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Life Arts    H4'ed 2/6/11

Generations of Resistance to War

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From the Book

RADICAL PEACE: People Refusing War

Published by Trine Day 2010

A Granny for Peace told of finding young allies in the struggle against military recruiting. Due to the Patriot Act, she wishes to remain nameless.

It's never easy being a parent or a child. The generations always have friction between them, a conflict between the elders' need to give guidance and youths' need to find their own way. I grew up in the 1950s, when the USA was very conservative and bound by traditions. My parents' generation had grown up in the Depression amid poverty and then struggled through World War Two with its threat of death and destruction. By the time they were ready to start families, they were fixated on stability and security. They measured their progress by their possessions: buying their first car, first television, first house. Their morality centered on controlling sexuality and protecting private property. Their religion was a death cult of stern patriarchs, obedient virgins, innocent babies, and threats of eternal torture. Their deepest philosophy was, "There is no free lunch." The peak of their scientific achievement was the hydrogen bomb. Fear was their strongest emotion.

I was raised in an ethos of striving for money. My parents were landlords. With the help of a small inheritance to my mother and my father's unionized factory job, they'd bought a duplex house on a long mortgage. They rented the other half out, scrimped and saved, and were able to get another mortgage on a rundown four-unit apartment building. They worked every weekend fixing it up and in a few years had enough equity to buy another building. My dad was able to quit his factory job and devote full time to property management. The more money he made, the harder he worked -- it was a drug. He and my mother were always fixing places up, showing them to prospective tenants, shopping for new properties, and fighting with tenants over rent raises. They ran on coffee and tranquilizers and were always exhausted. Dad had ulcers and mom psoriasis. By the time I was in high school, we lived in a great big house and they owned a dozen buildings filled with factory workers like he'd started out as. He said they could all have what we had if they weren't so lazy. Conveniently forgetting the inheritance that had given us the initial advantage, he was now the American dream of the self-made man.

That's when my parents and I started getting into fights. I couldn't articulate my feelings about it, so they came out as sullenness, but what I sensed was that dad and mom had sacrificed everything for money and now that was all they had and it wasn't worth it. The money itself came from the tenants -- where else? The high rent those people paid kept them poor, locked them onto the proletarian treadmill with their labor generating prosperity for my parents and the factory owners. I didn't think the tenants were lazy. I thought they wanted to do something else besides work all the time. When they saw what wrecks my parents were, who could blame them for not wanting to scramble all their lives to build a real estate empire?

My friends too were having lots of fights with their parents. We were alienated from their values and determined not to end up like them. We'd grown up with financial security, so it meant little to us. We could see how our parents' obsession with material objects, their sexual repression, and their constant anxiety had warped them. We didn't want to pay such a high psychic price for security, so we rebelled. We rejected their morality, their culture, their racism, and their wars. And they fought back bitterly, accusing us of scorning their sacrifices, of trying to destroy the institutions they'd worked so hard to sustain.

And it was true. Destruction was my generation's greatest talent, and we were surrounded by a society that needed destroying. We arrogantly defied their attempts to make us obey and disdained their efforts to preserve the old ways. We dismantled as much as we could: segregation, the draft, chastity, gender roles. In our rage to change, we kicked holes in the walls of a constrictive environment. We didn't break out of this dungeon, but we let fresh air into the stagnant atmosphere we'd inherited.

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William T. Hathaway is an award-winning novelist and an emeritus Fulbright professor of creative writing. His peace novel, Summer Snow, is the story of an American warrior falling in love with a Sufi Muslim and learning from her that higher (more...)

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