The Atom of Peace

By Kristin Christman

People have all kinds of patience for chemists who differentiate between the elements and combine them in various ways to create helpful or harmful compounds. People respect physicists who take apart the atom and predict the behavior of materials under certain temperatures and pressures. When industries construct buildings and devise products, we expect their composition and design to be grounded in science.

But in foreign policy, is there even awareness of a Science of Peace? No, the stage is set for drama, complete with actors for war: victims, persecutors, rescuers. Urgency supposedly mandates no time for thought, only time for launching missiles and suffering an eternity of blowback. A tradition of housing peacekeeping in the Department of Defense makes weapons the preferred “peacekeeping” tools.

Yet although we lack a Department of Peace, there is a Science of Peace, and it entails identifying and resolving aggressive and defensive roots of violence within enemies and ourselves.

War falls short of this science because war cannot satisfy basic standards of logic and decency. Let’s ask our president if his latest Syrian war extension meets a few standards.

Mr. President, you can’t simply point to one worthy goal as pretense for war, because one worthy goal can cloak ignoble goals. Proving the absence of ignoble goals is required.

If your war is clean, then prove it. Prove that weapons, oil, hydroelectric, and construction corporations will not profit from this war. Prove the US is not seeking control over pipelines, rivers, or military bases. Prove the absence of influence from Christian and Jewish extremists eagerly anticipating Armageddon.

Mr. President, is the war likely to achieve benefits that far exceed global costs, including psychological and environmental costs? Will you adhere to a Clean Air, Water, and Land Act in War (CAW LAW) to prevent planet contamination from toxic chemicals, land mines, craters, and radioactivity?

How will you defeat ISIS without a genuine ground partner? And how can defeat bring success without remedying roots of violence, including the US penchant for arming and discarding Muslim extremists as battle pawns? Militant bodies may die, but won’t the invisible slots they fill in society be replaced by new militants if the negative circumstances that created them still exist? If US militancy and Mid-Eastern repression fostered Islamist violence, can more US militancy encourage peace?

Mr. President, if you cannot distinguish between good and evil amongst Guantanamo prisoners, how will you make this judgment in war’s chaos and at high altitudes? Can your high-tech weapons distinguish between good and evil? Or is that their Achilles Heel? Will you trust your ground partners’ judgment?

On what basis do you determine guilt? Is an Iraqi guilty if he raises a gun when fearful of an American soldier invading his home? Or is the American guilty?

Mr. President, have you discussed roots of Mid-Eastern violence?

In 1979 when Iranians took Americans hostage, I don’t recall learning that Iranian wrath stemmed from the CIA’s toppling of Iran’s Prime Minister Mossadegh, reinstallation of the despised Shah, and training of his brutal force SAVAK. TV footage displayed angry Iranians burning US flags. Now we’re given more images of enraged Mid-Easterners, and we see heinous, sickening crimes. But are we shown the7 full picture?

An estimated 12,000 foreign fighters from 74 nations have travelled to Syria to fight alongside ISIS, al-Nusra, and others. This conflict is not just about barbaric Muslims who behead and slaughter. These Muslims likely represent the vast array of aggressive and defensive motivations that were completely ignored after 9/11 and remain unaddressed.

When reading why Muslims journeyed to fight in Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Bosnia in the past and Syria today, you find a range of motivations similar to those that inspire some Americans to join the military. Do decent motives – horror over suffering and injustice, desires for noble purpose, adventure, and camaraderie – justify killing? Of course not. But decent motives can be rechanneled towards humane goals.

Some fighters are motivated by aggressive feelings of sadism, superiority, hateful religious distortions, and domination desires. Yet do bombs crush or create repugnant mentalities? Do US bombs have the strength to convince enemies that Americans are good and reasonable? ISIS and US terror both create the trauma and anxiety that pulverize a society’s psychological capacity to be peaceful.

And aggressively-motivated militants are only the tip of the iceberg. Farther down this iceberg, we find defensively-motivated militants protecting life, home, freedom, values, and identity against Mid-Eastern autocrats, US policy, and sectarianism. Their violence may not be legitimate, but their motivations are understandable.

Then, submerged quietly beneath the ocean waters is the iceberg’s massive base: peaceful Mid-Easterners who condemn terrorist violence but who share many political, economic, and social grievances.

We often see the worst of a skewed version of Muslim values – stoning women, beheading criminals, sentencing Christians to death. But do we ever learn that Islamists are distressed by lack of charity to the poor? By the emptiness of consumerism and secular progress? By their government’s corruption and brutality?

Do such grievances validate 9/11 or beheadings?   Absolutely not. But US hacking away at the iceberg’s tip while neglecting grievances of the entire iceberg is a recipe for rage and injustice. 9/11 was a wake-up call to humanely tend to important issues, but counterterrorism was instead dumbed down to mean “degrade and destroy terrorists”.

Mr. President, has a full spectrum of solutions been considered, with war not more than a last resort? It is unsettling for Americans to realize their government won’t even pay a ransom for them.

What conflict resolution efforts have you made?

Imagine solutions as protons, neutrons, and electrons in the atom of peace. Protons are mental tools that create a positive climate of love and truth. Neutrons are legal tools that nurture justice and equality. Electrons are physical tools that prevent negative behaviors of violence.

In the US/Mid-East conflict, protons are crucial for fostering skills in cooperative negotiation; nurturing caring across social barriers; advocating peaceful interpretations of both democracy and religion; healing gender relations; reducing alienation and anti-Muslim prejudice; fulfilling needs for physical adventure, joyful recreation, camaraderie, and purpose; promoting unbiased reporting; and averting causes of hatred, rivalry, greed, and sadism.

Neutrons are indispensable for developing representative governments; condemning torture; prosecuting leaders for invasions and murder; enforcing due process; repairing economic injustices; fairly conserving and distributing resources; eliminating poverty and discrimination; addressing fallout from industrialization and urbanization; reducing unwanted influence of Westernization and consumerism; and promoting peace-oriented, meaningful employment.

Electrons are overused and misused by the US, terrorists, and other governments in the form of bombs, beheadings, torture, and imprisonment. Electrons could be applied reasonably in the form of legal arrests, humane confinement, barriers, protection from imminent attack, airport security, border checks, bans on weapons sales, and cutting funds for violence.

Mr. President, all parts of this atom are essential to address Mid-Eastern violence, but the US relies almost exclusively upon electrons. This electron overuse places unnecessary pressure upon troops and interrogators who believe American security depends upon their toughness.

The atomically imbalanced policy is unstable and self-defeating. The bombs plummet quickly and make a lot of noise, giving the illusion of progress. But weapons are only electrons; they are impotent when it comes to positive change. We need protons and neutrons.

Mr. President, if thousands of Americans were turning to violence, would you bomb them? Imprison them? Recruit them into the military?

Would you even talk with them and find out what they’re upset about? Would you initiate social, economic, political, and recreational programs to channel Americans’ positive motivations and grievances into opportunities to create justice and human relations of caring, joy, and meaningfulness?

Perhaps once you learn how to help Mid-Easterners, you will know how to help Americans.

Kristin Y. Christman is author of The Taxonomy of Peace: A Comprehensive Classification of the Roots and Escalators of Violence and 650 Solutions for Peace, an independently created project begun the September of 9/11 and located online.   She is a homeschooling mother with degrees from Dartmouth College, Brown University, and the University at Albany in Russian and public administration.

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