Monday, April 9, 2018

Soldiers of Peace

The military teaches the way of peace, said Paul K. Chappell, because they praise in public and reprimand in private. I heard Paul K. Chappell interviewed on an KERA’s “Think” with Krys Boyd, on March 20, 2018. A West Point graduate, Chappell left the Army as a captain and now works for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. I bought two copies of his book, Soldiers of Peace, and gave one to the director of our state guard officer candidate school. I finished reading it this morning. Overall, it was easy to find much to disagree with but Chappell argues well for finding other solutions to our social problems.

Chappell repeats his claims, which begin (easily enough) with the observation that 200 years ago, slavery was accepted and women could neither vote nor own property. But here we are today. So, what about us now will seem short-sighted to people 200 years in the future? Chappell calls his program “peace literacy.” It is a path, a way of life, not a formula or a checklist. Peace literacy includes empathetic listening, respect, integrity, and selfless service. Peace literacy depends on knowing how to calm yourself so that you can calm others. All of this takes discipline.
Soldiers of Peace: How to Wield the Weapon 
of Nonviolence with Maximum Force 
by Paul K. Chappell, 
Prospecta Press, 2017; 272 pages; $16.  
Chappell denies moral relativism and epistemological subjectivism. He says that the truth exists and we can know it. He warns against romanticizing the past, and even against romanticizing nonviolence. He calls himself a realist, and differentiates that from the common “realism” that is only cynicism. It is not surprising that he repeatedly cites Socrates, Lao-tze, Gandhi, and King. I did find it curious that he echoed Ayn Rand (though Rand is not cited anywhere). Rand found the basis for morality in our mortality. She posited an indestructible robot and explained that it could have no values. Chappell makes exactly the same argument. Like Rand, Chappell points out that humans have no instinctive, automatic modes of survival. Oak trees and caterpillars, he says, have no need for mentors. We do. And he provides many. Among them are Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the heroes of the Iliad, and Lt. Gen. John Schofield, the superintendent of West Point.

I never learned anywhere else that one impetus for Rosa Parks to resist segregation on the city bus line was her experience with the integrated transports at Maxwell Air Force Base where she and her husband both worked. In fact, Chappell says (at least twice) that his mother yelled at him when he announced that he was leaving the military because nowhere else in her world could a mixed race (African-American/Asian) person be treated fairly.

Chappell also speaks well of the discipline of martial arts that teaches respect for one’s opponent as the path to avoiding conflict in the first place. Contrasting that, he notes that during World War I, in the mad charges from the trenches, cruel officers were sometimes shot in the back. In the military, everyone is armed and trained to kill, so the social formalities reinforce respect.

It is salient that the military succeeds by training. Chappell cites Julius Caesar who recorded that the Gauls, Celts, and Germans made fun of the small stature of the Romans—until the battle was engaged. And in the military, failures in the field are traced back to failures of training. Learning the literacy of peace requires deep and extensive training, of course. And Chappell and the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation provide such classes (here) though he says nothing about them in this book. (His own website is here.)

Toward the close, Chappell says that the best use of the military would be for humanitarian aid and disaster relief. As killing the enemy still has not worked out very well, that seems hard to argue with.

Easier to take exception to are the very many glittering generalities, glib statements, easy oversights, and incomplete examinations that litter the book as Chappell wanders over the landscape of his personal life.

Just to take one point, the author asserts that women in ancient Athens were oppressed. It is the liberal, enlightened view. Women could not vote. They could not own property. Indeed, they were property. But so was everyone else. It is famous that the philosopher Diogenes was one of the very many who were captured on some voyage or on some road and were sold into slavery. Outside of your city, you had no protection. Even within the city, rights as we know them did not exist. Socrates is the most famous case in point, but not unique. On the other hand, Chappell at length cites Greek myths and Athenian dramas in which women were the driving force, the wise speaker, the effective agent. The god of war, Ares, was less powerful than Athena, the goddess of wisdom (and strategy). Beginning with the assumption that he seeks to prove, Chappell cannot reconcile that against the civil status of women.

A dozen other problems run through the book, repeated and restated, cast as assertions and reused as proofs.

In balance, Soldiers of Peace provides cogent reasons to re-examine our assumptions about war and peace. Chappell’s thesis includes the minor premise that nonviolence is not peace. Pacifism will not end war. Rage is an expression of pain, not of strength. Perhaps the most arguable and yet insightful assertion is that the threats to peace include disparities in wealth, rapid population growth in the cities, and climate change. Those threats were identified by the U.S. Army Sustainability Report (2009). “When the U.S. Army and the Occupy movement agree on something, I think we should pay attention.” 

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1 comment:

  1. "As killing the enemy still has not worked out very well, that seems hard to argue with."
    I often think of this when any military situation comes up: Liberal democratic republics, reason, and science *deliver the goods*. It shouldn't be hard to sell people on it. Authoritarians say, "I'll protect your olive tree!" But liberalism says you can keep your olive tree and get the Lexus. Sometimes I think if the military could just be good at providing aid, taking people to places run by liberal democracy, and keeping other people out, it would solve all problems. I KNOW this is horribly simplistic. I just have this fantasy where when people are fighting in Syria, Palestine, or wherever, a powerful leviathan in the form of the US military could come in an take people to some place. It doesn't have oil or great farmland. But you can ship things and money in and out freely. You can use the Internet freely. If they could just keep the extremists out, they'd have a little place in the desert where wealth is being created. Would anyone living there, seeing the godlessness of kids hearing about other religions, looking at porn, and eating McDonald's decide life would be better in Gaza? Maybe I have a patriotic bias, but I think almost anyone would want to live in an American style republic with a bunch of strangers with different ideas than with a place where your olive tree is completely safe.

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