Michael Muller is on the Advisory Board for Thuy Smith International Outreach. He is a Vietnam veteran, has a Ph.D. in psychology, and has counseled veterans for many years. He writes novels under the pen name of Michael FitzGordon.
Conflict and Peace: Bridging the Gap
For many years as a psychologist I have listened to the stories of combat veterans and former POWs. I suppose I have heard every horror story and human atrocity there is, and more than most people want to imagine or hold. Once a former tank commander who had some horrific experiences during the Anzio invasion ask me how I did it. He said I had the patience of Job. I was a bit surprised that he noticed. I didn’t pay too much attention to how I was bearing up under such a lifestyle. I just took it for granted. I told him it was an honor to be present as people were growing.
War exemplifies the horror and the glory of human existence. I guess I was focusing on the glory of people’s bravery, endurance, and laying down their lives for others. I was not fully aware of the effect that the horror was having on me. Recently someone was telling me how cool fighter jets were. I knew that they would just think I was odd if I told them that yes, those machines were glorious examples of human ingenuity, but they were essentially weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which is the horror. They are flying guns. Guns are designed to kill.
In the United States of America we have always had people fleeing from oppression and hostile regimes. On the other hand, some of the original natives of North America say that the USA is itself their oppressor. Today there are many former Cubans in the USA. Some of them would like to overthrow Castro, while others, after so many years, do not think much about Cuba anymore. They are American. Many have forgotten how to speak Spanish.
The former Vietnamese in America similarly have a variety of opinions and orientations toward their former homeland and its government. These are not just intellectual opinions. Emotions can rise to a high pitch. They have come to live in a country where many ethnicities are loudly proclaiming their intentions to retain their cultural identity. Yet many have forgotten their native languages. They are Americans.
In 1066 the Normans invaded England and conquered the Anglo-Saxons. Their two languages gradually blended into what we know as English today. For several centuries the words of French origin were upper class, while the words of Anglo-Saxon origins were lower class. Today it would seem absurd if someone claimed to be trying to preserve his Anglo-Saxon heritage by only speaking Old English or by wearing Anglo-Saxon clothes. The Anglo-Saxon culture is preserved in poetry, history, and museums. The two cultures and origins have blended into a seamless whole. This is the future of our planet—if it survives.
At a conference in the early 1980s I asked LBJ’s former National Security Advisor, Walt Rostow, what their plans were for avoiding nuclear conflict. His answer was just that: avoid nuclear conflict any way they could and hope that the next generation would come up with some better answers. There are some people who always have some kind of rationalization for why we should aggressively stick our noses into the business of other people. They seem to think that in every country where we see some wrong being perpetrated we need to jump in and correct it. Of course there is always some rationalization about the strategic need for surgical interventions to maintain a balance of power beneficial to the USA and, of course, the entire world. Some fools are always itching for a fight.
Should we beat our breasts and be ashamed of our interventions in the past? Should those bad communists be removed from whatever country comes to mind? It is good for us to be aware of our past mistakes so that we can avoid them in the future. It’s good, for example, that we place the history of Columbus in the proper perspective. But what is done is done. We have enough to do trying to fix the present without trying to fix the past as well. Let us be forgiving and tolerant. Here is where we are today. Let us move on from here. If we are going to continue to hate those who made mistakes in the past, then the world will always be full of hatred.
The best way to resolve our problems is through peaceful and nonviolent means. We cannot underestimate the influence we have on others through setting a good example. Negotiations, peaceful initiatives, and mutual respect are the way to the future. If the planet survives, we will blend into a seamless whole. We will be one human family. If we must defend ourselves against those who take up arms against us, then so be it. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword. But insofar as possible, live in peace with everyone. Pray for peace. Struggle for peace. The longer you can delay conflict, the more successful you are, and the more opportunity there is for peaceful resolutions. This is a basic principle of hostage negotiation, and it is a basic principle in every sphere of life, whether individual or global. Insofar as possible, live in peace with everyone. Beware of rationalizations and justifications for strategic interventions. Seek peace. You do not want to drink deeply of the horror and the atrocities. Do not be itching for a fight, and do not be cocky about your ability to bring it to a happy conclusion.
In every group there are always those who seem to want to stand on some ground for argument or conflict. Discussing and dealing with conflicts is good, and is a part of daily life. Of course there are always those who are always just itching for conflict, and who are sensitive and touchy, and therefore always seem to be involved in conflict. If you tell them about this and they will not stop, then it is best to get away from them. But still, every day and every life will have conflict in it, and one of our most important living skills that determines our happiness or misery is our ability to deal with conflict productively. Sometimes we weave our way around it. Sometimes we confront it. Sometimes we avoid it. In marriage it is of course best to deal directly with conflict. Avoiding it only prolongs the discomfort or misery. But for each of us to have the greatest chance of creating peace, we need to have self-awareness of our usual habits and style of dealing with conflict. Look into yourself to see what you do to create or destroy peace. As Mother Teresa suggested, those who seek to create world peace must first create peace in their own hearts.
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MACV CORDS operations advisor, Binh Chanh District, 1970. Briefing officer for DEPCORDS Ambassador Funkhouser to CG & staff, III Corps Vietnam, 1971. In addition to briefing the staff he briefed visiting officials such as the Secretary of the Army. He was in Vietnam for one tour.
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