Paxeducare’s Blog


Thoughts on War and Peace August 17, 2009
August 17, 2009, 5:40 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

 

                After spending a week in Ukraine, followed by a week in Budapest and then a week in Austria, I am still integrating the many experiences of learning, seeing and doing in this 3+ weeks, particularly as they relate to issues of war, violence, oppression and peace.  I was grateful for the IIPE, which came during the middle of these experiences and gave me a chance to learn first-hand of the wonderful work of so many peace educators around the world. Yet questions remain-what is this need we humans have do dominate others? How can it be so easy to dehumanize the “other”? How can we educate toward “rehumanization” and toward the preciousness of human life? Clearly morals and ethics must play a part.

Two books I read during this time heightened my awareness of historical and cultural issues,  one set in  Ukraine and in one in the Austria-Hungarian empire of the 18th, 19th and 20th century. Borderlands by Anna Reid, is a compelling history of Ukraine and an apt title for a region that has known little peace since its founding as a Rus kingdom in the 9th century AD. Sitting strategically between western Europe and the Soviet empire of the east. Ukraine has only experienced independence as a nation twice, once in the 1920s for a very few years, and now again is struggling to define itself, having gained its freedom from the Soviet Union in 1991. Reading the book is like struggling from one slaughter to the next, with civilians victimized from early times, the worst being during the Stalin area of collectivization  and then the Second World War, when Ukraine lost more victims than the Nazi Holocaust, some estimates are above 20 million.

The other book is The Radetzky March  by Joseph Roth, which is a novel set in the waning days of the Austria-Hungarian empire, beginning in the late 1700s and concluding as World War I begins. It is a multi-generational tale, leading  to the final story of the struggles of a soldier who  must claim obedience to an oppressive system of militarization and the consequences of this to his own sense of identity and morality. It portrays the futility of war.

Complementing these two books is one I picked up in a Vienna coffee shop which had a few English language used paperbacks for sale. Queen  is the multi-generational story of the American author Alex Haley’s father’s family. Queen was his paternal grandmother, who was a slave before, during and after the civil war. The family’s white ancestors trace to one Irish immigrant, who established huge plantations in Tennessee and Alabama. The book, in raw form, takes us through the many horrific injustices inherent in a white dominated system. Yet there is courage and redemption that we see again and again.

Everywhere in Eastern Europe are reminders of war. We here in the United States have our war monuments, but in Europe war is real in a sense that in the US it is one step removed. Every village has its memorial. The small town where my daughter, Gretchen, lives in Ukraine, Korop, has its memorial to the Afghan War-not the current one,  which is our  war here in the US, but the Soviet-Afghan war of the 1980s. Here is a picture of a  memorial to WWII in Korop.

27 war memorial korup

I think, perhaps, the most powerful experience I had was a visit to the former Nazi concentration camp of Mauthausen, in Austria. During the third week of the 3+ week trip, while bicycling down the path along the Danube, my husband and I drove off of the trail, partway up a very steep road, walking the remainder of the way to the top of a mountain, one of the most beautiful setting imaginable, if you look out and not back at the remains of the Nazi death camp. Looking down we saw the remnants of the gravel pit, where the work of excavating was done by the camp inmates, many of whom worked to their deaths. The barracks, gas chamber, crematorium are left just as they were. There is a sense of unreality to it-how could the unthinkable really have happened here, right out in the open? Who knew of the participants in the surrounding countryside? Part of the camp has now been made into a memorial. Yet questions remain…is a memorial enough to keep our hearts and minds from the doing the unthinkable?

The IIPE (International Institutes on Peace Education-see previous entry on the proceedings) set in Budapest, whose theme was human rights education, gave us as participants a chance to learn first-hand what are the human rights issues that Hungary is facing.  We learned during one of the plenaries of the plight of the Roma people (Gypsies), who have historically been marginalized and are particularly hard-hit during this time that the local Hungarian hosts call  “The Crisis”.  Still politically somewhat fragile, Hungary has embraced its entrance into the European Union and is beginning to face some aspects of the darker side of history. And again, through hearing what educators and practitioners are doing around the globe, I learned that there is great hope, there is great courage, to fight oppression and injustice.

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