David Hartsough is traveling the globe to rally a force that will march into the danger zones of the world armed with only a commitment to peace. When Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in 1948, he was building a shanti sena, a peace troop. From that idea, Hartsough and others have created the Global Non-violent Peace Forcea corps of civilians trained in active non-violence techniques that will be sent to areas of conflict around the world to protect human rights and create the space for peaceful resolution of differences.
At the invitation of NGOs or other parties, the corps will enter combat areas to provide unarmed escorts for peaceworkers and training in active non-violence, as well as summon the attention of the world. Hartsough hopes to have the force non-combat-ready by 2003, with an initial contingent of 200 active members, 400 reservists and 500 supporters around the globe who will send email, make phone calls, alert the press and turn the international spotlight on particular conflicts. With a distinguished career in civil rights, human rights and peace advocacy, he already has 10 informal invitations from places including Sri Lanka, Burma, Korea, Mindanao in the Philippines, Columbia, Ecuador, Zimbabwe and Nigeria. At a conference due to be held in New Delhi in November, an international steering committee, which includes Acharn Chaiwat, will choose the location for a pilot project. If it is successful, Hartsough hopes it will set a precedent for solving conflicts peacefully.
Learning from Peace Brigades International
Peace Brigades International, a smaller corps than the one Hartsough plans, was instrumental in giving courage to the civil society in Guatemala which challenged a repressive government that was killing hundreds of thousands of citizens, says Hartsough. At the invitation of a group called The Families of the Detained and Disappeared, the Brigades came in to escort protesters, providing a buffer between military death squads that carried out the governments orders and the civilians who were challenging the governments power. During a four-year period, only two peace-workers were stabbed in Guatemala and no one was killed. In the increasingly safe environment, more members of the civil society emerged to oppose government oppression. Hartsough, who was there at the time, attributes Guatemalas transition to democracy in large part to the work of the Brigades.
To prepare a training module for his force, he studied the work of Peace Brigades International and others and has compiled a 300-page document on what has worked, what hasnt, and what has never been tried. Despite being a less expensive alternative to armed conflict, peace doesnt come cheap and Hartsough and his colleagues need to raise a pretty penny by peace-movement standards$8 million a yeara sum that may be even harder to gather in the wake of September 11. Hartsough is quick to point out, however, that this amount is equal to what the world spends on the military every four minutes. If he can secure the funding, he hopes to have the force fully operationalwith 2,000 active members, 4,000 reservists and 5,000 supportersby 2010.
Though September 11 has engendered more violence, Hartsough sees this moment in history as an opportunity to advance his cause. He points to an article in the International Herald Tribune exposing the deaths inflicted on one Afghan village by the American bombing campaign. As more and more facts like this come out, I think people are going to be revolted by this militaristic response to something terrible. The United States has spent trillions of dollars on military security, bombers, planes, nuclear weapons, the CIA, FBI ... and that got us zero security. It didnt protect one person on September 11. Isnt it time to look at an alternative way to get security?
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