Volume 1, Number 23
24 September 2001

Pacifism in the Face of Terror, Part 2

Dear Friends,

Quakers especially have been doing a lot of introspection about the responsibility of the United States for the attacks of last Tuesday (9/11). Since World War II our Congress has abdicated to the President the initiative to invade or bomb many places around the world, on his own say-so alone. Especially we are conscious of the bombing of Iraq and the foreign aid and support for Israel as it continues to encroach upon Palestinian territory. While our government has officially disapproved of Israel's new settlements, we have not told them emphatically NO, we will not support you if you do that. I believe the Palestinians should have a separate state with a firm boundary, probably the one approved by the United Nations in 1947 (which the Palestinians rejected, but they might accept it now). Our government should insist upon that.

However, those who call us "The Great Satan" have other complaints, many of which — unlike the above — are not true. Those who call us "The Great Satan" generally do not understand the values of Western society — freedom of speech, democracy, freedom to travel, and the rest. We encourage this misunderstanding when Quakers repeat the statements reproduced below, which were collected by Janet Minshall, co-editor of The Friendly Woman and a member of the TQE editorial board. She heard all the following statements by prominent Quakers, investigated them, and published her findings this year in The Friendly Woman, vol. 14:5. We reprint them below with her permission.

Sincerely your friend,

Jack Powelson

Myths and Misunderstandings

by Janet Minshall

1. "The Capitalist system under which we now live has created a great disparity of resources between rich and poor."

Not so. Capitalism, throughout its more than 300-year history, has steadily narrowed the gap between rich and poor. Merchant capitalism, the precursor of our present-day Capitalism, arose out of the breakdown of feudalism in the 13th and 14th Centuries. Merchant capitalism was not Capitalism, but there were relations established between owner and worker which eventually evolved into Capitalism and created the possibility of accumulation of capital by ordinary, untitled people as well as upward financial/social movement which produced the middle class.

From 1973 to 1996 the increase in population in the United States and the demographic bulge it produced augmented the supply of workers. Not enough new jobs were created, so the growth of wages was suppressed. In the boom years of 1997-99, however, all of the shortfall in job creation and wages from the previous 23 years was made up so that we reached very close to full employment at markedly higher wages. In addition, computers produced great increases in efficiency in a short period of time. This has created a concentration of wealth that the market has not yet absorbed by providing super-high salaries for technology workers and an astounding increase in the number of new technology millionaires. Thus innovation, and a fortunate turn in the business cycle, has held the overall relationship between rich and poor in this country relatively steady.

2. "Another significant trend has been the increased poverty of women."

Actually, over the course of Capitalist history, the poverty of women has been steadily decreasing, not increasing. Fundamentalist Islamic societies like Afghanistan's, which have actually gone backwards by restricting the ownership of property by women, are far outweighed by the world's developed and developing economies which, over the past hundred years, have specifically granted women the right to work for pay, to retain control of that pay, and to retain control of any property bought or inherited.

What is increasing (and this is an important point) is population, making it extremely difficult , even with all the economic changes which have benefited women directly, for them to remain above the poverty level. All the additional resources, for example, appropriated for maternal and child health must now be spread over a much larger and still rapidly expanding number of women and children. The world's explosive population growth can be seen as comparable to an epidemic. In countries experiencing an alarming increase in the number of HIV infected persons, even significantly increased allocations of funds for health care cannot keep up with the rapid spread of the disease.

3. "Corporations, especially multinational corporations, are predominantly malevolent and are engaged in illegal practices which do harm to their workers, consumers, and the general public."

In "The Criminal Element", a paper circulated among Quaker e-mail groups about a year ago, Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman spoke of "pervasive criminality in the marketplace" and listed one-hundred corporations found guilty of illegal activities worldwide. However, nearly half the corporations listed were not US- based. There are many, many corporations based and originating outside the US which have been or could be charged with illegal activities. To take 50 of them and combine them with 50 US-based corporations found guilty of illegal practices to show "pervasive criminality in the marketplace" is dishonest. What US anti-capitalist and anti-corporate activists have claimed in their writings was that US-based global corporate capitalism was criminal in its activities. Lacking evidence to prove this, they lied with statistics by creating the pool of 100 corporations cited.

In fact, of the 500 largest and most profitable corporations based in the US, represented by the index called the Standard and Poor's (S&P) 500, slightly more than half can pass a social responsibility screen indicating that they neither make weapons nor parts and supplies for weapons, that they do not make or supply ingredients for alcohol or tobacco products, that they are not involved in any way with gambling or with the nuclear power industry, that they have good records on product quality, consumer relations, environmental performance, employee and community relations, AND that they have positive policies and performance on the hiring and promotion of minorities and women. Think about it, fifty or so US corporations found guilty of illegal activities and more than two-hundred and fifty of the largest and most profitable US corporations which can pass a social responsibility screen. I think that comparison is impressive!

Through socially conscious investing, in which we buy stocks or mutual funds comprised solely of companies which pass a social investment screen, Friends can actively support the many, many good corporate citizens among us.

4. "Friends should not invest or do business in markets in countries with a history of significant human rights and/or women's rights violations."

Actually, there is evidence that investing and doing business in such markets has a significantly positive effect on both the level of human rights in general, and the level of women's rights in particular in those countries. Investment always carries with it the values of the investor. If a foreign company pays women and minorities less for work done, and treats them poorly according to custom, US investment forces them to face the reality that such differential treatment costs the company potential profits. (We've all known ever since we first started talking about prejudice that it is counter-productive and costly. Business has made that realization a part of "good business practices".) Thus positive social changes which would ordinarily take decades or even centuries to evolve are speeded up and reinforced by the introduction of values of equality in the workplace, and those values of equality then spill over into the economy and the society as a whole. While we, living in the US, may not think of US workplaces as particularly egalitarian, by comparison with workplace relations in many other countries, ours are exemplary.

This point touches on another very controversial concern. Often anti-development activists speak out harshly about the need to preserve "traditional beliefs, values and practices" in other societies. Friends have to decide, however, whether they can support those traditional beliefs, values and practices if they involve the subjugation of one group or sex by another, as is often the case. Do we insist on equality only in our own culture and turn away our eyes from the racism, extreme sexual inequality and related oppression in many traditional cultures?

5. "The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an elite organization composed of representatives whose participation is determined by how much their governments pay. The WTO meets together periodically to find ways of moving companies and jobs out of the US and circumventing US environmental standards. The WTO should be dismantled and its policies exposed."

The first sentence of the quote is quite true, but the rest is false. The number of representatives to the WTO is determined by how much a government pays to support the organization. The WTO does not set environmental standards. Each country sets its own standards and chooses how to enforce them. Neither does the WTO suggest the relocation of companies and jobs outside the US. Individual corporations make those changes on the basis of their internal production needs.

Throughout our history monumental changes have occurred as a result of organizational structures developed by and favoring the wealthiest and most powerful men of the dominant culture. The Magna Carta eight hundred years ago, and the Declaration of Independence/US Constitution more than two hundred years ago are but two examples. These dramatic declarations and the organizational structures that developed from them began a process of democratization which eventually resulted in extending to ordinary people rights previously granted only to the privileged. What a mistake it would have been if those initial efforts and organizational structures were overthrown because they did not immediately enfranchise and fully support the interests of the poorest and least powerful.

As for globalization and its effects, Quakers have been very active in promoting globalization and improved trade relations between all the countries of the world at least since WWI. The process of globalization and the acceptance of common standards for trade were seen by Friends as necessary steps toward world peace. But we have recently forgotten our own history and are now following the lead , primarily, of narrowly focused union representatives who care, first and foremost, about preserving the jobs and wages of American workers.

In order for the rest of the world to share in the material advantages and standard of living we have come to enjoy, the kinds of jobs American workers do will have to change. If the unions and their sympathizers spent their time, energy and money retraining American workers in dying "old economy" industries to fill the many unfilled jobs in the "new economy" technology and communications industries the fear level among displaced American workers would diminish dramatically. They would no longer be prompted to demonstrate against globalization and change. Indeed, they would welcome globalization as an expansion of the markets they serve.

Young people graduating from our high schools are not prepared to learn the new skills and more difficult functions required in the jobs actually available now. If the unions and their sympathizers made improvement of the US educational system their highest priority, the US would not have to import huge numbers of highly educated people from other countries. We are, in effect raiding the brain power of the rest of the world in order to make up for the serious inadequacies of our own educational system.

6. "We, as Friends, must support the initiative, called Jubilee 2000, whose focus is to forgive the debts of countries around the world."

It is clear that loans to many Third World or Less Developed Countries (LDCs) were made inappropriately as a result of intense political pressure and/or inaccurate information obtained about the countries' ability to repay. Those loans should most certainly be written off by the lenders as "bad debts" and lending policies should be thoroughly reviewed to preclude repeating the same mistakes in the future. This reality has already been recognized in the highest echelons of global Capitalism as the only practical alternative to resolve the ongoing problem of trying to collect debts which are actually uncollectable.

If a country does not meet the requirements to become a borrower of funds for development, they should have ready access to development grants which do not have to be repaid. Friends need to be strongly supportive of the increased availability of such grants to the poorest countries.

However, if a country legitimately qualifies and applies for a loan, for whatever purpose, that loan should be honored and repaid. Think about the process followed to teach people financial responsibility in this country. Credit is granted in small amounts and then a person's credit limit is increased on the basis of timely and reliable repayment. Is that unfair? Do we encourage young adults just starting out to take on as much debt as possible because the debts they undertake will be "forgiven" anyway? No, that isn't the message we want to send — that isn't the example we want to set.

What happens when well-intentioned people apply for and take on too much debt? We have a process called debt consolidation which allows people to receive free counseling and help on how best to pay off the debts they have contracted. Does it work? People who have been through that process tell me it works very well. If these are the standards that we hold for honoring loans contracted among ourselves, are they not the standards we wish to share with other countries in process of development? Anything less would be patronizing!

In addition, holding countries to their contracts to repay the debts they owe will work far better than wars to unseat exploitative leaders who divert resources aimed at bettering the lives of their people into their own pockets. Already, several less developed countries have arrested former leaders and officials and confiscated assets to regain control of their economies.

Janet Minshall

I add only that those Friends who, in all good conscience and spirit, repeat these falsities unwittingly encourage the enemies of our way of life. — Jack Powelson

Readers' Comments on TQE #22 and #23 (Pacifism in the Face of Terror):

Please send comments on any TQE, at any time. Selected comments will be appended to the appropriate letter as they are received. Please indicate in the subject line the number of the Letter to which you refer! The email address is tqe-comment followed by @quaker.org. All published letters will be edited for spelling, grammar, clarity, and brevity. Please mention your home meeting, church, synagogue (or ...), and where you live.

One of the truly disturbing after-effects of the September 11 bombing has been the efforts to "piggy-back" upon a horrible tragedy, and to use what happened as an opportunity to forward a separate, and unrelated agenda. I was extremely disappointed to receive this month's installment of the TQE precisely because your later comments are so grossly unrelated to the tragedy or your introductory remarks, which reference "Pacifism in the Face of Terror" and "introspection." It is not so much that I disagree with your views (although I do disagree with some), it is that I disagree with using the events of September 11 as a platform to raise all of your previous views and disagreements with others.

If you wish simply to reiterate your views, than do it honestly without reference to the bombing or introspection. If you wish to address the bombing, do so by sharing authentic reactions based upon the event, as I thought you did very effectively in the last letter [TQE #22], rather than trying to squeeze a square peg (your economic views) through a round hole (pacifism in the face of terror).

— Ben Barton, Knoxville (TN)

You asked, "What would you do?" For the first time ever, I am holding a public figure in the light, namely, George W. Bush. As of this writing, he has not ordered anything terrible, and I suppose it has been necessary to send out the military to convince the masses that he is doing something. But he has slowed down from his first pronouncements, and I heard him use the word "patience" twice. He showed a capacity for change by stopping his drinking when he became a born-again Christian.

Now he is hearing other points of view of the world, as dignitaries from other countries parade through the White House — people he never had to consider when he was governor. Maybe he will learn that slow, patient, nonviolent methods will triumph in the long run.

— Virginia Flagg, San Diego (CA) Friends Meeting.

You say: "Those who call us 'The Great Satan' generally do not understand the values of Western society — freedom of speech, democracy, freedom to travel, and the rest." For some, yes, but I think that many see these things as a threat. That underlies fundamentalist Christian rejection of them as well. There are opposing world-views at work here:

  1. humankind is basically evil and can't be trusted without rigorous guidance and magic salvation (adhered to by many fundamentalists),
  2. humankind is basically good and can work things out with the help of intelligence (adhered to by many liberal Quakers), and
  3. humans have the potential for either good or evil and often need healing from the latter (adhered to by some people I know, including myself).

Discussions that don't acknowledge these differences, as most don't, get mired in the view of the other as an evil person.

On the WTO: I am less sanguine about the good results of elites than you are, and point to your own 1992 book, Centuries of Economic Endeavor, for support. The peasants, whom one would hardly describe as an elite, were able to use leverage from the struggles of opposing elites. It was vital that the viewpoint of non-elites was somehow represented. I think that is what is going on here too. The protesters play a vital role, and they are affecting the thinking of the elites.

— Bruce Hawkins, Northampton (MA) Friends Meeting.

Jack, may I have permission to reprint this [Letter No. 23] on an Internet newsgroup for discussion there? I've been called to task as a Quaker the past few weeks (as have we all) and I'd like to use your essay as a point to begin discussion, if I may.

— Tracy Vanderhoop, Boulder (CO) Meeting of Friends

Reply: Anyone, at any time, has permission to forward or republish any issue of TQE for non-commercial purposes. All we ask is that it be identified as such. Thank you! — Jack

On Fresh Air, (an NPR Interview Program), Terry Gross asked Richard Reeves (a regular sojourner in Pakistan as well as reporter and commentator), "Why do they hate us?" I was surprised by his answer, "The first thing America does when it comes into a country is try to educate the women." If this is an important reason for hatred of the US — and it was the only reason he gave — then we may have to admit that people may hate us because of beliefs and practices that we can't give up without ceasing to meet our own ideals, and our own sense of what really is right.

Is educating women and raising their status the same as requiring indigenous people to give up their religions and practices to become "christian?" Is this the same as asking people in tropical countries to dress in European clothing? We had better answer this question.

— Gusten Lutter, Mountain View Meeting, Denver (CO).

Do these teachings [Christian and Jewish] require us to suffer abuse without defending ourselves? The answer, I believe, comes from the Jewish tradition. A friend sent me this quotation from Chockmat Halev that seems to chart out what it means to take strong and determined action that is in line with spiritually developed consciousness.

"The Torah path is not a pacifist path, it is a warrior path. We are permitted to fight. But we are forbidden to hate."

— Dick Bellin, Friends Meeting of Washington (DC).

The day before the attack on the WTC and the Pentagon I was putting together a piece for the upcoming issue of Friendly Woman. It was about the experiences of a 77 year-old Quaker woman from Yellow Springs, Ohio, who is presently serving time in federal prison for her protests against the School of The Americas (SOA), renamed this year Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC), at Fort Benning, Georgia.

She provides graphic and terribly disturbing eyewitness accounts of what troops from Central America have done to their own people after training at the SOA. SOA training has included instruction in political assasination and counter-insurgency tactics used to keep protesting people from overthrowing the repressive governments of their countries.

— Janet Minshall, Anneewakee Creek Friends Worship Group, Douglasville (GA).

The action by Israel since the 1967 war to place outposts of its people and army in areas where invasions occurred was a minimal step taken to provide more warning time and defense in the event of other attacks. Since the peace process began and land and cities were returned to the Palestinian Authority, the issue of abandoning settlements has been on the negotiating table. There is substantial support in Israel and abroad to remove settlements. To have the US government dictate terms on settlements would be the height of presumption; it would represent the kind of imperial attitude that other nations must do what we want or else. I do not believe that is the Quaker way.

You object to Israeli incursions into neighboring cities under Palestinian control from which terrorist organizations have continually terrorized Israel; and you object to protecting the rights of Israelis to live in settlement areas controlled by a neighbor state. What would you have the Israelis do: give back the settlements and hope for the end of Palestinian attacks in Israel? Or would you insist on credible evidence that such peace would prevail? Do we have such evidence?

I was a pacifist during the Korean War, too young to be drafted. I worked with my friend Jack Powelson in Bolivia and have loving memories of our families' time together in Washington DC. My son's family in Israel will soon be waiting for their father's return from annual military service. He and we want a peaceful resolution to the conflict there more than anyone I know. Cutting off aid to Israel will not help.

— Donald Green, San Francisco.

In general I agree with Jack. I was a combat infantry soldier in WWII . I did some unspeakable things. I saw Hiroshima a couple of weeks after it was bombed. I saw the awful suffering. When we put our garbage cans out, the Japanese would dive in and eat raw garbage. I made friends with Japanese individuals. I came home and joined Friends. The suffering of those in New York is no different. We must bring people to justice. We must change attitudes, and mine was changed. A huge challenge. Violence will not do it.

— Lee B. Thomas, Jr.

The U.S. military budget proposed for FY2002 is about $345 billion (not including the "black or unseen secret budgets"). For illustration, if one takes as half the world in poverty or severely economically stressed condition, or about 3 billion people, that U.S. military investment is about equivalent to $115 per each of those people. If we could ever redirect our "investment" that would equate to somewhere around $600-$700 per poor family (per year). Given that many families in undeveloped country don't make even that much in a year, think of the boost that could be provided to individual sustainability or starting of family owned businesses through micro loans of this magnitude. It would be tricky in actual implementation because there are many national governments that don't really want to empower the poor. This simple example does illustrate what I believe to be our overall misallocation of wealth. If we invested in building peace even a portion of what we invest in military dominance (and waste), I firmly believe we would have a more secure world.

— Rich Andrews, Friends Meeting of Boulder (CO).

In the seventies I was on the Regional board of the AFSC and I remember hearing the young people reporting on their encounter with the police during a peace march. I was surprised that the attitude they displayed was no more loving for their neighbor, the police, than the police's attitude toward them. As I thought about this I came to the conclusion that it wasn't politics or economics that would change people into peaceful neighbors but a fundamental change of attitudes and motivations. It was in trying to imagine how such a change could be brought about that I arrived at the basis of my concept of how a world community could be built on love.

— Lyle E. Smith, Motor Friends Church, Milo (IA).

Most are touting the numbers killed as the reason to be so upset. But to me, a single soul's journey that is ended by another's violence is violence against us all.

— Free Polazzo, Anneewakee Creek Friends Worship Group, Douglasville (GA)


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Publisher: Russ Nelson, St. Lawrence Valley (NY) Friends Meeting

Editorial Board

  • Roger Conant, Mount Toby Meeting, Northampton, MA.
  • Virginia Flagg, San Diego (CA) Friends Meeting.
  • Janet Minshall, Anneewakee Creek Friends Worship Group, Douglasvillle (GA).
  • Jack Powelson, Boulder (CO) Meeting of Friends, Principal Editor.
  • J.D. von Pischke, a Friend from Reston, VA.
  • Geoffrey Williams, Attender at New York Fifteenth Street Meeting.

Members of the Editorial Board receive Letters several days in advance for their criticisms, but they do not necessarily endorse the contents of any of them.

This newsletter was formerly known as The Classic Liberal Quaker.

Copyright © 2001 by Janet Minshall. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted for non-commercial reproduction.

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