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Deanie Mills Headshot

You May Be Surprised: A Marine Mom and Army Officer Discuss How War Can End

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Most of you who have read very many of my blogposts know that I am a Marine mom whose son did two combat deployments to Iraq, including the bloody Battle of Fallujah in November of '04, and an aunt to one nephew who did three Marine combat deployments to Iraq, another who deployed with an army Stryker brigade in the Diyala province during Bush's So-Called Surge, and another who's done a tour in Afghanistan with Army Special Forces. Their ranks range from Marine Lance Corporal to Army Major.

(The army nephews are still active-duty, but my son and his Marine cousin are out of the service but still remain on Ready Reserve status, which means they can be yanked back at any moment and deployed to war yet again.)

Every male member of my family (including in-laws) my age or older did a combat tour either in Vietnam or later, in the Balkans and Afghanistan, ranking from enlisted Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. all the way up to Army Special Forces Brigadier General. Even my sister did a stint in the Air Force.

So I am pro-military.

I am also opposed--and have been from the very beginning--to the Iraq war.

This puts me in a unique position, because so many peace activists whom I've encountered through the years not only oppose war in all its forms, but they tend to be suspicious of, and negative toward, the U.S. military. When they discuss Iraq, for instance, they are far more likely to look upon Abu Ghraib as more representative of U.S. troop behavior than, say, all the schools that have been built in the Anbar province in the past year by the Marines, or all the free medical care provided to Iraqis who, say, have survived suicide bombings.

But still, I have worked tirelessly in my way to end a war that I thought was not only unprovoked and illegal in the first place, but was then so horrifically mis-managed for years on end that the brave and exhausted troops who have been forced to fight it have been, literally, abused, through revolving-door deployments, stop-loss, and so on.

With full support from my son I became a highly vocal advocate for these troops and their families, and received much quiet support from veterans, military families, and active-duty troops who hesitated to speak out themselves from fear of career retribution.

What most people do not understand is that the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who take the oath of office to protect and defend our country are the very people who LEAST want to go to war, because they, and they alone will be asked to pay the terrible price.

Which is why, when I read a truly profound little book called, "WILL WAR EVER END? A Soldier's Vision of Peace for the 21st Century," by active-duty Capt. Paul K. Chappell, U.S. Army--with a forward provided by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, U.S. Army (ret.), author of the groundbreaking work, "ON KILLING, The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society," I knew I had to track down Capt. Chappell for a chat.

(It might interest you to know that Col. Grossman's book is not only required reading by the U.S. Marine Corps, but also at peace studies programs at Berkeley, and at Mennonite and Quaker colleges.)

Capt. Chappell's book, "Will War Ever End?" is a slender little volume, less than 75 pages long, but it is power-packed, not just by ground-breaking ideas, but by this young West Point graduate's ability to take complex subjects and make them simple through imagery and metaphor.

An Afterward by the publisher states that all its profits are going toward veteran's organizations, as are all of Capt. Chappell's royalties.

At a price of less than ten bucks, it is well worth it.

Capt. Chappell expounds on Col. Grossman's findings, which are, in a nutshell, that with the exception of sociopaths, people do not normally kill easily, and that when they do, they tend to suffer for it, and the closer the combat, the harder it is to deal with.

For instance, bomber pilots don't feel the sting of their actions with near the intensity of, say, a grunt to throws a grenade and then must listen to the screams of dying victims, or one who must shoot to kill at point-blank range. The worst cases of post traumatic stress, Grossman reports, don't have to do with experiencing battle as much as they have to do with being forced to kill or be killed.

Capt. Chappell presents what he refers to as a "Manifesto for Waging Peace," and enlists the aid of all of us who would like to see war end. He calls us all, "Soldiers of Peace."

Both authors make a compelling case for the fact that war and violence--contrary to the popular myth--are not natural states for mankind. When a soldier kills or commits an act of heroism, it is nearly always because he is trying to protect those he considers family--his buddies. As Capt. Chappell puts it:

"If human beings were naturally violent...then the highest military award (the Medal of Honor) should be given for the act of killing, and the person who kills the most people should receive the highest award. However, many Medal of Honor recipients I studied never killed a single person."

It is compassion, he says, not a lust for violence, that leads to acts of heroism, such as the Navy Seal in Iraq who threw his body onto a grenade and saved the lives of three or four of his buddies.

Ask any war veteran you know what was the most important thing in battle, and they'll say that it was the urgency to protect those with whom he or she served.

A true combat veteran will almost never, ever say that it was killing the enemy.

It is not bloodlust, according to Grossman and Chappell, that prevails in battle; it is compassion. Writes Capt. Chappell:

"...Peace is possible...It is a fact that war drives people insane...the greatest problem of every army is how to stop soldiers from running away...being loving allows us to be brave, (and) cooperation is the key to our survival..."

When Chappell talks about "waging peace," he mentions how offended he was when, while serving in Baghdad, he saw U.S. news reports in which commentators claimed that those who criticized U.S. war policy were not patriotic. He offers an excellent illustration of the true meaning of patriotism:

"They believed that patriotism meant waving a flag and being blindly obediant, but as Socrates and others have shown, this is not what it means to be patriotic...We can better understand love of country by realizing what it means to love a child caught stealing, abusing people, or being dishonest...If we love our country, we will do our best to improve it. We will try to make America a better place for everyone, as courageous citizens have always done."

He then presents a template for what "soldiers of peace" can do to end war.

We do it through compassion, community, peaceful activism, and expecting accountability from our politicians and the media. He writes:

"Similar to movements that abolished slavery and gave African Americans their civil rights, the women's rights movement in America gained women the right to vote, not because everyone participated in it, but because a small percentage of the population was willing to wage peace and make a difference. Those victories reveal that if we are determined to take small yet significant steps toward a better world, we can bring humanity closer and closer toward the end of war and a global civilization of peace and prosperity."

Chappell points out that "our world will never know peace if we sit around and do nothing about it. War will only end if we end it."

This can be done, first of all, by studying war in the same way that a doctor or a healer will study disease in order to be better able to cure someone who is ill. Our planet is ill with war, and we need to study war if we want to heal our planet.

He goes into more detail on this and other points in a radio interview he gave to peace activist Susan Galleymore, founder of the organization MotherSpeak. Ms. Galleymore gained some measure of fame back in 2004 when, frantic after her son had been deployed to Iraq soon after returning from Afghanistan, she actually traveled to his army base in Iraq to see him. She's been working on a book of her own, LONG TIME PASSING: Mothers Speak About War and Terror, which will be out in May.

Capt. Chappell is also hard at work finishing a second book entitled, Peaceful Revolution, which will explain more about ending war, including "the war on our planet," but I was impatient and chose to ask him my questions, point-blank, now.

We've had a lovely e-mail correspondence in and around his military duties as he prepares to deploy to the Middle East again. I was able to find him at his website, where you can order Will War Ever End? (The earlier link I provided was to Amazon.com. Copies are also available through MotherSpeak.)

I asked Capt. Chappell six key questions. I will share with you some of our correspondence so far, but I will be continuing to write about our conversations over the next several weeks in my blog, Blue Inkblots, and at my blog at TPM Cafe.

Our ongoing dialogue has been fascinating, informative, and intelligent. I encourage you to check in each week for the latest installment.

My questions were:

1) One of your central points in the book is that it is up to an engaged, empowered, involved citizenry to step up and do what is necessary to end war which, in the case of democracy, is elect leaders who will not wage war for political or ideological purposes, but only as a last resort in national defense. If it's up to the citizenry to stop war, then what do we do with the people who glorify war, since they themselves HAVE NEVER BEEN SHOT AT?

2) What do we do about an enabling media, willingly allowing themselves to be used by government propagandists, then refusing to admit it even when the truth comes out?

3) How do we foster greater understanding between peace activists and the military? They each tend to hold stereotypical views of the other, and might be surprised to find how much they have in common.

4) In the event that we are successful at ending or greatly reducing war, what is your vision for the future of the U.S military? Do you see them as police officers of the world, stopping genocide, for instance? Trainers to third-world militaries? Nation-builders? How do we prepare our military for 21st century realities?

5) Do you think hatred lends itself to rage and paranoia, or is it the other way around? And how, as soldiers of peace, can we best combat it?

6) What do you see as the most effective way for our military to deal with the situation in Afghanistan?

In his response to my first question, Capt. Chappell emphasized the importance of patience and understanding when dealing with the war-mongers in our lives--particularly the ones who tend to glorify war because they, themselves, have never had to fight one:

"The experience I have gained from interacting with people from diverse backgrounds has taught me that most human beings do in fact mean well. Furthermore, if we have the patience and compassion necessary to channel their good intentions toward the truth, this more effectively solves our problems than reacting in an aggressive and angry manner, which does nothing to help them see our point of view.

"After I give this person the benefit of the doubt, I then try to understand where they are coming from. As Spinoza would say, our purpose should not be to despise people, or to laugh at them, but to try and understand them. To understand why so many people in our society glorify war, we will explore two crucial ideas, a concept I call 'the freedom dilemma' and another idea that we will refer to as 'the war myth.'

"To begin, what is the freedom dilemma? This is the notion that in some ways, free people are easier to manipulate than people who are not free, and that the nature of human freedom makes it easier to convince those who are free to choose war. This is not because people are naturally warlike, or because people will always choose violence if given an option. Instead, this occurs because free people have so much to lose. "

Chappell then compares a speech given by George W. Bush in 2002 to one presented by Pericles to Athens in the 5th century, B.C.

He explains how, in our society, we've been conditioned to see violence as our savior when we are afraid, from comic books to movies to video games.

And yet, in all this exposure to mythical war, most people still have no true idea of how modern warfare actually works, and how much more effective diplomacy--done right--can be. After all, we "won" the Cold War without a third world war.

He offers steps for dealing with war-supporters:

1) Acknowledge and calm their fear

2) Channel their fear away from the use of violence and toward a more effective way of solving our problems

3) Give them examples of more effective means

4) Question their assumptions--for example, Chappell often asks those who enthusiastically endorse war, "Why don't you join the army yourself and go to war?"

This is only a skip-over of the main points of our discussion--frustratingly short because this post is already so long. And I will definitely go into more detail in future posts, including more of Capt. Chappell's answer not just to this first question, but to all the others, as well as my responses to him and our enlightening back-and-forth.

But here's another teaser: In discussing my second question, Chappell goes into the role played by the media in our history leading up to the present, and then he draws an interesting analogy of modern warfare:

"We can compare war to a giant machine. It structure is made up of money and material resources, its gears are turned by soldiers, contractors, and engineers, and it is fueled by popular support.

"When money and material resources are low, the government can always borrow more and drive our country deeper into debt. Soldiers can be replaced by lowering recruitment standards, and new contractors and engineers can be hired from all over the world. But when popular support at home runs out, the war machine simply stops working. When public opinion is no longer there to fuel war, it ends...

"Today, wars are waged on Al Jazeera, FOX news, and CNN as much as they are fought on the battlefield. It is a war for hearts and minds, a war for popular support and public opinion, a war for the fuel that keeps the machine running..."

Chappell goes on to explain the differences between modern warfare, the so-called "war on terror," and the media's responsibility for, and to, it, and how we, as an informed and engaged citizenry, can demand accountability.

I encourage you to stay with me on this fascinating series of conversations between a Marine mom and an army officer, as we discuss what it truly means to "wage peace" and how we, as "soldiers of peace" can truly take part in making our world a better place.

Come visit my website at Blue Inkblots or drop in over at TPM Cafe for a stimulating and invigorating discussion.

Because ending war is not as impossible as it seems.

Just as electing a little-known, inexperienced senator from Illinois to the White House--it takes the mass involvement of thousands who raise their voices and, together, say, IT IS TIME.

What Will War Ever End proves is that world peace IS possible. It's not just a silly tag-line at a beauty pageant--it's real, and ending war is something that can be accomplished if enough people work together to make it so.

(cross-posted at Blue Inkblots and at TPM Cafe)