By Rob Okun
Wednesday, January 15, 2003
Peace-loving men need to join the women who comprise the majority of the U.S. anti-war movement. While men have an obligation to start a conversation about war, it is high time they had one about peace.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Men have a tremendous stake in whether we fight another war. Fathers do. Sons do. Brothers, uncles, nephews, husbands--we all do. While the armed forces have begrudgingly accepted women into their formerly old boys' club, the vast majority of the soldiers bombing and battling in Baghdad will be male, most just barely past boyhood.
Yet it is mainly our mothers, sisters, aunts, nieces, wives, partners and daughters who havebeen demonstrating for peace. Two weeks before Thanksgiving, women from around the United States began a peace vigil in Lafayette Park across from the White House. It will continue without a break until International Women's Day on March 8, culminating in a massive women's peace march. Another group is at the New York state capitol in Albany. Organizers say the vigils are an urgent call to prevent a war for oil against Iraq. Women from these groups, and the new grassroots organization, Mothers Against War, started in Amherst, Mass., are expected to be at this Saturday's demonstration at the U.S. Capitol in droves.
Men are invited to participate in the Washington vigil and I hope many will. But what about a men's initiative? What are men going to do? Just as many males have begun to take responsibility to prevent sexual assault and domestic violence against women, men have an obligation to take a stand, as men, against war. Men have an obligation to start a conversation about war, but more importantly, it is high time they had one about peace.
It's a conversation to initiate with their buddies and bosses at work, their sons and brothers at home, their clergy at their houses of worship, and with government officials at the local, state and national level.
It would be naive to think that W., Dick, Colin and Don are engaged in the conversation. They're not. They're still having the old one--"might equals right" and "bomb 'em back into the Stone Age"--that war lords have always engaged in. It would also be naive not to acknowledge there is real danger out there and that plans to protect ourselves must be made and implemented. But for our children's sake, those plans must include more voices than just those at the Pentagon.
While women have taken the lead in jumpstarting the growing anti-war movement, men are stepping forward. Three decades after Vietnam, and a decade after the Gulf War, there are legions of college-age men and fathers of young children among others opposing a war predicated on the old model of masculinity. Ever since the current tenant of the White House signed the act establishing the new Department of Homeland Security many of us men have not felt particularly secure. On the contrary, we've been scared. For many of us who are male, thinking about safety and security has never been high on our priority list. Most of us have always assumed we would be safe and secure--at least white men have. After all, isn't that what male privilege is all about? What's put a chink in that seemingly invincible armor is our collective memory of Sept. 11, 2001: terrorism as the great equalizer.
Out of that horrifying tragedy a narrow beacon of hope has emerged. While at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue the power brokers are still flexing their reactive muscles, quietly a movement within the larger revitalized peace movement is beginning to emerge. Call it Another Father for Peace, Men Against War, or the 1980s group, BrotherPeace--the name doesn't matter. What does is that more men are choosing to express their feelings (of fear and insecurity, among a range of others) rather than stuffing them. There is among them a real yearning for peace.
Ever since male firefighters and police officers, and male rescue workers and medical personnel hugged and cried together before a worldwide audience at Ground Zero, a national conversation has begun about men and peace. It may still be a quiet conversation, and it may not yet be taking place on every town green and downtown city plaza across the country, but its murmurs are becoming more distinct. In Massachusetts, among those working in a statewide men's initiative to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault against women, are men publicly making the link between violence in our homes and communities and an oil war in the Middle East.
Imagine men--gathering as men--speaking out against war. Becoming a major force, for instance, lobbying to establish a Department of Peace and creating a Peace Academy, ideas that for years have been bandied about in Congress. Perhaps such efforts could begin as a way to honor the memory of a Washington figure who was part of the national conversation about men and peace, the late Sen. Paul Wellstone. If men want to redefine our identity from warlords to princes of peace, now is the time.
Rob Okun is associate director of the Men's Resource Center of Western Massachusetts, a psychotherapist in private practice in Amherst, and editor of the men's center's Voice Male magazine.
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