NonViolence Web Issues - Conscience and the State
As the first in my NewCiv NewsLog, here's something I wrote tonight, for my local peace mail list. Elad Lahav is a Sargeant in the Isaeli army who refused to do service in the occupied Palestinian territoty, and I had just gotton home from listening to a talk he had given..
Individuality in the service of community; standing alone
Back home after listening to Elad Lahav I remembered back a couple of decades to when I was in the anti-cruise Peace Camp at the airforce base and talked to servicemen in town, sitting in restaurants and pubs, presenting myself as a member of the War Resisters League, as a former serviceman. One of the things we had arranged (with the Friends' Service Committee) was a fund to help anyone transition out of defense-related jobs.
But remembering a decade earlier than, I can remember no such organ of support. I had trained in the infantry (you know the 3rd PPCLI that's in Afghanistan right now? I was in the 4th PPCLI, the 49th Loyal Edmonton Regiment was the reserve unit), and then trained with 1 Airborne (yes, the one that was disbanded in disgrace to sweep away the evidence of what really happened in Somalia) before ending up in communications intelligence. When Allende's government in Chile was overthrown with the help of the western democracies, even though he was well and truly elected, the penny dropped, and this good Canadian boy walked away even from promotion to officer and a career in the diplomatic service. But when I got home, there was no list of "456 others" I could add my name to, no speaking tours, no presentations ... no interest. Since Canada hadn't been fighting in Vietnam, we were on the side of the angels; that was the thinging. But I knew otherwise, even if nobody was interested. And I knew what I lost, how much I lost. I knew I didn't gain anything. But I also knew what I kept whole.
What amazes me about the strength of my conviction that September of 1973 is that nobody gave me a pamphlet or sold me a paper. Nobody had given a speech or gave a presentation. I didn't have a need for any body of received wisdom just then because the situation spoke for itself: I was party to institutionalized injustice, and I wasn't going to do that.
I can understand what moves people in groups, and the books are full of such stuff. But more than that, I can understand what moves people as individuals, and that's what Elad Lahav and I really have in common. Elad, myself, and all other refusniks of whatever description have something in common with former KGB officer, a rising star who, with the directorship in sight, walked away from it all when he came to understand how false was the state to which he had pledged his life.)
There are all sorts of very good and inauthentic reasons for going along with this group or that group. But there are very few reasons to ostracize oneself, and I suspect most of them are authentic. And what is the price of authentic action? and the reward?
As a species we are gifted with the capacity to displace ourselves in time, to imagine the possible consequences of our actions. And we are so social, so gregarious, that we tend to go straight to hell with our familiar company rather than running the risk of standing alone. But sometimes situations arise that are so clear and stark that we are alone even when we are with others, and in those moments we become who we really are, when we act according to the best we know.
If we are to defeat despotism, and elitism, and sexism, and racism, then we might have to, each in our own way and in our own time, dare to take that step back that threatens to leave us starkly alone. Who knows, we might find ourselves, integrity intact, in very good company!
Community ... isn't that the way of doing things that gives us the strength to be autonomous?.