It was a cold January morning in 2005 when I first saw the image of five children painted with their parents’ blood, one girl screaming, the young boy terrified into silence. They seemed to tremble under the lights of the masked American troops that had just riddled their parents with bullets when their car had not stopped at the American checkpoint. While they were in the back seat their father was shot with so many bullets that his head collapsed in on itself. This image was, from that moment on, seared into my mind, a continual reminder of the brutal violence that afflicts so many.
There are many disturbing pictures of children as victims of violence, but this one deeply and fundamentally affected me because I can see my little brother, when he was just entering kindergarten, in the little boy trying to hide against the wall. It feels like that boy from Iraq is my brother, resulting in flood of emotion and fear that, to this day, I cannot get past. It haunts me.
I see the shattering of the children’s innocence as the blood splattered across their little bodies. I see the scars that will never heal. I see that boy incredibly alone and scared, surrounded by terrifying American soldiers shouting orders in a foreign language. I see violence and the damage done. I wonder whether the image of their parents being shot as they sat behind them will ever be expunged from their minds. As I look into that little boy’s eyes, through the image cast toward me across the globe, I feel more than ever that violence must be opposed in all of its forms.
While this event, these pictures, the reality of violence is incredibly gruesome, I am fortunate in that I can close my eyes, turn the page and walk away from it if I choose. These children, like so many others around the world, are not so fortunate. They cannot close their eyes to make it all go away. This realization makes me want even more to use my privilege to try and minimize the violence that occurs. Every time I think of this picture it is a reminder that I must challenge the system that elevates and legitimizes violence and war.
It often seems as if there is no effective way to eliminate the destructive forces at play in our culture. Non-violent solutions, for example, often rely on the non-cooperation of very large segments of the population in order to undermine the legitimacy of the structures, such as our government, that perpetuate violence. Our culture is unfortunately pervaded by apathy, cynicism, inaction, and silence that allows those who use violent means to consolidate their power. As a result our collective silence becomes violence.
Fortunately this often overwhelming silence is not the whole story. People are taking action for peace every day in an amazing diversity of ways. The beginnings of the Iraq war saw millions of people marching in streets around the world for peace, the largest single human mobilization for anything, EVER. There are a plethora of organizations and individuals that are working very diligently to foster a culture of peace, which have become the foundations for the incredible cusp of change that we are in right now, that is creating an incredible change in how our society functions. Now is the time to get creative, dance and sing in the street for peace, put down the car keys and walk, to get active and do a teach in, do a lock-down at Lockheed Martin, the world’s #1 military contractor, and disrupt every other part of the military industrial complex. Now is the time to demand that the government shift spending away from violent initiatives in favour of supporting the structures necessary for peace. Now is the time to build, nurture, and foster those very structures. Now is the time for a change that can allow peace to happen, if we want it and if we act for it.
Because, while conflict is inevitable, violence is fortunately not. We always have a choice as to how we are going to deal with conflict when it emerges. We can allow it to descend into violence or we can transform it into a learning experience that produces a more peaceful and just world, where no child has to witness the grisly murder of their parents by an occupying army. It is up to us to make these choices to support peace and oppose violence, in all their forms.