John Gittings: The Glorious Art of Peace

The author of The Glorious Art of Peace says history is usually studied and written from the perspective of war, and can look very different when viewed from the perspective of peace. The author John Gittings was part of the UK’s nuclear disarmament movement and an editor and writer for The Guardian. He’s also associate editor of The Oxford International Encyclopaedia of Peace. Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Gittings from The Browser:

Your book tours us through peace “from the Iliad to Iraq.” What core point did you most want to get across with it?

What I wanted to get across is that there is more than one perspective from which one can look at history. A lot of our history has been written from the perspective of war, and the moment you start looking at it from the perspective of peace, you get very different answers. That is why I began with “The Iliad,” because most people would regard it as a tale of war and not of peace.

You wanted to draw particular attention to Book 18 – why?

I would say, first of all, that throughout “The Iliad” there is a counter-narrative of lost opportunities for peace. Obviously, if peace had been achieved there would have been no Trojan war or it would have come to an end sooner. But Homer reminds us from time to time that there were alternatives. There’s a very remarkable scene in book two, near the beginning, when the entire Greek army, misunderstanding a speech by their commander Agamemnon, turns on its heels and runs to the boats, hoping to go back home. Homer is telling us that the rank and file were not bent on fighting to the end. The gods, on that occasion, intervene to stop the Greek army from sailing away. Even the wily Odysseus is unable to stop his men from launching their boats.

Book 18 is significant because it describes the making of a new shield for Achilles, who had withdrawn from battle. His friend Patroclus had borrowed his armor in his place and been killed, and his armor had been seized by the Trojans. So Achilles needed a new suit of armor, which was made for him by the heavenly blacksmith Hephaestus. If you read other accounts of Greek warriors, what you put on your shield is invariably something to frighten the enemy – a Gorgon’s head or a serpent or a wild lion. Homer instead describes a set of images on Achilles’ shield, almost all of which are concerned with peace not war – including young men and women dancing, laborers in the field bringing in the harvest grapes or plowing the fields, and a council in which a case is arbitrated by peaceful means. This assembly of images, in my view, is designed to tell us that there is, or should be, a peaceful alternative to war.

So Homer, or whoever wrote “The Iliad,” had a peace agenda?

This is also an example of the passages in Homer which lead me to believe he was a single individual, because if it was stitched together from epic material then a scene such as the above would not appear – there would be stock images of a much more conventional shield instead. Homer, like Shakespeare, encompassed all humanity in his work, and in “The Iliad” he encompasses peace as well as war. A number of Homeric scholars have pointed out that the text, as we have it, is divided roughly into three thirds. The central third is almost entirely concerned with war and fighting. But the first third, where the plot is developed, is very different, and so is the final third. So the subject matter of “The Iliad” is war, but the feelings and emotions of the people concerned are much more complex.

Read the whole interview.

Adrienne Rich: ‘Legislators of the World’

Poet Adrienne Rich (Staff photo Kris Snibbe/Harvard News Office)
In 2006, Adrienne Rich published this essay “Legislators of the World” in The Guardian saying, “In our dark times we need poetry more than ever.” At the time she had just been awarded the US National Book Foundation 2006 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and released her most recent book School Among the Ruins. Rich died this week at the age of 82. I’m including the full essay below because I think it is so important:

In “The Defence of Poetry” 1821, Shelley claimed that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world”. This has been taken to suggest that simply by virtue of composing verse, poets exert some exemplary moral power – in a vague unthreatening way. In fact, in his earlier political essay, “A Philosophic View of Reform,” Shelley had written that “Poets and philosophers are the unacknowledged” etc. The philosophers he was talking about were revolutionary-minded: Thomas Paine, William Godwin, Voltaire, Mary Wollstonecraft.

And Shelley was, no mistake, out to change the legislation of his time. For him there was no contradiction between poetry, political philosophy, and active confrontation with illegitimate authority. For him, art bore an integral relationship to the “struggle between Revolution and Oppression”. His “West Wind” was the “trumpet of a prophecy”, driving “dead thoughts … like withered leaves, to quicken a new birth”.

I’m both a poet and one of the “everybodies” of my country. I live with manipulated fear, ignorance, cultural confusion and social antagonism huddling together on the faultline of an empire. I hope never to idealise poetry – it has suffered enough from that. Poetry is not a healing lotion, an emotional massage, a kind of linguistic aromatherapy. Neither is it a blueprint, nor an instruction manual, nor a billboard. There is no universal Poetry, anyway, only poetries and poetics, and the streaming, intertwining histories to which they belong. There is room, indeed necessity, for both Neruda and César Valléjo, for Pier Paolo Pasolini and Alfonsina Storni, for both Ezra Pound and Nelly Sachs. Poetries are no more pure and simple than human histories are pure and simple. And there are colonised poetics and resilient poetics, transmissions across frontiers not easily traced.
Continue reading “Adrienne Rich: ‘Legislators of the World’”

Remembering Adrienne Rich

Poet Adrienne Rich (Staff photo Kris Snibbe/Harvard News Office)

I’m taking time to savor the work of Adrienne Rich, one of the greatest American poets of the 20th century who died this week at the age of 82. She articulated what it means to be a woman in a man-made world, giving thousands a dictionary of images and phrases to describe our own experience. And more than any other poet I know, Rich was relentless in pursuing a balance between politics and art without ever sacrificing the essence of either.

On the Role of the Poet:

“We may feel bitterly how little our poems can do in the face of seemingly out-of-control technological power and seemingly limitless corporate greed, yet it has always been true that poetry can break isolation, show us to ourselves when we are outlawed or made invisible, remind us of beauty where no beauty seems possible, remind us of kinship where all is represented as separation.”–Adrienne Rich

On Poetry and the Capitalist Model:

“Poetry has the capacity to remind us of something we are forbidden to see. A forgotten future: a still uncreated site whose moral architecture is founded not on ownership and dispossession, the subjection of women, outcast and tribe, but on the continuous redefining of freedom – that word now held under house arrest by the rhetoric of the ‘free’ market.”–Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich’s 1997 letter to Jane Alexander, head of the National Endowment for the Arts:

Dear Jane Alexander, I just spoke with a young man from your office, who informed me that I had been chosen to be one of twelve recipients of the National Medal for the Arts at a ceremony at the White House in the fall. I told him at once that I could not accept such an award from President Clinton or this White House because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration. I want to clarify to you what I meant by my refusal.

Anyone familiar with my work from the early Sixties on knows that I believe in art’s social presence—as breaker of official silences, as voice for those whose voices are disregarded, and as a human birthright. In my lifetime I have seen the space for the arts opened by movements for social justice, the power of art to break despair. Over the past two decades I have witnessed the increasingly brutal impact of racial and economic injustice in our country.

There is no simple formula for the relationship of art to justice. But I do know that art—in my own case the art of poetry—means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of power which holds it hostage. The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate. A President cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored. I know you have been engaged in a serious and disheartening struggle to save government funding for the arts, against those whose fear and suspicion of art is nakedly repressive. In the end, I don’t think we can separate art from overall human dignity and hope. My concern for my country is inextricable from my concerns as an artist. I could not participate in a ritual which would feel so hypocritical to me. Sincerely, Adrienne Rich (See July 16, 1997 Democracy Now interview with Rich)

An excerpt from Rich’s poem “Natural Resources,” in The Dream of a Common Language:

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed

I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,

with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.

A passion to make, and make again
where such un-making reigns. …

Tim Nafzinger: Financial Institutions and Babylon

At OLSX, St. Paul's. Photo credit: Duncan C., http://www.flickr.com/photos/duncan/6281021255/

As part of the Word and World mentoring circle that I belong to we have been reading Protestant theologian William Stringfellow and talking about the Occupy Movement.

Here’s a concise insight from Tim Nafzinger:

>>It’s very interesting, in light of our recent discussion on William Stringfellow’s An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land to read George Monbiot’s column in The Guardian naming the Corporation of the City of London (the official name of the square mile in London that houses many of the world’s most powerful banks and financial institutions) as “Babylon” in yesterday’s Guardian. Note this is a completely different legal entity from the London where 3 million people live. Monbiot writes:

It’s the dark heart of Britain, the place where democracy goes to die, immensely powerful, equally unaccountable. But I doubt that one in 10 British people has any idea of what the Corporation of the City of London is and how it works. This could be about to change. Alongside the Church of England, the Corporation is seeking to evict the protesters camped outside St Paul’s cathedral. The protesters, in turn, have demanded that it submit to national oversight and control. …

[The City] has also made the effective regulation of global finance almost impossible. Shaxson shows how the absence of proper regulation in London allowed American banks to evade the rules set by their own government. AIG’s wild trading might have taken place in the US, but the unit responsible was regulated in the City. Lehman Brothers couldn’t get legal approval for its off-balance sheet transactions in Wall Street, so it used a London law firm instead. No wonder priests are resigning over the plans to evict the campers. The Church of England is not just working with Mammon; it’s colluding with Babylon.

Fittingly enough, from a Stringfellow perspective, this private banking world is often just referred to as “The City.”

Monbiot’s naming and shaming (along with the resignation of three Church of England clergy members) seems to have had its effect. This morning the Church of England stopped its attempts to evict Occupy London. Now it’s just Babylon against them…<<

Thanks Tim.

BP: Is It Time to Ban Companies Again?

It appears that BP has decided it needs tips from the Spin Master to protect its thoroughly corroded reputation in the U.S. No, they haven’t hired Republican strategist Frank Luntz. Instead they head-hunted Anne Womack-Kolton to take up the lead role for BP’s U.S. media relations.

In one of her previous jobs Anne was  press secretary to the Master of the Dark Arts, none other than Dick Cheney himself. She was also the handler on the National Energy Policy Development Group aka Vice President Cheney’s “Energy Task Force” that was supposed to be made up of “government officials” and ended up being packed with CEOs from BP, Chevron, Enron, ConocoPhillips, American Petroleum Institute, and … wait for it … Grover Norquist and Gail Norton’s Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy.

With BP’s stock in a much-applauded death spiral, we can now look forward to the high-sheen of Anne’s corporate disinformation campaign.

Carcass of a decomposing dolphin on rocks at Queen Bess Island in Gulf of Mexico.

Additionally, in the last few days more than 300,000 people have joined the Boycott BP Facebook campaign and are demonstrating in the streets, at BP gas stations, and boycotting BP products (such as Castrol, Arco, Aral, AM /PM, Amoco, and Wild Bean Cafe).

The best news is that Attorney General Eric Holder is opening a criminal investigation against BP. This is exactly how a government should behave and I applaud Holder’s forward movement on this.

In my estimation, BP should be banned for 50 years from doing business in the United States. Whether or not criminal charges are brought against the company, they are guilty of criminal malfeasance and endangering thousands of lives.

Here’s a section from a great article in The Guardian:

Robert Reich, the former labour secretary under Bill Clinton, today called for BP’s US operations to be seized by the government until the leak had been plugged. A group called Seize BP is planning demonstrations in 50 US cities, calling for the company to be stripped of its assets. The stock plunged 15% , or $6.43, to close at $36.52 at the end regular trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

The criminal investigation announced by the American attorney general was launched just hours after Obama promised to prosecute any parties found to have broken the law in the lead up to the disaster. The president dropped several threatening comments into a 10-minute address from the White House to mark the start of an independent commission to look into the causes of explosion.

But the reality is that even if there was enough public and political pressure to close down British Petroleum, we wouldn’t have solved the problem. These massive environmental catastrophe’s are going to continue.

Here’s the radical wisdom of Catholic teaching that addresses this situation from Pope Benedict’s encyclical Charity and Truth:

The Church’s social doctrine has always maintained that justice must be applied to every phase of economic activity, because this is always concerned with man and his needs. Locating resources, financing, production, consumption and all the other phases in the economic cycle inevitably have moral implications. Thus every economic decision has a moral consequence. The social sciences and the direction taken by the contemporary economy point to the same conclusion. Perhaps at one time it was conceivable that first the creation of wealth could be entrusted to the economy, and then the task of distributing it could be assigned to politics. Today that would be more difficult, given that economic activity is no longer circumscribed within territorial limits, while the authority of governments continues to be principally local. Hence the canons of justice must be respected from the outset, as the economic process unfolds, and not just afterwards or incidentally….

In the global era, the economy is influenced by competitive models tied to cultures that differ greatly among themselves. The different forms of economic enterprise to which they give rise find their main point of encounter in commutative justice. Economic life undoubtedly requires contracts, in order to regulate relations of exchange between goods of equivalent value. But it also needs just laws and forms of redistribution governed by politics, and what is more, it needs works redolent of the spirit of gift. The economy in the global era seems to privilege the former logic, that of contractual exchange, but directly or indirectly it also demonstrates its need for the other two: political logic, and the logic of the unconditional gift.

Maybe BP can convert itself into a transnational nonprofit dedicated to establishing bioreserves where they pay local communities to keep the oil in the ground and to keep the natural habitats healthy and whole.

Video: Time for the Tobin Tax? Bill Nighy Says Aye

Thanks for Marc Batko over at Demandside for pointing out this hilarious video with Richard Curtis (“Four Weddings and a Funeral”) and Bill Nighy (“The Constant Gardener” and “Love Actually”) promoting the Tobin Tax or Robin Hood Tax (“robbing the rich to give to the poor”) campaign in the U.K.

Tobin Taxes are excise taxes on cross-border currency transactions. Any national legislature or financial regulatory commission can enact them — and multilateral agreements can be made to enforce them. The revenue is explicitly dedicated to basic environmental and human needs.

According to Jim Tobin, the a Ph.D. Nobel-laureate economist at Yale University who first introduced the idea, such taxes will “help tame currency market volatility and restore national economic sovereignty.”

Read the whole article from The Guardian here). What do the financial experts say about how this kind of tax would work?

Experts’ view of the Tobin Tax:

Joseph Stiglitz, professor of economics at Columbia University: “A tax structure that does not reward short-term, very speculative gains would be good. If you were investing for a year or five years or 10 years it would be a small tax but if you were holding it for just one minute it becomes a very high tax. The important question is implementability. It’s designed to tackle high frequency activity for which it is hard to find any societal benefit. The only question is, can it be effectively implemented? Will it be circumvented? There’s a growing consensus it can be implemented, if not perfectly, effectively enough to make a difference.”

Ann Pettifor, fellow, New Economics Foundation: “The proposed currency transaction tax (CTT) represents the tiniest grain of sand in the wheels of global, mobile capital, and places very little restraint on the movement of international capital. For that reason CTT will be welcomed, ultimately, by international financial institutions. The proposal lacks a framework of democratic, accountable governance for the disbursement of funds collected under a CTT scheme. NGOs and treasuries are debating whether funds should go, for example, to national treasuries; to the Global Fund to fight Aids, TB and Malaria, or to the UN for mitigation and adaption to climate change. Until disbursement and distribution of CTT revenues are accounted for in a democratic, fair, and transparent way, the CTT will be vulnerable to attack.”

David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce: “It may have potential. I’m not sure it’s the most appropriate thing. I think the main argument against it is that it’s most unlikely to be implemented globally. If a tax could be applied it would have beneficial effects … My reservation is that for the UK to engage in this unilaterally would be a very dangerous thing to do because it would destroy the country’s financial sector. People and businesses would migrate to other places. If the US and big European countries implemented it as well then it would not harm our financial sector as much.”

Waterboarding is “Tip of the Iceberg” says U.S. Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley

Yesterday on CNN Live, Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley outlined how waterboarding is only the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to torture by U.S. military and paramilitary contractors.

Call the White House comment line at 202-456-1111 and tell President Obama to not back down on closing Guantanamo.

Last February, before Binyam’s release, Bradley wrote a piece for The Guardian outlining in greater detail her experience representing Binyam. Here’s an excerpt:

I am a lawyer and a soldier, and I act for [UK citizen] Binyam Mohamed, who is currently on hunger strike in Guantánamo Bay. …

The Joint Task Force, which runs Guantánamo Bay, gives me no information about Binyam. When I called to enquire about his condition, they said first, that they would look into it and then that they would tell me nothing and that I should make a Freedom of Information request, which would have taken months to process. Therefore, whenever I want information about Binyam, I have to make the 5-hour trip to Guantánamo. Each time, he asks why he is still there.

It is worth bearing in mind that all charges against Binyam have been dropped and that Binyam’s chief prosecutor resigned, citing the unfairness of the system.

I profoundly hope that he is not being kept in Guantánamo to avoid information surrounding his rendition and torture coming out.

Read Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley’s full commentary in The Guardian.

Read the transcript of Clive Stafford Smith and Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley’s address to a UK Parliament subcommittee on “extraordinary rendition” about the Guantanamo prisoners the two are representing.