Lutheran Peace Fellowship

Supplementary material on the LPF response to
the tragedy of September 11, 2001

Lutheran Peace Fellowship


The U.S. public is far more interested in supporting development and hunger assistance in poor countries, but labor under serious misconceptions about foreign aid.
Studies by the University of Maryland and the Harris organization show that the average citizen believes the U.S. is spending 16 to 18% of its entire budget on foreign aid. The actual amount is less than one percent. Half of that is military aid. Less than a fifth goes to sustainable development assistance. Moreover, these polls show that most people think we should contribute about as much as our major trading partners. In reality, we spend less than one-fifth as much per capita as Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and the Netherlands; one third as much as Germany, Austria, Belgium, France, and Switzerland; less than half as much as Britain, Australia, Finland, and Canada. In other words, most people believe we actually give 80 or 90 times as much in foreign aid as we do. Most people think we should contribute 3 to 5 times as much as our government currently spends. (For more information: The Reality of Aid, Island Press, 1997, offers a good overview of the downward trend in development assistance. Per capita development assistance spending data: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.)


US policies governing military operations emphasize safeguarding of civilians in war zones. Unfortunately, "collateral damage" is so frequent an occurrence in war, even by US military forces, that a euphemism was coined for the problem. In the Gulf War, US military planners consciously and systematically targeted the electrical, water, and sewage infrastructure of Iraq. As a result, according to teams from the Red Cross, the UN, and Harvard University, more than a million civilians, mostly children, have died since the Gulf War because of this US policy. Many religious and civic groups have emphasized one or more of these issues in the past few years. A good source of the statements of more than two dozen religious denominations on tragedy in New York, Wash. DC and Pennsylvania can be found at One final note: many commentators have noted that numerous modern weapons are by their very nature indiscriminate, including fuel-air explosives, cluster bombs, some uses of helicopter gunships, and of course, nuclear weapons.


US policy in recent decades may have helped sow the seeds for terrorism in the world in our support for dictators including the Shah of Iran, Pinochet in Chile, Marcos in the Philippines, the generals in Guatemala, the apartheid regime in South Africa, and for the decade before the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Our financing of guerrilla and terrorist forces has been equally wide-ranging, from the Mujahideen in Afghanistan (who have since trained terrorists in other parts of the world) and the contras who blew up schools and clinics and killed their staff all over Nicaragua, to support for a dozen movements working to overthrow governments unfriendly to US interests. The US has been complicit in the violence of Israeli policy toward Palestinians and in the violence to civilians and especially children in our ten year boycott of Iraq.


US peace groups have long used a commitment or pledge as a valuable tool to help people bring the skills and insight of nonviolence into their daily life. In 1996, the Families Against Violence Advocacy Network made a pledge the centerpiece of their program with families, classrooms, and groups. Since then, over 450,000 people have signed FAVAN pledges and committed themselves to evaluate on a regular basis their experience in living with it FAVAN pledges and other resources on their web site,

Such a commitment was chosen as a key Decade for Peace activity. Tens of millions of people across the globe signed pledges of nonviolence! These two efforts have provided new insights into using this potent tool to support ongoing commitment to nonviolence in families, classrooms, community groups...


In the late 1990´s twenty Nobel Peace Prize Laureates -- the largest number ever to support a single initiative -- launched an appeal "for the children of the world," noting that all too many children grow up in a "culture of violence ...on streets, at school, in family life, in the community" as well as between nations.

This Appeal -- which gained the support of virtually every living Nobel Peace Laureate -- called for beginning the new millennium with a decade-long effort "to teach the practical meaning and benefits of nonviolence in our daily lives... in order to reduce violence and build a new culture of nonviolence." In late 1999, the UN designated the years 2001-2010 as "The International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World."

Ten million people belong to institutions and groups that endorsed the Decade for Peace, from religious denominations like the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) to the City of Seattle and major youth advocacy groups. The United States government has not appropriated funds or even designated staff to help citizens respond to the challenge of the "culture of violence" in our world. On the Decade for Peace, see Decade for Peace Resources,, and The Fellowship of Reconciliation has published a superb Decade manual of activities, readings, and resources.


One problem in speaking about nonviolence is that most people have learned inaccurate or misleading information about what the term entails. Nonviolence, for example, does not mean avoiding conflict or seeking only to win at the expense of the opponent, rather, it is the active search for "win-win" solutions. One's opponent need not be nonviolent for us to find this approach both morally and practically effective. Nonviolence does not mean being passive or powerless; on the contrary, as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and others showed, it involves a different conception of power that is more effective than customary efforts to use power. For more information check out Nonviolence: Cultivating the Way of Peace: ways to nonviolence -overviews, activities and ideas for leaders, brings together web sites of many groups and their insights on nonviolence. Walter Wink's new anthology, "Peace is the Way" (Orbis Press) is a great source of insight, as are his other books, e.g. "Engaging the Powers" (Fortress) and "The Powers That Be" (Doubleday). "From Violence to Wholeness" is a fine discussion / activity guide esp. for church groups (see


Fourteen years ago I completed a masters degree specializing in conflict studies and international security. I'd spent the previous decade as a teacher and group worker serving people in the highest crime areas of New York and Oakland. I had intervened in many conflicts involving guns and knives, have counseled dozens of victims, and been injured myself.

I know and have felt the desire for revenge. Yet the longer I do this work the more skeptical I am of the utility as well as the morality of retribution and revenge. Those feelings are an inevitable stage in the healing process. But most people coming out on the other side, rebuild their lives on something else.

People like Martin Luther King, Jr. -- himself a victim of numerous death threats and bombings -- understand this well. As King put it shortly after his home was bombed during the Montgomery bus boycott: "Let's not become panicky. If you have weapons, take them home; if you do not have them, please do not seek to get them. We cannot solve this problem through retaliatory violence. We must meet violence with nonviolence. Remember the words of Jesus: 'he who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.'" This is the only sound response to violence as an individual. It says a lot about what we need in our public policies as well.

I expect strong, fair enforcement of laws from my government. I also want my government to take the lead to address the roots of violence whether among youth in our cities, or in conflicts around the globe.

Glen Gersmehl, executive dir., Lutheran Peace Fellowship.


back to Thoughts in a time of tragedy


Alternative versions of the nobel resolution for a:
City Council, Community Group, Church, College or University

Bush is Walking into a Trap
by Robert Fisk - 9/16/01 - The Independent

Federation of American Scientists - Terrorism and Threat Assessments

For more information on Lutheran Peace Fellowship workshops on nonviolence or other issues raised here, please contact Lutheran Peace Fellowship, 1710 11th Ave., Seattle, WA 98122 / 206-349-2501 &

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