catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 7 :: 2005.04.08 — 2005.04.21


Peacemaking, terrorism and art

Editor’s Note: The March 11, 2005 issue, “Be Afraid,” featured a painting called “Exploding Bicyclist” by Ruth Andrews, an artist whose work was on display at the time at our church in Three Rivers, Michigan. On Saturday, March 26, Andrews did a short presentation at the church. The text of that presentation follows.

In the hidden mecca of Cassopolis, Michigan, a small-time artist is pondering the meaning of art, peacemaking and terrorism. Her friends and family tremble for her, because she is a fool.

But in this amazing world, I am given a platform.

I believe we — the people of the world — have the capacity to eliminate most of the suffering. Imagine a world without terrorism, without war, without third worlds, and without first worlds. Wouldn’t it be easy to live in a world where no one wants more than they need? What if everyone were an environmentalist? All of this is possible.

Of course, lots of things stand in the way — for instance, the war on terror. On Sept. 11, 2001 hijackers forced their way into our fold. They manipulated symbols on an unimagined scale and delivered a bravura performance. The hijackers did something that resembles art.

I say it resembles art because I am disturbed by how well it matches the following criteria:

  • Art is intentional.
  • Art has a point of view.
  • Art is well-made.
  • Art is designed.
  • Art is innovative.
  • Art is emotive.
  • Art is life-enhancing.
  • Art is mysterious.

As I see it, the minutes in which the hijackings and attacks occurred were not life enhancing or mysterious. Yet as 9-11 unfolds, these elements are added. How odd to consider oneself a partner with terrorists in a creative unfolding.

Many people will be immediately repulsed by this idea. But consider how strong the linkage is, and how it actually becomes stronger over time as actions and ideas accumulate. I understand this linkage personally. When I was 16, I became the unwilling partner of a murderer. He walked into our house and murdered my mother who was home alone. He drove away and the crime has never been solved. Yet this single act that was accomplished in a matter of minutes has dominated our lives. My life since then has been in response to that act.

I am describing an intimate link between a perpetrator and the surviving victims. This event is buried so deep in my psyche, I can’t free myself. It is part of all my relationships; it colors all my paintings. When I get close to it in thought I become very angry. And as soon as my rage escapes, I am sad.

To whatever degree I have become a peacemaker, it is in response to my mother’s murder. My first ten years after Mom died were filled with rage, depression and apathy. I was utterly reckless with my own life, which was harmful to others. I’m sorry about that. I became a filmmaker, launching my artistic career.

Some of you will remember the story of 15-year-old Paula Cooper, and how she and her friends murdered Ruth Pelke, an 82-year-old Sunday School teacher in Gary, Indiana. Ruth’s grandson Bill created the Journey of Hope because his grandmother’s murder completely altered his life.

I participated in the first Journey in Indiana in 1993 and the second Journey in Georgia in 1994. The Journey visits death penalty states. Family members of murder victims tell their stories in ways that reveal the harm caused by violence. Family members of people on death row tell their stories. The stories are the same. Violence causes unfathomable harm and suffering. This year in October, my sister Bessie and I are going to Texas. It will be Bessie’s first Journey. She wonders whether it will be possible for her to tell her story.

Currently, we, the United States, are busy routing out insurgents in Iraq. Our method is to surround the targeted village and bomb it until the insurgents are eliminated. To do this, we destroy entire villages and traumatize the military we use to carry out our program. We create refugee camps full of remainders of families. I am especially enraged at what our solution is doing to the psyche of children. All these people, including our soldiers, will live the rest of their lives in response to these events.

Who are terrorists? Who are artists? Who are peacemakers? We are. The war on terror is a war against ourselves.

Some of my best friends are resigned about the war. This really hurts. I can’t understand why people believe violence is inevitable. Think of a newborn. The only thing that is inevitable to a baby is love. Love is inevitable.

I would like to alter our collective sense of resignation. Imagine what the world could be if we believed peace is possible. I am tempted to blame people who accept violence as natural, and accuse them of copping out. Why can’t they see what I see? Is it that they don?t want to do the hard thinking and the hard work of finding another way? No, it’s not a matter of shirking difficult work, because building peace is actually easier than resorting to violence. Maybe the reason some people find thinking about peace difficult and unnatural is that their brains don’t have the specific synapses necessary to engage in this kind of thinking. My friend Dr. Peter Carney is a neurosurgeon. Some of the brains he tries to repair have been damaged by bullets. He has spent a lot of time thinking about brains and violence and has come to believe that nonviolence is tied to brain plasticity.

Thank you for this opportunity. Being able to say these things out loud in this kind of space is wonderful, and gives me a huge appreciation for all you patriots who make it possible.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus