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Activists debate tactics for new world wars.

NEW YORK - Faith-inspired peace activists, struggling to fasten approaches to a post-cold War era, met recently behind closed doors here and emerged agreeing to disagree, at least for the near future, on which is the best approach to peace and justice.

There are no easy answers, participants told NCR. "I have a real feeling that the peace community is going to be engaged in a debate about this for some time to come," said Joe Nangle of the Washington-based Sojourners community, which publishes Sojourners magazine.

Nangle told NCR that, given the inevitability of conflicts that sear people's consciences, such as in Bosnia-Herzegovina, peace activists need to consider what "nonviolent intervention" looks like.

Some activists at the meeting discussed how a "peaceful army" might be formed and operated, he said.

Would it be independent? Multinational? Under U.N. auspices? What kind of preparation would it take? What number of people would be required to make it effective?" asked Nangle.

He said he has wondered about the possibility of cooperation between peace groups and armed groups aimed at tempering the use of force. Large numbers of unarmed peacekeepers might accompany troops - a kind of seminonviolent intervention, said Nangle.

"People seemed much less dogmatic about pacifist solutions than ever before," Nangle said. "How can one say, |Well, you can't use force.' That's too simplistic. At the same time, what do you propose we do? You don't say, Well, too bad, there's only a militaristic solution.' You ask how a pacifist stance can be brought to bear on a tragic situation."

Referring to the strife in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Nangle said, "It may take an accommodation to find a peaceful solution. There seems to be no other way of solving the problem, at the moment at least, than by force."

Marie Dennis, who chairs the 20-year-old Pax Christi USA, advocated a different approach.

"It's important to be in touch with people who are exposed to violence . . .to get a view of the violence that's as real as possible," she said. "Those who suffer horrific brutalities often have every right to determine how that violence (can be) overcome."

Ultimately, however, peace activists need to come to their own conclusions about the best way to confront organized violence in another country.

Amid calls for force, even by those who are victims of a civil conflict, the peace movement may have to be as creative as possible in presenting whatever nonviolent possibilities we can think of," she said.

Nancy Small, a Pax Christi member, said that any call for nonviolent action in warring countries should be taken only after asking, What kinds of risks are we willing to take? Are we willing to give our lives?"

Small said nonviolent intervention might work better in places like Kosovo and Macedonia, republics threatened by the Balkan war but not yet overwhelmed by open hostilities.

Some of the participants at the gathering are drafting a letter to Bill Clinton, urging him to not to intervene in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The letter will be circulated among meeting participants.

Divergent viewpoints among peace activists are nothing new, said Mel Piehl, a history professor at Christ College in Indiana. "The problem of pragmatism and pacifism has been around for an awfully long time," he said. Moments of crisis tend to push faith-based activists roughly into two camps, he said: those who feel that "it's troublesome to say the state is always evil if it attempts to defend itself," and those who are "absorbed with a transcendent outlook, who don't believe there's ever an occasion for any form of coercion."

According to Richard Deats, it is a "time of discernment in the peace movement, to examine afresh our response to it. People have lost their bearings with the end of the Cold War." Deats is on the staff of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an interfaith group based in Nyack, N.Y., with chapters in 40 countries.

Other groups represented at the meeting included the American Friends Service Committee, Mennonite Central Committee, War Resisters League, Catholic Worker, Hutterian Brethren and Fellowship of Reconciliation.
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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:O'Grady, Jim
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Jan 29, 1993
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