One of the goals or themes of the holiday season is peace. Many of the songs and traditions of the season reflect the idea of peace. Peace on earth, goodwill toward man and so on. So like many, I was taken aback when President Obama received so much criticism for the current peace initiative with Iran. It is not my purpose here to discuss the merits of the plan; clearly there are those with far more background than I have to do that. I simply want to raise some thoughts on peace. Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu said, “If you want peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.”
In virtually every religion from Judaism to Christianity, from Islam to Buddhism, peace is an objective. The word peace appears in the Christian Bible 429 times. Although sometimes in different contexts, the underlying theme is clear. Speaking from a mountainside Jesus in what are called The Beatitudes said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
While peace may have its challenges, war is expensive, as evidenced by our current national debt and recent financial meltdown. Local, state and federal programs for the poor have been scaled back in order to finance war. Can we really be proud of the fact that we are cutting back on food stamps for the poor during the holiday season? In south-central Los Angeles I recently helped distribute turkeys for Thanksgiving at the Jackson Limousine Company site. Over 10,000 people stood in line, some waited all night for a meal. Given this reality can we take pride in our war effort?
We celebrated the death of Osama Bin-Laden, and continue to pursue others we suspect were responsible for 9/11, yet everyday two or more of our returning veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, (PTSD) commits suicide. Moreover, tens of thousands are homeless and hundreds of thousands are unemployed. If we can’t take care of the men and women who fought the war, then this is a pretty hollow victory. “The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war,” Douglas McArthur.
In order to affect change we will have to do something different. While I have not studied the Iranian proposal, I know this, “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got,” Jackie “Moms” Mabley. It’s clear we haven’t achieved much success with what we’ve been doing; maybe it’s time to try something different? “All we are saying is give Peace a chance,” in the words of John Lennon.
The first person of color to win a Nobel Prize was Ralph Bunche in 1950. A graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School in Los Angeles, he was the valedictorian of his class at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and the first African American recipient of a PhD in political science, which he earned from Harvard University. He earned his Nobel Prize for brokering peace between the Israelis and the Arabs. Bunche was able to get both sides to sit down together and work through their differences. Ironically, one of the major challenges today in the Middle East is getting the warring sides to sit down and talk without preconditions.
Bunche was a pioneer of deploying the United Nations peace keeping forces, using the military to maintain peace and not make war. President Truman offered Bunche the job of Assistant Secretary of State which he turned down because the United States was still segregated. During his Nobel acceptance speech Bunche proposed something that could have maintained peace and saved thousands of lives, he said because Jerusalem is important to three of the world’s major religions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity) it should never be governed by a single state! It was Bunche who designed the map of the region which lasted until the Six Day War in 1967.
I am far from being an old peacenik of the 60’s, I believe freedom and justice must be defended, however, war should always be the last option. It was Dr. Martin Luther King who said, “Peace is not the absence of war, but the presence of justice.” And as we saw during the Los Angeles civil unrest in 1992, where there is no justice there is no peace.
Another obstacle to peace is the desire for power. In man’s attempt to assert his power over others, the price is quite often peace. “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace,” Jimi Hendrix.
So during this holiday season and throughout the year we should all commit ourselves to the ideal of peace. Let peace breakout across the world in place of war. Let feeding the hungry, ending sickness, clothing the naked, educating children and justice flowing down like a mighty stream, become the goal. May we be become less concerned with who gets the credit for an idea as opposed to how many people does it help? “Where ignorance is our master, there is no possibility of real peace,” Dalai Lama.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina took the name, Pope Francis, becoming the 266th Pope of the Catholic Church on March 13, 2013. He took the name Francis to demonstrate his concern for the poor. His namesake Saint Francis of Assisi abandoned the wealth and power of his family to lead a humble ministry, although he was not an ordained priest. Saint Francis offered this prayer, “Lord make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love.” Amen
Roderick D. Wright was elected to the State Senate in 2008. He represents the 35th District and is Chair of the Senate Governmental Organization Committee and vice chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus.