Welcome to my blog! Every week, I will post at least one article on something involving wicked problems either in peacebuilding or comparative politics. I define those fields very broadly, so you’ll probably be surprised by some of the topics I end up covering.
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Advocacy and Peacebuilding The Peacebuilder's Dilemma In the last few months, I've been involved in dozens of discussions about creating a peacebuilding architecture in the United States. No matter what the topic or venue we keep running into a dilemma. How do we reconcile two goals that seem to conflict with each other that are near and dear to our hearts: Most of us became and remain peacebuilders because we believe in social change that would lead to a more inclusive and just society. Despite the fact that most of us are advocates for change, our work has brought people on all sides of an issue together in an attempt to reconcile their differences. In the simplest possible terms, as we advocate for social change at home, we run the risk of alienating the people we disagree with, thereby making the goals in the second bullet point harder to achieve. We haven’t run into the dilemma that often in the past, in part, because our analytical models and our toolkits are based on the often unspoken assumption that we did our work abroad in places where we did not have a huge stake in the outcome which meant that we could focus all but exclusively on the second bullet point. That is a lot harder to do now that we have decided to work at home. Under those circumstances, I do have a stake in what happens—in who wins and in the policies that get adopted. In the [...]
An Architecture for American Peacebuilding Last week, two of my AfP colleagues and I joined about 70 other people at George Mason University’s Point of View retreat center to take the first steps toward building what we are calling an “architecture for peace” in the United States. The conference was run held using strict Chatham House rules, so I can’t talk much about the specifics of what took place. I can however, talk about What we mean by an architecture for peace Some concrete steps we have already taken and others whose next steps will follow soon and will be discussed in future blog posts I first began thinking of the importance of workshops like this when I attended the launch of Douglas Irvin-Erickson’s biography of Raphael Lemkin at the time of Donald Trump’s inauguration. During the course of the discussion, Doug mentioned architectures or institutions and policies that a number of governments had created to prevent the repetition of genocides and other mass atrocities they had experienced. Needless to say, my thoughts immediately turned to the United States and the threatening times we were moving into. So, after the formal talk ended, I spoke with Doug about creating a grass-roots based one in the United States. To make a long story short, my wife and I began sitting in on his graduate seminar and we began thinking about what such a bottom-up architecture would be like and how it could amplify peacebuilding efforts that were already underway here. To make that long story short again, a foundation [...]
How peacebuilders deal with power is an increasingly important question, especially when we work in our own country and deal with issues that touch us personally.
Peacebuilding: The Early Years
Doug's Question I’ve been sitting in on Doug Irvin-Erickson’s classes in conflict resolution for the last year. They’ve been so good that I’ve asked Doug to write an introductory text book with me, which we’ve tentatively entitled From Conflict Resolution to Peacebuilding. There are lots of reasons why I’ve enjoyed his classes so much that I’ve brought him on board to write the book. None is more important than a tough question he—and others—pose for those of us who are committed to nonviolent forms of conflict resolution. How do you deal with evil? I don’t want to get into definitional squabbles about what evil means here. Doug’s question applies whatever definition you use. So pick an example. Hitler. Stalin. ISIS. Rwanda’s genocidaires. Californians who wiped out California’s Native American population in the middle of the nineteenth century. Like many other young Jewish men, my draft board asked me what I would have done if I had a gun and could have assassinated Hitler before he launched the Holocaust when I applied for conscientious objector status in the early 1970s. I was able to come up with an answer that was good enough to satisfy them then. But I’ve never been comfortable with it because it is hard to effectively say “no” to evil, maintain one’s commitment to nonviolence, and then heal the wounds the conflict causes later on. The question was driven home when Doug and I attended the launch of our friend Dan Rothbart’s new anthology, Systemic [...]
Peace Education One day last week, I was sitting in undergraduate classes at George Mason University in preparation for writing my peace and conflict studies textbook with the class’s instructor, Doug Irvin-Erickson. The next day, I attended my seven year old grandson’s first grade play which was a musical based on Lynne Cherry's book, The Great Kapok Tree. Both events drove home the importance of peace education, a topic that has not been on my radar screen enough in recent years. It should have been and will be as we write the book and then in how we focus our work afterward. The members of both classes had spent some time discussing how and where their own personal views had evolved and not surprisingly ended up talking about their families, teachers, and others. As often happens in peace and conflict studies classes, the discussion also touched on careers. This time, however, I missed an obvious professional path—K-12 teaching. The importance of teaching got driven home the next morning when I watched Kiril and is classmates retell Cherry's tale about a group of animals who convince a logger not to cut down a kapok tree in the Amazon rain forest because their lives depend on the entire ecosystem. Apparently, the book has been dramatized many times, and our grandson’s school has been presenting its version of it for at least the last five years. Here is a version by a group of children who would now be in the sixth [...]