It was pleasing to see John Bacher’s article about Father Elias Chacour (Peace, Jan-Mar 2014). I was privileged to visit him, with a group tour, at his school complex at Ibillin, near Nazareth. I expected to read about what is one of his most remarkable accomplishments. He told us of Ibillin’s great need for a school. After many months of frustration at being refused a building permit by the Israeli authorities, he scraped together enough funds to fly to Washington. There he established a rapport with the Secretary of State, who eventually made a high-level political connection. The Israeli government issued the permit.
On what was considered an unbuildable site, Father Chacour built a school for Palestinian children, first an elementary school, later adding a high school, and now a community college, the first in all of Galilee. This was done in the face of repeated and harsh Israeli opposition, and often at great personal risk. Donations from the international community enabled a beautiful church to be built on the site. It faces ongoing and exorbitant fees for “building permits.” Elias Chacour deserves international recognition for his achievements through his steady nonviolence.
It is encouraging to note Dyer and Steven Pinker’s argument (Peace, Jan-Mar 2014) that lethal violence is in decline. It is surely true that murder and manslaughter have decreased over the decades in most countries where crime statistics are reliable. The question of war is more complex. Durations, intensities, and casualty numbers are interrelated but which is the most appropriate measure of ‘warlikeness’? Unlike criminal statistics, there are often no good figures for deaths, whether in battle or civilian.
We need to remind ourselves of what is perhaps the most detailed study of these things, by Quaker meteorologist Lewis Fry Richardson, who showed that wars tended to occur in a statistical (but not random) way and that over prolonged periods the probable death tolls usually showed no clear trends. Richardson left his work uncompleted when he died in 1953. The final version of Statistics of Deadly Quarrels was published posthumously in 1960. It does compare wars with other forms of lethal violence. At the end Richardson did indicate that “there is a suggestion, but not a conclusive proof, that mankind has become less warlike since 1820” but a more recent analysis of this work (D. Wilkinson, Deadly Quarrels, Univ. of California Press, 1980) finds little justification for such slight optimism.
As Chou-En-Lai may or may not have said, “it is too soon to judge the results of the French Revolution,” so it is too soon for us, survivors of the early twentieth century, which saw two of the most frightful wars of all time, to decide on the likely future of war.
The collapse of the Soviet Union seems to have precipitated an era of increased prolonged low level wars for which no end is in sight. And the complex international legal framework of test bans, non-proliferation agreements, and nuclear weapons free zones that makes nuclear catastrophe improbable cannot be relied upon to last indefinitely outside a universally agreed Nuclear Weapons Convention.
Nine nations still contemplate use and actually practise threat of use of such weapons. If it ever happened the statistical analyses would all be blown away.
Since my article was published (Peace, Jan. 14) there have been a few developments. First, the UN increased its request for the resettlement of Syria’s vulnerable from 30,000 to 100,000. Although Canada had offered to accept 1,300 Syrians, 1,100 of those are provisional. Only 200 spots are immediately available-i.e. 0.2% of the UN target. This is woefully inadequate.
Second, the UN Security Council ordered the warring parties to allow humanitarian aid in. In absence of enforcement mechanisms, this is mostly symbolic. However, it is the first time there has been consensus at the Security Council regarding the humanitarian aspect.
I hope all readers will contact federal politicians to insist on a stronger response.
Let me add to Joe’s letter. The private sponsorship program for refugees is hopelessly restrictive, but in the past it was able to handle hundreds of thousands. I must conclude regretfully that Canada is not willing to do anything for the Syrian refugee crisis. Why is that?