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Peace Talks Radio Host Suzanne Kryder talks with Capt. Paul Chappell, author of
Suzanne Kryder: Paul, tell us about your military service; where, when, what you were doing.
Paul K. Chappell: I graduated West Point in 2002 and I served in the Army until 2009. I was deployed to Baghdad in 2006. Being at West Point and being in the military really helped with my transformation. Many of the things that I learned at West Point and in the military altered my viewpoint of war.
I grew up very pro-war and I don’t mean pro-war in any kind of psychotic sense, but I mean in the sense that I thought that war was an effective security paradigm for making our country and the world safe.
Kryder: What changed? What was it about your service that transformed you?
Chappell: Seeing the limitations of violence and seeing how violence can actually backfire. There was a key research study done recently that found that 51% of people in the military now believe that using too much violence makes terrorism worse.
If you look at past wars, we would pretty much have open war with their civilian populations. If you look at WWII, we were bombing large civilian populations.
In this new era of mass media, when you kill civilians you actually create more resentment against your own country. Things like Abu Ghraib or civilian killings.
Whether they’re done either intentionally or accidentally, which is often the case because we don’t have the kind of precision in terms of drone attacks that we claim to have. If you look at American politicians, they say the drones are extremely accurate and don’t kill civilians, but that’s not true of course because you have technology that can fail, you have intelligence failures in terms of having faulty information.
When you kill civilians, you actually create more resentment against you because now we live in the era of You Tube and the internet and if something like Abu Ghraib happens, you see pictures all over the internet and all over international news.
Kryder: Iraq War veteran Paul Chappell is our guest. He’s the author of several books including the 2012 release Peaceful Revolution.
Paul, you’ve got an interesting strategy because you were in the service, but it’s not like you rejected your experience.
So for example, in your book you write about the Warrior Ethos which you studied at West Point. Can you tell us what that is and how that’s built into your peaceful revolution?
Chappell: Yeah, the Army’s warrior ethos is, “I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade.”
I saw how so many of the ideals I learned in the military actually apply to waging peace and how many of the warrior ideals necessary for warfare are also necessary for waging peace.
If you look at Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. or Albert Schweitzer or Buddha or Socrates, they had a lot of those warrior ideals. Gandhi even said, “I am a soldier but I am a soldier of peace.”
I think that was one of the most surprising parts of my personal change in viewpoint. I felt like West Point, in many ways, actually encouraged me to pursue this path of peace.
You can read these anti-war quotes from General MacArthur. There are numerous anti-war quotes from General Eisenhower and General Omar Bradley who were also West Point graduates. So there is a tradition of anti-war viewpoints. There’s a great quote from General MacArthur. He said, “The soldier above all other people prays for peace for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”
Kryder: Let’s take one for an example, “I will always place the mission first.” What does that have to do with the peaceful revolution?
Chappell: Well, the most important thing is the mission. There is a saying in the Army that you would be surprised and amazed at what you can accomplish when you get your ego out of the way.
We have this mission of peace and that mission of peace is more important than ego. It’s more important than fame. It’s more important than personal wealth. You have to be able to subordinate your ego to the greater mission. I think that the philosophy, the most important thing being the mission, that you prioritize that above everything else is the attitude that you have to have for this very difficult struggle.
Kryder: When I describe your book, Peaceful Revolution, to people, many of them are confused when I say what it’s about and people often say to me, “he wants to end which war?” When I say he wants to end all war, some folks are skeptical. How do you know that the end of war is possible?
Chappell: I can relate to that viewpoint because I used to be very skeptical as well and I’m still skeptical I think.
But when I began to study military history and learn about war from the military perspective, I saw the overwhelming evidence that human beings are not naturally violent. If you look at military history and you look at how people behaved in violent situations, the evidence is overwhelming that they were not naturally violent.
We can see how war actually forms and how it spreads and how it damages economies, nations and the planet.
Also the fact that so much change has happened, which we often don’t recognize. For example, I’m half Korean, a quarter white and a quarter black and I grew up in Alabama and my ancestors were African slaves.
Five hundred years ago things such as democracy, the right to vote, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, women’s and civil rights virtually did not exist anywhere on the planet.
Two hundred years ago Napoleon had overthrow the democratic government in France and the only democracy in the world then was the U.S.
We wanted a democracy. If you were African American, you wanted a democracy. If you were a female, you wanted a democracy. It was only a democracy for white male land owners in most places.
So there has been dramatic change. Two hundred years ago in America, women couldn’t vote or own property. Africans were slaves. Slavery had been around since the beginning of recorded history, state sanctioned slavery and now it has been abolished. Every country has a law against it.
The difference between those issues and the issue of war, not only is it a moral issue, but it’s also an issue that threatens human survival. I think the urgency of the issue along with what we know now about human nature, about humans being not naturally violent, and how we can actually have more effective ways to solve conflicts gives me a lot of hope that we can end all war.
Kryder: Do you think you can see it in your lifetime?
Chappell: I think it depends upon what we do. People often ask me, “How long will it take to end war?” and I respond by saying, “I can answer that question with another question; how long does it take to run a mile?” You can run a mile in four minutes. You can run a mile in ten minutes. You can run a mile in half an hour. You can begin running a mile and quit halfway through. You can never take the first step. So how long it takes you to run a mile depends upon what you do, how hard you train and what your actions are.
In the same way, how long it takes to end war depends upon the quality and quantity of our actions. We could end war perhaps in 20 years. We might end war perhaps in 200 years or we might never end war and humanity will go extinct. So it really depends upon what we do. I believe that we can end war. It’s possible to end war, but ending war is not inevitable. It depends upon our actions.
Kryder: Paul, you start your most recent book Peaceful Revolution with an excerpt from General MacArthur. It’s dated 1961. Could you read a section of that for us?
Chappell: Sure. There’s a great quote. It’s a quote from General MacArthur and he said, “You will say it once, that although the abolition of war has been a dream of man for centuries, every proposition to that end has been promptly discarded as impossible and fantastic, but that was before the science of the past decade made mass destruction a reality. Now the tremendous evolution of nuclear and other potentials of destruction has suddenly taken the problem away from its primary consideration as a moral and spiritual question and brought it abreast as scientific realism. The abolition of war is no longer an ethical question to be pondered solely by learned philosophers and ecclesiastics, but a hardcore one for the decision of the masses whose survival is the issue.”
Kryder: Paul, what about the General MacArthur quote is important to you?
Chappell: Basically what he is saying is that the issue of ending war is now an issue of human survival.
If you look at the struggle to achieve women’s rights or the struggle to achieve civil rights or the struggle to abolish slavery, those were very important issues, but the world wasn’t going to end if slavery wasn’t abolished. The world wasn’t going to end if civil rights or women’s rights weren’t achieved.
But the issues we’re dealing with now; war, nuclear weapons, environmental destruction, these issues threaten human survival. So we have to act with increased urgency and determination to solve these problems in a very timely way.
Kryder: Paul, it seems like some anti-war folks have an attitude that any soldier, anybody who serves in the military is pro-war and what their purpose and their inner motivation is to seek war. What’s your take on that?
Chappell: Well I think that people in power control people by dividing people. People in power want people in the peace movement to see the soldiers and the military as enemies. They want people in the military to see the peace movement as enemies. They want liberals to see republicans as enemies and conservatives to see liberals as enemies. One thing I realized is how much all these people really have in common.
I think that I am an example of somebody who joined the military and I know many people who joined the military thinking that the military is going to make the world safer and the military is going to promote peace.
If you look at President Bush or President Obama, they both say that the military is promoting freedom and the military is promoting democracy and the military is making the world safer.
If you look at WWII when recruitment was very high, when people were eagerly being drafted, you had this sense that people in the military were going to defeat Hitler and defeat Imperial Japan and create world peace.
The military, if you look at their whole recruiting strategy, they never say you have to kill anybody. If you look at the Navy’s new motto it’s “A global force for good.” If you look at how they recruit, they recruit appealing to people’s ideals and appealing to people’s yearning for self improvement, getting disciplined, getting college money.
The problem with appealing to people’s ideals is you get a lot of people in your organization who are idealistic. So a lot of people in the military join thinking they’re going to make the world safer. They’re going to help the women in Afghanistan. They’re going to help the people in Iraq.
Certainly not all of the people in the military join with those kinds of intentions. Like any large organization, you have people with bad motives.
But if you recognize what many of their intentions are, we have to offer a better security paradigm. We have to offer a better way to make the country and the planet safe without using war because war in many ways is a very old, archaic and counterproductive method.
If you look at the New Zealand Army for example, they perform missions of humanitarian aid, disaster relief and protecting animals from poachers.
If the purpose of the American military is to protect the American people, the best way to protect the American people is to help people around the world through natural disaster relief, through humanitarian relief, humanitarian aid and those kinds of things.
If you look at how the military is now, if you get rid of the military, you’ll end up with basically private armies. There are people right now who want the military to become completely privatized. If you look at Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, the change in how war is waged where we have more civilian contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan than actual soldiers. You could imagine a very dangerous situation where the military actually becomes privatized.
If we had a draft right now, we wouldn’t be in any wars in the Middle East or if we were, there would be vast public opposition and that is exactly why there is no draft. The people who waged war realized that if you have a draft in the 21st century, Americans are really going to start wondering about this whole war system.
So to summarize, I would say that I am an example and there are many examples of soldiers that I know who have good intentions and that’s a chance for peace; people to actually reach out to them and dialogue with them.
In addition to that, we have to offer a new security paradigm, a new way to make our country safe that is more effective and less counterproductive than more.
Kryder: Paul, your book describes seven muscles that we need develop in order to end war. The muscles are like weapons of peace. They are; hope, empathy, appreciation, conscience, reason, discipline and curiosity. With empathy, if we think about our listeners, let’s say they want to dedicate four hours on a Saturday afternoon to ending war. What are two specific action steps they could do to strengthen the muscle of empathy?
Chappell: I think that empathy has to be strengthened through training and through practice.
I think that so much of the dialogue in our country is very divisive and polarizing and demonizing of each side.
One thing I explain to people, especially when I do peace leadership training, is try to imagine yourself talking to somebody who has the complete opposite viewpoint of you. How would you have empathy for that person? How would you not get angry? How would you not lose your temper? How would you even have empathy? That’s a very difficult thing to do especially when you’re talking about very controversial issues. That’s what King and Gandhi and Nelson Madela and others were able to do so well.
One thing I say, just a practical thing people can do is if you’re talking to anybody who has the opposing viewpoint, it is so important to listen and be respectful. If all you do is listen and be respectful, that is an important victory.
I don’t think there has ever been anyone in human history who has seriously said I hate it when people listen to me. I hate it when people respect me. I can’t stand it when people listen to me or respect me. Everybody likes to be listened to. Everybody likes to be respected.
So when you listen to people and you are respectful, you make a very strong impression on them especially in a culture like ours where there is so little respect and so little listening.
If you listen to somebody about a controversial issue like war, you have one viewpoint, they have the opposite viewpoint and if you listen to that person, they’ll walk away from the conversation and they might say wow, those peace people, we don’t see eye to eye but they are really nice people. That person actually listened to me. My own wife doesn’t listen to me. My children don’t listen to me. Nobody listens to me.
Kryder: I get what you mean by listening. I can see people listening. Break it down. What is being respectful? What are our listeners doing or not doing?
Chappell: Well that’s what I’m trying to get to is basically is people ask me then, “How do you listen to people?” The key to listening is you have to have empathy. If you don’t have empathy for somebody, you can’t really hear what they’re saying. Even if the person has the most outrageous viewpoint you can imagine, if you empathize with the person, that’s when you begin to understand where they’re coming from.
If you look at Martin Luther King, Jr., he was getting dozens of death threats a day, his house was bombed, he was arrested multiple times, he was eventually killed, but you never saw him talk about the people who were pressing him in this demonizing, dehumanizing way that you see liberals talk about conservatives and vice versa. He had much more right to demonize his opponents.
If you look at Frederick Douglas who came out of slavery, you didn’t hear him using that demonizing, dehumanizing language of white people.
If you look at Gandhi, how he talked about the British, he didn’t talk about the British in this demonizing way. Of course he had much more right to because look at the conditions he was living in. Look at the conditions that King was living in or look at Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela was in jail for 27 years and he was actually able to win the hearts and minds of some of his prison guards through having a respectful attitude towards them.
The thing about waging peace is that you respect them as a human being and you recognize that in this struggle, your opponent is ignorant, your opponent is hatred, your opponent is greed, your opponent is misunderstanding. You want to attack their hatred and defeat it. You want to attack their ignorance. You want to attack their misunderstandings. How do you do that effectively? If you hate them back or if you demonize them, you actually magnify their hatred. By respecting them, it opens a doorway where you can directly attack their hatred and attack their ignorance.
You can’t convert everybody from that opposing point of view, but as King and Mandela and Frederick Douglas and Susan B. Anthony and many others showed, you can convert quite a number and enough to create critical mass in how people think.
Peace Talks Radio Host Suzanne Kryder talks with former soldier Erik Gustafson,
Kryder: Was there anything in your experience serving in the military that changed how you viewed war and peace and maybe could have been a precursor to the work since you’ve done since then?
Gustafson: Well absolutely. I mean it was the ’91 Gulf War. I know a lot of people celebrate Colin Powell and the Powell Doctrine because Americans came home and we lost very few guys in that war. Of the guys that we lost, it was mostly from friendly fire incidents or from accidents, vehicle accidents and things like that.
It is a good thing that so few Americans died in the ’91 Gulf War, but I saw the other side of the Powell Doctrine and that was the number of Iraqis who were killed. You had a dictatorship. You had conscripts. These were Iraqis who didn’t choose to serve, they had to serve. They were deployed. It they had gone against their orders they would have been killed and they were in Kuwait and then with the U.S. military coming in with overwhelming firepower; 42 days of a very intensive air war that killed so many Iraqis that probably, given the opportunity, would have turned and fled.
One of the worse cases was seeing the aftermath of the Highway of Death. This was the exodus of the Iraqi military out of Kuwait when they expected an amphibious assault and also when the ground forces moved in. That exodus on that highway, I forget what the highway is, but the highway between Kuwait City going back to Basra was just completely – almost every vehicle was destroyed and an unknown number of Iraqis died when they were leaving, when they were in retreat.
That to me always bothered me and it really told me that sometimes decisions made at the highest level can have terrible consequences for so many in terms of costing lives.
Kryder: We’re speaking with Erik Gustafson. Erik, tell us what you’ve done since your military service around promoting peace.
Gustafson: Well when I got out of the service I went on to the University of Wisconsin in Madison and became an activist on a lot of human rights issues. For years I mostly focused on East Timor.
But then in the summer of 1997, I had an opportunity to travel to Iraq on a humanitarian fact finding mission and what I witnessed firsthand was a war that had never really ended. With the cease fire agreement in 1991, Saddam Hussein’s regime was left intact, left in power. The agreement with the UN was that he had to completely eliminate his weapons of mass destruction program, but there was no way to completely verify that he had done so. International sanctions remained in place and those sanctions were doing far more to harm ordinary Iraqis than they were harming the regime or compelling it to come clean with the UN.
What I saw was basically a war that had gone from the frontlines of traditional battlefields into people’s homes, into hospitals, into the streets and cities of Iraq affecting ordinary civilians while the regime was able to consolidate power and stay in power because the people became so much more dependent on the regime.
I just saw what I felt was a terrible policy and so that compelled me, when I came back from that mission, to go on the lecture tour, talk with Americans as a veteran of the ’91 Gulf War and try to get Americans to recognize that the conflict wasn’t over, that there was still a price being paid by ordinary Iraqis and that fundamental changes needed to happen in U.S. policy.
After that I ended up moving to Washington, D.C. and I formed the Education for Peace in Iraq Center in 1998 with the mission of improving humanitarian conditions for all Iraqis and bringing an end to conflict there.
Kryder: The acronym is EPIC, Education for Peace in Iraq Center. In full disclosure, that’s how you and I met. I was here in 2005 and volunteered to work with EPIC for a month. Where did the germ, where did the seed of this idea for EPIC come from?
Gustafson: My approach to the work has always been through solidarity work. I think for me a lot of my political socialization happened as an activist on the campus at the U of W in Madison. Certainly I formed some of my views when I was in the service and even before then, but I think a lot of my views about how to effect social change came together as an activist at Madison.
Because of my experience with East Timor Action Network, I saw how effective only a dozen chapters of activists scattered around the country and how much of an impact that small network could have on U.S. policy when it came to Indonesia and East Timor.
I wanted to be able to apply the same lessons to creating social change around U.S. Iraq policy. That’s really where the idea came from. My ideas about solidarity work is that part of it is that if you want to be effective, you have to know how to create change in Washington, D.C., but secondly you have to always stay in contact with the people who your mission serves. In this case it was the people of Iraq.
I’ve always spent time developing and forming friendships with the Iraqi Diaspora, Iraqi-Americans here, but also always looking at opportunities to get to know Iraqis in Iraq as well. What they share with me has always informed the work that we do.
Kryder: Tell us about a success in Washington in terms of your advocacy work.
Gustafson: Well one of the early successes we had was to get the story of the humanitarian crisis under international sanctions in the regime into newspapers. There was a complete blackout. In fact, The New York Times refused to run any of these stories that looked at the humanitarian consequences of international sanctions. There was an editorial decision made at the highest level that it was because of the regime not because of international sanctions so they flat out refused.
My twin brother Jeff wrote a letter to The New York Times shortly after a UNICEF report came out that basically said that between 1991 and 1998, there were as many excess deaths among children under the age of five as 500,000. That was the upward estimate that UNICEF was making at the time. He wrote a letter to The New York Times. The letter editor actually changed his letter and attributed that statistic to Saddam Hussein’s regime and ran the letter that way. We immediately activated our base and just put enormous pressure on The New York Times to publish a correction and eventually they agreed to run a new letter without changing it so we were able to get that letter in.
Not too long after, Stephen Kinzer ran a series of three stories about the humanitarian situation in Iraq. It was the first time that we finally broke through that wall and we started to get stories about the humanitarian situation.
At the same time Denis Halliday resigned from the UN. He was in charge of the Oil-for-Food program in Iraq and we worked with other groups here in Washington to have him testify. The combination of that and other things actually led to the Clinton Administration raising the cap on how much oil Iraq could sell under the Oil-for-Food program. That, without question, saved a lot of lives.
Kryder: What has worked better than you expected with EPIC?
Gustafson: It’s hard to answer that question because I’ve been pretty unsatisfied. I’ve wanted to really have much more of an impact than I’ve had so far. I think one role that we played because we’ve been focused on Iraq for as long as we have, we’ve been in a unique position to offer a lot of good advice to a lot of different organizations when they suddenly became interested in the issues that we are working on.
Part of it had to do with the lead up to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. A lot of organizations were mobilizing. There was a very active and strong peace movement across the country to try to prevent that war from happening.
I think it was great to be able to be in a position where we had so many contacts with the Iraqi community, we knew the issues so well, we knew the issues about Iraq’s weapons programs and we could immediately question some of what the Administration was saying and get that information out to activists. I think that was probably one of the most exciting roles that we’ve been able to play over the years.
It’s unfortunate that that movement didn’t prevent the war from happening, but at least we were able to call to question the rush to war and call into question a lot of what the Administration was saying. Some of it was quite false.
Kryder: Tell us a story about an Iraqi that you really can’t forget.
Gustafson: There are so many Iraqis that immediately come to mind from my recent time in Iraq, but I’ll just share one story. There was a young man from Baqubah which is just north of Baghdad. This is a city that has a very terrible and sad reputation of having produced most of Iraq’s suicide bombers. Of course most of the suicide bombers are foreigners, but there have been some Iraqis who have carried out suicide attacks and most of them have come from Baqubah.
He and his family were forced to leave their home because of the violence there in the city and the local militia took over his home as part of their base of operations. They were forced out and fled north. He is a very smart guy. His name is Achmed. He went on to medical school. He’s now doing his residency.
But what I remember so much is just his personality and just how generous and incredible he was and being in the North and having so many Kurdish friends.
That’s an idea that we take for granted here in the U.S. because we’re the post-Civil Rights Movement generation. Martin Luther King is now in our DNA. There are so many Americans who are much more colorblind.
In Iraq, things still are relatively tribal and yet I saw this young man, and so many other Iraqis who I’ve met like him, who also seemed to have that in their DNA. He had Kurdish friends. He had Shiite and Sunni friends.
Also what was incredible about him that I remember so strongly is his story telling abilities and his language skills. He spoke very good English as well as Arabic. He had learned Kurdish rapidly and he had musical skills.
You’ll find a lot of Iraqis like him. He played guitar and he not only could play all kinds of amazing songs from Kazem [al Sahe], an Iraqi pop star, or Amr Diab, an Egyptian pop star, but he would start playing The Beatles and Dylan.
What was exciting about him and his story is that I also realized that even though Iraq had been under sanctions and under a dictatorship for so long, for this younger generation the road had suddenly opened up. They were getting these music sheets from all these different bands and they were discovering all of what’s out there and also aspiring to want to see things in Iraq the way that they saw things in the United States and in European Countries. The world is becoming a small place. It’s becoming so connected.
So Achmed, he’s a great example of a friendship and a story that I’m so excited about. It’s part of what motivates me to do this work.
One Iraqi that also comes to mind is a young woman, Amena who was in the hospital when I was there in the summer of ’97 and she had just gone through surgery. They didn’t have enough anesthesia to be able to put her to sleep so she felt a lot of the pain of the surgery and they still didn’t have all of the medicine that she needed for her to return to full health. It just continues to bother me.
There were other younger Iraqis and, being a parent of a one year old, I can relate to it ever more so now. I remember the parents with these young children who were malnourished, some of whom were diagnosed with cancer and they didn’t have the proper cancer medicine that was required to be able to put it in remission. It was horrible. It’s the worst thing in the world to hear parents’ screams and cries of grief over a child who can be possibly cured, can receive the medical care that they need, but the hospital didn’t have the medicine and equipment that it needed to be able to provide for these children.
Kryder: Erik Gustafson, let’s say you have a niece or a nephew who is 19 years old and they come to you and say, “I sincerely want to enlist and serve my country.” What would you say to him or her?
Gustafson: I think that I would just share a little bit of my own experience so that they know fully what they’re getting into. I think they have to be prepared, especially in today’s world, for the possibility of having to serve in combat in very challenging environments like Afghanistan or in the Middle East. I would share some of that.
I feel a little bit better about someone entering the service today than had they gone in in 2002, 2003, 2004.
I think what is truly tragic and something that everybody has to know going into the service is that you will fall under a command structure and that command structure could make colossally bad decisions like invading a country without being prepared for the aftermath or continuing to execute operations with rules of engagement of killing and capturing the enemy when things have clearly moved into an occupation phase. These are horrible judgments and decisions that were made that have affected a generation of veterans who were put in positions where they killed innocent civilians because the rules of engagement were such that it was more about protecting their guys than it was about protecting civilians. What it should have been was a more traditional counterinsurgency operation.
I think it’s having full knowledge about the potential risks of when you go into the service.
The last thing is that when you go into the service you become a member of the U.S. military and you do forego some rights that you have as a civilian. A civilian can quit their job. When you’re in the service, you can’t really quit your job and you do have to follow orders.
I think those are the main things to keep in mind for those who are considering military service.
Kryder: I’m wondering if there’s some way to merge an interest in military service with peacemaking.
Gustafson: I’ve seen it already. If you look at some of the debates that have occurred within the military establishment around Iraq, there were some who were taking a very aggressive attitude that the combat mission needed to be escalated in Iraq but others who were saying that was actually counterproductive and that the mission needed to be shifted towards a mission that was much more about protecting civilians and finding ways to co-opt insurgents, at least those who were willing to pursue things through political or other means rather than continuing to pursue things by violent means.
You’ll find that in the military establishments some men and women are very interested in how you bring an end to conflicts, how you bring an end to wars and that I think is very much part of the ethos that you’ll find among some of the institutes that are out there and some of the top military scholars. It’s not all about war. Sometimes it’s also about how you bring an end to a war, how you bring an end to violent conflicts, sectarian conflicts, civil wars.