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Where Is The Wisdom?

“I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.”

– Dwight D. Eisenhower

A chilling wind is blowing. As I write it is sending shivers of fear through my body. These shivers make me profoundly aware of the terror our founding fathers had suffered, and why they held freedom of expression as bedrock for the democratic union they conceived. Yet, as I write, forces having the arrogance to call their legislation a “Patriot Act” are secretly proposing a further erosion of the civil liberties that have been the hallmark of this democracy.

It seems fitting to be writing on President’s Day. Last night CNBC had a special report from Baghdad hosted by Peter Arnett, the award winning anchor during Desert Storm. Most of the show was footage of ordinary Iraqi citizens who could have been in Chicago, New York or LA. They looked and acted surprisingly middle class. They seemed sincere in their allegiance to their government and way of life. It was eye-opening. The thought of attacking them seems inhuman.

I am very sad, and deeply disappointed. A few days ago I was very angry, but I started taking the advice I give to clients – that beneath the anger of every conflict is the sadness that follows an expectation of what you believed was going to happen. I believed that the leaders of my government were wise men I could trust with our historic legacy of military non-aggression unless attacked. I believed that given our vast resources and diplomatic skill we could find the solution that would serve to keep us from the brink of WW III, potential nuclear holocaust and ongoing military conflict. I am deeply disappointed because, given the abundant natural, technological, educational and political resources we also have the possibility a world that works for all of us. That is surely the world we all want. Yet, once again I am disillusioned. As I understand it, a lawyer in Japan has failed his clients if a conflict cannot be resolved through dialogue and negotiation. My government is failing me.

About 15 years ago I worked with a personal coach who had spent time at the senior levels of the Israeli intelligence community. He directed me to a monument near the New Jersey Governor’s mansion on the edge of downtown Princeton that is a tribute to the intelligence of George Washington. Whenever I’m in Princeton I spend some time with the inscribed words that encourage me to “outflank the foe and save the day.” Right now I feel like a lawyer making closing argument, weaving a story, from facts that have come to light so far. I pray that for the following reasons you will be persuaded to take action to shift the course from the war we have been speeding toward.

1. I fear speaking out. Amazing as that seems I am concerned about exercising my right to free speech. I am afraid that expressing a view opposed to US policy will have negative consequences. This chilling effect disturbs me deeply. Yet, I heed fear’s warning of being in unsafe territory. It is strange that the presence of legislation eroding the Bill of Rights, and called the “Patriot Act” makes me more, rather than less frightened.

2. The Emperor has no clothes! Just two short years ago President Bush was wandering around foreign policy like a fish out of water. He had trouble pronouncing the names of many foreign leaders. Today he is bellicose, strident and seems to have a single purpose – get this evil bandit, smoke him out, rid the world of this evil dictator. I can’t help but think that although he may look legitimate he is a puppet for the old vision represented by his senior advisors so many of whom are left over from his fathers generation.

3. Given the potential consequences the absence of real debate in Congress is frightening. Only Senator Robert Byrd and Representative Dennis Kucinovich have been vocal.

4. This war was in the minds eye of the current administration before 911. I noticed a complete shift of tone, mood and presence when administrations shifted. From a view of hope and vision we have drifted to war mongering, isolation, bravado and threats.

5. The framing of the UN proceedings has been destructive and a bit “crazy-making.” The debate has been about proof of violations of previous resolutions. Who cares! We want to know what to do now as a result of what we are learning, and how can we move the debate from punishing to ensuring compliance and determining the most effective way to disarm. Disarming does not require a fireworks display the world has never seen. I wonder what Freud would say about that!

6. We’re not telling the whole truth. Our rush in has much to do with our strategic oil interests and unfinished family business. I have heard that Haliburton Corp. spent $ 73 Million on oil infrastructure inside Iraq last year. Senator Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has said that “we will take over the oil fields, we will run it, and we will make a profit. Speaking of profit, I just found out that W’s grandfather Prescott was financing Hitler’s operation until he was legally ordered to quit under the “Trading with the Enemies Act.” That family history makes us question everything.

7. We are being pulled back into an old paradigm of thinking. The nationalist, patriotic rhetoric sounds just like the voice Adolph Hitler was using in the 30’s. It whips people to frenzy. The debate then becomes are you for or against what the President is doing. So there has been no real debate about the efficacy of taking action, and people become afraid. The charade is also present in our diplomatic efforts as nothing of substance is discussed.

8. Eisenhower’s warnings of the Military Industrial Complex must be heeded. The weapons of war are expensive and those corporate profit driven interests make people rich. Add the complexity of the media now being owned by those same corporate interests and the incest is even more frightening.

9. What if we’re being lead into WW III by an adolescent cowboy who stole the election. We all know he’s in way over his head, competing with or finishing daddy’s business. A psychologist could have a field day with this one

10. The shenanigans of a huge game of reverse Robin Hood as wealth is transferred from the poor to the rich by way of tax cuts.

11. I believe the President is acting from weakness, not strength. His brazen bellicose bravado is a cover up for his small minded fear of death; fear of things different; fear of anything but a preppy vision for America. It takes real strength to withhold lashing out at someone. Both Martin Luther King and Gandhi understood this. They knew that lasting and real peace can only come from a sense of mutuality. Solutions imposed by political or military power do not last. It’s true in personal relationships and it’s true between nations. 12. We have some significant domestic business to clean up. Until we do that we’re out of integrity as a society. Let us not forget two historical facts that are often brushed aside as the US becomes increasingly self-serving, and self-righteous. We stole this land from an indigenous population and developed it with the sweat, toil, and spirit of African slave labor.

So, what do we do? What is our opportunity at this juncture? Here are my suggestions in the context of an extraordinary opening created by the huge international demonstrations opposed to invasion. We have the power to rise up and demand a different tack.

a.) We all need to forget history and relegate it to storage bins. The world has changed dramatically. As long as we drag history and the old political and diplomatic channels with us we will continue to pay the cost of conflict. We need to let go, as if the past never happened and turn to the future with fresh eyes and heart.

b.) We need to stop talking about what’s wrong and start building a vision of the future, and the resolution we are committed to. As long as we continue to talk of problems we will have them. Our institutions and old institutional operatives will keep perpetuating the past like the loop in the movie “Groundhog Day.” We must begin with a vision of what we want to work toward as an operative premise, and create the project plan to get us there. No need to prove fault, right, wrong or blame – only the future vision is important. We need to apply this in Iraq, in Israel- Palestine, and in all places of international conflict.

c.) We need to forgive. We need to understand that most ordinary people were doing the best they could within the paradigm they understand as appropriate

d.) We need to recognize that we have enough resources on earth for everyone, if only we could interrupt our scarcity mindset. The challenge is distribution of resources. Used properly our natural, technological, educational and knowledge resources can support everyone. We need to design a distribution and entitlement scenario within a superimposed global structure everyone says yes to out of the recognition that in a nuclear age historic artificial religious and political boundaries and labels lose significance in the face of higher order governing principles such as stated above.

We are living a profound challenge. How do we create a planetary structure that will house all the disparate elements of a complexity of cultures that belie an extraordinary sameness we have discovered by experience? My prayer is that we are experiencing the last gasp of fear and resistance to what is inevitable if we are to survive. That is a way of authentically loving and empowering each other and simply getting along. The future holds vast potential. Our extraordinary artists can play a large part in helping us live into a new universe. We can start to portray the new world on the screens that entertain us. We have little to lose in trying. Let the inspectors keep going and revealing more information. Let the media exchange information. Let us continue learning more about the current situation by having the patience to let it unfold.

Let people go forth living the legacy they want to leave future generations. We can do that, or we can risk nuclear annihilation and become just another layer in the archeological record. It’s up to each one of us, everyday, to grieve what we have lost and create a better future. Death and destruction are the alternatives?

What legacy do you want to leave? What do you long for? Are you closer than you were?


Stewart Levine

Stewart Levine is the founder of ResolutionWorks that provides training, facilitation and conflict resolution services. This article is adapted from his book, Getting To Resolution (Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, 1998)  The book is a selection of the Executive Book Club and was nominated as a top ten business book for 1998. MORE >

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