Yes, it’s hard work, and I’m nervous when I first enter the classroom with a new group of students, but I can’t deny a tremendous sense of excitement and joy as the academic year begins. I consider it a high honor and privilege to be able to help young people understand the complexities of building peace and transforming conflict, and to expand their professional horizons and capabilities.
This year I begin class with a powerful example of how ‘a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world,’ to borrow Margaret Mead’s famous phrase. I tell the tale of Resolve Uganda, a small nongovernmental organization created by recent Notre Dame graduates, which helped to win government passage of historic legislation to end the war in Northern Uganda. In May President Obama signed the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act. The law requires the United States to produce a strategy within 180 days to end the Lord’s Resistance Army’s reign of terror in east and central Africa. The legislation commits the United States to taking a more vigorous stance against the murderous policies of the LRA and assisting the people of the region to build peace.
Here’s the story of how I came to pose for this poster by the great photographer Richard Avedon. (Yes, that’s a real dove.)
I served in the U.S. Army during Vietnam, an experience that made me realize the folly and horror of war. Uncle Sam turned me into a peace activist.
It was the summer of 1968, an unfortunate time to be a young man in the United States. Military draft calls were at their peak, with more than half a million U.S. troops on the ground in Vietnam. Most of my friends and my brother were already in the army. Within days of graduating from Notre Dame (goodbye student deferment!) a notice from the Selective Service arrived, ordering me to report for the draft. Soon I was in the army, my head reeling.
Since 2001, Afghan women and the international community have worked to improve human rights and end the nightmarish conditions imposed by the previous Taliban regime. These efforts have resulted in some significant advances in the status of women. Conditions remain difficult, and some setbacks have occurred recently as the Taliban-led insurgency has gained strength, but the gains for women’s rights are important and need to be preserved in any future negotiated peace agreement.
Tucked away in the tens of thousands of pages of WikiLeaks documents released in late July is a CIA special memorandum dated 11 March 2010. Its subject is “sustaining West European support for the NATO-led mission” in Afghanistan. The CIA document offers recommendations for shoring up public opinion in the face of growing skepticism in France, Germany and other European countries. Among the options suggested for media manipulation is the following:
Afghan women could serve as ideal messengers in humanizing the ISAF role in combating the Taliban because of women’s ability to speak personally and credibly about their experiences under the Taliban, their aspirations for the future, and their fears of a Taliban victory. Outreach initiatives that create media opportunities for Afghan women to share their stories with French, German, and other European women could help to overcome pervasive skepticism among women in Western Europe toward the ISAF mission. Continue reading “War: What Afghan Women ‘Want?’”→