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Commentary: History Shapes Views on Peace

By Roxanne Amico

Buffalo, NY – Listening to Dan Lenard's Apr. 3rd commentary trivializing the meaning of anti-war protests brought fond memories of high school, where some social studies classes were elective, some required -- like world history and my favorite, American Studies. I was lucky because my teachers saw my restlessness as a desire to know more than what was in the curriculum. They took me under wing and encouraged critical thinking.

I learned to think of history as pluralistic; was taught to think of histor - IES, and ask, If history is made up of the stories we learn about human experience, whose experience will we hear about? History in what context? WHO writes history books and how is the history written?

My mind saw forests of histories. Reflecting on that exciting time, I think of Helen Keller, ecstatic when shown words for water, tree, face, - her own name - connecting her to the existence of others through language. I was deeply moved thinking of history this way because while learning about U.S. Immigration in school, at home I heard my father's stories about his experience as an Italian Immigrant. I was able to connect my life to the history of my country, because of my father's story.

My American Studies teacher handed me a book by New York Times correspondent Hedrick Smith. At that time, over 20 years ago, the prevailing story about the Soviet Union was that they were the evil empire. Smith's book helped me begin to see Russians as they see themselves.

I also learned the history of the colonies of England, and that during the anti-colonial struggle in India, led by Mahatma Gandhi, the British paid agents to turn that struggle violent, to try to stop it.

I studied the civil rights movement of the 50's and 60's in the U.S. Deep South, learning that after lives of suffering, black people risked assault from the Klan and the police for those victories; learning that the U.S. government paid agents to incite violence to try to stop the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam war movement.

I learned in the context of art history that Picasso painted Guernica in 1937 to depict some 1,600 terrorized civilians massacred in a small Basque village, after three hours of bombardment, during the Spanish Civil War. In February, as Colin Powell prepared to deceive the world about the need' to bomb more civilians, the UN reproduction of Guernica was shrouded. I think history will find this shameful.

More recently, I heard Reverend Lucius Walker, an American Baptist Minister who works with Mayans of Chiapas, Mexico, who are struggling for their right to their own land. The tourism industry will not tell the story of these people, so the Reverend tells the story for them, while inspiring hundreds of others to aid them. This is history carved of active world citizenship.

A people's history will say what we insist when we take to the streets: That most people protest war because personal AND world history taught us that war kills civilians and that we will not tolerate that in our names, not with our tax dollars, not on our watch; that we need not wait for the ballot box to voice our non-cooperation.

Studying mass media analysis in high school was context for my skepticism about histories as told in our current age of the mass media, where politicians, generals and CEO's own and control most news we hear: Note the embedded' reporting that is making a sanitized Hollywood production of atrocious realities.

In high school I learned my passion for justice was loving, not hateful, as Dan Lenard wrongly characterizes war protesters. H. L. Mencken said, Love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence. I imagined what life was like for millions of people in the world who cannot sleep because of REAL poverty, disease, and criminal acts like this current attack on Iraq's people and land.

Having no children, as a peace activist and artist, I think of my life and my work as my creation: America is our child, what we imagine it to be, and what we make it possible for it to become, with our eternal vigilance. This is not naivete. It is wisdom evolved from the histories of people throughout the world courageously asserting love of our lives, motivating us to act in the present to step into a future of better lives for ALL. Not apologizing for anger, nor mistaking it for hatred, from this love, I will continue to act on behalf of others and myself to create a world friendly to children and to dreams.

History is also told in music. American musical artist Laurie Anderson says, paraphrasing Walter Benjamin, History's an angel; a pile of debris: the angel wants to go back to fix things...But there's a storm blowing from Paradise -- blowing the angel backwards into the future... this storm is called PROGRESS.

It is progress -- something to celebrate --when billions of people throughout the world protest the killing of those who cannot sleep in peace. Others can watch it on TV -- or can join us.

Listener-Commentator Roxanne Amico is a local artist and writer and a member of the group, Women in Black.