LESSONS FROM JOHN WOOLMAN: Yesterday I was writing about people, including yes, our Prez, being able to make a choice between acting out of a sense of fear, or acting from a sense of optimism, possibility, and yes even grace. Today, for completely another reason, I re-read a little portion from the Journal of John Woolman which describes a nice instance of such a choice.
John Woolman was an American Quaker in the days before there was a United States. (He died in 1772.) He is one of my heroes as a social activist and an acute analyst of the evils of the social system of his day– engagement in slaveholding and slavetrading by many whitefolks, including Quakers; encroachments by whitefolks on the lands and resources of the Indians; perpetuation of a war-based system which allowed those other ills to continue; etc etc.
So in June 1763, most of Philadelphia was ablaze with war fever, as the Anglo colonists became increasingly “outraged” at news of atrocities committed by those heinous Indians and the French (who else?) Even some Quakers on the city council were starting to swing behind the raising of war taxes…
John Woolman had a different idea. He decided to set out and actually meet some Indians in the west of Pennsylvania, face-to-face.
Journal entry for June 12th: “It being a rainy day we continued in our tent, and here I was led to think on the nature of the exercise which hath attended me. Love was the first motion, and then a concern arose to spend some time with the Indians, that I might feel and understand their life and the spirit they live in, if haply I might receive some instruction from them, or they be in any degree helped forward by my following the leadings of Truth amongst them… “
This is such a powerful passage! “Love was the first motion” is a phrase much loved by Quakers, including myself. Simple, direct, and powerful. No complicated theology needed.
Then, “that I might feel and understand their life and the spirit they live in”– just the desire for a simple human encounter, to feel with the Indians, that is, to share their life and burdens a little and strive for empathy with them.
“… if haply I might receive some instruction from them… ” This is truly mindblowing. Here’s JW, the product of centuries of European culture– and he is hoping that he may learn something from the brownfolks?!? What a guy! Are there many people in the U.S. or other rich cultures today who truly think they could learn anything much of value from poor people in the “Third World”?
And finally, very simply, “… or they be in any degree helped forward by my following the leadings of Truth amongst them.” I love that. Note that he writes “my following the leadings of Truth”, not “my preaching the leadings of Truth”. In other words, he is not going there explicitly to preach any Gospel, but rather, quietly to live its teachings…
But the whole venture of his trip was also, above and beyond all that, predicated on a deep and serious belief in the power of optimism and possibility. JW sincerely believed that just going to meet the Indians, to reach out to them and talk to them, and to find out what was up with them and in their lives, what their concerns were– that that was a better way to respond to the general climate of insecurity than succumbing to the climate of whipped-up fear and hatred, and joining in the preparations for war.
And I think he was right about that– just as he was right about the evils of slavery.
He was a simple Quaker fruit farmer. But he could see all around him, in his daily life and dealings, that most of the whitefolks in and around his community near Philadelphia had enough material goods to give them the basis for a decent respectable life. They didn’t need more “stuff”. (Indeed, he was one of the first to point out that material “stuff” creates its forms of bondage.) And meanwhile, he saw that the same system that gave the white colonists such material assurance was based on taking lands, resources, social integrity, and personal dignity away from the “Indians”, as well as on taking all the essential attributes of personhood away from the enslaved Africans.
So he worked to understand all the different kinds of people caught up in this system as well as he could. But more than that: he sought through persistent efforts at persuasion to persuade the power-holders in the system– that was, the whitefolks themselves– to see the error of their ways, and to behave differently.
With respect to the Quakers and slavery, he and a small group of fellow-activists succeeded in making a serious difference through persuasion alone. He, Antony Benezet, and other Quaker abolitionists successfully persuaded most American Quakers to dissociate themselves from the institutions of slavery; and it was that development, that happened at around the same time as American Independence, that laid the basis for the Quakers’ heroic involvement in the broader anti-slavery campaigns of the 19th century.
But JW’s work with respect to the American “Indians” is less well remembered. With the U.S. now all set to enter a new phase of trying to impose its will on broad swathes of the “Third World”, it might be good for would-be Americans reformers to remember some of the essentials of Woolman’s approach to the “Indians”. Above all, his simplicity, his humility, his respectfulness, and his rough-hewn sense of grace.


ACTING FROM FEAR– OR FROM A SENSE OF OPTIMISM AND POSSIBILITY? A couple of readers have asked why I keep scolding the administration hawks like a nanny and urging them to “take a deep breath”, “step back”, etc.
Mainly, the reason is that I see these guys just acting out of a very primitive, very counter-productive mindset dominated by fear.
They may seem to be acting like folks who are so purposeful, so dominating, so confident, so competent, so much in command of the world– But I’m afraid that what I mainly see when I see them strutting around is people who have no idea at all about the real possibilities that really are present in the world. Possibilities to build good productive relationships with nearly all of the world’s people who definitely seek such relationships, rather than confrontation and war. Possibilities to hold productive discussion of differences that can enlarge everyone’s understanding of what the issues are. Possibilities of re-building a world based on reason and cooperation, in such a way that the tiny minority of people who can’t accept a world of tolerance and sharing themselves become totally marginalized.
The U.S. is such a rich country, so overflowingly full of resrouces and possibilities in itself! Why can’t our leaders, okay, take that deep breath, thank the Creator for all their blessings, and then set about marginalizing the men of violence using reason, cooperation, a willingness to share responsibilities and blessings, and a calm, respectful approach to expanding the international rule of law?
That route just seems to me so much more doable, so much more productive, so much better for all of us than this shrill revving up of the machinery of war.
I guess I’m surprised, sometimes, that Bombs-away Don and the rest of them just can’t seem to see it my way.
But then I take my deep breath, and remember that nearly everyone who lives in Washington DC is acting right now out of a place of fairly serious trauma. They had the 9/11 crash into their very own Pentagon, losing friends and colleagues there. They had the anthrax scare, which I guess really was pretty scary for many residents of the national capital. Then, they had Greater DC’s long-drawn-out sniper scare, which would have been bad enough anywhere, but probably had an even more traumatic effect for the already doubly-traumatized Washingtonians.
And now, they have Tom Ridge with his constant stream of color-coded disaster warnings…
So yes, I can understand a little, perhaps, of where many Washingtonians coming from. (Though I note that many, many folks from the city have done a grand job of rising above feelings of traumatization and victimhood.)
But to understand where people like Rumsfeld and Co. are coming from doesn’t mean we should just roll over and let them proceed with their fantasies of a violence-based revenge. Oh no! But it does mean, though, that we probably need to spare a thought and a prayer for their mental/spiritual wellbeing, along with that of everyone else we’re concerned about these days.
For their own good, yes. And I really mean that. But also because those guys’ continued suspension in their present web of trauma and fear is extremely dangerous for the rest of us.


COLIN, DON, AND WOLFIE PLAY MUSICAL CHAIRS: Last week, Tom Friedman pointed out helpfully that when his boss (oops, I mean leaker-in-chief) Jim Baker was running State back in 1990-91, Baker used to actually visit other countries, a lot, as he worked to build and strengthen the anti-Saddam alliance of that era. (Tom didn’t point out how glad he must have been about that fact. More face time for him, on all those airplanes, with the guy whose virtual mouthpiece he thereby became.)
Anyway, Tom pointed out the evident contrast between Baker’s s.o.p.’s and the present administration’s practise of having the Prez and all top cabinet members here sit back like Queen Elizabeth I and have all the minions and satraps, a.k.a. the leaders of furrin nations, come groveling to them– well, that wasn’t exactly how Tom put it, but you get the drift.
I guess Tom’s piece got Powell’s people fairly much steamed. Within hours, they were giving all kinds of reasons why the Secretary had not been traveling much recently. (Although of course this week, he’s doing a fly-through to Asia.) Only one of the many “reasons” given was that the Secretary also has many important things to do back in Washington, too.
Of course he does, poor guy. Mainly, watch his own back, as the vultures from the Pentagon continue to circle around the city in the hope of picking up some tasty meat from the plate of political/diplomatic chores that in any reasonably run administration would be the responsibility of the State Department.
Oh, like commenting on the novelty or decrepitude of various different forms of government in Europe… Since when did making pronouncements on such matters as that fall into the Secretary of Defense’s job description???
And of course, Bombs-away Don’s comments on that score, a couple of weeks back, complicated Colin’s coalition-maintenance task considerably, as we know. Not that Don seems to give a fig for “the coalition”, anyway…
And now, for some more insidious mission creep from the Pentagon suits, we need only read about hyperactive Deputy SecDef Paul Wolfowitz, off there in Dearborn, MI yesterday, trying to build bridges with 300 fervently anti-Saddam Iraqi Americans there.
Interestingly, the W. Post‘s account of this (Tom Ricks, p.A16) reads as a little more skeptical of the encounter than the NYT account (Eric Schmitt, p.A10).
Ricks reported that the meeting was “strongly pro-war”. But he also wrote that Wolfie “found himself peppered with with skeptical questions about the reliability of U.S. promises, given what the questioners portrayed as a poor U.S. record in the Middle East.” Ricks also reported– as Schmitt didn’t– that at one point, “the session’s moderator, Maha Hussain… who is president of the Iraqi Forum for democracy, pointedly asked why U.S. assurances of support for Iraqi democrats should be trusted, ‘considering the history of the U.S. government’ in not supporting the 1991 uprisings [in Iraq], among other things.”
Wolfowitz, Ricks reported, “seemed momentarily nonplused by the question, but then responded by noting that the U.S. government repeatedly came to the aid of embattled Muslims in recent years [in a list of places that notably did not include Iraq, or indeed Palestine.]”
Maybe, instead of rushing around the U.S. and the world trying to force this war to happen right now, and regardless of the consequences, Wolfie would do better to take a deep breath, step back, and study history a little. Why on earth should he be “nonplused” when a survivor of Saddam’s brutal, U.S.-enabled counter-attack against the 1991 uprisings still wants to talk about that ugly episode in world history? Does he want everyone simply to forget about what happened then?
Anyway, I’ve found a(nother) great blog, written by a doughty footslogging (as opposed to hotel-dwelling) reporter called Christopher Allbriton, who has a lot of great firsthand and collated background material on the degree to which many different segments of the Iraqi democratic opposition are now feeling extremely betrayed by Washington.
You might want to check out his blog some more. Also, Allbriton and some other experienced bloggers have put together a really interesting site called Warblogs:cc that is a sort of meta-blog giving headlines and links for a number of war-skeptical bloggespondents. (This latter term is my own coining. But a blogging foreign correspondent is one thing I’d like to be at some point soon, so I thought the job description deserved a job title, too.)
Allbriton describes Warblogs as being a “sort of coalition of the unwilling”. You reckon he’d let me join?


FRED HALLIDAY MISINFORMED? Is this another example of transatlantic differences in perspective? In Salon.com earlier this week, the veteran British Middle East specialist and prof at the London School of economics Fred Halliday was quoted as having said that, “Anyone who wants a just Palestinian solution should be supporting a war in Iraq… It would be good for Palestinian aspirations.”
His reasoning on this was that, “We are far more likely to see real progress on Palestine if there is a war in Iraq… The Americans will push on it and compromised Arab leaders will probably try to revive the Saudi proposals that came through the Arab League last year and have since been on ice.” He pointed to a notable precedent: the fact that the aftermath of the last Gulf War in 1991 led to the convening of the Madrid Middle East Peace Conference. “There was this positive linkage,” he said…
I strongly demur.
In fact, if Halliday really said what he was quoted as saying, I would wonder what planet he’s been living on over the past two years?? Has he left his LSE ivory tower recently and ventured across either the Atlantic Ocean or the Mediterranean Sea to see what the true situation regarding W’s Middle East “policy” has become since January 2001?
What I’ve been reading in Ha’Aretz pretty consistently over the past few months, what I certainly found out in numerous places during my two trips to Israel/Palestine since last April, and what I continually read and encounter all the time here in the United States is that this administration ain’t at all your father’s Bush administration when it comes to Arab-Israeli peacemaking.
Egged on by his friends in both the U.S. evangelical-Christian-Zionist movement and in the strongly pro-Likud branch of the Jewish-American community, W has aligned his agenda almost totally with Sharon’s. He has given Sharon carte blanche to do what he wants in the occupied territories (which Rumsfeld even once described as “the so-called occuped territories”). The much-awaited speech of last June 24 in which W laid out his approach to Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking was greeted with huge delight by Sharon and his aides– not surprising, since they practically wrote it themselves.
And W has even, disgracefully, incorporated many aspects of Sharon’s ultra-tough-guy policies on dealing with perceived opponents into the practice of the U.S. government: extrajudicial killings, disregard for international humanitarian law, use of massively escalatory policies, contempt for broad alliances, etc etc.
None of which policies, as applied by Sharon on behalf of the Israelis, has brought them even one whit closer to the security and wellbeing for which they long. And nor can such policies be expected to work any better for W…
But what I’d love to hear from Fred Halliday– if he really did utter those quotes cited above– is where on earth can he find any evidence at all that Bush may be headed in the direction of moving, post-Iraq, toward the kind of serious and fairminded engagement in Arab-Israeli peacemaking that might help meet the Palestinians’ aspirations?
I certainly haven’t found any such evidence. And with the likes of Elliot Abrams, Doug Feith, Richard Perle, etc running Washington’s Middle East policy it is highly unlikely that anyone could do so.
I can understand that maybe from London things might look a little different. Tony Blair has been rushing around trying to reassure the Palestinians, the other Arabs, and the Europeans that he, at least, is serious about getting the Palestinian-Israeli “road map” moving well forward both before and after the war against Saddam.
Poor Tony. He believes he can make a difference! He believes he can help steer the juggernaut of Bushian militarism in a direction where it might do some good.
Maybe he’s sincere in believing all that. But the rest of us, who have seen the reality and strength of the organic link between Sharon and the Bush administration from close up, also need to make our own judgments.
Fred Halliday, who I’m assuming is not totally Blair’s lapdog (can a lapdog have his own lapdog, I wonder?) should make his own informed judgment on this too.

‘SHOCK AND AWE’: I’ve been

‘SHOCK AND AWE’: I’ve been doing a little research on the hottest strategic concept being talked up by the Washington hawks these days. ‘Shock & Awe’ is a strategic concept advocated most ardently and publicly by former naval commander Harlan Ullman. It involves throwing large numbers of allegedly “smart” cruise missiles into Baghdad in the first two days of a war, with the goal of causing total psychological collapse in “the enemy”.
Ullman recently told CBS News that, “We want them to quit. We want them not to fight… So that you have this simultaneous effect, rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima, not taking days or weeks but in minutes.” He invited his listeners to engage in a thought exercize: “You’re sitting in Baghdad and all of a sudden you’re the general and 30 of your division headquarters have been wiped out.” Apparently switching sides to then talk about the Americans, he added, “You also take the city down. By that I mean you get rid of their power, water. In 2,3,4,5 days they are physically, emotionally and psychologically exhausted.”
How much do we need to unpack these statements? Like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima? … You get rid of their power, water?
We could just dismiss Ullman as a sad old blowhard, a swaggering schoolyard bully. And yes, it is evident that a lot of the Pentagon’s “information policy” these days is aimed at trying to intimidate potential Iraqi opponents. So we could perhaps say that Ullman’s utterances are in themselves “just another example” of this effort at psy-war.
But I also think we should take people’s statements seriously. Actually advocating perpetrating something like another Hiroshima, or the intentional disabling of the power and water systems for an entire city is a serious business. In fact, the latter kind of an action clearly qualifies as a crime against humanity under the definition agreed on in Article 6 of the Charter for the Nuremberg Tribunal. (Crimes against humanity: namely, murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war…)
I cite the Nuremberg Tribunal definition because it was developed mainly by the Pentagon’s own lawyers. Since then, the Nuremberg Principles, including its definitions of these kinds of crime, have been adopted by the entire international community. Cutting of power and water to an entire city would, I think, count by anyone’s definition as an “inhumane act” committed against a “civilian population.”
Ullman’s words must be held to have weight. And inasmuch as many people in the Pentagon claim that Shock&Awe is their doctrine of the day, I think we need to get the official word from the Pentagon and the White House as to whether the U.S. government will disavow these statements from Ullman, or whether they actually plan to go ahead and implement these inhumane threats.
I’ve been trying to get hold of a copy of the 199-page book, published by the National Defense University in 1996, in which Ullman and six colleagues first laid out the S&A concept. The book is called Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance. The work on it was sponsored by NDU’s “Advanced Concepts, Technologies, and Information Strategies group”. (So yes, my fellow-Amurrcans, your tax dollars have been generously at work here.)
I think I can get to a microfiche copy of the text in the next couple of days. But in the mean-time, I found a review of it, published in the Naval War College Review in 1998 that makes some intriguing points.
The author of the review, an Air Force Major called Mark Conversino, clearly didn’t like the way the book was written. “Unfortunately, it is the reader who is ‘shocked’,” he huffed. “While the authors are all eminently qualified to expound on military affairs and strategy, the text is rambling, repetitious, and at times incoherent.” Moreover, “a number of egregious errors call its credibility into question.” He goes on to list a few of those.
A little later comes the really tanatalizing part: “The authors make a strong case for Germany’s blitzkrieg campaigns as an example of shock and awe… As in blitzkrieg, rapid dominance produces shock and awe through four elements, including ‘rapidity.'” [Well yes, Mark, rapid dominance might indeed seem to be endowed with that quality.] Then, he has this to say about Ullman et al’s study: “In an incomprehensible leap of logic, the Nazi Holocaust is classified a ‘state policy of Shock and Awe.'”
So let’s hear it for ‘Shock and Awe’, shall we? A strategic concept that, its authors claim, promises us not only all the fine qualities of Hiroshima, but also those of the blitzkrieg and the Holocaust.
Who on earth are these people?
I did notice that if you go to the CSIS website, you can find a bio for Harlan Ullman that includes a phone number and an e-address. Maybe tomorrow I’ll give him a call.


WHAT IF DUBYA had to shovel his own sidewalks?
Thoughts of civic virtue were flying around in my head at 9:30 this morning as I struggled to shovel a path along the 100 ft or so of sidewalk that fronts our property. As someone who jogs, I certainly appreciate the civic virtues of those of our neighbors who work to keep a path along their sidewalks. On ours, today, the snow was 10-18 inches deep, with some driftsnow having come in and of course those unmanageable chunks of ice thrown up by the city’s plows over the past two days.
So what if the Prez had to– either literally or metaphorically– shovel his own sidewalks in life? Clean up his own messes? Make his own appropriate contribution to the wellbeing of the global community?
In so many places, he just acts unilaterally and expects someone else to shovel out the resulting mess. In both foreign policy and domestic policy. For starters, our kids and grandkids are going to be struggling for decades into the future to clean up after Dubya’s blitzkrieg on the federal budget. And then, this war????? Who on earth is going to be able to clean up after that?
Well, I guess we briefly lived in the same neighborhood as W and Laura back in DC. Our kids all went to Horace Mann Elementary together. I confess I never saw him out there shoveling his walk. (Back then, we didn’t have one. To be quite fair, I don’t recall if they had one either.)
Anyway,my own little commitment to civic virtue today received an unexpected and welcome reward. A very pleasant guy walking by offered to help. Taken aback, I said Yes, and went off to find a spare shovel. We then spent half an hour finishing the job together. When I thanked him he said he walks along here nearly every day, so he will be one of the beneficiaries.
Wow! Random hunks coming at me from all directions, it feels like. (And here’s me, a happily married woman.) Last week on Tuesday, when I was driving to New York through horrible weather, at one of those very expensive toll-booths along the way, as I shivered to roll down the window and fumble for the required number of dollar bills, the attendant waved me on. “The guy in front of you paid for you,” she said. “He did? Goodness, why?” “Oh, he just said he wanted to do a good for someone– and he was kinda cute-looking, too…”
So here’s a thought, dear Presidente: How about a few significant acts of random kindness from you?
Or even better, a serious commitment to global civic virtue?