A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction…
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.
– President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Being abroad for more than 20 months now, at times I feel very distant from the United States as well as Nicaragua. I am not Nicaraguan. I do not want to be. There are things that I love about Nicaragua, and things that I do not like. I do not think that I want to live here for the rest of my life. The same goes for the United States. In the news I see many things I do not like about my own country. I see things that scare me. I feel much safer in Nicaragua than I do in the United States. I go to schools every day here and I never worry about a gunman attack, and the same goes for malls and other public places. I could not feel the same way in my home country. After I heard about the attacks in Paris on Friday night I went for a quick walk around León in order to see one aspect of society here that I love. It was the evening and everyone was sitting out on the sidewalk as they always do. True, that night they were talking about how horrible the attacks were, but they had nothing to live in fear about themselves. We have come to think of the United States and other Western countries as ideal societies where we are safe, but a quick stroll down the street in the second poorest country in the Western hemisphere reveals the actual truth. In the West, we are not safe just sitting outside.
I don’t particularly want to live in the United States for the rest of my life either. There is so much hate, bigotry, religion, political corruption, and xenophobia that I don’t think that the United States is immune from a wave of political oppression, internment, or even systematic killings. I don’t know what the spark will be. I hope the spark never ever finds its tinder. But I have unfortunately come to believe that the United States is not immune from its own heinous crimes against its own people that it believes to be its internal enemies. I’m sure that some social critics would say that this mass internment has been underway for decades, if not centuries, and only has the potential to accelerate or spread. Coming down to Nicaragua, I thought of the country as a traditional conservative culture with high levels of intolerance and dogma. I was wrong. We are wrong. Ignorance certainly exists, but many people and very willing to listen to other ideas and change their own. I don’t see this plasticity in my own country. I far prefer ignorance to intolerance.
Maybe this utter disconnection from a sense of home makes me well suited to provide some commentary. I hope everyone finds it insightful.
I wouldn’t call myself a pacifist, but I am about as close to being a pacifist as one can be without actually being one. I’ve never been severely oppressed, so I can’t say that oppression is better than violence. But really, unless something is actively harming you or seeking to do so, I do not agree with the use of violence. My opposition to violence is rooted in my dislike for suffering. Violence begets suffering. Violence is a deliberate attempt to hurt someone else, so I try to avoid it at all costs.
Which brings us to Paris. It was ISIS. ISIS, at the very least, instigated the attacks. So France will now beat her chest and violently react to the attacks. Just now in the news I saw that France has heavily bombed Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State. But why? If France and an American-led coalition have been bombarding ISIS for more than a year now, why didn’t they attack these targets earlier, before the attack in Paris? Why not at the start of the aerial campaign? Why not when the intelligence was gathered? Why not the day before the attacks on Paris? Why didn’t Jordan carry the attacks out when their airman was burned alive and they, like France after them, promised a devastating response? Were we keeping a few targets around just in case we needed some shock and awe for the news media to sink her teeth into?
And why are all of the responses aerial? Why haven’t we seen the United States, or Jordan, or France, send troops to battle ISIS? I suppose that you can’t send troops unless a minimum 0f 2,000 people die in an attack. Anything less and you have to resort to unconventional warfare.
I wrote this last year, and it rings true again now:
We always attack. France has now attacked. We always choose violence. We have not heeded Eisenhower. Nor do I think that violence will be effective. The ISIS attacks are predicated on ideas. Ideas about the “West.” Ideas about religion. Ideas about killing, and if and when it is justifiable and called for. For thousands of year humans have tried to eradicate ideas with violence, but it has not been an effective tactic. I doubt that it will be effective this time.
So how do we attack the ideas? I don’t know. I wish I did. I wish I were an expert in conflict resolution. You can Google it. There are thousands of pages dedicated to this very idea that I am discussing here. I suppose we will need to engage in a discourse. The State Department may need to relentlessly try to communicate with ISIS and ask them, “Why?” and “How could we convince you to stop?” Everyday people may need to engage in this dialectic as well, whether it be through letters, e-mail, or in 140 characters or less. Yes, I am proposing that you talk to a terrorist. Maybe we make that a hashtag. #TtT. We may need to listen to our experts in peaceful conflict resolution, reconciliation, psychology, and dialogue, and put our collective powers in persuasion to use to persuade ISIS to stop. And this is a dialectic. Along the way we may indeed realize that there are things about ourselves we need to change. Ideas of our own that we need to shed.
Even more so, we need to engage in the same activity internally, among our own people. Every few months we are reminded that America has its own special type of soft target terrorism. Both as a country and as individuals we need to concede that our beliefs may not be infallible. Reducing intolerance will be far more effective than reducing guns.
Rather than dismissing a disagreeable person, we must engage, dialectically. Dismissing someone on Facebook is the Raqqa-bombing of social media. Dismissing the person does not dismiss the idea. Donald Trump says these things because people believe them. We need to get these people to not believe those things and to ourselves be open to changing our own beliefs and opinions. If you are offended by something on Facebook, don’t lash out at the author. First ask yourself why you are offended and if your feeling is rational, and if it is, then ask the author why he or she feels the way they feel. Start a dialogue, don’t end one.
Lastly, we need to be more cosmopolitan. We can’t selectively mourn based on race. If we approach this new dialogue without shedding our subconscious sense of Western superiority we will not be successful. We must admit that we too oppress, and be willing to stop that. And certainly, the news media plays a role. But the news media is part of the economy, and responds to market forces. If you read online newspapers or follow newspapers on Facebook that did not report on Beirut or Baghdad, stop visiting the websites and unfollow them on Facebook! Find more cosmopolitan sources of news.
Anyone who reads this far down, I seriously suggest that you Google conflict resolution, dialectic, or something related. Even reading the op-ed from the Sunday Times on “Teaching Peace in Elementary School” is a good start. Maybe war is necessary. I hope not. If it is the case, I wish it were not. Even if it is necessary, we will still have to confront ideas, be them those of ISIS or other organizations or political groups. ISIS is just the newest incarnation of ideas we have been fighting since 2001. Every single US President since I was born has ordered attacks in Iraq. We need to try something else or we are doomed for the list to get longer in 2016.