Photo credit: PatsyFerrell,©2016, Used with permission

Photo credit: PatsyFerrell,©2016, Used with permission

Guest Editorial

Dr. Carl Kline
Sayagraha Institute
Brookings, South Dakota

“Alternatives to Violence are Available”

I just finished reading "The Master Butchers Singing Club" by Louise Erdrich. As I read the last chapter, I was reminded that the largest shooting massacre in our history was not in Las Vegas. It was on the plains of South Dakota. The origin and numbers of the dead and wounded at Wounded Knee are still debated, but there was a staggering number of the innocent killed.

Now I realize there are some people in some states who want to sanitize our history. They want to remove all the questionable activities over the ages from the history books and perpetuate the myth of a freedom loving people, simply pursuing their God given manifest destiny. But I've been leading a study of the Hebrew prophets at church. One of the primary problems of the Hebrew people was they wouldn't recognize and own their violence. They crush the poor and needy in their pursuit of silver and gold. Blood and violence runs in the streets. Justice hangs on a scaffold as those in authority take bribes and court corruption. God is not happy and natural consequences result.

Our future as a country hangs in the balance. We need to recognize and confess our heritage of violence and begin to make reparations. We simply can't continue to pretend we are good and just and rely on violence to work our will in the world. The force and violence used at Las Vegas is our natural, national disposition. 

The one thing Congress always approves on a bi-partisan basis is the war budget. The latest sum is $700 billion, $37 billion more than our "America First" President requested. It includes $60 billion for war operations overseas in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and who knows where else? I guess one place would be Niger, as three of our military were killed there recently. Who knew? And who knows where else we have special forces at war, since such decisions are now left in the hands of the military and the Commander in Chief, given a blank check to spend where they will. 

Not deciding where we should be at war is the most egregious abdication of Constitutional authority by our Congress, And it allows us, the American people, to ignore the fact that our country is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.

It's not just the 1,000 plus military bases all over the globe. American special forces deployed to 138 nations last year, 70% of the world's countries. We are arming countries all over the globe, often finding those same armaments used against our own forces. And the hypocrisy involved in the conflicts with North Korea and Iran over nuclear weapons are so tragic they are laughable.

In July of this year, the United Nations held a special session to negotiate a treaty to ban nuclear weapons. The negotiations were boycotted by all nine nuclear weapons states with the U.S., holding the largest number of primed and ready nuclear weapons, leading the boycott. Nevertheless, 122 nations voted for the ban. It will go into effect as soon as 50 nations sign and ratify it. It will begin to put additional pressure on those countries that allow U.S. nuclear weapons on their territory, like Germany, where 90% of the German population wants them removed. You would think a peace loving country like the U.S. would be in the forefront of such a movement and one of the first countries to sign. After all, we don't want countries like Iran and North Korea to have such weapons.

But instead of negotiations, this administration prefers force and the threat of force. So we ignore the request of North Korea to stop our military exercises. We ignore the history, the reality that we carpet bombed them into the stone age during the Korean war. Nobody remembers the words of General Curtis LeMay, "We burned down every town in North Korea and South Korea, too. … We killed off over a million civilian Koreans and drove several million more from their homes …" On an average good day in the Korean War, we dropped 70,000 gallons of napalm. A total of 635,000 tons of bombs fell during the war.

The massacre in Las Vegas is now part of our history. It joins Columbine, Virginia Tech, Newtown, Charleston and Orlando. Wikipedia has a list of all the school shootings in our history, starting in 1764. Page through the list. You begin to get a sense of our violent history here at home. Or simply recognize the fact that since the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando 477 days ago, there have been 521 mass shootings in this country ("mass" defined as four or more deaths).

We ignore our history and heritage at our peril, especially as the alternatives are available. There is a way of nonviolence taught and modeled by Jesus, Gandhi, King and so many others. It is practical and realistic. Modern day practitioners are making it work in settings all over the globe. It won't take hold overnight and it won't work in every situation. But as we experiment with alternatives to violence we build a history that has a future for our planet. We need to choose!


Dr. Carl Kline


Carl is a United Church of Christ clergyman and adjunct faculty member at Mt. Marty College, Watertown, SD campus. He is a founder and on the planning committee of the Brookings SD Interfaith Council that has carried on interfaith community dialogue since 2011. He has been to India thirteen times, usually taking groups from the West to live and travel with followers of Mahatma Gandhi. He is a co-founder of Nonviolent Alternatives, a small not-for-profit that, for 15 years, provided intercultural experiences with Lakota/Dakota people in the Northern Plains and brought conflict resolution and peer mediation programs to schools around the region. Carl was one of the early participants in the development of Peace Brigades International and served for many years on the PBI-USA coordinating committee and on the International Council. He coordinates the blog Living Nonviolence, writes a weekly column for the local paper, and fasts with Fast for the Earth.