Iraq Veteran Paul Chappell Talks About Peace At USD

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ALISON ST JOHN: This is KPBS Midday Edition. It is Veterans Day, Monday, November 12. I’m Alison St. John in for Maureen Cavanaugh. What is it about war that is so compelling? We admire soldiers who go to war risking everything for love of country. We tend to glorify war, making it something noble and heroic perhaps because it so powerfully brings out qualities like courage and loyalty. Peace is less easy to glorify. Even if we want it we tend to take it for granted even when we have it, quietly getting on with it day by day. Our guest today has been through war, but he’s come out changed with a different perspective on peace. Iraq war vet Paul Chappelle will be giving the Veterans Day lecture at the University of San Diego this evening. He is a retired captain who served in the Army for seven years and is the author of four books called will War ever end, the end of war, peaceful revolution and the art of waging peace. He’s also the peace leadership director for the nuclear age peace foundation . So, Paul, thank you very much for joining us today.

PAUL CHAPPELLE: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.

ALISON ST JOHN: So you graduated from West Point in 2002 and you served in the Army and you were deployed to Baghdad in 2006. Now, what were you thinking about peace when you began your military career?

PAUL CHAPPELLE: Well I grew up in Alabama very conservative and I thought that peace was a naïve dream and I thought that in order to create a peaceful world we need to make it safe through violence and through force and my views began to change in West Point and in the Army about those various issues.

ALISON ST JOHN: So they even began to change before you left West Point.

PAUL CHAPPELLE: Even at West Point my ideas began to change.

ALISON ST JOHN: Even before you’d seen action or been deployed been through Easter to think differently about piece, how so?

PAUL CHAPPELLE: Well there is a quote from Gen. MacArthur who was a West Point graduate and five star general and said the soldier above all other people prays for peace for he must suffer and bear the deepest scars and wounds of war and general MacArthur talked about how most soldiers joined the military they believed they were fighting for peace if you listen to any American president whether President Bush or Pres. Obama they always say we are fighting for peace talk about how we are liberating people spreading democracy, spreading freedom fighting terrorism some of people join the military with good intentions and MacArthur recognize that and my views changed the point where I realized well, war is terrible but there’s no other way to solve these problems, war is a necessary evil and I began to study failed to understand there’s a more effective way to understand conflicts been through more flair which assert methods.

ALISON ST JOHN: What happened when you were deployed how did that continue to change your thinking along these lines?

PAUL CHAPPELLE: I think it pushed my thinking a lot of my views began to change and I think being deployed furthered my evolution and how I thought so I think it’s a really gradual process. If you look at Gandhi for example a letter to realize that Gandhi was a military recruiter for different types. He was a military recruiter in 1899 for the four were 1906 for the Zulu war 1914 and 1919 World War I he supported World War I he served in two wars as a medic of the war (inaudible) the British army, supported the Polish violent resistance against Nazi Germany and Gandhi’s views even gradually gradually change because these are very complex issues and I think if we really understand how to replace the war with a more effective way to solve conflict. It is a very complex process.

ALISON ST JOHN: As you are saying, so much of history we learned is based on the idea that war is inevitable and it is a natural part of change why would you dispute that?

PAUL CHAPPELLE: One reason I would dispute that is there it is this myth that human beings are naturally violent but if you look at military history the evidence that we are naturally violent is not so overwhelming. Just to offer little bit of evidence we know that for a fact that war traumatizes your brain. People go to war and they have serious trauma this is the reason why the military does combat rotations. But if we were naturally violent why would war traumatize your brain if it were natural why would people go to war and become more physically unhealthy. John McArthur said that human beings have a deep yearning for peace and the yearning for peace is so powerful that whenever any government goes to war whether it is democracy a dictatorship they always say they are fighting for peace. So if you look at Alexander the great, the Romans, the Spartans, if you look at the Mongols, if you look at the Nazis, the European empires, they always say they were fighting for peace, fighting for self-defense, liberating people, bringing people civilization. The Nazi Germany published a book about Hitler’s speeches from 1933 and the title of the book is the new charter Germany desires work and peace and they are all peace speeches about how Hitler wants to create equal rights and wants to create peace throughout the world and he wants world disarmament and he wants to fight for the poor farmer and end poverty. And so McArthur was saying that if we do not have this deep deep desire for peace why do the government throughout history always say they are fighting for peace?

ALISON ST JOHN: You may say, you know that perhaps if we evolved to the point where we were now resorting to war as a way to solve our problems, but, supposing the problem with that is, supposing that the US adopted that attitude and ceased to prepare for war. Is that a viable strategy when the rest of the world may not be thinking along those lines?

PAUL CHAPPELLE: Yeah, I think it is a multilayered approach. I think the nonviolent methods are very proactive. They are kind of like preventative medicine. They try to solve the conflict before it arises or tries to solve the root cause of the conflict. A lot of the conflicts are caused by poverty, ideological differences, problems in how people think but it is a multilayered response for example terrorism is a transnational criminal network. We should go after terrorism with some sort of police operation. We went after Timothy McVeigh, we went after the Unabomber and We used the FBI and police. We did not want people to go after these kinds of terrorists. In the attacks on September 11 should be viewed as a criminal act and we should’ve used international Police work to arrest and bring people to justice and we should maintain a strong National Guard. Country were to invade our country along the California Pacific we should maintain a National Guard I think there’s a lot of mythology out there, a lot of misconceptions and we need to show people the true security threats to our country are if you look at for example the 2009 Army sustainability report 2009 Army sustainability report lists the major threats to our national security. Three of the threats it lists are income inequality, poverty and climate change.

ALISON ST JOHN: Right, climate change is one of them.

PAUL CHAPPELLE: Sounds a lot like the occupy Movement. I tell you people when the occupy movement and the Army agree on something we have to pay attention and we have to understand the threats of the 20th century are different than the past. Things like income inequality, poverty, foster conflict and according to the Army will create conflict in the future.

ALISON ST JOHN: You are saying better efforts should be focused towards a more domestic kind of law enforcement kind of an approach rather than, how do you distinguish that from the current situation?

PAUL CHAPPELLE: I think the current situation we have to look again at the deeper problem. The greatest threat to American security the 21st century is the hypocrisy of many American politicians. If you look at the first American president to identify Middle Eastern hatred for the US was Pres. Eisenhower in 1950 he talked to the national Security Council and said why do people in the Middle East hate us, he called it the campaign of hatred and the computer conclusion the national Security Council came to essentially but they don’t hate us because we are free it’s because the block freedom and democracy in the Middle East. If you look at every government we supported them, dictators, we supported theaters in Pakistan Tunisia Egypt Bahrain, Pakistan, we supported the Shah of Iran overthrowing a democratically elected leader in Iran before that. And we support the most brutal Muslim dictatorship in the world, the Saudi Arabian government whose dictatorships in this Pakistan, we support the Taliban and this creates resentment and the resentment is the long run going to (inaudible) already is.

ALISON ST JOHN: I just want to tell our listenership he said (inaudible). I want to shift it from the politics of it and got politics as we go on, people may say who is this guy, maybe he is someone who did not enjoy his deployment, that witnessed a lot of violence who feels like he doesn’t want to handle the stress of it. Did you experience more in a way that you felt was damaging to you as an individual, or are you talking more about the political level of this?

PAUL CHAPPELLE: I think that’s a really good question. I think if you look at the pew research study that was done that, 51% of post-9/11 veterans think that using too much violence makes terrorism or send my view is a little bit different because I consider myself promilitary and antiwar. I got a lot of good things out of West Point got a lot of good things out of the military. And the military is shifting its role in terms of, in 2009 the US military performed 150 for humanitarian aid missions in 61 countries. And I think that a lot of these ideals I got from West Point and the military have made me a better person but I think that you could be promilitary and antiwar. And I don’t, there was a point when I had some very conservative and I still consider myself in many ways conservative and I just cannot think of anything more un-American than supporting dictatorships. I can be a soldier and see good things about the military but still have a problem with our government supporting dictatorships around the world because I think that’s a very un-American thing for our government to be doing.

ALISON ST JOHN: When you yourself went to war, were there times when you woke up in the morning and you are having a very hard time serving because you didn’t feel that what you were being asked to do was justifiable?

PAUL CHAPPELLE: I think that a lot of soldiers struggle. There is a big myth that soldiers are robots and I think that’s not true. Again the pew research study pointing out that 51% of post-9/11 veterans think that using too much violence makes terrorism worse. I think a lot of soldiers are critical thinkers and they struggle with the issues and if you just look at the Vietnam War and the reactions many veterans had I think that a lot of soldiers think through these things and it is a struggle. Think I thought a lot of things and had some struggles but I think a lot of soldiers are thinking human beings.

ALISON ST JOHN: Just to fill in our listeners tell us a little bit about where you were deployed.

PAUL CHAPPELLE: I was in Baghdad and my father also was in the Army for 30 years and has also shaped my development even before the military.

ALISON ST JOHN: And so did you actually get deployed in active duty in places where you were in combat?

PAUL CHAPPELLE: Well, I was, I mean, we were attacked and it was a different kind of role. It’s a very much different kind of warfare that for example, it’s a much different kind of warfare than traditional commission American warfare.

ALISON ST JOHN: Right, okay, So you’ve written books about this and talked about it a lot obviously, have you had any negative reactions from other veterans to your views?

PAUL CHAPPELLE: Well, not that I’ve seen. I think the way I framed my message and the way that I validate certain things about the warrior ideal

ALISON ST JOHN: The warrior ideal, okay. So you validate the warrior ideal, so but how could the warrior ideally exist without war?

PAUL CHAPPELLE: Well if you look at Gandhi, Gandhi said I am a soldier I am a soldier of peace. You look at Martin Luther King Jr. he said we did not hesitate to call our movement and army and Gandhi and King, this is something that took me a while to figure out but Gandhi and King said that if you want to do nonviolent struggle you have to have the ideals of the warrior. You have to have the discipline, the strategic thinking, the courage, the willingness to die, the selflessness and sacrifice and Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. used very militaristic metaphors to describe the movement because they wanted people with the warrior ideals but Gandhi and King said that their weapons are not guns or bombs or weapons, their weapons I love, understanding entry that that is how you fight the nonviolent struggle. The warrior ideal is combined with nonviolent weapons.

ALISON ST JOHN: One of the things I’ve always thought of venturing to understand how war can be justifiable is the Buddhist idea that, have you read the Bhagavad-Gita? And it’s Arjuna talking to Krishna and saying I am fighting my brother, how can I do this it’s morally very toward Krishna is kind of saying well, you have to accept surrender to what is answered without any attachment to the outcome. And, under that philosophy, perhaps war is just a natural part of being human. Of this existence that we live in.

PAUL CHAPPELLE: I think what is natural is struggle. And nonviolent conflict is a struggle. It is a struggle of truth against ignorance is a true the intersection it’s up struggle of truth against hatred and King and Gandhi uses military metaphors to frame nonviolent struggle as nonviolent methods as a struggle because people have a tendency to think of nonviolence as wearing a peace T-shirt and sitting around and doing nothing and they were trying to frame it as a struggle, where, when you conduct nonviolent struggle people will try to kill you and if you look at King getting dozens of death threats a day, if you look at civil rights protesters being attacked you see a lot of similarities in terms of the danger, the risk and the kind of strategic thinking you need to solve a problem.

ALISON ST JOHN: So how would you say, somebody even who is a veteran, we have thousands of veterans here in San Diego could continue to use those Warrior skills in a way in the service of peace.

PAUL CHAPPELLE: This is one reason why Gandhi was recruiting people to be in the military. Gandhi had a realization. He realized that it’s easier according to Gandhi it is easier to get somebody who was in the military and basically teach them not to kill because they would have all the other warrior attributes, discipline, courage, strategic thinking, selflessness, cooperation and it would be to get somebody who is afraid to die and get them to join nonviolent struggle because Gandhi believed to do a nonviolent struggle you have to be able to do personal risk and be attacked and sacrifice. That is one of the reasons why Gandhi was a promilitary. So I think that a lot of the RGB to use in the military can be transferred to other aspects of life whether it is nonviolence or personally for personal growth.

ALISON ST JOHN: And would you say under your philosophy that it’s not acceptable to be ready to kill, but it is acceptable to be ready to die?

PAUL CHAPPELLE: I think that there are two different situations. If somebody breaks into my apartment and tries to kill me I have a right to defend myself and the thing is, I could defend myself without having to kill the person. I could knock the person unconscious, I could wrestle the person to the ground and get them in a submission hold or I could perhaps stab the person and call 911 and have the ambulance come. If I do kill the person I have killed the person who made a choice to attack me. The difference between a situation and war is that in war, the vast majority of people killed are innocent civilians of the somebody breaks into my house and I end up killing the person that killed one person and made a choice to attack me. But if you have a war going on in some complex up to 90% of people killed are civilians to the chaos and confusion of force with the most different situation. You can believe in personal self-defense but not believe in larger scale warfare that kills lots of innocent people.

ALISON ST JOHN: In some ways this approach is particularly relevant now in a situation where it does seem like civilians are getting more and more in the countries where we are at war.Yeah. Talk a little bit about how you see your approach you know, how we need to practically wage peace at this point in time politically in the United States?

PAUL CHAPPELLE: Again we have to look at the root causes of these problems and we have to understand how supporting dictatorships around the world builds resentment that extremists can take advantage of. If you look at some like Osama bin Laden or Al Qaeda or that ideology they are able to create so much consensus and momentum because they are able to tap into people’s resentment regarding the way we support these brutal regimes and prevent development and progress and democracy. So I think that again going back to Eisenhower and the national Security Council if we recognize that hypocrisy threatens our national security that is one thing we can resolve immediately and then we can take other vital steps to ensure national security and other ways.

ALISON ST JOHN: Okay so in terms of the climate change because that was one of the things you mentioned that I was interested in, do you have much to say about how we can, in essence wage war job that threat to our nation and how does that involve this warrior ethic that you talk about?

PAUL CHAPPELLE: I think that if you look at climate change, climate scientists are saying we’ve reached a tipping point and we’ve reached the point of no return. In terms of the most problematic things happening over the next 100 years. And we’ve kind of crossed the threshold. If you could people don’t believe in climate change their seeing what is happening is inevitable. We cannot prevent it. Now if you look at what wars were fought over in the past they were often fought over her ideology and things like that and in the 20th century humanity almost blew itself to pieces. Now imagine a war paradigm attitude combined with climate change where we have legitimate problems perhaps billions of people serving starving and migrating populations of imagine those kinds of crises with more people in the world than ever in human history combined with nuclear weapons and a war mentality. It is a recipe for disaster. So I think that if we do not end the war. I’m prior to the greatest catastrophe, climate change happening over the next 50 years is going to be a very dangerous situation so I think if we end the war. Before that we have a chance of surviving as a species.

ALISON ST JOHN: Great. I would like to thank you so much for really stirring the pot. Bringing up some good ideas about how we can avoid war. We’ve been speaking with Iraq war veteran Paul Chapelle is giving Veterans Day lecture at University of San Diego this evening it is at seven o’clock at USD’s Warren Auditorium. Paul, thank you so much.