Soldiers of Peace

Gandhi walking under the rain after landing at Folkstone (UK), September 12, 1931. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Gandhi walking under the rain after landing at Folkstone (UK), September 12, 1931. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

“I regard myself as a soldier, though a soldier of peace” (Mahatma Gandhi speaking in Geneva, Switzerland on December 10, 1931).

In a recent post, “The Myth of War’s Inevitability,” I recounted US Army Captain Paul Chappell’s rebuttal of the mythic premise that humans are naturally violent and warlike. He advances the alternative vision, grounded in Gandhi’s metaphor, of democratic citizens transcending war by regarding themselves as soldiers of peace [Will War Ever End? (Weston, CT: Ashoka Books, 2009)].

In a subsequent book, Peaceful Revolution (Westport, CT: Easton Studio Press, 2012), Chappell “outlines a path away from war” that channels the “warrior spirit toward peace” (pp. xiii, 41). The knowledge he gained at West Point about soldiering is repurposed to the pursuit of peace by nonviolent means.

Chappell writes about achieving a positive peace, not just an absence of war. The goal of a peaceful revolution is “to create a paradigm shift” in which we come to see true peace as a condition of “liberty, justice, opportunity, fairness, environmental sustainability, and other ingredients that create a healthy society” (pp. 196, 14). Such a peace can be achieved incrementally if ordinary citizens persistently employ peaceful methods of dissent, protest, boycott, legal action, and persuasion.

Why is this ideal of peace a realistic project? Because it is informed by the experience and ethos of the soldier. “The Army knows that realistic idealists are powerful human beings capable of overcoming unimaginable odds, and that is why it trains its soldiers to be idealistic.” Soldiers “rely on cooperation and solidarity to survive,” which requires empathy, the ability to recognize one’s self in another. “By cultivating empathy in its soldiers, the army is able to take people from different racial, social, religious, political, and economic backgrounds and forge bonds of friendship and family between them.” They learn to see the humanity in others by hearing their stories. (pp. 22, 34, 43, 45)

By extension, soldiers for peace require empathy to achieve solidarity locally, nationally, and globally in an interconnected world. While war propaganda dehumanizes the enemy Other, peace soldiers reduce moral and psychological distance to shift from an attitude of self interest to an attitude of community interest in which one sacrifices for all and all for one.

By further extension of the warrior metaphor, peace is waged in a muscular fashion, exercising the muscles of empathy, conscience, reason, discipline, and curiosity. Self control, strategic planning, persistence in the face of adversity, confronting fear with a positive purpose—these are some of the traits of the soldier ethos.

Phoenix is Chappell’s symbol of rebirth, transformation, and spiritual growth. The potential exists within each of us to be reborn out of the fire of war. “Today the world is burning with war, oppression, injustice, and environmental destruction . . . . A peaceful revolution will rise like a phoenix from the fire of our national and global problems” (p. 211).

Chappell is something of a coyote figure. He crosses the mythic boundaries of war culture to disrupt archetypes such as the so-called instinct for war. He intermixes the meaning of war and peace. His deliberate misapplication of warrior knowledge, which brings to mind Kenneth Burke’s idea of perspective by incongruity, is the engine of a paradigm shift powering the peaceful revolution. What we have learned over the ages about prosecuting war—that is, about overcoming our inhibition to kill other human beings—is re-appropriated by Chappell-the-trickster. In this regard he is like Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods to give to humans the gift of civilization.

RLI

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