Thinking nonviolence while bombing Libya

by Mary Ann McGivern

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I am so aware of my own human impulses to kill, to seek revenge, to cast blame. When I lived at the Catholic Worker and kids got into trouble they would say “Nonviolence is your strength,” quoting my Cesar Chavez button.

I’d answer, “Nonviolence is the ideal I strive for. I might not live up to it.”

The kids would laugh and promise to be good. They were secure in the confidence I would never hit them, and I was secure in that confidence too. I wouldn’t hit anyone.

But I recognize in myself the desire to hit, or, in the current case, to bomb Libyan airbases. I recognize the desire of the revolutionaries to fight. I even recognize Gaddafi’s desire to strike out in righteous indignation and repress the rebellion. I’ve felt all those impulses. I just know they won’t lead to anything good.

Young men and women in Egypt and Tunisia stood together and faced down violence. They were probably plenty afraid, but they had the good fortune to live through the experience and taste dignity and empowerment. Together they own their revolution. What is ahead of them is difficult and may fail. But they’ve made a good start.

Young men in Libya, on the other hand, have had a taste of killing as well as fear. Women haven’t been able to be part of the action but are victims of plenty of suffering. Even if they prevail, this is a tough beginning of the task of building a nation.

I only learned yesterday that, under George W. Bush, the State Department resumed selling arms to Libya and Barack Obama’s government continued the sales. So we have a share of the responsibility.

Of course the internal argument would have been that other countries were doing it. Indeed, the missile strikes in Tripoli a few days ago took out Russian-made missiles.

When will we ever learn? Or, as Gandhi answered, when asked what he thought of western civilization, “I think it would be a good idea.”

Anyway, there we are, bombing Libya. Obama makes a good case. I don’t want Gaddafi to slaughter thousands or hundreds of thousands of Libyans either. But we’ve come to this pass because of 200 years of decisions to support war by all the members of so-called western civilization.

So I pray. I cry a little. I resolve to work harder on tracking foreign arms sales and opposing them. You should too.

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