Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Peace Day

More than 40 years before Anna Jarvis established Mother’s Day to honor individual mothers (before later campaigning against the commercialization of the Holiday), Julia Ward Howe organized Mothers’ Peace Days around the country in the wake of the Civil War. Howe, best know as author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, urged women throughout the world to join together to oppose war in her Mother’s Day Proclamation of 1870:

“Arise, all women who have hearts! Whether your baptism be of water or of tears! Say Firmly: Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

As bombs and bullets continue to kill and maim sons and daughters in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Gaza and beyond, Howe’s plea is as relevant as it was 139 years ago. Just this week, U.S. bombs allegedly killed more than 100 civilians in one strike in Afghanistan, including scores of women and children who had sought shelter in houses and orchards.

Howe’s insight was that which unites us is stronger than that which divides us. After all, the mothers and fathers of the world love their children in equal proportion. A mother whose son or daughter is killed by a bomb in a small Afghanistan village grieves as deeply as a mother in the U.S. would if circumstances were reversed.

Precious few mother or fathers can imagine a justification for their own child being killed in the pursuit of a supposed political or military objective. Yet we too often turn a blind eye at reports of our tax-funded high tech weapons killing the children of others or rationalize it as an unfortunate consequence of “keeping us safe.” As if our children being bombed would not increase the likelihood of revenge attacks, making the attackers (and their children) less safe.

Following the recent Afghanistan bombardment, a throng of angry protesters chanted "Death to America". What would they have been chanting if instead of bombs, we had dropped books and bread?

So when, as Pete Seeger has asked in song for decades, will we ever learn? Another musician, Jimi Hendrix, had an answer: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the people shall know peace.”

If there exists love powerful enough to overcome the love of power with its violent implications, it is contained in the collective love of all the world’s mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers. The potential to realize the full power of this love lies in connecting the feelings and concern we have for our own children to the feelings and concerns of every other parent and grandparent. We can take a step in this direction by insisting that no more mothers and children are bombed in our name in Afghanistan or anyplace else.

Were we to join in common cause, doing to the children of others as we’d have done unto ours – and demanding that our governments do the same -- the world would necessarily shift from war and violence toward peace and compassion. May this Mothers’ Day be fresh inspiration to renew this journey.

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