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seduced from our target?

Mercifully, most of the enquiries about the bombing of Kosovo which I've had to deal with have been e-mail ones. With these, a couple of keystrokes wipe out my first draft of an answer and offer a blank screen for something more considered. Phone enquiries, on the other hand, have been trickier.
'What are you doing about the war?' the caller usually asks. The temptation to inquire 'Which war?' is great; however, that's no way to win hearts and minds. But what is? To answer 'Nothing', which, in the terms of the question, is the most accurate answer, doesn't feel right either.
Instead I try to explain, despite the silence deepening at the other end of the line, that we are indeed doing quite a lot about war. I explain about some of our projects: work in schools; forthcoming publications on nonviolence for parents and primary school teachers; Internet resources for schools, indeed for anyone interested in nonviolent approaches to aggression of all kinds.
But even as I ask the callers if they'd be interested in supporting or helping with any of this work, because it's a very good way of 'doing something about the war', I know I'm losing them. Most of them appear not even to have heard my question; they want to know if there's a demonstration 'today'.
The tendency to go for the quick fix is widespread and understandable. It's easy to rush out a 'statement', print a leaflet, issue a press release, stand on a street corner with an armful of fliers, go on a march - I can't count the number of times I've done all this over the years. It's exciting, there's a buzz about it: arguing about the text, rushing around to get things printed, tut-tutting about the latest horror, faxing and phoning the media. There's a sense of urgency, of purpose, of pulling together to redress a wrong. You get the picture.
But just as knee-jerk recourse to violence is often a sign of failure, so investing all energies in this kind of protest can be a sign of our failure. Certainly we must stand up to be counted at such times; but let's never forget when and where and how the real work needs to be done.
It is, of course, very hard not to feel impotent in the face of the world's most powerful country and the world's most powerful military alliance (the latter after 50 years of inactivity) as they embark on a dangerous and expensive war. It is depressing to see that, even when it's become obvious that bombing Yugoslavia has not achieved the originally-stated objectives, a growing number of people seem to support it.
In most wars objectives change with circumstances; failure to achieve the original aim is forgotten as new ones are strapped into the driving seat. Conveniently for NATO, hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanian refugees can be pointed to as the reason why 'Milosevic must be stopped'.
One of the most repellent formulations of this new-found justification comes from Guardian columnist Francis Wheen. 'Perhaps some people', he writes, ' genuinely believe that genocide is a lesser evil than bombing military installations. Fair enough.' But the choice is not between genocide and military installations. It's between challenging the international community to find and put in place effective, collective mechanisms for conflict prevention and resolution; and, on the other hand, continuing to suffer the consequences of post-war botched-up 'peace' agreements (like the recent one with Milosevic) with their all-too-familiar long-term results - human death and misery.
NATO's action was not undertaken to give the Kosovar Albanians independence. What NATO wanted save was its own credibility, and this need for credibility is what lies behind its air campaign. (See 'The Clinton Doctrine', page 20, for a wider picture.) Should the cause be genuinely humanitarian, such criticism would need scrutiny; but it really is difficult to put much faith in the stated humanitarian motives of those who initiated the bombing. (Ever heard any mention of bombing Turkey to protect the Kurds and support their struggle for independence?)
Those of us working for a peace without violence should take care not to be seduced from our 'target': the prevailing mentality that so readily turns to armed attack as a means of dealing with inter-state problems. A society that is prepared to support, at great cost, a system for dispensing death to hundreds of thousands by means of its newly-enhanced nuclear missiles is in a poor position to moralise about other peoples' policies of slaughter.
Certainly Slobodan Milosevic is a brutal leader who ought not to be in power, and at first sight his 'crimes' may seem worse than the 'mere' possession of nuclear weapons (which after all have not been used in anger for many years). But this misses the point. The possession of weapons like these is indicative of a society's casual attitude to the lives of fellow human beings; it is indicative of a state's killer 'instincts' in issues of conflict.
As British Aerospace, the world's third largest arms manufacturer (see page 6), enters into partnership with local education authorities, we should be thinking hard about the job we've got on our hands

Jan Melichar


  P E A C E  P L E D G E  U N I O N  1 Peace Passage London N7 0BT, Britain.
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