Exclusive Interview with journalist and author, Bob Koehler.
My guest today is Bob Koehler, peace journalist, author, and a favorite, long-time interviewee of mine. Welcome back to OpEdNews, Bob.
Joan: We haven’t talked for quite a while, almost two years, in fact. Your latest piece, A promise to our kids: We won’t kill you, really shook me up. In it, you discuss how warfare has changed in at least one fundamental way since the First World War. Can you please fill our readers in?
Bob: The numbers are from the book A Promise to Our Children, by Charles Busch. He points out that during World War I, there were nine combatants who died for every civilian who died. During World War II, that ratio changed drastically: one to one! The death tolls of soldiers and civilians were the same. And in the last half century or so, there has been another drastic change: nine civilians for every combatant, a complete reversal of the World War I ratio. And Busch points out that many – maybe most – of the civilians killed are children. Bombs away! War is no longer waged out there on a battlefield. War has come home! In essence, our $800 military budget (most recent one) is a budget for murdering children. War isn’t a game of strategy and glory anymore. War is hell.
Joan: This may sound terribly naive, but does anyone out there know about this? I found it quite shocking ‘news’ – shocking and unpalatable.
Bob: I fear the media doesn’t “know” – nor does Congress, seemingly. The kill budget is discussed in utter abstraction. When we bomb a city we use “smart bombs.” Because Russia is now once again our designated enemy, we know the hellish murder it’s perpetrating on Ukraine. What we did in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc., etc. – or what our weapons have done in the hands of whoever – was and is never called murder. The collective conversation about war lets us off scot free.
Joan: I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around this. What we used to think of as individual, unfortunate cases of collateral damage have now become the norm. Technology has not made us more incrementally efficient in killing enemy combatants – only and primarily in killing civilians, including lots and lots of children. I have read about drone pilots committing suicide, stricken by all the civilian casualties. So this horrific imbalance is bothering someone. How did this change come about? Is the Pentagon (and its counterparts world-wide) aware of this inhumane inefficiency and is it a concern?
Bob: How did this all come about? Interesting and no doubt extremely complex question. The technology is part of it – especially nuclear weapons, which WW2 bequeathed to us. Now we can’t wage full-on war anymore, without committing global suicide. So the major powers, the nuclear powers, have, in the past 75 years, been waging proxy wars – rich and heavily armed nations against small, impoverished nations. But the big nations (primarily the USA) don’t win. They shatter the impoverished country but don’t destroy the “terrorists” they’re fighting. Wars aren’t waged on battlefields anymore. They’re waged by missiles and drones and – certainly in Vietnam – chemicals. The major powers don’t attack each other; they play dominoes – lethal dominoes. They kill children. We need a global movement to move beyond war.
Joan: How do we get the genie back into the bottle, Bob? It’s doubtful that suddenly the military industrial complex is going to magically find something more productive to do. But they certainly could adopt policies that were more mindful of civilian casualties. Couldn’t they? With a shove from the public? To throw in another metaphor, how do we turn this ocean liner around? Is it even possible?
Bob: I think we have to turn the ocean liner into ” oh, I don’t even have a good metaphor. We have to evolve. We have to move beyond – transcend – militarism. War is our suicide machine. I know of no answer except ongoing, growing awareness. How can the global anti war movement gain political traction, economic traction? I don’t know. The one answer I fear is that it will take a nuclear war to wake people up (the survivors, that is ” how many will there be?). What I put most of my faith and hope into are nonviolent conflict resolution strategies, like restorative justice. The Roots of Empathy project, which Busch talks about in his book, helps children discover and begin to value their own empathy – the teachers are infants. Children learn the precious value of vulnerability. In today’s world, it remains far too easy to dehumanize the enemy. We’ve developed the technology of war as far as it can go. The next step is nuclear annihilation. We now have to begin developing the technologies of peace.
Joan: “Technologies of peace”; I like the sound of that. Can you talk a little more about Roots of Empathy? It’s so hopeful.
Bob: I have just learned about the Roots of Empathy so I only know about it as a concept. This is not something I’ve researched or participated in, but it’s definitely something I want to learn more about. The Roots of Empathy, created by the educator Mary Gordon, is a learning concept in which an infant is the teacher. The mother and her baby come to the classroom – third or fourth grade – and sit in a circle with the students. The baby is at the center and the children get to connect with him or her, learn who the baby is, and become aware of the love and joy and sense of preciousness they are starting to feel. When I read about this I was amazed – this is emotional education! Developing a sense of empathy! War is all about being able to dehumanize a chosen enemy. If we have a strong, highly developed sense of empathy, we are not going to be quick to dehumanized others. This is one aspect of the technology of peace.
Joan: And it’s already in place in a dozen countries so far, including here, which is encouraging. I think that this is a good place to wrap up. Readers, why don’t you contact your local schools and request that Roots of Empathy get added to the curriculum there? That could give this project some additional momentum. Thanks so much for talking with me again, Bob. It’s always a pleasure!
Bob: Same here, Joan. Thanks for the great conversation!
Bob’s book: Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press)
Some of my prior interviews with Bob:
Bob Koehler Weighs in on the Recount 12.2.2016