May 18, 2008

My husband and I are embarking on a two-week bicycle trip today. I am looking forward to being away from computers and the internet during that time, so I obviously won’t be blogging. See you in a couple weeks!

From seeing injustice to being a revolutionary

May 17, 2008

Last night I watched the movie “The Motorcycle Diaries“, which tells the true story a young Che Guevara and his friend who traveled through South America on a motorcycle (and various other means of transportation) in the 1950s. Che Guevara was in medical school at the time and the second part of the movie focuses on three weeks that the two spend in a leper colony in Peru. The movie itself is really good, probably one of the best movies I have seen (this was in fact the second time I watched it). It has adventure, but it is not just adventure; it also shows the variety of injustices that the men observe during their travels (including within the leper colony). Overall, the story is told with both sensitivity and a sense of fun, and Che is depicted as a sensitive man who is deeply moved by the injustices they see.

It is difficult for me to reconcile this depiction of Che Guevara with who he was later in life: a communist revolutionary who was deeply involved with Cuba and is known for leading men in guerrilla warfare. I realize that the way he is portrayed in the movie is not necessarily entirely accurate of who he actually was, but it is based on the journals that he kept, and in these journals, according to the wiki page about him, he does describe being moved by injustice (the following is from a 1960 journal entry:

I came into close contact with poverty, hunger and disease; with the inability to treat a child because of lack of money; with the stupefaction provoked by the continual hunger and punishment, to the point that a father can accept the loss of a son as an unimportant accident, as occurs often in the downtrodden classes of our American homeland. And I began to realize at that time that there were things that were almost as important to me as becoming famous for making a significant contribution to medical science: I wanted to help those people.

I find it a bit sad that someone who so deeply wanted to help people felt that the way to do this was through violence. I suppose that he was not the only revolutionary like that. In fact, I imagine that many of the people who start or participate in revolutions are in fact trying to fix a perceived injustice. Why do so many people so readily turn to violent means to accomplish such lofty goals?

I too am saddened by the injustices I see in the world, and I too want to help people. But I feel strongly that they way to do this is most definitely not through violence. I think that the most significant way to make this world a better place for everyone is through helping to create lasting peace. An idealistic goal, I know, but what else are ideals for? I believe that peaceful revolutions are possible, and that it is not necessary to use violence to remedy injustices.

In spite of my misgivings about Che Guevara’s later life, I do highly recommend “The Motorcycle Diaries”.

Thoughts on weapons

May 13, 2008

As I was writing a comment in response to AS’s comment on my post on UN Peacekeeping, I realized something. I am not EVER comfortable with the use of weapons against other human beings, in any format or for any reason. I think weapons are the most horrendous invention to have ever been created. Yes, I realize that they were originally invented for hunting, to kill animals for food, but they have evolved well beyond what is needed or used to kill animals. I also thinking the killing of animals for sport is horrendous, but most of all I am completely sickened by the awful devices humans have come up with to kill other human beings.

I do realize that there are irrational people out there. I do not know what the best way to deal with such people is. I am loath to condone violence in any form, but perhaps weapons and violence are indeed the best way to deal with irrational people. However, even I were to acknowledge evidence that this is the best thing, I am still not comfortable with the use of weapons. I also think that in our current culture, it is impossible to distinguish situations where weapons truly are the only option from situations where other actions would have been better. We are way too trigger-happy. So before I could fully admit that a particular situation did indeed warrant violence, we would need to do away with all the situations where violence is used unnecessarily. Until then (which I unfortunately can’t foresee happening anytime soon), I will continue to find it difficult to look at a situation and say with 100% confidence that violence was the only option.

Update on Pangea Day

May 12, 2008

A few weeks ago I posted about Pangea Day, a four-hour worldwide event of original films, music, and presentations. It happened last Saturday, May 10. I did not watch anything during the event itself, but I just went to the website and found that many of the films and other parts of the event are available for viewing online. So far, I have watched the inspiring film “Moving Windmills” and I’m looking forward to watching more pieces of the event.

Article: The Defining Moment for Climate Change

May 11, 2008

The Defining Moment for Climate Change is an excellent article. It does not beat around the bush, or try to make the actions we need to take sound easier than they are. It simply states the cold, hard facts. If we want civilization to continue as we know it, we need to decrease the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to a maximum of 350 parts per million now. This is not going to be easy, but there is still hope. We can still make choices that will help do this, instead of work against it. To help make people aware of the importance of this, the author of the article, Bill McKibben, has started a grassroots movement at

UN Peacekeeping

May 9, 2008

When I was searching on “law enforcement officer” last week, I came across the wiki article on peacekeeping. It specifically discusses UN Peacekeeping, an official operation of the United Nations. I didn’t read the article at the time, but I was startled by the fact that an article on peacekeeping contained a picture of people (who were clearly the peacekeepers) carrying guns. So I went back and read the article yesterday, and followed the links to the official UN site about it.

The stated goal of the UN peacekeeping operation (from their website) is “to help countries torn by conflict create the conditions for lasting peace”. The primary people who make up a peacekeeping operation are from the military (from a neutral country), and they carry guns. Now, I am not particularly familiar with the atmosphere of a place where there has recently been a cease-fire, but it seems to me that, generally speaking, using guns to keep peace is a bit of an oxymoron. You cannot force anybody to be peaceful. If people are only keeping the peace because they are under the threat of violence from a third party, how does that help anything?

As I looked into it further, I found the official principals and guidelines of the UN Peacekeeping Operation. I have not read the entire document (it is quite long), but I have skimmed through parts of it and a few things have mitigated my concerns slightly. One point is that peacekeeping is only one aspect of the many different things the UN does, including conflict prevention, peacemaking, peace enforcement, and peacebuilding. Within this context, it became more clear to me that the primary goal of the peacekeepers is to ensure that a mutually agreed-upon cease-fire is adhered to, and that there are other operations working simultaneously on creating more lasting peace. I was reassured to read that there is recognition of the fact that “While the deployment of a multi-dimensional United Nations peacekeeping operation may help to stem violence in the short-term, it is unlikely to result in a sustainable peace unless accompanied by programmes design to prevent the recurrence of conflict.”

According to the document, the three principles of peacekeeping are consent of the parties, impartiality, and non-use of force except in self-defense and defence of the mandate. The third principle allows peacekeepers to use force at a tactical level, with the ultimate aim in doing so being “to influence and deter spoilers working against the peace process or seeking to harm civilians; and not to seek their military defeat.” Again, this disturbs me slightly. I realize that in a place where there is a lot of conflict and has recently been war, there are going to be people who do violent actions and try to block the peace process, but I still find myself wondering if force is indeed the only or best way to handle such eruptions. This is of course a very difficult question and one which is asked by the idealist in me. The UN clearly believes that force is effective, as they state that “By proactively using force in defense of their mandates, these United Nations peacekeeping operations have succeeded in improving the security situation and creating an environment conducive to longer-term peacebuilding in the countries where they are deployed.” I am a bit skeptical, because I don’t believe that true peace can EVER be obtained as long as force is considered a viable aspect of the solution. In the continued discussion of using force, it does say that “In its use of force, a United Nations peacekeeping operation should always be mindful of the need for an early de-escalation of violence and a return to non-violent means of persuasion.” This brings another question to my mind: do the peacekeepers in fact de-escalate as soon as possible? The individuals in the peacekeeping operation are for the most part from the military. They have been trained to use violence as a means of resolving conflict. Thus, I find it difficult to believe that they would even be capable of recognizing how soon de-escalation is possible, because their perspective is skewed by the way in which they have been trained to view violence.

resource on conflicts

May 5, 2008

I just came across this awesome website: Beyond Intractability. It contains a huge knowledge base on the topic of “intractable” conflicts – ones which seem impossible to resolve. They also offer online, self-paced courses using the materials available through the site. I’m not sure I want to pay for a course – it seems the main thing you get are questions you have to write answers to, and an instructor who will evaluate your responses (and, I suppose, to whom you can ask questions throughout the course) – but I’m thinking about trying to read through some of the material on my own in a structured manner. I spend a lot of time thinking about peace and conflict resolution, but I haven’t spent much time following a structured program of learning more about these topics (I do read related non-fiction books but those are usually quite different from reading a series of articles the way one would in a college course). I think it would therefore be useful for me to be disciplined about studying a topic in depth, and this seems like a good place to start. I’m hoping it may also help me determine if peace and conflict studies is something I would like to pursue a formal education in someday (an idea I have toyed with, but I don’t think I am nearly at a point where I am willing to commit the time and money to more schooling. For one thing, I’d need to figure out what I’d do with such schooling first. For another thing, the memory of homework and tests from college is still a bit too recent. And for a third thing, I seriously dislike writing papers for classes).