On learning the value of negotiation from the Outlaw Josey Wales
We’re in a strange moment when advocating for negotiations toward peace in Ukraine is dismissed as not only wrongheaded but morally wrong. We’re told that only Ukraine can determine its future, and that one must not appease a dictator (Putin), but in the same breath we’re told that peace will only come when Russia is totally defeated by force of arms, with the main arms supplier being the United States. Methinks various actors in the U.S. are evincing a conflict of interest here. When war is profitable and you keep arguing for it, it doesn’t take a detective to see motives that are suspect.
Even when it’s necessary, war is bloody awful and murderously atrocious. Not surprisingly, Jesus Christ preferred to bless the peacemakers instead of the warmongers. Yet peacemakers today in the U.S. are rare indeed in the government and in mainstream media. In God we (don’t) trust.
Being anti-war strikes me as a sane position for any human being. War, in rare cases, may be unavoidable and even necessary (I’d point to World War II as a necessary war to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan), but being anti-war should be reflexive. As I once read on a bumper sticker: “I’m already against the next war.” I laughed at that one. Peace is joyful.
I’d go further and argue that peace is pro-life and pro-choice. Everyone should be for it, unless, that is, you make your fortune from war. It’s hard to be pro-life, after all, when you’re shouting “kill” at some enemy. And you really have no choices when you’re dead. If you want more choices in life, turn away from war. There’s nothing like war to deny you choices — and perhaps life as well.
The Russia-Ukraine War may soon enter its second year. No one in their right mind should be cheering for this. I don’t want to see more dead Russians and Ukrainians. I don’t want escalating tensions between the U.S. and Russia, the world’s most powerful nuclear-armed nations. Only a fool or a war profiteer should want another cold war, considering that the previous one wasted trillions of dollars, cost millions their lives, and almost ended in nuclear Armageddon sixty years ago off the coast of Cuba.
For some reason an old Clint Eastwood film comes to mind: “The Outlaw Josey Wales.” As Josey Wales says to Ten Bears, a Native American chief, in a grim life-or-death faceoff, “Men can live together without butchering one another.” Wales, unafraid to be seen as “weak” by negotiating with a Comanche chief, brought his word of death even as he sought an understanding that would preserve life. And life it was.
Negotiation is not weakness. Peace and life, as Josey Wales knew, is far preferable to war and death. If the will exists, even bitter opponents can find common ground and a path forward away from death. Words of peace have iron of their own, as Ten Bears says. They ring true when they resonate from people of honor.
Josey Wales, a man who’d lost his family to war and its butchery, a man who’d had to kill to survive, wanted nothing more than peace and a chance for a better life. So should we all.
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