HONOLULU—Ask most people, and they will probably tell you they want a peaceful world. At the holidays, many of us wish each other peace on earth; peace of mind seems to be a highly valued state. We send soldiers on peacekeeping missions ... and we also send them to war.
Ten months ago, Paul Chappell was one of them. Now he’s living in Santa Barbara, California and is the Peace Leadership Coordinator of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. Chappell is visiting Hawaii as the keynote speaker for the fourth annual Peace Day celebration at the University of Hawaii at Manoa on September 21 and will speak at events throughout the state.
A West Point graduate and a legacy soldier, Chappell is the first generation in his family to go to college. Drafted into the Army, his half-black, half-white father grew up in the Jim Crow south and served in Korea and Vietnam. Chappell’s Japanese mother was in Korea during the Korean War and also never went to college. What he experienced in Alabama as the picked-on hapa child of a father prone to violence taught him a few truths that led to his military career and peace activism.
“You learn how painful things can be,” he says. “I was searching for answers and for more meaning. If you want to make the world safe, you have to pay a price to keep others safe. That’s how I was thinking when I was younger.”
As Captain Paul Chappell, he served for seven years during which he wrote two small books on peace: Will War Ever End: A Soldier’s Vision of Peace for the 21st Century and The End of War: How Waging Peace Can Save Humanity, Our Planet, and Our Future. They read more like one book.
Chappell says he finds no disconnect between his desire to be a soldier and also a man seeking to create a peaceful world.
“Soldiers who join the Army want peace,” he explains. “We’re conditioned that if you want peace, you join the military. I learned at West Point that in the 21st century, America needs to rely more on diplomacy because war is so catastrophic.”
That is not the philosophy commonly held by many soldiers and civilians. Three myths perpetuated by the military industrial complex fuel the boots on the ground approach and Chappell believes all three need to be dispelled.
Those myths boil down to a fear of what will happen if we don’t go to war, a belief that people are naturally violent, and the inevitability of war as an extension of the idea that humans are basically violent beings.
When pressed about war’s economic side, Chappell agrees the war-is-good-for-business idea has been around longer than he has been alive and continues to show up in everything from fashion to investors’ choices in stocks. For tweens, teens, and young adults, a visit to a local game store might appear to support all those ideas. But he says ultraviolent games outsell the noncompetitive variety for another reason: “The violent games are challenging, the others aren’t.”
At the core of his philosophy is the notion that what is not watered will not grow. Whether he is talking about U.S. policy toward North Korea or dealing with an angry person, Chappell’s advice is the same: don’t get caught up in the potential violence, deescalate the situation by staying calm and, yes, understand there are some people who are violent.
“There are two kinds of violent people we have to worry about,” Chappell says. “There are war mongers and psychopaths. A warmonger is like a parasite and just like a parasite relies on a host to do all the work. The warmonger relies on the people to do all the fighting. If you separate the warmonger from the people it can’t hurt anybody.”
And as for psychopaths? “The psychopath likes to kill somebody,” he says. “The way to deal with a psychopath is through having good police and FBI. The military isn’t trained in good police work.”
What the military can be good at is building hospitals and schools and deterring violence by going after the root causes of unrest: poverty, hunger, and lack of education. Chappell would like to see more of these nation-building projects in Afghanistan and in other global places of conflict. The Civil Affairs branch of the military should be expanded and he says those in it often don’t carry weapons. But the essential problem of the soldier is the duality of purpose.
“Right now the military is half peace corps, half killing machine,” Chapell says. “The problem with using violence against terrorism is it’s a transnational criminal network. You can plan a terrorist attack from L.A. You can plan an attack from Great Britain. You can plan an attack from Brooklyn.”
In other words, terrorism not a country-specific enemy and can’t be countered and squelched with the old might-makes-right strategy.
People want easy answers to make them feel good, Chappell says, and there aren’t any when it comes to overcoming terrorism. Dr. Johan Galtung would agree. The father of modern peace studies is the founder of the International Peace Research Institute Oslo and Transcend International, a Hawaii- registered global network of 350 autonomous peace scholars and practitioners from 80 countries. Galtung also serves on the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation Advisory Board.
For over half a century, Galtung has been mediating peaceful resolutions to global conflicts and replicating his skills in others. The recipient of the 1987 Right Livelihood Award maintains that people need a deeper knowledge of world history to understand the cultures that gave rise to empires, how those empires failed, and why certain conflicts still exist. Most people can’t or won’t spend that much time for that much depth ... which brings us back to little books.
There’s not much new material in what Chappell says but his message is reaching a different and younger audience. He peppers his comments with liberal quotes from people he admires and perhaps in the future he will find a depth and weight in his own insights to make the fallback to the voices of others unnecessary. Until then, the twist of his military education and service leading him away from violence and toward, as he puts it, “waging peace” still proves some truisms are nonetheless true just because you may have heard all or some them before.
The full interview with Paul Chappell is on the Town Square archive at www.hawaiipublicradio.org.
An interview with Chappell in August posted on Youtube: