Radical Peace : People Refusing War
By William T. Hathaway
23 July, 2010
CounterCurrents has published two chapters from William T. Hathaway's new book, RADICAL PEACE: People Refusing War. Here now is an interview with the author.
RADICAL PEACE presents the first-person experiences of war resisters, deserters, and peace activists in the USA, Europe, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Just released by Trine Day, it's a journey along diverse paths of nonviolence, the true stories of people working for peace in unconventional ways.
Hathaway is a former Special Forces soldier who became a peace activist and political journalist. His other books include A WORLD OF HURT (Rinehart Foundation Award), CD-RING, and SUMMER SNOW. He currently teaches American studies at the University of Oldenburg in Germany. A selection of his writing is available at www.peacewriter.org .
CounterCurrents: Why did you write this book?
Hathaway: I wanted to show two new directions the radical peace movement is taking. We're no longer content with just demonstrations and petitions. Those methods try to build public opposition to the war in the hopes that will pressure our politicians into ending it. The first part, the building of opposition, was a success. The great majority of Americans have turned against the war and want it ended. In 2006 they voted the Republicans out of control of Congress and voted the Democrats in because the Democrats promised to stop the war. Instead, a few months later the Democrats voted a huge increase in military spending and supported US troop surges. In 2008 the voters elected Obama president because he promised to stop the war. Instead he sent even more soldiers to Afghanistan. He expanded our air strikes in Pakistan. He shifted the fighting in Iraq onto hired mercenaries and local soldiers, so it doesn't make the news in the US anymore. And he persuaded Congress to vote even more money for the war, to kill more thousands of people.
These betrayals of democracy make it clear that American voters don't control the government. Corporations do. The government represents business, not us. If business needs cheap oil, the president and congress will make war to get it, with time-out every few years for some campaign rhetoric about peace. It's obvious now their rhetoric is lies.
CounterCurrents: Have you given up on politics?
Hathaway: Many peace activists have given up on major party politics. Obama's switch into a war president was the last straw. It showed that the system can't be changed through elections. Both major parties are designed to prevent basic changes, to divert the public's demand for change into dead-end streets that don't challenge the power structure. The Democratic Party exists to drain our potentially radical energies off into superficial reforms that actually strengthen the establishment.
CounterCurrents: What do you have to offer instead?
Hathaway: Well, as you might suspect, we have radical solutions to offer. The mass media have distorted the meaning of 'radical,' but it comes from the Latin word for 'root.' Radical peace activists want to get to the root cause of war and solve the problem there. But some of us disagree as to what that root cause is, so we take two different approaches to ending war.
One group says the root cause is our economic system. This group is doing direct action to bring that system down. They're using sabotage to make mass murder too expensive for the government, so war is no longer profitable. They're undermining the work of recruiters so they can't keep feeding fresh bodies into the machine. Helping soldiers to escape from it. Lowering the fighting morale of the soldiers who remain by showing them why the government is sending them over there to kill and die. The war doesn't have anything to do with freedom. It just has to do with dominating the Mideast for profit.
The other group says the underlying cause of everything in the universe, including war and our economic system, is consciousness. The collective consciousness of humanity creates these conditions, so we have to change that collective consciousness.
CounterCurrents: Which group do you favor?
Hathaway: I favor them both, they're both necessary. But I think the second has a deeper view of the world and more to offer in the long run. These two groups often oppose each other, and one of my purposes in writing Radical Peace was to bring them together.
CounterCurrents: Let's focus on the first group first. You talk about making the war too expensive for the government to fight. Won't the politicians just increase the deficit and raise taxes?
Hathaway: Taxes and deficits are already so high they're destroying the economy. There are limits to how much money the government can burn up in wars. The kind of sabotage we're doing helps push it over that limit.
CounterCurrents: Won't these tactics you're talking about really make our lives worse?
Hathaway: Our lives have been slowly getting worse for 30 years. Young workers now are earning less than their fathers did. That's the phase of capitalism we're in. That's going to continue until we stand up and take control of these corporate giants, free ourselves from their dominance. They're attacking us with wage reductions for the same reason they're attacking the Muslim world with bombs: to keep their profits growing. They have to do that. It's the nature of capitalism.
Fighting back against them will be a struggle. Many people are afraid of that, but it will end up making our lives better. This struggle energizes us; it's a vivid, meaningful life. As it is now, the government generates mass fear to make us obedient. Many of us are so depressed by our situation that all we can think about is holding on to what few comforts we have. But we owe it to future generations to make basic changes, to take the power away from these robot corporations.
CounterCurrents: Won't your efforts to weaken the US military just lead to a victory of the terrorists?
Hathaway: They probably will take over, and that's unfortunate. But the US created these terrorists. We trained and armed bin Laden and the Taliban to kill communists in Afghanistan. The war we sponsored against the communists there killed two million people and brutalized a whole generation of Afghans. We turned these fanatics into the most powerful force in the country, so of course they took over the government. And the US didn't object to them at all until they refused to let us build a pipeline through the country. Only then did the corporate media start portraying them as these terrible monsters who need to be destroyed.
In Iraq we helped Sadam Hussein come to power and supported him militarily, until he started opposing us. In Iran we overthrew their government in the 1950s because they planned to nationalize the oil industry. We installed the Shah and kept him in power as one of the most brutal dictators in the world. In Libya right after al-Gaddafi came to power as a socialist and nationalized the oil industry, we started economic warfare against him, subverting his government and trying to overthrow him. We turned him into an enemy. The list goes on and on. In every country where we now have anti-American terrorism, the USA first did terrible things. That's why they hate us. Now we're paying the price for our aggression.
In the USA we blank out this history. But people in those countries are very aware of it. And they're not putting up with it anymore. What we call terrorists are really just people fighting back with the only weapons they have.
Considering the atrocities of US foreign policy, America needs to lose this war — for its own sake and for the sake of the world. We have to stop dominating other countries.
CounterCurrents: If the insurgents take over again, won't they keep attacking us at home?
Hathaway: Our government tries very hard to make us believe that. There's a huge PR campaign to convince us that the Taliban and al Qaeda want to destroy us, conquer America, force us all to become Muslims. They are portrayed as insane mad-dog killers that we need to exterminate. But that's nonsense. Their actual demands are never published in the Western media because they're so reasonable. Basically they come down to, "Go home and leave us alone. Pull your soldiers, your CIA agents, your missionaries, your corporations out of Muslim territory. If you do that, we'll stop attacking you." Nothing about destroying the West or forcing it to become Islamic. Just that the West should stay in the West.
CounterCurrents: What about Israel?
Hathaway: They consider that Muslim territory, and it's been Muslim ever since the days of Mohammed. To them the formation of Israel was another European invasion of their area. Just because ancestors of the Jews lived there two thousand years ago doesn't give them any claim to that land today. The Romans forced them out back then, not the Arabs. And the Arabs didn't have anything to do with the Holocaust. So why should their land be taken? If the Jews needed a homeland, it should have been taken from the Germans. That would've been fair. But making the Arabs pay for the sins of the Germans is a fundamental injustice. And the Arabs are refusing to accept it. There won't be peace until Israel gives up major territory or gives up the idea of a Zionist state.
CounterCurrents: Some of the actions you describe in Radical Peace are quite violent: burning jeeps, smashing windows, destroying computers. How can you call yourselves peace activists?
Hathaway: Violence means harming living creatures. It's only because our society sees property as more important than people that it labels destroying property as violence. We are destroying the government's means of violence, the equipment it uses to kill people. And we're very careful not to injure anyone while we're doing that. In other words, we'll throw a rock through the window of an army recruiting office, but we won't throw a rock at the recruiter. We don't have anything against him as a person. And we don't have anything against the police as people. It's the system we're trying to break, and breaking its windows, burning its trucks, and zapping its electronics helps with that.
CounterCurrents: Why do most Americans reject your ideas?
Hathaway: Most people identify with the system. It's all they know, so they accept it. They're threatened by the thought of major changes. They're afraid of losing what they have, so they don't want to defy the power structure. Children are raised to love their country. In school they are taught a very selective view of our history and almost nothing about foreign policy. And they're put through patriotic rituals that make them identify the country with their family, especially their fathers, because it's a patriarchal structure. So they react very defensively when the country is criticized. That's emotionally painful to them, like an attack on their family. We have a deep need to believe America does good in the world. I felt that way myself until I spent enough time outside the US to get a different perspective on it. And I learned about aspects of our history that are ignored in our media and schools.
CounterCurrents: What makes you think that wars are a result of the system and not just of human nature?
Hathaway: We're bombarded with propaganda to convince us of that. Conservatives say war is human nature, capitalism is human nature, our current gender roles and family structures are human nature. That same sort of person in previous centuries used that argument to support slavery, the divine right of kings, the subjugation of women. But those things were changed, and we can keep on making changes. I think our drive to change things shows our real human nature: to take control of our fate and improve our situation.
CounterCurrents: But if you look at history, it's been one war after another.
Hathaway: That's the history only of our patriarchal civilization. The early matriarchal civilization of southeastern Europe enjoyed centuries of peace. On many of the Pacific islands war was unknown. And the ancient Vedic civilization of India had meditation techniques that preserved the peace. We can use those today. War is not inevitable. Our human genes don't force us to make war on each other.
CounterCurrents: But our closest genetic relatives, the chimpanzees, make war. Doesn't that say something about our evolutionary heredity?
Hathaway: It's true that in certain situations chimpanzees do raid neighboring colonies and kill other chimps. Those studies on killer apes got enormous publicity because they implied that war is inevitable, it's hardwired into human nature. Most scientists weren't claiming that, but the mass media kept reinforcing that message.
But further research led to a key discovery: the chimps who invaded their neighbors were suffering from shrinking territory and food sources. They were struggling for survival. Groups with adequate resources didn't raid other colonies. The aggression wasn't a behavioral constant but was caused by the stress they were under. Their genes gave them the capacity for violence, but the stress factor had to be there to trigger it into combat. This new research showed that war is not inevitable but rather a function of the stress a society is under. Our biological nature doesn't force us to war, it just gives us the potential for it. Without stress to provoke it, violence can remain one of the many unexpressed capacities our human evolution has given us.
CounterCurrents: But isn't stress inevitable in life?
Hathaway: That assumption is deeply entrenched in our society. Many of our social and economic structures are based on conflict. Capitalism's need for continually expanding profits generates stress in all of us. We've been indoctrinated to think this is normal and natural, but it's really pathological. It damages life in ways we can barely perceive because they're so built into us.
We don't need to live this way. We can reduce the stress humanity suffers under. We can create a society that meets human needs and distributes resources more evenly. We can live at peace with one another. But that's going to take basic changes.
CounterCurrents: That's an idealistic goal, but how do we actually get there from here?
Hathaway: We decrease stress, both in the individual and in society. Some of this can be done by transforming politics and economics, which is the approach taken by the first radical peace group we discussed.
But the second group takes a different approach. They feel that to really change the system, we need to change the collective consciousness that has produced it. Until recently changing that seemed impossible. But techniques are now available that enable us to directly influence the collective consciousness.
I mentioned before that the ancient Vedic civilization had meditation techniques that kept the peace. These have been rediscovered and are being used today. The basic principle is that when large numbers of people practice Transcendental Meditation together, peace occurs automatically.
CounterCurrents: You mean they become peaceful.
Hathaway: Not just them; the whole society becomes peaceful through them.
CounterCurrents: How can that be?
Hathaway: These meditation techniques take the individual mind to the level of collective consciousness, where all our minds are linked. Our individual minds aren't fundamentally separate but share a deeper dimension in common. The techniques are designed to tap in to this dimension and purify the collective consciousness of stress. They create an influence of peace, orderliness, and harmony that goes beyond the individual.
CounterCurrents: That's pretty abstract. How does it actually happen?
Hathaway: It is abstract, but it's very real. It works through the most abstract level of the universe, the unified field. We know from quantum physics that everything in the universe is connected through underlying fields of energy. The electromagnetic field is an example. A television transmitter can send waves through this invisible field, and receivers many miles away instantly convert them into sound and pictures. Similarly, our minds send mental energy through the field of consciousness that connects everyone. We are all continually transmitting and receiving these influences. The mental atmosphere we share is loaded with them, and the program they're broadcasting is often one of fear, frustration, anger, and aggression. This toxicity pollutes the collective consciousness, resulting in cloudy thinking and harmful actions. Under this influence, individuals become prone to accidents, hostility, and criminality. As the negative atmosphere intensifies and the pressures mount, groups of people can turn to the mass insanity of warfare.
But expert meditators can counteract that. They have the ability to bring their thinking mind to this deeper dimension where all our minds are connected. They can think from that level which is beyond the awareness of most people. And from that level their thoughts have great power.
When a large group of meditators reaches that level together, their mental energies reinforce one another into a surge of positivity that overrides the stress of the surrounding population. The minds of everyone in the area receive this broadcast of coherence. They're influenced through this field where all human minds are joined. This life-nurturing energy heals the collective consciousness of fear and hostility before those negative forces can build up and erupt into crime and war.
CounterCurrents: That sounds awfully theoretical. Is there any proof?
Hathaway: Lots of proof. Twenty-three studies have been published in top academic journals. They all show that large groups of meditators reduce violence and improve the quality of life in the society around them. The effects were measured in experiments North and South America, the Mideast, Asia, and Europe, where large groups met for long meditations. During every assembly, crime, violence, and accidents in the surrounding region dropped and the composite Quality of Life Index for public health, economics, and social harmony rose.
The effects on war were particularly remarkable. One study showed a 71% decrease in war deaths, a 68% decrease in injuries, a 48% decrease in the level of fighting, and a 66% increase in cooperative efforts to bring peace. And this war was thousands of miles from the assembly. If there are enough meditators, the distance doesn't matter.
Large groups of meditators also reduce terrorism. During three of the assemblies, worldwide terrorism dropped by an average of 72%, based on data compiled by the Rand Corporation. After the assemblies ended, the figures returned to their previous levels.
Before these studies were published in the academic journals, they were peer-reviewed by independent scientists who had nothing to do with meditation. They agreed the research was valid, even though some of them said they couldn't understand the principles behind it.
I attended two of these assemblies, and the experiences were wonderful. Meditating with thousands of other people strengthens the results. You can feel the mental emanations reinforcing one another. I enjoyed deeper levels of inner silence and clearer infusions of transcendental energy. Outside of meditation, we treated one another with a harmony and tenderness that I'd never experienced in a group of people before. It was a taste of what an ideal society could be like.
This scientific evidence indicates that Transcendental Meditation can cure the root cause of war — stress in the collective consciousness — and bring world peace. This could be the most important discovery of our time. To test it, we're now trying to build a permanent group of 8,000 meditators. That's the number the research showed was necessary to create a global effect. So far we have a group of 4,000 in India and 2,000 in Iowa, both of them growing. If the numbers continue to increase, we really could have peace.
All of us can participate in this, whether in a group or not. Several studies show that individuals meditating on their own for 20 minutes twice a day also contribute to this effect. There's a website that has all the information and citations on the research: www.PermanentPeace.org . And there's more about it in my book, RADICAL PEACE: People Refusing War.
World peace through the unified field sounds bizarre, but so did many other important discoveries at the time they were made. This research is well worth looking into. I think it's the best chance we've got and we should definitely try it.
By William T. Hathaway
By William T. Hathaway