identifying with other people in another prison. And then I realized, no, no, no, women are crying, saying what's happening to our country? These were tears of patriotism, what's going on over there? And what can we do? They asked me, What can we do? And I said, Well, not too much. We're in prison. And again, I was wrong. The women went to the assistant warden of the prison. And they asked the warden for permission to gather in a circle for prayer, when the sun would go up, and when the sun would go down. And at first, there were 12 women in that circle, praying for their country at war, praying for soldiers, praying for people in Iraq, praying for the children, and praying for the guards in the prison. It was just remarkable, the circle of 12 grew to a circle of 80. By the time I left the prison 80 women in this big huge circle, doing what they could do praying for other people. I encountered every time I've been in prison, a world of imprisoned beauty, women who could have been my co workers, my next door neighbors, my in laws. And we've got two and a half million people warehoused in a carceral state. And I think it is similar to the same mentality in wars, that demands that you don't see the people as human beings, they're just throwaway people that we cut out of our sense of vision and our, our capacity for heart. But it could be different. This prison system, this prison industrial complex, could be dismantled. But it would take again, a great deal of education, education, education, mediated by the people who probably aren't so likely to go inside of the prisons who'd have to step outside the box, and think outside their own box.
So the story that you tell is really amazing, and really powerful and really beautiful. But it's it's on a sort of micro cosmic level on a small level that often feels so dwarfed by politics, I want to ask a question, and I'm really worried that the way that I asked it is gonna sound critical. And I apologize because I'm not being critical. I'm really struggling with something that as a philosopher, as someone who's done some organizing myself I struggle with, and it's as follows. You talked very briefly about why you were arrested, you were arrested for putting growing corn on on missile silos, you were arrested for stepping over the line at a, at a military base, you were carrying bread at the time. And during a trial where you were being charged with illegal protests in Guantanamo, in one of the documentaries about you, they talked a bit about how your group represented itself. And then, when you were talking about going to this base, you had said in the interview that you really wanted the common.to be aware of how many people he had killed with a drone strike. This runs so counter to so many other ways of doing things. Why don't you get? Is there a reason why you don't get the ACLU to represent you? Is there a reason? If What does convincing the commandant or showing the commandant about the murder do there's a lot of people who would look at what you're doing and saying it's so it's so it's so small, that the way to have the real impact is by working with experts working with lawyers working on the constitutional level, much larger tasks, why focus on the small Details why represent yourself? Why try to persuade a particular Commandant then have a phalanx of constitutional lawyers or something like that?
Well, I don't think there's a one way street jack. And if people want to invoke the assistance of constitutional lawyers, I would, you know, slap them on the back and say, good. But I do want to say that, I think we've become a society, which is overly saturated with lawyers. And let me just pursue that a moment longer. every university all across the United States graduates a new crop of lawyers every year. And all of those lawyers need jobs. And in some ways, the let me say raw material for keeping so many lawyers employed, not to mention judges and courtroom personnel and wardens, and security guards in prisons and architects of prisons, the raw material is prisoners. And so of course, we have this huge prison industrial complex. So I want to enter into that prison system, and sort of be a whistleblower and say, Look, this is what I've seen and heard inside this prison. And and I think we should adapt an attitude that says, For the small sentences relatively, that are meted out to people like me, three months and six months is some of the best education I've ever had. And this isn't to say that I want to justify the prison system, I want to take these prisons apart, brick by brick, but I think by going inside the prison, you immediately start to learn a great deal about the racism, and about the cruelty and the mercilessness, of this prison system. So I think they'll come on in the water's fine ought to be the approach that we take in terms of engaging in civil disobedience, civil resistance to a very, very wrongful system, that ought never exist in the first place. And if you begin to try to get yourself off the hook, by using the language of the legal scholars, you might lose the narrative of the language you're trying to bring before the judiciary branch of government in the first place, which is to say killing is wrong. We have to learn to live together without killing one another, and you judge so and so can play a role. And I am challenging you to do so. That's what I want to bring it before the court, I don't want to bring in all kinds of distracting language. So I say that with respect for the human rights lawyers, and the environmental lawyers, and the many people who are working to dismantle the prison industrial complex, and to do it as lawyers. So I don't want to use too wide brush. But I do feel quite strongly that we need to examine what kind of language we bring into the judicial, the executive and the legislative branches of government. And it has to be clear language pointed, focused on ending, war, and imprisonment.
This is going to be an anticipation of a more abstract question I asked in a second. But given how practical and how directed your activity is, is there a role for philosophical reflection in what you do? Is there a role for a vision of what a peaceful world looks like of what non violence would look like? is there is there a place for the larger questions? Or is it so urgent and so almost clear that it becomes a life of strategy and tactics and triage, as opposed to a more reflective article articulated? goal, if that makes sense?
Well, I think that we do always run the risk of talking ourselves out of action, or sometimes becoming more preoccupied with our words and our language and our discussions and with our actual, you know, movement and activity to challenge the powers that be but this is why community is so very, very important. You can count on people in community to to raise necessary and important questions and cautions, and I don't ever believe it's a good idea. Got to kind of be the Lone Ranger. But I also think we're quite fortunate these days in as much as we can form community, with teenagers in Afghanistan, with young mothers in Gaza, with people who are experiencing in Yemen, the the, the bludgeoning of drought and COVID and Saudi bombardments and blockade, and they can speak to us quite directly, and be in conversation with us. It's a remarkable time. So in answer to your question of whether or not philosophical reflection is important, I think, yes, assuredly. And to be derived from from studying philosophers, I think we're albear canoe is always speaking very directly to us about realities we face today. But we can also learn from a person on the other side of the world who may be never entered into any kind of a classroom. But who has a message for us that can be mediated, very directly, and very personally,
the example of Yemen, which you're talking about, and which is unfolding right now, as we speak, and people know so little about it. On the one hand, we have the great possibilities of direct connection with the internet. On the other hand, there is such a drowning out of information that it feels almost impossible to break through, how different is the activism you do now? From the activism you did in 1990? Before the World Wide Web?
Well, you know, there's, there's several considerations in 1990. I was so convinced of the possibility of peace teams entering into war zones that I honestly wasn't asking many questions about fuel consumption, in organizing delegations to travel by air into far off lands, and I really wasn't myself able to speak Arabic, quite honestly, and never fully mastered it by any means. There were many questions I wasn't asking then that I do believe are important to ask now. But at this point, there's the blockade around Yemen is so severe and tight that I mean, the DIA Benjamin, and I tried for months to get visas to enter into Yemen, and I finally said, patea, we're barking up the wrong tree in the wrong forest, this is not likely to happen. So we become more and more dependent. I think on social media. I mean, Twitter serves, I think, a very important role, because that's now how we can hear from a doctor in southern Yemen, who is tweeting every day and talking about his experiences, and it's a vital glimpse, or there's a brilliant Scottish Muslim young woman who lived in Yemen for many years and her Twitter feed. Her name is Ayana, Craig. Is is very important. I'll just say that doctors named Dr. Ahmed Darwish. So they it is possible to on a daily basis, have a sense now is that going to penetrate into the mainstream media? I do think that there's more awareness about children starving in Yemen right now one child dies every 75 seconds, then there ever had been with regard to the children, the hundreds of 1000s of children who died in Iraq, but there has to be a group of people a community that will kind of pick up that ball and run with it. I look at the ban killer drones organization, which has worked so so hard to draw attention to the consequences of drone warfare. I look at the group in New York, which since 2017, has every single Saturday without a miss vigil in Union Square Park with the big huge banner that says Yemen is starving, and keeps pushing out the word. And you'll you'll find that in memory of the children who were on a school bus and were targeted by a Raytheon and sorry a Lockheed Martin manufactured missile that hit their school bus and killed 40 school boys. People will be going out with blue backpacks because each of them Kids had just gotten as a reward for their Summer Study of blue backpack from UNICEF and inside that backpack, or antibiotics and children's vitamins, and those kids were gleeful and happy and taking cell phone pictures of one another on the bus. And then they were hit. So people, I think, can become more cognizant can develop important symbols like the blue backpacks, it takes energy, it takes care. And it takes a great deal of community.
Before I asked the last question, what you just talked about, especially the folks who are rallying every day in Union Square in New York City, it reminds me, I wish I could remember his name. I've talked about him at least once on the show. For years and years and years growing up every time I'd visit relatives in Washington, DC, there was this guy who would stand on the corner of Connecticut Avenue near all the embassies, and he would had a big sign that said, the Catholic Church abuses children. And he was there for 2030 years, and people would laugh at him and people would disregard Him. And people would, you know, just dismiss him as a crazy guy. And he was there every single day for probably like two decades. And then we found out what we found out about the Catholic Church. And he was, you know, I, the word has fallen on my head. But but but all of a sudden, now he was a Noble Messenger that was re evaluated. And I feel like I just tell that story, because it may feel futile at times, to just do the same vigil over and over and over again. But eventually, if the truth comes out, it just adds more credence and more credibility. And I think that that's really powerful. I want to the last question is is a throwback to the the monologue of the show. And and the questions I started with, which is, at this point, now, when we were talking about we started talking about peace and non violence, now we're talking about particular theatres of war, particular policies, we're talking about prison, we're talking about poverty, we're talking about all these other things. What is a world of peace for you? Is it possible to talk about peace in and of itself? Or can you only talk about peace in terms of justice, in terms of community in terms of these other things? The very problem I laid out in the beginning of the show, I'm just wondering what your thoughts are? How do we talk about peace? And how do we legitimize the concept of peace? Can you have a robust theory of peace? Or is it always just how to fix what's in front of us now?
What do you know? jack, I don't think anyone's ever going to put a weapon in my hands. I greatly doubt I'll ever feel my index finger on a trigger. That says not a question for me. But in terms of non violence, I think I do need to ask myself every day, am I trying to live more simply? Am I trying to consume less? Am I trying to share resources more radically? The resources and thinking of, you know, I'm retired, actually, from even peace activism in some ways, but and I never was paid. But But I mean, you know, would people be willing to share some of their income to share some of their work hours with another person to share transportation, to share housing space? And then Am I preferring service to dominance? As you know, that's a very important question for me to meditate on every day. Because I have so much access to being a domineering person, and I don't want to be that way. But because of white privilege, there's so many things I take for granted. And so there's, I think nonviolence has two challenges all on those levels, simplicity, service sharing resources, empowerment. And, and again, community helps a lot. And I think non violence can be very interesting. You know, it can when you take the weapons out of the toolkit, and when you take capacity to dominate others out of the toolkit, then you've got to figure out what what what tools are in there. What can we work with, what can we make use of and and i think it opens up, a blossoms, a lot of realities, the Black Lives Matter movement has taught us so so much in that regard and done so quickly. done this very quickly. And I hope it occasions, tremendous gratitude. And likewise, the youth leaders in the climate, catastrophe, movement, the extinction rebellion, there's so much to learn and to grow into that I can't imagine why we would ever want to get tied up with developing more weapons to destroy things.
I'm gonna ask a follow up question, which I often do to the last question. My listeners know that I am often lying when I say I have one more question. And that's the following. The way you described your approach to non violence, it reminds me early on the Greeks when they would talk about justice, they didn't necessarily mean justice, the way that we talked about it justice was a character trait a person was adjust person. Are you saying something similar? Do you think that being peaceful and being nonviolent is a character trait as well as a state of the world? Is it something that is as internal and about the soul to use the old fashioned language of the character? Does peace start from within?
I think that this starts from grappling with the essential question, how can we learn to live together without killing one another? When we grapple with that question, that I think we start to move toward peacemaking.
That is a tremendous way to end this interview. Kathy, there was so much here and so much we didn't get to. so incredibly powerful, and unbelievably important. Thank you so much for taking your time to talk to us today on why or what a wonderful way to spend part of an afternoon. Thank you, jack. You have been listening to why radio jack Russell Weinstein and Kathy Kelly talking about non violence and the argument for peace. And I'll be back with a few more thoughts right after this.
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You're back with why philosophical discussions in everyday life. I'm your host, jack Russell Weinstein, we were talking with Kathy Kelly about the argument for non violence and peace. You know, there were times on the show where I was really worried I as the old line goes, I put the emphasis on the wrong syllable. She told a story about kids being bombed on a bus and I ended up talking about folks who are rallying in New York City. She brought up Abu Ghraib and these folks who are doing amazing things in prison. And I asked about lawyers, the ACLU. And that's the burden of a conversation like this. That's the burden of facing down the harsh realities of brutality, of ugliness, that you can spend all of your time just giving voice to the victims who will no longer have a voice or who were never listened to. And I really worried that maybe I should have been doing that more. But at the same time, there has to be a place for the philosophical conversation, there has to be a place for the larger questions. And what I hope that we managed to do and what Kathy certainly does in her life, is find a balance between those two things. Focus on the stories that get the message across, and then give people the opportunity to reflect on them to then ask, What can they do? What organizations can you join? What things do you want to share on the internet? Who do you want to donate to what protests Do you want to go to? whose hand Do you want to hold? Who do you want to offer a shoulder to? Who do you want to give food to? These are questions that ultimately rests on the values that you have and the choices you make in your life. And I hope that the philosophical aspect of this conversation gives you the room to think about that, while still remembering the individuals who are suffering in ways that we are probably not because we are lucky enough to be on the radio right now. It's a dark, dark world. But there's beauty And there's greatness in there as well. And maybe together, and with Kathy's help, we can create more of the ladder and less of the former. You've been listening to jack Russell Weinstein on why philosophical discussions about everyday life. Thank you for listening. As always, it's an honor to be with you.
Why is funded by the Institute for philosophy and public life? Prairie Public Broadcasting in the University of North Dakota is College of Arts and Sciences and division of Research and Economic Development. Skip what is our studio engineer, the music is written and performed by Mark Weinstein and can be found on his album Louis Sol. For more of his music, visit jazz flute Weinstein comm or myspace.com slash Mark Weinstein. Philosophy is everywhere you make it and we hope we've inspired you with our discussion today. Remember, as we say at the Institute, there is no ivory tower.