Below my window, loud cries become wailing. I run down to check it out. Though it's still twilight and many people are on the street, an old woman has just been shoved to the ground, her purse stolen. Cradling a bruised arm, she cries, "My god, my god! What am I going to do? What am I going to do?" She tells me she kept her money and papers in her purse because last month a drug dealer broke into her apartment. This area turns into a drug war zone every now and then, with the inevitable "collateral damage" of all wars.
Another day, 2 am. Silence in my Bleecker Street apartment. Three shots below my window yank me out of sleep. One person heads toward Sherbourne, the other two run to their parked Rover. All the brave young men with guns. Here, it's usually about cocaine.
Without warning, a crack in the sky breaks open and water pours out, venting these overwrought emotions. The beat of the falling rain helps me to fall back asleep.
When I wake early in the morning, the storm has passed. Everything outside glows. The rain has washed the air itself, intensifying the sun's golden shimmer. I've had an intense week of non-violence workshops and drywall jobs, and set aside this Saturday morning to let go and slow down, to just be for a few hours.
As I open my door, a young father walks by with his alert baby in a clean but well-used stroller. The little one giggles as his eyes catch mine. At the edge of the park across the street, a mother and daughter float by in their bright saris. A breeze catches their garments' thin fabric, creating waves of deep red and brilliant blue. Further down the sidewalk, two lovers walk, their four legs in perfect, playful rhythm. Has my neighbourhood dressed itself in playfulness and beauty to celebrate my sacred time set aside for rest and relief?
I treat myself to a coffee and dessert at a nearby café. Through the window I notice the crooked branches of a giant, leafless maple across the street. In the sky beyond, a flock of Canada geese flies in formation parallel to the telephone wires. My eyes continue along the wire lines to a phone booth in front of the café window.
That's when I notice who's in the booth -- one of the neighbourhood's most intense drug addicts. He's agitated. Slamming down the receiver, he grabs one of his pant legs with both hands and rips open its seam. Shit comes oozing down his leg. I immediately recall hearing George Chuvalo speak of his own drug-addicted son. He painfully described a similar incident when his son made a phone call in a hotel lobby, explaining the pitiful phenomenon of incontinence in anticipation of a hit of cocaine.
A woman walks past, oblivious to the addict's drama. When she's a short distance past the booth, she turns to call her meandering little daughter, who runs unknowingly over some of the addict's shit on the edge of the sidewalk.
What an image of war: addiction's sick disruption of people's precious everyday activities, including attempts to relax with pastry and coffee.
Jack M. Smith was an alcoholic till his family and friends confronted him. As vice-president of the Iowa-based Stanley Foundation, his profession required him to research and analyze U.S. foreign policy, including the arms race. As he came to terms with his alcoholism, he started to ask himself if there could be similarities between his addiction to alcohol and his nation's addiction to weapons. The similarities were striking, as he noted in his booklet Addiction To Arms. An addict denies the problem. He told his wife, "Sure, I drink more than before, but it's under control. I haven't been in jail, lost my job or family. I can handle it." What do military officials tell us? "Don't worry, the situation is under control. We have scattered a staggering arsenal of nuclear weapons across the earth, but it's being managed. Trust us."
It was common for Jack to blame circumstances for his drinking. The military and their governments always blame "rogue nations" for the 12 million children left homeless because of war, the 10 million psychologically traumatized, the bloated arsenal. Just a few more weapons, a few more drinks, and we'll feel safe.
Addicts are controlling and try to force others to behave according to their values. How many times has the non-drinker been badgered to have a drink, to loosen up. Control is at the root of the U.S. administration's obsession with replacing the brutal but once cooperative tyrant Saddam Hussein with a refurbished, U.S.-compliant regime. The Canadian government protests feebly, then timidly goes along with the grotesque, deadly game.
"Addicts are self-centred. The world revolved around me," Jack admitted. "We have to use force," declared former U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright, "because we are America. We are the indispensable nation."
An addict spends more and more on feeding the drug dependency rather than on the needs of family members. The Canadian government spends 600 per cent more on war than on affordable housing. When does George Bush ever talk passionately about the needs of the poor in his own country?
Enablers are those who knowingly or unwittingly perpetuate addiction through silence and inaction. When Jack's family and friends freed themselves from their own dysfunctional interactions with him, they finally stopped being enablers. Left alone with his diseased behaviour, Jack began to confront himself.
There are probably not many hardened ideological warmongers in the Canadian or U.S. army, or in any army. By themselves, they are not enough to keep the massive war machine in operation. It's the countless enablers we call "the public" who really keep this sacred addiction going. Governments and their military-industrial-educational complexes have made many believe that security depends on the latest expensive military technological fix.
We can intervene in our culture's self-destructive addiction to war with the boldness of our great prophet in politics, CCF founder J.S. Woodsworth. "Now is the time when we should decide whether or not an armed force means or makes for peace. I recognize that the policy that I have advocated would involve risks, but the present policy involves not only risks but almost certain failure. Why not take those risks that are incident to the development of the new means of protecting our nations?"
We have never come close to putting the necessary resources at the disposal of a serious and thorough development of this "new means of protecting our nations" -- non-violent civil defence. Reclaiming the fire of this great, aborted Canadian dream is an urgent task. War is a sickness that is depleting our energies. It leaves us neither free nor secure. Rather, like all addictions, it leaves us with only illusions of freedom and security.
Rick (not his real name) was a wildly out-of-control cocaine addict. Intelligent and likeable, he had been moved by the unexpected support my wife and I offered as his downstairs neighbours. He even allowed our challenges about his addiction, all the while insisting he was in control.
That elaborate illusion of control began to unravel with each ingestion of the seductive poison. Rick's money and energy were going down a sewer. Possessed and obsessed, he completely let go into this sickening embrace. Other users descended on his room, breaking locks, making threats and stealing my wife's boots. Soon he was being evicted. I spent an entire day with him checking out the cheapest rooms in hell till he found something. That was months ago. Through various people's intervention, Rick went into rehab.
Wildly out of control -- making threats, stealing and pimping -- war thrives on our fearful cooperation, passive or active, with the pushers and users. Only radical intervention can move our culture toward rehab and health. The withdrawal will be painful at first, but war's deadly poison can be flushed out of our culture's veins. Real freedom and lasting security depend on it.