Friday, December 01, 2006
by Susan Barber
No Safe Place on Earth
The course of Dr. Boulding's adult life grew out of a childhood perception. "I was born in Norway in 1920," she said, "and we came to this country when I was three. My early memories were of war movies, and Mom being homesick for Norway." As a little girl, Elise was frightened by the images of war, so she decided on a plan. If war broke out again, she would return to Norway. The peaceful homeland for which her mother longed. Where she knew she would be safe.
"Then came World War II," she said, "and the invasion of Norway. And that was when I realized that there was no safe place on earth. And I knew that I had found my life's mission."
Like all of the thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of peace-people who are truly making a difference, Dr. Boulding has primarily focused on what's right with the world, not on what's wrong with it. Rather than opposing war, she has studied what can be done to prevent it – how to resolve conflicts without fighting.
"We Had No Sense of Strategy"
During and after WWII, Elise Boulding began to become involved in various efforts to bring an end to all wars. She became a Quaker, and she and some of her fellow "witnesses against war'' wrote what she calls a ''seditious public letter.'' The letter simply said that we should not be in the war, that people should just lay down their arms. ''We had no sense of strategy. And we expected to go to jail. But nobody paid any attention to us.''
Soon, marriage and five children captured most of her time, but she remained active during her childbearing years, teaching peace to children and participating in activist projects of the fifties. She also joined Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and started a newsletter to unite women in behalf of world peace.
''When we went to Japan for a year, from 1963 to 1964, my kids were in school – they used to walk to school through the rice fields. I had some time, so I decided to find out how things work. In those days, Japanese women were demonstrating in the streets.''
But the research she sought to undertake needed resources, and she could not obtain them with her master's degree. So upon returning to the states, she took a PhD at the University of Michigan. ''Then I could get funds. It made a ridiculous amount of difference,'' she said.
The Dartmouth Years
She was in the Sociology Department at the University of Colorado when Dartmouth College invited both Elise and her husband, Kenneth, to become Scholars in Residence. This program offered room and board plus a stipend; all they had to do was spend the year talking to students and faculty.
Although Kenneth eventually returned to Michigan because of the research staff he had there, Elise Boulding remained behind at Dartmouth, where she chaired the Sociology Department and developed the college's Peace Studies program. ''We had a long-distance marriage,'' she said. ''And we were both traveling so much, we were just as likely to run into each other in some foreign city as anywhere else.''
''Some . . . Have Lost Their Husbands
and Children to Each Other's Men''
When asked what she felt was the most important thing to creating world peace, Dr. Boulding answered without hesitation. ''We need more women in decision-making positions, both in government and in the public sphere. Especially in the United States.''
Dr. Boulding talked of an Africa-wide peace council, an offshoot of the International Fellowship for Reconciliation, that includes groups of women in every country in Africa. ''These women are always in contact with each other,'' she said. ''Some of them are being trained to work with the elders, to point out to them the ways that exist already in their traditions to resolve conflicts in a peaceful way.
''They are saying to the elders, 'We have to sit down in a circle and talk.' These are ways that the men have always known and have forgotten. Some of these women have lost their husbands and children to each other's men. Yet they come together, to share, and to strengthen each other.'' Wherever there is genocidal conflict in Africa, Dr. Boulding said, these women are there, too, trying to end it.
''The Women's Movement has worked hard, but other countries are way ahead of us,'' Dr. Boulding says. ''And it's been proved in all peace organizations that when women are in a coordinating role, it works better. I don't think this is a genetic thing. It's cultural. Partly, I think, it's because women's culture involves a lot of listening.''
''There is a generation of women who are full professionals coming into conflict resolution,'' Dr. Boulding said. ''This new cadre of women can change the direction of how we handle conflict. We're learning to create the governing structures that would make disarmament possible.''
A hopeful thing that's happened recently, Dr. Boulding said, is that the United Nations Security Council has finally acted upon the knowledge that women are more effective than men at this peacemaking business. ''After years of effort trying to make this happen, the U.N. have finally made it an official policy to have women on all peace projects,'' she said (see U.N. Resolution 1325: A New Landmark Initiative for World Peace).
The Back-and-Forth People
The second most important thing to improving efforts at peace, according to Dr. Boulding, is for us to become aware of the sheer size of the peace effort that is happening in today's world. If we knew what was actually happening – how many thousands of individuals and groups were working to create peace – this in itself, she feels, would change world consciousness.
And the peace-seekers do not have an easy job. One of the big stumbling blocks, she said, is that representatives to the United Nations and other bodies do not usually have the power to sign agreements. ''Every little change requires an intensive process, back and forth. The representative goes home or across town and talks to his own country's officials, then returns to the conference table, then it's back to his own people, and back to the conference table, on and on.''
Dr. Boulding paints us a vivid picture of the huge cadre of dedicated civil servants spending their lives in taxis, on buses and airplanes, or walking – from country to country, city to city, hotel to hotel, room to room – all trying to bring peace to our planet.
''The only reason any positive change ever comes about is because of these thousands of people, going back and forth, back and forth. And the only way they can do this is that they have a Vision.''
This, Then, Is the Untold Story
Until we ourselves at the Spirit of Ma'at began to research the world's efforts to create peace, we had no inkling of the sheer size of the peace movement. The subject of peace has become bigger than the subject of war – the reason it doesn't seem so is that it's not reported in the media.
The great, untold story of the peace movement is how many people and organizations are involved in it. Not only people, but newsletters, conferences, councils, committees, elderly groups, youth groups, celebrities, art, music, websites. The untold story is the sheer weight of the numbers of those who have the vision of a world without war.
What we need, Elise Boulding insists, is more awareness of what's going on. Identify the players. Realize the expenditures of energy.
Elise Boulding, PhD has been an important peace activist since World War II. Author of eleven books (see book list) and contributor to many more, she built the Peace Studies program at Dartmouth College, and both she and her husband, Dr. Kenneth Boulding, were active all their lives in conflict-resolution studies and in the more important groups that have been working for world peace. Although she has been retired for some time, and was widowed in 1993, Elise Boulding spent the mid-nineties writing Cultures of Peace: The Hidden Side of History (see Source Books). And she still makes her peaceful presence felt in the corridors of power.
We called Elise Boulding at her home in Massachusetts, near Boston, in order to learn about peace efforts during the latter half of the 20th century, and to gain her experienced perspective on where the world is tending now. But perhaps even more importantly, we wanted to paint for our readers a portrait of one woman's life dedicated to creating a world in which children might feel safe.
Give them energy, she urges. Pray for them. Know that they exist.
And if it's yours to do – become one of them.
Dr. Boulding concluded by describing a Buddhist worship service that she attended during the holidays. ''I could see the whole room – several thousand people. And I was thinking, 'These are my neighbors, and I never see them.' We were chanting together, lifted in the Spirit together, to a new place.
''I remember reading in the New York Times about biomusic – how human beings did not invent music, every living thing makes music.
''I love to think,'' she said, ''of all the world singing. Every living thing.''
Books by Elise Boulding, PhD:
The Future: Images & Prophecies, Sage Publications, Incorporated(1994) [with Kenneth Boulding]; One Small Plot of Heaven: Reflections on Family Life by a Quaker Sociologist, Pendle Hill Publications(1993); New Agendas for Peace Research: Conflict & Security Reexamined, Rienner, Lynne Publishers, Incorporated(1992); Building a Global Civic Culture: Education for an Independent World, Syracuse University Press(1990), Peace & Conflict Resolution (Paperback) Series; Women: The Fifth World, Foreign Policy Association(1980), Headline Series; Children's Rights & the Wheel of Life, Transaction Publishers(1980); The Family As a Way into the Future, Pendle Hill Publications(1978); The Underside of History: A View of Women Through Time, Sage Publications, Incorporated(1992), Westview Press(1976), Westview Press(1977); Born Remembering, Pendle Hill Publications(1975); Children & Solitude, Pendle Hill Publications(1962).
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