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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Saturday, June 21, 2003
    McIntosh joins the military
     
    For the past five years Quaker pacifist Alastair McIntosh has had the unusual experience of being invited to address 400 senior military officers at the Joint Services Command and Staff College. He's here, says the course director, to make them think: "We're all here because we want peace. Our men and women seek peace just as deeply as you do. The challenge is how you achieve it."

    These military thinkers say "we need people like [McIntosh] to remind us of the limits." It's a fascinating exchange for McIntosh, writer of the seminal Soil and Soul: People Versus Corporate Power, an environmental campaigner far more used to getting a sympathetic ear from his colleagues at Edinburgh's Centre for Human Ecology.

    He describes it in the latest issue of Resurgence:
      My objective is to show that nonviolence is a force for change that engages directly with power but has nothing in common with cowardice. I reciprocally let them challenge my comfort zones, conceding that, yes, it is just possible that we are all occupying different posts on a long front that's all about peace.
    Their comfort zones are challenged by stories from unsung champions of nonviolence, such as the young Quaker woman gang-raped in 'a beautiful but violent third-world country' in 1995. Rather than permitting the police to 'sort it out in eye-for-eye fashion', the woman wanted to find a way of dealing with the fourteen guilty young men in 'a way that might touch their hearts'. McIntosh was there to witness the outcome:
      We stood at the university gates as the entire squatter community turned out to apologise amidst much bearing of token gifts and beating of drums. Fourteen young men headed the procession. Many had tears in their eyes. They had not expected such humanity.
    Some of the military shrug off this sort of story as courageous but mad - "Maybe in heaven, but it's just not a realistic way to face the world." But, McIntosh writes,
      Others see that nonviolence is actually a different way of engaging with power. It's about the love of power yielding to the power of love. It's ultimately about preferring to die than to kill. It's about saying, yes, you have a right proportionately to retaliate in self-defence, but also, you have the option of renouncing that right. We're talking here about a power that may be greater than coercive force or the psychology of fear. We're talking about the psychology of convincement. We're talking, even, about the spirituality of transformation.
    McIntosh has some task convincing that particular audience that these words can translate truthfully in the world's trouble zones. But he's a man who relishes such tasks, and is excellently equipped to take them on and shine.