Friends Media Watch Spectators Living Truth & Witness In Time Of War
                        by Dana Kester-McCabe
"May you live in interesting times…" - Ancient Chinese Curse

Indeed these are interesting times. The day the war began it was rainy and chilly where I live. I scrambled to finish the day's business and went as soon as I could to a local vigil with my "Pray for Peace" sign. There was the usual mix of honks, and thumbs up, as well as obscene gestures and curses. From there I went to a candlelight Meeting for worship, where the peaceful gathering belied the turmoil of that very sad day. I felt horrible; not only because of the terrible events, but I was also coming down with an unintentional gift from my husband - a spring cold. For the next three days I got hardly anything done. I coughed and flipped the television remote control - coughed and flipped through the channels - watching and comparing war coverage. I felt like the whole world was ill. By Monday I was mostly over my cold, but the world had not recovered at all.

The interesting thing about a state of constant breaking news is that it is hard to propagandize when fresh information is coming in at a steady rate. When that stream slows down however, when minutes turn into hours, which then turn into days between new reports, the ad nauseum speculation begins. Then government representatives start criticizing the commentators who are actually their friends often acting as shills. I like to refer to this repartee as "Kabuki Theater." Everyone is wearing a mask and we only get brief glimpses of the Truth as they dance to entertain and confound us.

Most of you reading this, who like me are sitting in our comfortable homes gnashing our teeth, don't need to be told about the propaganda and half-truths intermixed with honest reportage and live video coverage of the war. Along with the rest of the viewing public, we have witnessed the devastation in Iraq played out on television like a bad action film. The early images of bang-bang-shoot'em-ups were almost sterile in their portrayal of the human costs of the war. Now they are replaced by scenes of chaos and of mutilated children suffering with out proper medical care in besieged hospitals. As the war continues, we are all becoming saturated with the coverage. The desensitization has begun.

Before the military action began people were willing to discuss and debate. Now there is almost a universal as well as admirable desire to support our troops. But, we are tired of the horror and ghoulish commentary that seems inescapable in the media. I can feel us collectively shutting down and turning away from the depressing news. But people are still afflicted. Even if it looks like the military goals are being met and many Iraqis praise the fall of the regime, the torment is not anywhere near over. There is still a need for voices of dissent to speak up, though it may be harder than ever. Those of us involved in letter writing campaigns to our government are struggling to keep up and write relevantly, because the situation changes on a daily basis. And of course, not everyone shares our skepticism, nor do they want to hear us talking about our concerns over the invasion.

The workplace can be particularly difficult for dissenters. Depending on where and with whom you work, there will be varying levels of comfort on how much antiwar talk or displays will be tolerated. Most businesses do not have a written or even an implied policy on political or religious activities by their staff. Their company culture relies on the good sense and courtesy of their employees. Most businesses will only react if there has been some unusually negative interaction. I have, however heard of one newspaper that sent out a company wide memo threatening dismissal to any staff member seen participating in peace demonstrations. This was ostensibly an effort to maintain the newspaper's journalistic integrity and objectivity.

I won't tell you who the paper was - because the employee who told me still could face disciplinary action from their company. I can understand requesting that reporters, whose beat it is to cover the demonstrations, behave in an ethical and unbiased manner. But past that, I think those in the rank and file there are being illegally denied their right to free speech. Who cares what the press operators or the truck drivers - or anyone else working there - think or do in their own free time, as long as it does not interfere with their work? It is ironic to me that a company making a profit providing news of a war which is supposed to secure (among other things) the right to free speech for the people of Iraq, a war which has taken a deadly toll on fellow journalists, would make such a demand on it's workers.

I would not presume to tell my friend what to do in the situation mentioned above. Taking an unpopular stand on any issue in the work place is a challenge most people would like to avoid. These are difficult times, both politically and economically. There is great risk in standing alone. Looking back in Quaker history we can see that it took John Woolman a long time to stop taking money as a scribe from potential clients who were slave owners. Eventually he could no longer deny his leading to answer to a higher authority than that of commerce. I identify with Woolman because he was in the communications business and like many such people (including myself) he was an itinerant - or in today's parlance a "freelancer." For the self employed turning down paying gigs on principal means literally doing without. This is not easy to do - in fact it is impossible for most who have families to support. For folks with more regular employment in a company or corporation, the idea of walking away from their job on principal is not just frightening - it is almost unthinkable.

"About this time a person at some distance lying sick, his brother came to me to write his will. I knew he had slaves, and asking his brother, was told he intended to leave them slaves to his children. As writing is a profitable employ, as offending people is disagreeable to my inclination, I was straitened in my mind; but as I looked to the Lord, he inclined my heart to his testimony, and I told the man that I believed the practice of continuing slavery to this people was not right and had a scruple in mind against doing writings of that kind: that though many in our Society kept them as slaves, still I was not easy to be concerned in it and desired to be excused from going to write the will. I spake to him in the fear of the Lord, and he made no reply to what I said, but went away; he also had some concerns in the practice, and I thought he was displeased with me.

In this case I had fresh confirmation that acting contrary to present outward interest from a motive of divine love and in a regard to truth and righteousness, and thereby incurring the resentments of people, opens the way to a treasure better than silver and to a friendship exceeding the friendship of men."
- John Woolman

  I appreciate that Woolman says he does not like making people uncomfortable. I was raised to be courteous and pleasant in public situations. I remember my parents working very hard with us on our manners. It is so ingrained in me that even when I have to say something unpleasant I try to couch it in kindness in some way. Sometimes I fail miserably. The truth cannot always be sugar coated. There have been times that either I blurted out my words stupidly or my attempt to "be nice" obscured what I was really trying to say. I suspect this will happen again. When we choose to gloss things over instead of saying the hard truth - we pay for it later in misunderstandings and hurt feelings. If individuals have a hard time with this, it is no wonder large organizations and governments struggle to "be nice." But, was it Churchill who said something to the effect that - the one way to guarantee that evil succeeds is that good people do nothing? Because we are fortunate enough to have the right to free speech, we have a responsibility to use it. This indeed is a deeply spiritual mandate. And like other such callings it is not easy.

In the workplace and other social situations, Woolman can inspire us. It is important to seek faithful discernment in order to recognize when a situation is actually untenable because of a moral conflict, or if a "teachable" moment has presented itself. There is some jeopardy involved. But, there are people willing to risk their lives serving their country in the military or as peace teams to make the world a better place. Is a little social discomfort the least we can do if there is a chance that we might turn someone's heart toward Love?

It takes great faith and courage to speak up and share the Truth as we experience it. Sometimes our fears and doubts will be confirmed in the negative response we might get. But often we will be surprised and heartened by the good will of others and their affirmation of our right to speak. Is it worth taking a chance? Should we not ask what our silence is worth? There are no easy answers. Sometimes prayerful silence really is all that is called for. And, there is certainly no need to search out situations where a choice must be made. Ultimately, we each must face these things as they are presented to us and seek Divine guidance as to what we are led to do.

It will always be hard to bear witness with a dissenting opinion. It is easy for me to be steadfast in my witness at work - because I work for myself. So, I am praying for all of you who daily have to discern the right choice between silence and speaking. Ultimately we must all let Truth be our guide and reach out to each other in support of dissenting voices and as well as concerned silences, because we are all in this together.

The links below are to stories on dissent or about people working in the media who, though they may not be Quaker, have taken stands, which have had varying responses.

Some intersting links:
Is dissent relevant?
ReligionWriters.com provides background information on public debate and whether a seemingly quick end to the war could actually dissuade further debate of armed conflict.

More cities pass measures countering Patriot Act
ReligionWriters.com gives important information on the impact of antiterrorism legislation in the U.S.

The Fall of 'Hitler' Producer
CBS denies that producer Ed Gernon was fired from a miniseries about Adolph Hitler after he compared the invasion of Iraq to the rise of Nazism.

Politics & America's Pastime
The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, cancelled a 15th anniversary celebration of Bull Durham and dis-invited special guests Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon because of their anti-war stance. The text of Tim Robbins letter is a response worth reading.

Michael Moore: My Oscar "Backlash"
Michael Moore responds to reported anger over his antiwar statement at the Oscars with evidence to the contrary and encouragement to dissenters.

Dana Kester-McCabe is a freelance graphic artist, writer and designer from Bishopville, Maryland.


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