What’s it like to be a graduate student studying Refugee and Forced Migration Studies? Well, when I’m not working one of my two jobs or studying, I’m contemplating everything I’m learning in those settings. Thus, I find myself in my dimly lit living room tonight, listening to rock music, distracted from my research while I contemplate the heart-warming topic of war.
I am a pacifist because I believe in the inherent worth of human life and don’t believe that anyone has the right to take that from another, no matter how heinous we think the “other” may be. War and conflict are highly complicated, with layers of ethical questions about the “ultimate good,” but when it comes down to it, I’m compelled by the image of God in every individual and am a pacifist by principle. As the nonviolent Anabaptists say, “The way of peace is the way of life.”
Right now, I don’t buy into the idea of a just war. How does a fallible human decide what’s “just” enough to kill for or what a “serious probability of success” is?
How can a man be master of another’s life, if he is not even master of his own? Hence he ought to be poor in spirit, and look at Him who for our sake became poor of His own will; let him consider that we are all equal by nature, and not exalt himself impertinently against his own race…— Gregory of Nyssa, Homilies on the Beatitudes
However, I’ve learned from David Keen’s book Complex Emergencies that war is truly profitable, and in many cases, foreign countries continue to pump money toward weapons or misdirected aid so it can continue. (Read the book. I can’t recommend it enough. He also discusses the difficulty of defining the enemy — another reason why the idea of just war seems questionable — and combatant grievances.)
Moreover, war is the livelihood for many folks. Where do they go if the conflict ends? For some, this career is more profitable and fulfilling than working the farms from whence they came, for example. So it seems that in order to make peace, alternative career pathways need to be created for soldiers and militia members to become upwardly mobile in non-violent careers.
(Can you tell I’m a youth career navigator? 😉 I geek out to workforce development, but that’s besides the point.)
Addressing the economic functions of violent conflicts is one way to seek peace. I’m particularly curious about career pathways for soldiers and militia members, as they often find both economic gain and status in their positions. However, violence begets violence, and this is the cycle we want to break.
If you’ve worked with gangs in any capacity, please share your experience in the comments. I believe it is highly relatable. If you’re working in countries like the DRC where jobs are scarce, I’d value your input as well.
The creation of work that is both meaningful and profitable seems essential to forming effective, alternative pathways for people to support themselves and their families without harming others in the process. I know Un Jour Nouveau is doing amazing work in this regard in Congo and would love to discuss more about this below. Please comment and share to continue the conversation on nonviolent solutions for both civilians and combatants!
Note: While researching militias for this post, I was particularly thinking about the DRC, but instead I found web pages full of white supremacist groups discussing how they’re allegedly not supremacists but are “defenders,” claiming they’re allegedly not like the news portrays, or others asking if the reader was a part of their local militia and inviting them to join. These are freely accessible on the internet, not on hidden sites.
I’m highly disturbed and concerned, since I hadn’t been aware of just how prevalent these violent groups were in my country. The economic argument above does not apply to these folks as they hold jobs but are voluntarily joining militias out of nationalist agendas, so the steps to stop violence before it happens will look different in those cases than in the scenarios above.
I highly suggest reading Complex Emergencies for a more thorough understanding of what causes and continues conflicts. The goal of this post is to find nonviolent solutions to increase the welfare of women and children who are so often abused by war, protect others who are displaced, and to assist the ones holding the guns and machetes so they can integrate into society and live peaceful, fulfilled lives. Thanks for joining the conversation!