By Jed Lehman
Anybody who knows me well knows that I spend a lot of my time thinking about and acting for peace. They would be surprised to learn, however, that as a young person I was on the other side. I’m not sure how I got to the point of supporting the United States war against Vietnam; but I was very lucky to have a classmate in high school who was campaigning to get the U.S. out of Vietnam. My friend even submitted the OUTNOW petition to our student paper and our teacher advisor agreed to publish it. When the principal got wind of what we were doing he had the two offending pages ripped out of the paper. My friend helped me to understand that the French had colonized South East Asia and when the French grew tired of fighting the Vietnamese resistance movement the Americans replaced the French. He also helped me to understand that the United States wanted the resources of the region.
In the 45 years since that censorship episode I have learned a great deal by participating in many social movements including the trade union movement, movements for social justice, against racism, against poverty, and in the peace movement. I have also studied psychology, economics, philosophy, religion, history, and geography. Each has helped me in my quest for peace.
I agree with Frank Cybulski in his blog of March 16, 2016: “The 21st century is a difficult time for the peace movement”. However, the 20th century was also a difficult time for peace workers. Attempts were made to silence peace workers by various forms of bullying including red-baiting and other name-calling. Even here in Canada our federal government considered charging one popular peace leader, Reverend James Endicott, with treason. (See Warrior Nation by McKay & Swift).
In the 1980s the Strategic Defense Initiative (commonly called Star Wars after the 1977 film) proposed by the Reagan administration in the United States gave rise to the largest peace movement up to that time. Since then we have witnessed the formation of the largest environmental movement in world history to stop global warming. Now we in the peace movement have the challenge to link up with the environmental movement – especially since the military is one of the world’s biggest polluters.
“Expensive weapons systems such as fighter jets, destroyers, and tanks are extremely energy inefficient and emit highly toxic, carbon-intense emissions. Oil Change International estimated that the U.S. military emitted 100 million metric tonnes of C02 in fueling its war in Iraq in five years.
The U.S. Department of Defense is the largest industrial consumer of fossil fuels in the world. It is also the top arms exporter and military spender at $640 billion, which accounts for 37% of the total. Other western countries that are top military spenders like the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, have high carbon emissions per capita.”
Cited in the executive summary of “Demilitarization for Deep Decarbonization: Reducing Militarism and Military Expenditures to invest in the UN Green Climate Fund and to Create Low-Carbon Economies and Resilient Communities,” a draft working paper by Tamara Lorincz, Senior Researcher, International Peace Bureau, September 2014, at the Bureau’s website, at ipb.org
War deprives people of food, health, education, and housing. In North America we must convert monies from the war budgets to provide for peoples’ needs.
Every time we have a change of government in Canada I think about what I would do if I was Prime Minister. I know the pressures from the profiteers from the armaments industry are considerable as are the pressures from the financial sectors of our economy. I know too that government leaders cannot act arbitrarily on their own; that there must be a mandate from the governing party and from the people who elected them.
The first step I would take is I would create a White Paper on Foreign Policy. I would have my minister of foreign affairs lead discussions across Canada and I would have him accept submissions from the peace movement or anyone else with suggestions to offer.
I would use the findings from the White Paper to establish a Department of Peace so that every decision in cabinet related to war and peace would have someone prepared to argue for the peace side of the issue. In the meantime I would have taken the steps needed to reinstate Katimavik – with a focus on assisting aboriginal peoples, the environment, and the peace movement. I also would ask Katimavik and other organizations and educational bodies across Canada to teach the skills of conflict resolution.
I would stop arms being exported from Canada. However, I would have my government officials sit down with the company and union executives to work out conversion plans so that workers in the arms factories could provide the goods and services needed by Canadians and other people around the world.
I would revisit Canada’s role in peacekeeping to see if there is a role for Canada to play on the international stage again; however, the peacekeepers would have to establish themselves as real professionals interested in providing unbiased assistance.
I would also establish an emergency force of military people ready to travel anywhere to help people with natural disasters.
Hopefully, the submissions presented to the White Paper urging Canada to take a more peaceful role would have supported an end to the war on terrorism as far as Canada is concerned. I would use these submissions to take my case to parliament that standing for peace means not supporting any war abroad.
Jed Lehman is a long time peace and social justice activist and member of PeaceQuest Regina.