Monday, February 20, 2012


We know all these things, don't we? We know about the "peaceful warrior." We know that "War Is Not the Answer" and that we must strive for "World Peace" if our poor planet is to survive the ravages of humankind. We know these things so well that we reduce them to bumper stickers and paste them on our cars. We know that violence begets violence; we know the golden rule, that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us. We know in our hearts that love serves our common interests better than hatred. And still these things bear repeating, because even though we know them, we have not yet learned as a species to act consistently upon these truths. We persist in making war. We persist in enacting the rituals of violence, and in excusing ourselves with the delusion that this is our nature. We persist in acting against what we know to be our best interests.

So is there a Peaceful Revolution currently in progress, as the author Paul K. Chappell proposes, in his book by that same title? Is there a powerful paradigm shift in our thinking in the early 21st century, one equal in potential impact to the scientific discovery that the earth is round, or that it rotates around the sun, as Chappell argues? A young and conflict-seasoned soldier, a West Point graduate, and now a warrior for peace, Chappell writes from a personal pit of very human rage: born part-Korean, part African-American, part white, to a father whose emotional war wounds led him to violence inflicted on his son and, eventually, to madness, this writer made the journey from childhood innocence into the experience of deep terror and distrust too soon and too abruptly. When he writes of the worst of human suffering, he knows whereof he speaks. When he writes of violence, it is something he has experienced at first hand, and from the earliest age.

Chappell's personal salvation and his dedication to the cause of peace came from what seems at first to be an unlikely source: his training as a warrior at West Point. His argument proceeds from the West Point motto: Duty, Honor, Country. For him, he explains:
duty means taking responsibility for my actions and the problems I can help solve, and knowing I have a duty to serve others and make a difference. Honor means having integrity, being honest with myself and others, and treating people with respect. Country means being committed to and willing to sacrifice for something larger than myself.
Country, he adds, "extends beyond our national borders... In the twenty-first century, our global community has become so interconnected that our country truly is the planet earth." His mission, the reader learns, is to serve that global community on the path to a viable future where war and violence are as obsolete as the concept of a flat earth.

The discipline learned at West Point is crucial both to Chappell's mission as a peaceful warrior, and to his work as a writer. He martials and deploys his material with meticulous organizational skill, around the central metaphor of muscularity. He wants us to understand that to be tough and disciplined in practice in no way conflicts with the compassion and empathy he preaches. His chapter headings--"The Muscle of Hope," The Muscle of Appreciation," "The Muscle of Reason"...--are key to the clarification of his intention: these muscles, like those in the human body, must be conscientiously exercised if they are not to atrophy and die. He leads us toward his central point with finely-honed logic: violence is not inherent in human nature, it must be taught. If we are to save the planet and our species, we need to educate and nurture our natural propensity for compassion, empathy, and love.

Chappell textures his argument richly with references not only to contemporary social science and current research in the still-developing field of neuroscience, but also with quotations liberally culled from the history of human thought and literature, from such great teachers as Jesus and the Buddha to modern pioneers of the philosophy he embraces: Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer, Martin Luther King Jr.; from Daedalus to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; from Aesop's fox and his sour grapes to Chicken Little and the falling sky. A major--well, the major influence on his thinking is the study On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, an examination of the methods needed to train the mind of a normal human being into one prepared to kill. Soldiers, particularly, need to be taught to override their natural inclination to flight in order to prepare them to fight. Ironically, it turns out, the best tools in this endeavor turn out to be... empathy and compassion: the warrior is induced to fight most willingly if aroused to what Chappell calls "fury" in his instinct to protect. Think "Band of Brothers." Think what your own instinct might be if your family were threatened.

So it's in the appeal to that "fury" that Chappell sees not only the strength of the individual warrior but also the will of our species to transcend old patterns of behavior and enlist in the growing army engaged in the needed "peaceful revolution." His book is a persuasive and inspiring read. As one known to cast a skeptical eye on our national and global politics, I found myself able to connect with the hope that there is, indeed, a shift in human consciousness that is now taking place on the planet, an evolutionary change, if you will, instigated by our instinct for survival, and by our understanding that cooperation and compassion are, in truth, the only viable weapons to insure it.

Chappell's argument is in every way consistent with good Buddhist thought and practice. Toward the end of his book, he hints at a sequel that will explore the methodology and the results of meditation on the path to peace. I look forward to his insights.

Peaceful Revolution: How We Can Create the Future Needed for Humanity's Survival
by Paul K. Chappell
Easton Studio Press

1 comment:

CHI SPHERE said...

The optimism and hopefulness in Paul K. Chappell's work sounds compelling even if it is a revolution instead of an evolution. Seeing the Arab Spring grow some attempts toward Democracy or a version of it that marches away from dictatorships and autocracies is an example of the power that the internet wields in the hands of the 99%. My friends in China are suffering a lack of internet access with the citizens of Syria, Iran, Yemen. The repression of this access clearly defines the fear these oppressive regimes have regarding freedoms humankind has fought and died for in many other parts of the world.
It is very telling to learn that a West Point war fighter is dedicating his experiences towards peace.

Thank you Peter for sharing this book!