By Jay Craven
Like all Americans, I was shocked by the recent ISIS attacks in Paris, Beirut, Mali, and Egypt, and by mass shootings in Colorado Springs and San Bernardino. Some presidential candidates insist this is the start of World War III—and urge an all-out response.
While I understand the sentiment to rush to war, we shouldn’t forget that World War I laid the groundwork for the cataclysm of World War II. Our own Iraq War created conditions that still fuel conflict today. And gun violence right here at home has claimed 406,000 lives since 9/11—far more than terrorism and war.
Just days after 9/11, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist David Halberstam attended an urgent meeting of current and former U.S. intelligence officials who insisted upon two things. “Do not do what they want you to do,” they warned. “Do not go to war.” Second, they urged leaders to “dry up the swamp” through constructive engagement, to peel away from insurgents people of aspiration and good will, to show alternatives to people plagued by decades of war, poverty, illiteracy, and suppression of women, progressives, and minorities.
Leaders say that moderate Muslims are the key to peace. And if that’s true, we must find ways to actually support this group, to show that wealthy nations are prepared to invest substantially in social and economic progress as an alternative to war.
When I had a lunch meeting with historian Howard Zinn just weeks before he died in 2010, he recalled lessons he’d learned as a decorated World War II bombing pilot over France, lessons that led him to oppose war. He lamented the 85 million people who were killed by 20th-century wars, the more recent spread of war, foreign intervention and occupation, nuclear proliferation, and terrorism—including domestic bombings and mass shootings.
“The only solution,” Zinn said, “is to abolish war, to mount a call equal to the movement to abolish slavery. The enemy is not a group or nation; the enemy is militarism itself.”
President Kennedy made a similar point in his historic speech at American University when he argued against a peace “enforced on the world by American weapons of war.” He spoke instead of “the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living...not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women, not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.”
I hope we can embrace this challenge to quell violence through imagination, not force. I have to believe it’s not too late.
Jay Craven is professor of film and video studies and director of Movies from Marlboro, the semester intensive program that is spending spring 2016 filming Wetware, a noir thriller based on the novel by Craig Nova. This editorial was delivered on VPR on December 9, 2015.