I had the opportunity to meet with Peter Yarrow Thursday September 13th 2001. He is the founder of a project promoting respect and tolerance within schools called "Don't Laugh At Me." He spoke and sang to a group of cummunity members and teachers.
A young but well meaning reporter attending the program,asked about the role folk music plays in, as the reporter put it, "times like this." At first Peter asked "I just answered that. Weren't you at the presentation?" but then softened and restated his points.Here is a paraphrasing of his answer.
Without songs, the Civil Right's Movement wouldn't have been energized
in the same way. Marchers and activists gathered everywhere. Not to entertain,
but to use music to heal, to recommit and carry on. We did not sing
for entertainment. We sang to help create community. Marchers gathered
in church or synagogue basements in spite of, and in the face of, the beatings
the hosings, and the killings. We gathered together because there was not
yet, “Justice for all" in our land, our America. Not then, and still
Regarding "What Now?" Peter commented:
"Clearly America must live up to it's pledge. We cannot create an atmosphere in which retribution ,anger and pain lead us to punish another nation and its people, rather than addressing the terrorists themselves. For years we have tacitly accepted the harboring of terrorists by certain countries. Now we have every right to insist that we will not tolerate the harboring of terrorists and that we expect full compliance and cooperation in their expulsion or extradition, or there will be a military response by the United States, but we cannot punish a country on this account without first warning them that we have, from this point on, changed the rules—and properly so, in my opinion.
Bringing terrorists to justice is one thing, but launching military strikes against another nation, particularly military strikes that might hurt or kill innocent people, is not a way to cure hatred and provide safety for us or for any other country, In fact , such military actions would more likely engender further hatred and breed a new generation of terrorists.
To cure the violence, we must identify and heal the causes of hatred
and violence. If we don't deal with the causes we
will never be safe. It's time to reexamine the role the US plays in healing generational animosities or exacerbating them. We must not ever add to the legacy of hatred or countenance scapegoating.
There are over 100 wars now being fought throughout the world: territorial, tribal, religious, some fought with unspeakable barbarism. Some of these wars are potential trigger points for global conflict, nuclear or biological warfare: Armageddon.
We can only move to a long-term resolution regarding terrorism and war by planting seeds of peace. We have to start with ourselves. We Americans are world leaders and we must lead by example – particularly in times that require careful deliberation before any precipitous action - lest we fail to walk in the shoes of those we might injure. Regarding war between nations, including such conflict between ourselves and another nation, if we do not do everything possible to bring about peaceful resolution of conflict, who will? My perspective does not come from a position of complete pacifism. I would have fought in the Second World War against Hitler and Nazism.
But war must be a last resort .And terrorism is a different circumstance that is much more difficult and painful to address because frequently we do not know who the perpetrator is and cannot respond without harming and killing innocent people- and thereby initiated another cycle of violence and retribution. The horrific dilemma of Hiroshima stillhaunts us. In that case, we chose to annihilate a huge civilian population to stop a war immediately – one that we knew would be won soon, but would take many more American lives if the atomic bomb were not dropped.
This is in a way related to the painful dilemma that faces us in regard to our response to terrorism . But we must not conflate or confuse war with acts of terrorism by responding in ways that are inevitable in cases of war but non- applicable to the response to terrorism. In responding to terrorism, we must carefully consider acting in a way that might satisfy our very human, but dangerous, desire for revenge, if such revenge is directed at civilian populations and/or simply creates a next generation of hatred and retaliation. That might exorcize our grief, but will neither lead to safety for our children and us nor address the roots of this terrible threat and problem. We cannot let the terrain of excruciating and barbarous attacks by terrorists dehumanize us so that we respond in kind. If we do, they will have won.
The world has changed in the past 2 days. Even as we address the issues
of safety and find just ways to respond to the terrorism, we must address
the horror of this circumstance in the long term and with the understanding
the we must create a world that slowly moves toward greater safety by virtue
of the true creation of peaceful models of behavior, between people and
nations. It is up to the U.S. to start building greater humanity
tolerance and respect among our children and between them and the children
of other lands, other cultures and traditions. We must find ways, not conceptual
or hypothetical ways, but in flesh and blood face –to-face circumstances
to let them play together, know each other and learn to respect each other.
Let them be the seeds and ambassadors of peace.