Conflict is inevitable. War is not.

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Posted on: September 22nd, 2018 by BWNWAdmin No Comments

Spain in Our Hearts by Adam Hochschild

Throughout history there have been rare moments of moral clarity. The Spanish Civil War was one. In 1936 the Popular Front won the election with a promise of bringing Spain out of a feudal system where 1% of the population held all the wealth of the country and the remaining 99% were no better off than serfs. As equalitarian euphoria swept through Catalonia, normal hierarchies were set on their head. George Orwell, who came to Spain to fight for the new democracy, found himself under the spell of a transformed classless Barcelona.

“Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal. Servile and even ceremonial forms of speech had disappeared. Nobody said Senor or Don or even usted, everyone called everyone else Comrade and Thou.”

Other reports from Barcelona were equally tantalizing. “The great Liceu opera house had been turned into a people’s theater. . . .pawnshops were forced to give back objects to their poorer customers.  Mansions confiscated from the wealthy had been converted into housing for the homeless; union cooks and waiters at the restaurant of the city’s Hotel Ritz, with its elaborate chandeliers, white linen and monogrammed china, had pushed the tables together into long rows and turned it into a people’s cafeteria for working-class families and the city’s poor.”

For those used to privilege this was a great threat, and it didn’t take long for Francisco Franco to lead a fascist coup against the new democratic government. Franco made it clear that his aim was to turn the country into a military dictatorship. Hitler and Mussolini quickly allied with him and provided the arsenal and forces he needed. Western democracies, the United States, France and Britain, demurred, refusing to help the struggling Republic. With no other options, the Republic accepted arms and aid from Communist Russia. The irony was that “defenders of the Republic were fighting for one of the finest causes beside one of the nastiest of allies.”

Without scruples or hesitation, the Fascists set about to eliminate all those who didn’t think as they did. Political opponents were tortured; people were murdered for belonging to labor unions; hospital wards were machine-gunned; and cities were bombed to rubble as Hitler field-tested his new weapons. The carpet bombing of Guernica represented the first near-total destruction of a European city from the air and inspired the century’s most famous painting by Pablo Picasso.

While the governments of the democracies hesitated, ordinary citizens did not. Volunteers came from more than 50 countries to join the International Brigades. Risking their lives to save Spain’s infant democracy, 2,800 Americans fought there. 750 of them died.

As a last ditch effort to appeal to the conscience of the world, the Prime Minister and his cabinet withdrew the international forces from the battlefields. They hoped to pressure the democracies to insist that Franco withdraw Hitler’s and Mussolini’s forces, which didn’t happen. On October 28, 1938, the Republic held a grand parade as a final tribute to the International Brigades. The volunteer soldiers and medical support marched down Barcelona’s grand avenues past the gutted buildings and peeled away apartment house walls. They walked, sometimes ankle deep in flowers, to receive the thanks of the grateful citizens. “The roar of cheering was continuous.  It was like a wave that never broke, but poured on. . . Women rushed into our lines to kiss us.  Men shook our hands and embraced us. Children rode on our shoulders. . . .We tasted their tears.” The response was very different, however, when the volunteers reached their home countries.

The fledgling Republic lost the war in 1939. Spain was left to endure 36 more years of Franco’s ruthless dictatorship.

What was learned? In January 1939, too late, Franklin Roosevelt told a cabinet meeting that he now felt the arms embargo to have been “a grave mistake.” The French novelist, Albert Camus, wrote “Men of my generation  have had Spain in our hearts. . . . It was there that they learned . . . that one can be right and yet beaten, that force can vanquish spirit, that there are times when courage is not rewarded.”

What can we learn now?  Hochschild’s book allows us to feel the universal sorrow for the human struggle that played out in Spain. From such sorrow, we can nurture the resolve to champion human rights and justice, regardless of the cost and the uncertain outcome.

Dorothy Sampson

 

 

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Posted on: April 26th, 2018 by BWNWAdmin No Comments

 

Need a dose of inspiration? Long for happiness and healthy abundance?  This is not a book about decluttering, per se, but after reading it you might find yourself wanting to remove some of the sludge of consumerism and take more time enjoying nature, art, and fellow humans.

The Abundance of Less: Lessons in Simple Living from Rural Japan by Andy Couturier follows ten people who have chosen to live sustainable, fulfilling lives. The author includes “an anarchist potter,” a “collector of fragrances,” a “philosopher of the rice fields,” and a mother and activist who believes in “making time to stop and think.” Each person in this book offers a humble, eloquent version of wisdom. In his afterword, Couturier suggests five words that will help us make similar choices: “Gentle. Small. Humble. Slow. Simple.”

According to Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, “This is subversive in the best possible way.” The most compelling thing I can say about the book is that I have dog-eared and highlighted my copy, and given many to family and friends. Do yourself a favor and find time to read about a different definition of richness.

Rebecca Wolle

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Posted on: January 11th, 2018 by BWNWAdmin No Comments

I’m Right and You’re an Idiot by James Hoggan with Grania Litwin

I’m Right and You’re an Idiot is the perfect book to read before having an argument — not because it supports that mindset, but because it teaches the opposite. James Hoggan, with Grania Litwin, patiently walks through what is wrong with the way most of us approach discussions with people who disagree with us, and into more productive ways of arriving at solutions to the complex problems facing our world.

The book’s dedication says a lot: “With gratitude and admiration for those who struggle to turn combative shoving matches into healthy public discourse, and as a tribute to the public intellectuals who light their way.” Hoggan divides his material into five sections, informed by interviews with world leaders in numerous disciplines. In Part I: The Polluted Public Square, he reminds us that “smashing heads doesn’t open minds,” that we need to find common ground, and beware self-righteousness.

From there, the reader is led through the reasons that our values trump policy and facts,even though we need both to succeed. Hoggan shows how corporate power and propaganda weaken democracy. He explains why we often become overwhelmed and look for simple solutions, but then he teaches us ways to offer hope.

Part II: Speak the Truth, But Not to Punish, emphasizes the critical need to balance power and love, and to focus on generating possibilities. Including the voices of youth is a way to remain focused on what matters to all of us, and we each need to be aware of nurturing conversation, rather than making a sales pitch.

One of the most uplifting messages of this book for me was the reminder to use stories to show what we care about, to return to a slower way at arriving at possibilities through simple respect and warm-heartedness. The pressing problems facing us will not go away if we yell at them or at each other. They might, though, if we learn to point our faces in the same direction and lean into the future together.

Rebecca Wolle

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Posted on: March 17th, 2017 by BWNWAdmin No Comments

Things That Can and Cannot Be Said: Essays and Conversations by Arundhati Roy and John Cusack

In central India, a forest of tall thin-trunked Sal trees is the home of several protected species including sloth bears and leopards, and local tribes depend on the natural produce of the forest for sustenance.  All of this is in jeopardy because of the coal reserves below the forest floor.  Tribal people are resisting the plans of multinational companies to exploit these reserves.   Arundhati Roy talked to the people involved in the resistance, “ . . the poorest people in the world have stopped some of the richest mining corporations in their tracks.”   The superintendent of police explained the difficulty.   “The problem with these tribals is they don’t understand greed.  Unless they become greedy there’s no hope for us.  I have told my boss, remove the (police) force and instead put a TV in every home.  Everything will be automatically sorted out.”  The truth is simple. Greed is the life-blood of capitalism and exploitation.  Roy shines a light on this uncomfortable truth that capitalism is the basis of societal ills.   When capitalism is equated with freedom and democracy and all things virtuous, this truth is one of the “things that cannot be said. “

The book of essays and conversations was John Cusack’s idea.  He wanted Edward Snowden to meet Daniel Ellsberg because of the similarities of their actions and their courage.  They both leaked government secrets.  Both have been vilified as well as honored.  In fact, on their way to meeting Snowden in Moscow, the party of Roy, Ellsberg, and Cusack stopped off in Stockholm for the ceremony where Snowden, in absentia, was being honored with the Right Livelihood Award, “the Alternative Nobel.”  The Moscow meeting wasn’t a formal interview, so they didn’t get the cautious, diplomatic, and regulated Edward Snowden, which also meant the jokes, the humor, and repartee that took place cannot be reproduced.   More “things that cannot be said.”

The image of the two men so pleased to meet each other is a balm to our spirit, as we affirm Daniel Berrigan’s words. “Every nation-state, by supposition, tends toward the imperial. . .we agree with those who denounce the hideous social arrangements which make war inevitable and human want omnipresent, which fosters corporate selfishness, panders to appetites and disorders and wastes the earth.”

Dorothy Sampson

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Posted on: September 14th, 2016 by BWNWAdmin No Comments

Superpower by Ian Bremmer

I’ve just finished reading Superpower, a book by Ian Bremmer which examines three possible scenarios for American defense and foreign policy for the next President. They are Indispensable America, Moneyball America and Independent America. He says he wrote this book as an exercise for himself to consider which of these three plans had the most appeal. Indispensable America is the most costly which closely parallels our current approach and postulates that as the world’s only superpower, we need to continue our present policies and perhaps even enlarge upon what we’re currently doing.

Moneyball America says we should consider our strategic interests and fund those alliances that only advance our strategic interests. Finally, Independent America is somewhat akin to Moneyball, only it acknowledges that we cannot be all things to all people and that by constructing a more caring and equitable society here at home, we can lead by example and reduce our defense expenditures and use the savings to fund education and medical care and other social needs. He also says that it is time for Japan and Korea and Germany and France and other developed nations of Europe to pay more of their own defense expenditures. He says further that too much allegiance or opposition is paid to the prevailing views of the political party in power, so very little critical thinking is applied to what we should really do as we go forward.

I think it’s a book that is long overdue and, as an examination of our defense and foreign policy, it is very worthwhile to consider. My view is that our outsized defense budgets do no one any good and that we definitely need to carefully think through what we can and cannot do.

Jim Anderson

 

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Posted on: April 25th, 2016 by BWNWAdmin No Comments

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein

The connection between blue skies and happiness runs deep in our collective consciousness.  The small natural grocers where I shop in Eugene has a ceiling painted cerulean blue and decorated with fluffy white cumulous clouds.   On a dreary day, this artifice can lift my spirit.  But what if we lived in a world where the only blue skies were painted on ceilings?  One of the proposed solutions to global warming is to inject the stratosphere with sulfur, turning the sky perpetually gray.   This “mad” science might block the sun, but it also might not be reversible.  Do you really think that not giving up air travel or air conditioning or HDTV or trips to the mall is worth the trade-off of never seeing actual blue skies.  We live in a decade where we will be forced to choose.

The consensus of 97% of scientists is that the earth today stands in imminent peril from the environmental cataclysm of dangerous climate change caused by human activity.  If you have eyes to see and ears to hear, the mounting evidence of global warming is everywhere.  Arctic Sea ice and glaciers are melting faster.  The increasing acidity of the oceans is causing coral reef destruction.  Temperatures continue to break records.  The number of extreme floods and fires is increasing.   To make matters worse, CO2 emissions are increased by dying forests, and by melting ice that loses the ability to reflect heat, and by melting permafrost which release even more CO2 and methane.

So why aren’t our governments pursuing policies to save the environment by stopping the use fossil fuels?  The answer is capitalism, with its twin motives of profit and greed. Solutions to the problem of the warming earth are systematically sabotaged by

the forces of free market fundamentalism, conservative politics, and corporate opposition to environmental regulation.   Additionally, since the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions we’ve bought in to the belief in our ability to control nature.  While we pursue greater material wealth and profit, we have forgotten the truism that “nature bats last.”

Klein places her hope in the human spirit and in local opposition to environmental degradation.  We have seen some successes in Oregon.  Federal regulators rejected plans for a massive liquefied natural gas export terminal in Coos Bay.  The Federal Court ruled in favor of youth bringing a suit against the Federal government because it fails to protect the atmosphere for future generations.  The Oregon LNG Company abandoned plans for a gas export terminal in Warrenton, OR.  There are possibilities to stop the madness when we work together.

In her book, “Reweaving Our Human Fabric,” Miki Kashtan helped us visualize a world after the “transition” where there is no scarcity or zero sum economics and where everyone’s needs are met. Klein has shown us is that the transition is upon us now and how we must accept a role in shaping it.  To change everything, we need everyone.

Review by Dorothy Sampson

 

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Posted on: March 16th, 2016 by BWNWAdmin No Comments

Reweaving Our Human Fabric, Working Together to Create a Nonviolent Future by Miki Kashtan

In John Lennon’s song, he asked us to imagine all the people living life in peace. . . . .sharing all the world. While we look around us and see systems that oppress democracy, foster vast disparity of wealth, and contribute to a culture of alienation, Miki Kashtan offers us a new, transformational vision and a way to realize the world that Lennon sang about. She affirms that a world in which human needs are the organizing principle for creating social structure, global institutions and governance is possible. She backs up her premise with practices to engage in social transformation and “wisdom tales”, stories that show what the world could look like.  We can become more than dreamers.  We can be the doers.

Dorothy

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Posted on: January 24th, 2016 by BWNWAdmin No Comments

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

General Sherman famously said that war is hell. What Irene Nemirovsky shows in the novel, Suite Francaise, is how the hell of the battlefield spreads insidiously to noncombatants. Under occupying German forces, the French themselves lose their veneer of empathy and humanity. “The compassion of civilization fell from her like useless ornaments, revealing her bare, arid soul.”  When the Parisians flee ahead of the invading forces, as often as not, they are met with inflated prices and closed doors. “There were just too many of them. It prevented the townspeople from being charitable.” The crisis of war and occupation did not bring out the best in people. There is little nobility or valor or courage in this ironic story, but rather infighting, jealousy, and collaboration with the enemy.

Nemirovsky is embedded in the story. A Jew, she and her husband and two small daughters fled Paris for the countryside where they hoped to elude the Nazis. But just as her novel was interrupted, so was her life. In 1942, she was arrested and deported to Auschwitz where she died. With the help of their governess, the little girls survived along with the suitcase that held their mother’s manuscript. Sixty-four years, after Irene’s death, her work was finally published. We are fortunate that we can now read how she bravely “denounced fear, cowardice, acceptance of humiliation, of persecution and massacre.” Another cost of the war was the loss of her genius.

Review by Dorothy Sampson

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Posted on: July 10th, 2015 by BWNWAdmin No Comments

Pay Any Price, by James Risen

James Risen’s book reports on little known and suppressed stories of the “war on terror.” Throughout history, those in power usually control the story. With his reporting, Risen offers us an alternative to the narratives of the government, an alternative about abuses of power and the motivation of greed.

The stories offer answers to many questions such as why did the Bush Administration throw out any notion of using the American legal system to arrest and prosecute those responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Who has cashed in from this decision? Why is the truth that torture was a direct result of official government policy suppressed?   Why have both the Bush and the Obama administrations prosecuted whistleblowers and leakers so rigorously? Why are there so few incentives to end the war? How has the emphasis on secrecy promoted compartmentalization that conceals illegality? Risen puts the questions in front of us and then with careful, sometimes laborious, detail uncovers facts and lets the reader draw his own conclusions.

Just after 9/11 but before we invaded Iraq, an open-ended “sweetheart” contract called LOGCAP, the army’s main field support program, was awarded to KBR. While the country was still in peacetime mode, no one gave much thought to the contract’s specifications. KBR performed the traditional supply and rear echelon work of the army. Under the terms of their contract, they were reimbursed for all costs associated with the work as well as bonus payments. In the chaos of the invasion and the immediate needs, KBR was allowed to do the work and submit the paperwork and billing later. KBR never provided the army with an original cost estimate and, therefore, could claim it was owed any amount. Their profits have been staggering. Risen reminds us that KBR was a spin off from Halliburton, the Texas based oil services company run by Dick Cheney before he became vice president. We can draw our own conclusions.

There have been brave citizens who have tried to hold the government accountable . Our government has retaliated with ruthless suppression, ruining the life and health of many. Through all this America has become accustomed to a permanent state of war. It is not enjoyable to look into a moral abyss, but if we don’t acknowledge what has happened and is happening, how can we change?

This is the 50th Anniversary of the beginning of the Vietnam War. The Pentagon planned for a national official commemoration. They were seemingly surprised by the push-back that came from Vietnam veterans themselves. The Veterans groups are resisting a false narrative and questioning a plan to celebrate the start of the war that was a debacle. It’s time to confront our past with shame & sorrow. That is why we need to remember the truth of what happened in Vietnam and to learn the truth about what is happening now in our endless wars.  Risen’s book can start us on that path.

Review by Dorothy Sampson

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Posted on: April 20th, 2015 by BWNWAdmin No Comments

Eugene has a Beyond War Book Group that meets monthly to evaluate books and create discussion questions to include in a Beyond War Reader’s Guide in order to help other Book Discussion Groups.

The Dandelion Insurrection by Rivera Sun

When Occupy Wall Street hit the news from Zucotti Park in September 2011, the media buzzed with the question, “What do they want?” By October, Occupy protests had taken place or were ongoing in over 951 cities worldwide. After the police dispersed the last iteration occupying public space, the question became “What had they achieved?” Even the most ardent detractors concede that the protestors had changed the conversation. The phrase “we are the 99%” entered the vernacular. The disparity between the wealthy 1% and rest of the country was openly discussed.

In her novel “The Dandelion Insurrection,” Rivera Sun borrows heavily from the Occupy Movement. The novel is set in a near future dystopia. The United States has become a police state run by corporations. Zadie and Charlie, the young revolutionaries actively organize against the vertically hierarchical systems of the repressive government and the resulting distributive injustice.

Zadie explains the real price of wealth. “Every time we idolize the wealthy and try to become rich like them, we’re perpetuating the suffering of billions. . .if people keep lusting after money and power, no amount of revolution is going to help us.” (p.68) She argues that democracy has always been a threat to elitist power structure and the government doesn’t really want an informed citizenry. They only want soldiers and consumers. Consumption had once described a deadly disease, but now it described a wasting of the soul. Zadie appeals to people to stop all forms of excessive consumption, to withdraw not only their worship of wealth, but also their approval of the wealthy.

Sun’s novel is laudable in its goals. However, the writing style is a distraction. It is fraught with an exhaustive overuse of action verbs and purple prose. A more serious criticism is that while espousing nonviolence, Sun poses enemies by dehumanizing the faceless men in power. In the book “The Nonviolence Handbook,” Nagler cautions that “The more you respect the humanity of your opponent, the more effectively you can oppose his or her injustice (p.15). . . all violence begins in the failure or refusal to recognize another as fully human.”(p.17) If Zadie and Charlie operated with this intention, they could more effectively amplify the change in consciousness that can change systems.

Reviewed by Dorothy Sampson