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Peace Talks Radio Host Suzanne Kryder talks with David Smith, author of Peace Jobs

Suzanne Kryder: David Smith, why were peace jobs and writing this book important to you?

David Smith:
Well, I spent 30 years in the field. My own career I started as a divorce lawyer and I did that for a number of years and I then quickly went into education. In education, I taught at a community college. I taught peace and conflict courses there. I started a community mediation program. I did divorce mediation when I was a divorce mediator. Then I went to the U.S. Institute of Peace for about ten years where I was working with young people. I was also a Fulbright Scholar. I taught overseas.

One of the things in all of those situations, I was always working, at least when I started in education, with young people. It would be college students, it would be high school students, but invariably, when I would talk about how exciting this work is and how important this work is, they would come back to be and say, “How do I get a job doing this?” Or they would say to me; “How do I get your job?” I’ve got to tell you Suzanne, in the beginning, I didn’t have good answers for them and the answers that I would have for them would require many, many more years of education and many roads that they would have to travel to get to that. That often is discouraging to young people. If you’re talking to young people of modest means, maybe in community college, you’d say, “Well, if you’re going to do peace work, you’re going to have to go work at the United Nations and get a degree in diplomacy and pass the foreign service exam.” That’s really a long road and maybe not realistic for a lot of people.

I started to realize that there is a different way of looking at it. One of the things that I’ve really come to think about a lot Suzanne is that when students, particularly students in college, but I think also in high school, they get excited about what they’re learning. They learn about the world around them. It’s there that they often develop their passions and their interests.
What we don’t want to happen is that when students graduate from college they say, “Now I’ve got to get a real job. I’ve got to forget about all that passion and all those things I was interested in. Now I’ve got to buckle down and focus on those student loans and those kinds of things.” I want them to find that work, but I don’t want them to leave that passion behind. I want them to figure out how to take those things that they were interested in as an undergraduate when they were a member of the Model UN or did dialogue work or were head of a diversity club and take that and put that into their career. That’s what I’m trying to focus on.

Kryder: David Smith, most people think of a peace job as something like being a conflict resolver or a mediator. What would you say?

I would say that’s somewhat of a limiting way of looking at a peace job. I think there was a time that we looked at it in that way, but I have come to the conclusion, working in the field a long time, that really, every career, every job you can make into a peace job. You can change what you’re doing, change the things that you’re focusing on and really focus on building peace and resolving conflict.

Kryder: How do you make every job a peace job?

Well, it’s not going to be easy all the time, but I think for someone who is intentional about their career and things about their values and tries to incorporate their values in the work that they can.

One of the things to think about is broadening what we think about as peace and peace-building. I think, as you were saying, is it resolving conflict, is it mediation, but there are a lot of other things that are related to it; trauma healing for instance, community-building, certain types of activities such as promoting well-being within a society, all of those things can be peaceful activities, so there are a lot of jobs that fall within that.

Kryder: David, what’s the competition like for peace jobs?

Well, the competition is like the competition in any field. One of the things to recognize is that when we’re talking about a job that focuses on building peace, we’re not necessarily talking about a different field, we’re talking about nurses who do trauma work, we’re talking about police officers who do restorative justice work, we’re talking about teachers focused on peer mediation in the classroom, we’re talking about IT people who spend their time supporting not for profits and conflict resolution organizations and developing their web pages. We’re not really talking about a particular field, we’re talking about all the fields out there, but we’re talking about how is it that when you get hired somewhere, where you’re looking for it, you can make the argument that these are other things that you bring to the work to make yourself more competitive.

Kryder: Let’s say someone wants a job in some kind of conflict resolving or mediation type job, does that require a formal education?

I think that’s one of the challenges in some respects. One of the ways, I think, as a field we have not always prepared our students for what the marketplace looks like. Increasingly, jobs that have the title “mediation” or “facilitation” or “[inaudible]” person, these are all jobs that increasingly require graduate degrees, so you do have to have specific training.
What I like to argue with young people, particularly students who are in college, is that you can graduate from college with nearly every degree, any degree you imagine and you can go out for work and you can say, “Look, part of what I want to do is work somewhere where not only am I doing the work of the organization, but I’m creating space in my day or in my work where I can help resolve differences or help promote peace or help build sustainability. I can do those things in my work.” It’s not the mediation job, it’s all the other types of work that you can get a degree with that’s important.

Kryder: I’d like you to read part of your book. It’s starts on page 150.

“The world of tomorrow will require transforming idealism and enthusiasm into pragmatic strategies for building resilience in communities, bringing groups together that distrust each other and may seek revenge, helping individuals who may pursue violence and comforting victims who are dealing with the aftermath of serious conflict. Whether you are a humanitarian worker seeking to resettle those displaced by war, a high school counselor working with inner city and marginalized youth who might see little hope in the future, a police officer who uses negotiation rather than a firearm or a business owner that buys goods from communities for a fair price in order to build peaceful sustainability, you are a peace-builder. Now, go find your peace job.”

Kryder: David Smith, what is a story of a person in a peace job that is most memorable to you?

: In my book, I have 30 profiles of young people, mostly young people, who are working in fields that they define themselves as working to promote peace. One of the things that I started thinking when I was writing a book was; when you’re 17, 18, 19 years old, the people who are going to inspire you are going to be people who are just a little bit older than you are who are working in the field who are in their 20s. Most of the stories in my book are people of that age.

One of the stories that strikes me in particular is a young woman by the name of Yesenia Negron who is from Orlando, Florida. She actually went to a community college for two years, then she went to the University of Central Florida. In the book, she talks about the fact that she really lived in a house of violence growing up and violence was the culture of her family. She got a degree in criminal justice and went to work in domestic violence and now she works for a domestic violence clinic in the Orlando area and does actually training, training other people in doing domestic violence work.
Often, students and young people take their own circumstances and realize there is almost a calling that comes out of their own circumstances in which they want to make change.

Kryder: A story that really stood out for me was the one about the woman who opened the cheerleading academy. Can you tell that one?

Yes, Caitlyn Nelson, she’s Canadian. One of the things to think about is that we often think about peace-building in very traditional ways. That is, there is a specific activity that you’re going to engage in working with people, but Caitlyn started to realize – we think about sports for instance as increasing something that can bring people together who are different. She recognized that cheerleading, which many people would consider a sport, was something that she could use as a means to doing that. At her college, which is actually in Ontario, Canada, she really started this cheerleading squad where the cheerleaders themselves to a lot of community work and are really advancing peace and conflict resolution with their community. Not only do they do their cheerleading work, they do all this after school work with their community. It’s a really good story. In a way, you can promote peace through any career.

Kryder: David Smith, I want some recommendations for our listeners in two categories; people who are looking for jobs and people who are not looking for jobs.

First of all, I think there is self-assessment that people have to do. They have to think about what it is that they want to do and talk to someone very broadly about the things that are important to them. Often people go to work and they think about a job that they want rather than the values that they have. I think they need to talk about the values that they have.

Then I think one of the things I recommend to people; obviously, we talk a lot about networking, joining organizations, being with like-minded people is really important and finding organizations and entities in your community, not necessarily that are going to give you a job, but allow you to connect with people that think similarly to you and have the same values as you. That often leads to work. Sometimes when we think about work, we go right into looking for work rather than trying to find a community of people that have the same values and think the same way that we do. I would say that that would be something that would be really important. Joining associations that the issues that are important to you are issues that they talk about. It could be dialogue for instance. There are increasingly communities that are doing dialogue at work, but it could be global issues like a world affairs council.

If you’re not looking for work right now, but you’re trying to think about what your future could be like, I think you can do some of the same things, but one of the things that I would suggest for people who are not looking at work is really thinking about what your career has meant to you up until now. You’re not looking for work and maybe you’re very satisfied in what you’re doing, but what is the legacy and the things that you’re leaving that really make the world a better place? What then can you do in where you are now to make change? Often people want to continue in the work that they’re in, but they want to do something different than they were doing, so find where that need is. It may be in your work, it may be in your community of where you can “tweak” some of the things that you’re doing in order to promote peace.

Kryder: Do you have any special tips for older people?

Well, one of the things I recommend is Daniel Pink’s Ride is a good read, a good book in that respect. I think older people are sometimes isolated. I think as we get older, sometimes because we’re busy and we’re working, we isolate ourselves. I think finding community, getting involved in civic organizations, going back to school – I increasingly see in my graduate degree program, which is in conflict resolution, I increasingly see students in their 50s who are taking courses, not because they’re pursuing a degree, but because they’re just interested in the topic. So think about going back to school.

One of the sectors of higher education I work a lot with is community colleges. I travel around the United States giving talks to colleges and universities on peace and conflict resolution. A lot of times I’m talking to community college audiences, lots of community colleges are offering courses in conflict resolution, peace-building, dealing with differences, dialogue awareness. When you’re a senior citizen for instance, community college courses are often free. Go back and take a course. That’s something to do also.

Peace Talks Radio Host Paul Ingles talks with Brian Gruber, author of War: The Afterparty

Brian Gruber: I think the most poignant stories for me were the more immediate ones or recent ones.

I was in Iraq in January, 2016 and in Afghanistan 15 months before that and those were really distant culturally from me. To understand the stories and understand the fact that people welcomed what we did in various ways, but were mystified at how we stumbled and what our interests were and what we did after that. I think particularly in the visit to Iraq, I spent time mostly in the Kurdish area and Erbil and went to Halabja where the chemical bombardment took place.

The personal stories were, at first, micro. They were very individual and then, suddenly expanded to have a greater understanding. They were the ones that were most powerful to me.

I met this fellow who was a 31-year-old surgeon in Erbil who decided, once he learned what I was doing, to take me all over Northern Iraq. We were about 50 miles away from Mosul, which is occupied by ISIS and at one point, went to the frontline base because his Peshmerga friends’ brother was a captain in the Iraqi Army, so we visited the base.

We went to Halabja where the chemical bombardment took place. These folks, who didn’t speak English, welcomed me into their home. We had a lavish lunch and my friend, the surgeon, provided the translation.

They asked me why, in 1988 during Saddam Hussein’s chemical bombardment during the Iran-Iraq War of the Kurds in Halabja, why was the United States silent.

In talking to them, often with these stories, I would have a basic understanding because, of course, in doing the trip, I wanted to know what questions to ask and have some context, but then I would go into these rabbit holes of research for days after that, after hearing things that I would hear in these interviews.

These folks wanted to know where was the United States in 1988? Of course, where we were was providing satellite communications and logistical information to the Iraqi Army and approving the use of dual-use technologies that would allow the use of chemical weapons that were all bought in the West.

We had our feelings bruised by Ayatollah Khomeini and the Iranian revolution. We did not want Iran to win. They were sending human waves of people across the battlefield and so we enabled the Iraqi’s to use chemical weapons because many Kurds wanted Saddam Hussein to be overthrown.

Because Halabja is very close to the Iranian border, I was able to do research to learn that we provided that technology. The West provided that technology. The West provided that weaponry. When Iran went to the United Nations and went to the Security Council to protest over the use of chemical weapons, it was we who blocked that resolution because we were complicit in that.

Of course, three years later in Gulf War One, we got chemical weapons, religion and that’s when you started to hear this phrase; “They bombed their own people and Saddam gassed the Kurds.”

Having been in that living room in that Kurd family in Halabja, it took on a different complexion to me.

Paul Ingles: It must have been an awkward and challenging situation to be in; to have to answer those questions and speak for the American decisions at the time. It sounds like maybe you didn’t and then you went off and did the research so that you could get it in the book, but were there times when you were having to say, “I don’t know. I have to look into that. I can’t answer that question.”?

I think Paul there were a couple of different dimensions to that. One, what you find in traveling -and you’ve probably found the same- is that around the world, people often differentiate between the United States Government and United States citizens. There’s a certain warmth and openness and curiosity about Americans and American culture versus a condemnation of specific things that the government does. Whether that’s fair or not or whether we deserve that, that’s often the case. Also, often there was a dynamic in the conversations.

Similarly, I got in to meet at the largest mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan with a doctor who is the leading Islamic scholar in Afghanistan and the leader of the largest mosque in the country. I spent six hours at the mosque and two hours with him with his son translating sitting cross-legged in a room with a group of people at the mosque and there was an ability for him to (and I told him I was Jewish) talk about Zionism and Israel and the United States and Obama’s speech in Cairo and Iraq and our support of forces that were opposing democracy in some of these countries.

He wanted to intellectually engage. He wanted to learn. I was open and made it clear that I was not an apologist for the United States Government, but yet, I explained; you said that Obama, but in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, here are other ways to look at his record.

I found, of course, if I didn’t find this, I might have been dead, but I found that the people were, as humans, interested, engaging and open to having a conversation to learn and to open and to tell their story even though they may have felt that what my government did was horrific.

Ingles: We’ve done stories on service men who served in Vietnam and who were dealing with PTSD and they were in a program where they go back to Vietnam to visit their former opponents and they are always overwhelmed now, getting on 50 years later, that, as a rule, those people are very forgiving, very curious about meeting the people that were their former opponents. Their humility and openness to forgiveness was so overwhelming for these soldiers that it really started to heal them in a surprising way.

I guess my point is that I’m wondering, since you visited both places, if there’s a different feel for a place like Vietnam where time heals wounds or visiting more recent places where conflicts have been going on that are still in process and still an irritated wound.

I think there is a time factor and there is a cultural factor. Clearly, in Vietnam, I interviewed a lot of young people and, for them, they want to move on. By the way, their grandparents, who might have been in the war, they want to move on because they’re focused on their grandkids. To this day, Vietnam looks at China as more of a long-term adversary than the United States to the degree that they’re thinking of allowing us to come back to use their naval bases. They were at war with China on and off for 1,000 years. We were a blip on their radar. It is a generational thing partly. It was a long time ago.

I had interview with a fellow, Rod Diaz who is a scion of prominent Panamanian political family. His father was the best friend and personal secretary of Omar Torrijos and his two great-grandparents were both presidents of Panama. At the end of our interview he said, “You know, we’re Christian people. We’re very forgiving, but there are some cultures in other parts of the world that might not be as forgiving.” You can make a theological argument as to how forgiving Christians may or may not be, but I think time is a factor.

I think the Muslims that I met, almost without exception through all my travels, insisted that they were peaceful. They shared tenets of their religion passionately, disavowed the actions of the Taliban, Al Qaeda, ISIS, etc., but when you have political grievances on the ground, some of which are still going on, where your brothers and cousins and neighbors were killed or destabilized or your country was destroyed in effect as it is in Iraq, then you have tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people directly affected where it really is still a current story.

The one additional factor there is that they do remember the Sykes-Picot agreement from WWI and they do remember a century in Afghanistan going back further to the British occupation, so particularly for those who are outside the cities and not educated and have limited understanding of Western culture, they look at Colonialism and Sykes-Picot and the U.S. invasion as all part of a whole and they, culturally and personally, continue to resist and resent that in many ways.

Ingles: Well, they know their history better than perhaps we should know and, in some cases, it sounds like they know our history better than we remember.

They have a different perspective on our history. Shorn of the veneer of Divine Providence or justification or “We don’t have to obey the UN charter in ways that other countries have to obey them.”

Ingles: I haven’t had the pleasure of reading your book, but I’m curious, as we wrap up here, if you make an attempt at a moral to the story? Is there an overall sense of how this has left you, this journey that you’ve taken and documented, in terms of the broad picture or the personal picture of peacemaking and conflict resolution moving into the future?

Yes, I had to be careful, and I thought about this a long time because I wanted to approach this from a non-partisan, non-bias point of view even though we bring our own biases to things in life. I wanted to approach this with an open spirit of inquiry.

There are a number of conclusions at the end of the book, and I harken back to FDRs Four Freedoms and the Atlantic Charter and Charlie Chaplin’s great speech at the end of The Great Dictator which may have even influenced FDRs speech.

It was clear to me quite outside of partisan politics that violence rarely achieves political outcomes. It’s just an empirical fact; big, ugly, unintended consequences or blowback happen as a result that we just don’t expect. The reason that blowback is powerful is not so much that people want to harm us because they have grievances, but because the government and our media and other institutions have not properly educated us as to the scale of violence and horror that have happened in these conflicts and the reactions of people who were on the other end of the gun barrel.

Blowback is when you’re surprised when it happens because you don’t know why did they hate us and that’s when we come up with simplistic answers such as in Vietnam when we said it was a global communist conspiracy. It’s not nationalism and a desire for freedom and a dependence that’s been a 1,000-year-old battle in Vietnam. No, it’s not that. In the case of Islam, they hate our freedoms as opposed to specific political grievances over the last 10, 50, 100 years.

I think, particularly in the context of your show, violence does not often achieve desired political outcomes and that was clear to me by the end.

Ingles: Why are we so surprised at the blowback by now?

I think because we don’t educate ourselves on what we’ve done.

Another conclusion that I had was that the scale of horror and violence on both sides is something that, if not hidden, and it usually is hidden, is something that we don’t confront.

I think one of the reasons for my trip was to physically experience these different places and to see how close Halabja was to the Iranian border or to touch the exposed concrete in Belgrade at the radio/TV building and get a more intimate, up close feeling for it otherwise it becomes quite abstract.

Your favorite baseball team lost in the ninth inning yesterday, you have a certain emotional reaction that might be greater than 600,000 people dying violent deaths because we’re just not close enough to it.

I think somehow there needs to be a better understanding of the specifics of what happens. Sadly, in our political discourse in this country, that doesn’t often happen.