Waging Peace


Pauling Lecture, Oregon State University

 

Good evening. I want to thank the committee for inviting me to speak with you this evening—it is such a pleasure to be here. 

When I received the letter from Professor Clinton congratulating me on being nominated as the 30th person to receive the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Memorial Lectureship for World Peace, I was stunned! After I went to the website and read the names of the 29 others who had given this lecture in years past, I became increasingly filled with a sense of honor, humility and gratitude that I had been chosen to follow in the footsteps of such notable intellectuals and activists as ***John Kenneth Galbraith, William Sloane Coffin, Noam Chomsky, Robert Kennedy Jr., and Grace Lee Boggs, not to mention the 8 Nobel Laureates: ***Linus Pauling, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Mairead Maguire, Oscar Arias Sanchez, Jose Ramos-Horta, Betty Williams, Rigoberta Menchu, and Jody Williams. And now my name was going to be added to this prestigious list. I started feeling a strong sense of burden and responsibility to live up to the honor that had been given me. What could I possibly tell an audience that would be worthy of this lectureship? Even calling it a “lecture” gave me a sense of responsibility that I have not felt with any other speech or presentation that I have given. Although I enjoy telling people that by serving 20 years on Active Duty in the Navy, I am now able to live off of my military pension and work as a full-time volunteer peace activist, I have only been an “activist” for the past 6 years or so—a relative novice compared to so many others who have dedicated their lives to peace and justice. And so, I went very quickly from feeling elated that I had been chosen to give this lecture, to feeling a bit inadequate and unsure of what to say.

But the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that perhaps I had been chosen to give this lecture precisely because I was not a big name celebrity, or a Nobel Laureate. Maybe I had been chosen because I am like so many of us—just someone who is outraged by injustice, and plugging along in the trenches, trying to exact change on the issues we believe in. Maybe I could use this opportunity to speak with you, not to “lecture” you, but perhaps to encourage and motivate you to realize the power of our potential as activists.  The fact is that you don’t have to be a Nobel Laureate to make a difference. The work of most activists will never be recognized outside of their own communities, but we must remember that the power of activism is about all of us contributing a little. These little contributions, when coupled with the actions of others, multiply in their power exponentially.

***“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” –Margaret Mead

People often ask me how it is that I came from being a career military officer to a peace activist. I explain that I did not join the military for ideological reasons. The fact is that I needed a job, which is the same reason that the vast majority of people join the military. When I joined the Navy in 1980, we were at the height of the “Cold War,” and women were prohibited from filling combat roles. My first four tours were in support of a passive sonar system that detected and tracked Soviet submarines. I was never faced with any crisis of conscience decisions. I never had to shoot at anyone, and I never had anyone shoot at me. I went through my 20-year career not as a gung-ho, pro-military warrior, but rather as a relatively uninformed, indifferent participant in the military machine, just doing my job, which never directly involved killing. That said, my politics and leanings did not match most of my active duty peers. When I was a student at the Naval War College, I wrote papers on the importance of the United Nations, and conflict termination—and I took positions that were not widely supported; yet I never really stood up and questioned our foreign policy or ubiquitous military presence. It was easy to serve from 1980 to 2000 in a very insular way–without questioning, or being challenged, about the morality of what I was doing. Though during my tenure in the military, the U.S. was heavily involved in several Latin American countries, and we went to war against Iraq in 1991, I could not have been further removed from those actions.

I’m not sure if most people get into activism gradually, without realizing it, but for me there was a specific trigger that pushed me from being someone who just believed that war was wrong, to someone who decided to do something about it. It happened not until 5 years after I retired. Though my husband (who is also a retired Naval commander) and I both opposed the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, we had never acted on our convictions. But one day in 2005, we went to Eugene to view a traveling exhibit organized by the Quaker group, the American Friends Service Committee, called ***“

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