rn: problem- what becomes of trained killers after the “war”


Jan Slakov

Dear RN list,

Carolyn Ballard, whose collaboration with Richard pre-dates mine, and who
has inspired us both, sent me a message from someone else whose work has
been a great inspiration, Tom Atlee.

It describes how some PLO people managed to "defuse" a terrorist group that
had served its purpose. Quite the story (leading to some very interesting
reflections by Tom. See next message.)

Moving from violence to non-violence is a problem for us all, and has been
for ages. As it happens, Hans Sinn (a peace-building "veteran" for sure!)
raised the issue with me before. It's worth copying what he wrote below.

all the best, Jan

From: Hans Sinn <•••@••.•••>  (Feb. 2001)

"In my experience, most young people join the military as a way of finding a
job, to get an education, to make a living not to die. The need of people
to make a living constructively becomes apparent  by the significant number
of soldiers who, when they lose the opportunity to use armed force on
behalf of society, will go on to make a living by armed force on the back
of society.

For instance, since the collapse of the Soviet Union a large number of
former soldiers and KGB officers have become part of the global crime
network, drugs, prostition, smuggling, extortion. In the US, The Hells
Angels had their beginning as former US bomber pilots. And then there are
the militias all over the world. One could go on at great length to show
how men who served (or seemed to serve) the public by their military skills
went on to become a scourge of society once they lost the chance to use
their military skills for the public good.  

It is a classic problem with no easy solution. Today, as in the Middle
Ages, former soldiers, militias, mercenaries and armed gangs terrorize,
kill, plunder and generally live on the backs of unarmed civilians.
According to John Keegan, one of today's foremost war historians, Charles'
VII King of Frances first addressed this problem and around 1445-6 started
to bring these freebooters under some measure of control. ... (John Keegan,
A History of Warfare, Vintage Books, 1993, ISBN 0-394-58801-0)

...John Keegan cites the Russian Cossacks as in many ways typical of the
predominantly male assemblies, who were never brought under social control.
The Russian Cossacks evolved their own tradition as lordless, womanless,
propertyless marauders, living off the land. "Involvement of the Cossacks
(in a military campaign) was in itself a guarantee that incendiarism,
pillage, rape, murder and hundred of other outrages would abound, for to
Cossacks war was not politics, but a culture and a way of life." ( Keegan
p. 7)

I am focussing on the militias and death squads, the freebooters,  because
our Peace Brigades International (PBI) volunteers are encountering them in
the daily attempt to protect community activists against being
assassinated. Thus a week ago, on February 8, the Colombia right wing
militia announced that PBI-volunteers in Colombia (the site of our largest
current project) are now militia targets, along with the community activist
to whom our volunteers provide protective accompaniment.  Which presents
PBI with the classic dilemma of the unarmed civilian: Should PBI call the
"official" Colombian army for help? Or should PBI heed the Russian proverb
"If the dogs attack you don't call the wolf for help." 

The Russian proverb reflects the experience of the majority of working
people with armed force and the immense difficulty and pain involved in
weaning ourselves gradually from our dependence on armed force."