War is not the Answer – so, what is?

by Doug Bennett

“War Is Not the Answer.” Perhaps you’ve had that bumper sticker on your car, or perhaps you still have that lawn sign. Perhaps you know that these come from the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Likely that sentence expresses something you feel deeply. It certainly speaks for me.

But what is the next sentence? And what is the next sentence after that? If war is not the answer, what might the answer be?

Bumper stickers are fine for some purposes, but if Quakers want to be taken seriously in discussions of foreign policy, we are going to need something more than a slogan. We’re going to need a clear, coherent, positive program to offer as an alternative.

In early April the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) gathered three dozen people at Pendle Hill for a consultation on “Re-Imagining U.S. Foreign Policy.” A draft report with that title had been prepared in advance, and we spent some of our time talking together about how the draft might be improved.

But most of our time together was devoted, with considerable enthusiasm around the circle, to envisioning what it would take to have a sustained Quaker voice on foreign policy.

One taproot to a Quaker understanding of almost anything is a conviction that there is ‘that of God’ in each and every one of us. We believe that God loves each of us, and in loving us, speaks within us if we will only listen.

A Quaker foreign policy begins, therefore, with the insistence that we give each and every human being equal respect. We believe “war is not the answer” because we believe every human life is sacred and not to be squandered in violent conflict.

Today, the U.S. acts as if “our lives” our more important than “their lives,” noted one participant.  Moreover, the U.S. believes that protecting “our lives” requires maintaining overwhelming military superiority; and believes further that this country is justified it using its military might whenever it decides to use it.  Our posture is that no other country is our peer in either might or right.

A Quaker foreign policy would proceed from a strikingly different understanding of security, not one that supposes separation from and superiority over others, but rather one that seeks to find broad areas of mutuality and shared interest.  Our security conception would be one of “shared security.”

A Quaker foreign policy would pro-actively seek non-violent approaches to conflict before they turn ugly and violent, work to extend the rule of law, be committed to restorative justice, and pursue sustainability and wise stewardship of this earth.

I am naming just a few of the largest concepts that threaded through our discussion. Sound different? Surely. Sound utopian? Perhaps, but so would anything that broke with the insistence that the U.S. exercise global hegemony. Remember, “war is not the answer.” Of course, making this fresh conception a real and credible alternative will take sustained work that develops detailed approaches to many different contexts and problems around the world. Many more of us will have to contribute our talents and best efforts.

Please look for the discussion paper which should arrive in Quaker meeting house and church mail boxes this week or next.  And in the months that follow, look for opportunities to contribute your ideas, too, to this emerging, Quaker – and more importantly, human – understanding of shared security.

About the author: Douglas Bennett is clerk of AFSC’s Friends Relations Committee, a member of AFSC’s Corporation, as well as as a member of AFSC’s Standing Nominating Committee. Doug is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. His scholarly publications include Transnational Corporations Versus the State: the Political Economy of the Mexican Automobile Industry, co-authored with Kenneth Sharpe (Princeton University Press, 1985), and many articles on transnational corporations in developing countries, immigration, and other topics in public policy and in higher education. Doug serves on the FCNL General Committee. In the past Doug has served on various of AFSC’s advisory committees.  He is married to Ellen Trout Bennett, and has two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).   He is a member of First Friends Meeting in Richmond, Indiana, part of the New Association of Friends that is forming in the midwest. You can learn more about Doug at his blog.


5 thoughts on “War is not the Answer – so, what is?

  1. Pingback: War Is Not the Answer — So What Is? | River View Friend

  2. Shared Security would certainly be a vast improvement on Mutually Assured Destruction ( which still appears to be our default setting).

  3. Hi Doug,

    This post represents a wonderful attempt at implementing Jesus’ teaching, “Love Your Enemy” at an international level. It is coincidental that just this past Sunday at my meeting’s adult RE session we were discussing this teaching, and wondered what would it be like if the U.S. implemented a foreign policy based on it. We discussed how it would contain elements of listening, respect, and understanding, and most importantly viewing others as of equal worth. When you “love your enemies” you are always willing to connect with “that of God” in them – period. Doing that over time will ensure that mutual trust, respect, and acceptance grows stronger and stronger. It is not just a teaching of Jesus, it is a natural law that works to heal the human condition.

    It’s about time the world tries it.

  4. I suggest the common, albeit rare, call to true courage; which personally/nationally risks losing everything and gains nothing in the venture, except human/universal validation of humanity.

  5. William James wrote about voluntary poverty as a constructive alternative to war insofar as it required the kind of discipline, shared sacrifice and courage that are part of the mythology–and perhaps sometimes also the practice–of war. I think it’s also a practical alternative to fighting over increasingly scarce resources: learn to use less of them. In that sense, I suppose, less shared security than shared acceptance of our insecurity.

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