‘Why I would not kill in war’

On International Conscientious Objectors’ Day, four men explain the very different reasons why they refused to fight in four very different conflicts.

DESMOND DOSS

The army said I saved 100 men during one battle on Okinawa. I said it couldn’t be more than 50, so the citation on my Congressional Medal of Honor says 75. When President Truman pinned it on me he said: ‘It is a greater honour than being president.’

Desmond DossPresident Truman said I really deserved this’

Before I was born my father bought a illustration of the 10 Commandments. I looked at that picture hundreds of times as I grew up. The Sixth Commandment showed Cain killing Abel, and I wondered how a brother could do such a thing. It gave me such a horror of killing that I never wanted to kill or even hurt anyone.

When the US went to war against Japan and Germany, my boss at the shipyard offered me a deferment as an essential worker. I did not want to be known as a draft dodger. I felt it was an honour to serve God and country, but I wanted to do it as a medic, by saving life instead of taking life.

When I registered for the draft at 18, I said I wanted to be a non-combatant. But I was told there was no such classification and that I would have to be a conscientious objector. If I did not take that classification and – as a Seventh-day Adventist – wanted to keep the Saturday as the Sabbath or not carry a weapon, I would most likely be court-martialled. So there was nothing else I could do.

The reaction of the other soldiers and officers was pretty bad, having me around was not to their liking. I was not the kind of conscientious objector that so many were in those times, who would not salute the flag, wear the uniform or cooperate with the army in any way. But my comrades classed me with them. I did not try to tell them different, because they would not have believed me.

The bullets were going near enough that I could practically feel them

One of my majors tried to have me discharged from the army, saying I was mentally off. I felt I would be a poor Christian if I would accept a discharge because of my religion.

After we went overseas, my comrades began to realise that I would always be there to help them if they got wounded, their attitude changed. They knew I would come to their aid if I possibly could. From then on we had a very good relationship.

Some of my men felt I should carry a weapon for protection, but I told them that would put my trust in God. They could do the fighting and I would do the patching.

In May 1945, we were sent up on the top of a 400-foot-high cliff to fight the Japanese. I suggested to the lieutenant that we should have prayer, because we knew how many people had been killed on this escarpment.

US troops fighting on Okinawa

‘We knew how many people had been killed on this escarpment’

One day we were given what we thought would be an easy mop-up job. Everything seemed to go wrong and we were finally told to retreat. But about 75 men were wounded and could not move. I was the only medic and I would not leave my men.

I stayed on top and let them down one by one over the escarpment, to where they could be taken on down to the aid station.

I kept praying: ‘Lord, help me to get one more.’ And He did help me. I got all the men down safely and I did not get a scratch from the bullets that were going near enough that I could practically feel them.

Going into battle helped me to realise how tragic wars, bloodshed and killing are. When anyone is killed it is a tragic thing.

I have nothing against those who kill people in battle. It seems to be a necessary part of living. Soldiers must decide for themselves what it is right to do. But for me, it was wrong to kill and I felt I could not do it. I put my trust in God and made my decision to keep commandments.


RUDOLPH KIRST

Hitler had a theory that Germany would be defended to the last drop of blood, so I was among a group of boys taken for military training in 1945 and then lined up and asked to fight. I said: ‘Hitler is an evil man and I won’t volunteer.’

Boy soldiers of the Hitler Youth in 1945

‘The other boys were sent to the front as cannon fodder’

Of the 600 boys – mostly 15 year olds – about 10 of us didn’t agree to join the Hitler Youth division going to the front. We were interrogated by army officers, and the boys said that their parents would not like them volunteering. I was the only one who said: ‘I don’t want to volunteer.’

Looking back it was an extraordinarily brave act for a 16-year-old. If I had been 18, I probably would have been shot.

My father had already been forced into fighting for the Nazis, but he never shot at people. He would aim over the heads of Allied soldiers, and that was his way of being a conscientious objector without being executed.

He was formerly a musician, but had been forced out of his orchestra in Cologne because he would not say ‘Heil Hitler’. Many of his fellow musicians were Jews and had disappeared. That gave us the clue that something was fishy.

By the time I ordered to report for training in 1945, more information had percolated through about Hitler’s treatment of the Jews. Anyone who had ears knew about the extermination camps. I decided I would not fight to defend such evil.

Hitler decorating boy soldiers in 1945

‘Hitler wanted Germany to be defended to the last drop of blood’

I was immediately ostracised by the other boys. I was taken from our camp and spent that night in the officers’ quarters.

The next day, when the boys gathered for the flag raising, an announcement was made that I was being sent home. I was not allowed to see anyone. I was poison.

Ironically, my stand saved my life. The other boys were sent to the front as cannon fodder – we had only had a few days of training. Those who turned back from the fighting were shot by their own officers. It was a great tragedy of those final days of the war.

I did not refuse to fight because I was concerned that my life might be in danger. It was a matter of conscientious objection, and looking back that day had a profound effect on my life. Throughout my life I have stood up for my views. Today, I campaign against genetically modified crops.


ISHAI MENUCHIN

You’re 18 and a paratrooper. You’re learning new things and meeting interesting people. You’re an officer, commanding others. It’s an adventure. You think that what you are doing is defending Israel, but soon find what you are really doing is occupying another country.

Israel soldiers man a Gaza checkpoint in the 1990s

‘I was in an elite unit … and had no contact with the Palestinians’

I was called up to fight in the invasion of Lebanon in the early 1980s. I was naive and believed it was a war of defence. It was easy for me, since as I was in an elite unit, I had very little to do with daily life of the occupation.

When we went to train in the Occupied Territories – the West Bank or Gaza – we would be off in the mountains or the desert and had no contact with the Palestinians.

That was until I was leading my men on a training mission in the Sinai desert and was ordered into Gaza after a Palestinian grenade attack on an army truck, which had killed two.

Intelligence had tracked the man responsible to a refugee camp and my unit, being the closest, was sent in to capture him.

So there was I, crawling through the mud and sewage of this camp in the middle of the night. We knew he still had grenades, so we had to rush his house fast.

We caught him in bed. His wife sleeping beside him was crying. His children were crying.

The [Palestinian] man knew, like I did, that if he had obeyed the [Israeli officer’s] command run, he would have been shot

We took him outside and handed him over to officers from another unit, so we could begin the search for the hand grenades.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw one of these officers cock his pistol and tell the prisoner to run in Arabic.

I didn’t know what to do, I was shocked. The man knew, like I did, that if he had obeyed the command run, he would have been shot. He lay down and didn’t get up, even though they kicked him. Israeli military police eventually arrived to arrest him.

We never found the grenades and eventually were told our prisoner was the wrong man – he just happened to share the same name as the grenade attacker.

I don’t know why I didn’t do anything to stop what happened that night. It was so hard to not be a part of such things when you are a soldier in the Occupied Territories.

That incident made me understand occupation and humiliation and showed me exactly what being an occupier was. It still haunts me.

An Israeli soldier with Palestinian prisoners

‘I did not refuse to be called up, but I refused to be involved in policing actions’

I began what is now called selective refusal. As a reservist, I did not refuse to be called up, but I refused to be involved in policing actions. Then I refused to cross into Lebanon or the Occupied Territories.

I talked with my soldiers. A small minority said I was doing the right thing. Another minority refused to talk to me because I had gone against our brotherhood. The rest said we’d talk again when I got back from jail.

I was sent to prison for 35 days. It was the beginning of the mass refusals and there were demonstrations in Tel Aviv calling for my release.

Once out, an officer again ordered me to go to Lebanon, and again I refused. I heard him on the phone saying he wanted to send me back to my cell, but he was told to send me to a less elite unit as a punishment.

I felt it was too easy for me just to stop taking part in the occupation, so I set up the group Yesh Gvul [There is a limit] to act as a model for other reservists and to support those who become refuseniks like me.


STEPHEN FUNK

At Marine boot camp it’s constantly ‘Kill! Kill! Kill!’ There are contests to see which recruit can shout it the loudest. Every time you do a push-up you shout ‘Kill!’ I thought it was insane, but mouthed the word so as not to get in trouble.

Stephen Funk reports for duty

‘I felt disgusted, hypocritical and trapped in a contract to do things I thought were wrong’

My recruiter spotted I wasn’t suited to the Marine Corps, but he sold me on all the valuable things I could learn. I was going to be a reservist, not in the regular infantry, and would learn leadership skills and Boy Scout things like tying knots.

If I had talked to my family and friends before I had enlisted, I would never have joined. Everyone was surprised. It was so against my nature – I’m known as a liberal, non-violent person.

I’d graduated high school, and had left one college and moved to San Francisco to apply to another. Being out of school for the first time and in a strange city, I felt I lacked direction. I was depressed and not thinking clearly.

On the first day of boot camp everyone feels like they have made a big mistake. But as the training progressed I realised the Corps’ only reason for having me there was to teach me to kill people.

They try to deprogram recruits, make them forget things that are common to all people, forget the human aversion to killing.

I’d never even been in a fight before joining. Boot camp made me think about my attitudes to violence. I felt disgusted, hypocritical and trapped in a contract to do things I thought were wrong.

The Corps told my lawyer it would try to court martial me for desertion. I’m not worried. Perhaps I should be

My speciality was landing support – loading fighting troops on and off of helicopters and landing craft. Part of the job was to motivate the Marines to kill, to pump them up for battle.

When we practised it, I’d hide at the back of the group, I couldn’t believe I’d really have to do this crazy thing. When my turn was called, I just couldn’t motivate the people to kill. I thought it was wrong.

I expressed my concerns and raised questions during training, but was never told I could become a conscientious objector. I only found out after I’d gone back to civilian life, and started to work on my application to leave the reserves.

It’s not a simple process, and before I’d even finished the first draft, I was called up to go to Iraq.

A lawyer looked at my form and said it needed more work. So I told my base I wasn’t going to report, that I was a conscientious objector and that I would hand myself in when the form was finished.

US Marine in southern Iraq

‘I just couldn’t motivate the people to kill. I thought it was wrong’

Mine was a small base, and I wasn’t sure they knew what they were doing. I didn’t want to report in case they did something crazy, like detaining me.

I wanted to go public with my story, to warn other young people thinking of joining up. When I got the media involved, the Corps put a warrant out for me for desertion.

I reported back and was transferred to New Orleans with 20 other objectors. We mostly sit around reading, waiting for our application to be processed.

It’s not just the politics of the war on Iraq that I oppose, it’s war in general. I’m a pacifist and opposed to participating in any conflict. They don’t solve anything and just perpetuate a bad situation.

The Corps told my lawyer it would try to court martial me for desertion, but it would have to prove I had no intention of returning. I handed myself in, so I’m not worried. Perhaps I should be.

Source

Update: Israeli conscientious objectors

Atalia Ben-Abba is an imprisoned Israeli conscientious objector

After 115 days of imprisonment, Israeli conscientious objector Tamar Ze’evi has had her objection to military service recognised, and has been granted CO status as a political refuser. However, conscientious objectors Atalia Ben-Abba and Tamar Alon have been imprisoned again for their refusal to take part in the occupation and serve in the IDF. This is Atalia’s second, and Tamar’s sixth imprisonment, and each will spend 30 days more behind bars. Click here send a protest email to the Israeli authorities.

“Our present reality needs to be changed, and my refusal is my way to change it”

In her declaration, Atalia, who has already spent 20 days behind bars and is currently spending 30 more following the final court decision, states:

My social responsibility as a stakeholder in our society is important to me. The people living here are important to me, all of the people living here, and it’s my responsibility and the responsibility of all of us to act for a better life here. My refusal to be drafted doesn’t come out of a renunciation of this responsibility, but out of the understanding that our present reality needs to be changed, and that my refusal is my way to change it…

I spoke once to a Palestinian activist who described the first time he met Israelis. All he saw, as a kid, were foreign soldiers, speaking a language he doesn’t understand, entering his village and demolishing houses. He feared them and was angry. Only years later he met Israelis who showed him another side. Hearing him made me understand the endless cycle we’re in – violence begets violence, there’s no solution in this way. Cooperation with Palestinians enables us to create a relationship that paves the way to peace and proves that there is a chance for partnership between the two sides for a better future.

Along with Atalia, Tamar Ze’evi and Tamar Alon have also repeated their refusal and sentenced to 30 days each. This will add to 97 and 100 days each has already spent behind bars in total respectively.

Read Tamar Ze’evi’s declaration here.

Read Tamar Alon’s declaration here.

Solidarity

As well as filling in our email alert you can also send your emails of support to Atalia, Tamar and Tamar. Use this link to write them and your messages will be passed on.

You can also write to Israel’s embassies abroad. Find a list of these here.

Remembering Gaza and Rachel on her 38th birthday, a message from Cindy Corrie

APRIL 10 – Remembering Gaza and Rachel – on her 38th birthday

Today is my daughter Rachel Corrie’s 38th birthday. In Olympia, Washington, where she grew up, we will mark the occasion with a gathering to inaugurate our Rachel Corrie Foundation (RCF) Gaza Committee. Rachel was killed in Rafah, Gaza, March 16, 2003, as she engaged in nonviolent direct action to challenge mass demolitions of Palestinian homes by the Israeli military. In the intervening years, our family, our community, and the Rachel Corrie Foundation have connected with Gaza in different ways. We have partnered with others throughout the U.S. and world who have made  those connections, as well.

There have been delegation trips to the Gaza Strip to meet with families Rachel  knew and organizations with which she worked. RCF programs have provided for a Gaza student to study at The Evergreen State College, for a recipient of our Leadership Studies Fellowship to learn and to teach in our community, and for speakers from Gaza to share their stories firsthand in the U.S. The Olympia-Rafah Solidarity  Mural Project in downtown Olympia has for many years been a visible reminder of our relationship, and at this month’s Olympia Arts Walk on April 28th will feature work from Gaza  artists and others who have contributed to creating the mural and making the connections. RCF Gaza projects have supported the grassroots efforts and imagination of Rachel’s Gaza friends and of Gaza youth who continue to find inspiration and hope in her story. The Gaza Sport Initiative, Remedial Education Project for Learning Disabled Children, and artistic and cultural youth performances through the Palestinian Cultural Palace are current efforts that keep the connections strong.

As we in the U.S. deal with our own challenges, and as terrible conflict continues and worsens in other parts of the Middle East and world, at the Rachel Corrie Foundation we feel a strong need to make sure Gaza is remembered. The people there continue to live with enormous hardship, under blockade and siege, with a failed economy, and with ever increasing threats to their health and safety.

Rachel wrote to me in 2003, “I do think that it’s important to recognize all the zillions of small things we can do for change…small revolutionary things.” Remembering her words, I thank those of you who have reached out to us this month with thoughtful messages and taken your own actions in support of the people of Gaza. Thank you, too, for the critical financial support you’ve sent for our RCF Gaza projects and efforts. We look forward to including you in the work of our new Gaza Committee. Our staff identified a fundraising goal of $15,000 for this period in order to support our current projects for youth and families in Gaza. Through your generosity, we are nearly 2/3 the way there! If you haven’t yet donated, and are able to do so, your support for Gaza on Rachel’s birthday will mean a great deal to all of us and to our colleagues in Gaza.

Many thanks,
Cindy Corrie

Rachel Corrie Foundation For Peace and Justice

This Is How They Broke Our Grandmothers

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It’s that time of year again for those tired old, hackneyed negative stereotypes to be unthinkingly reinforced and imprinted on innocent children, most of whom will have to wait many years to hear the real story, if indeed they ever do.

Not uplifting reading, but valuable for gaining or widening your perspectives on a range of subjects and issues including history, colonialism and sexual politics. As a detailed overview of an often unexamined phase in history, it’s essential reading.

This Is How They Broke Our Grandmothers

Once, there were witches. No. There were never witches. Not in the way men said, anyway.

Once, there were many Indigenous polytheist and animist faith traditions in what is now Western Europe. Their customs supported varying levels of respect and authority for women. They had holy women, woman healers, and woman leaders.

Once, there was a church that was a kingdom, built on the body of the Roman Empire, which itself was built on the abduction and rape of the Sabine women. This church was a principality in truth, ruled by princes who had a lust for land and gold that was almost as insatiable as their burning hatred for women.

They converted heads of state and demanded tithes of members, while leaving most local governance alone. They created a very early, very ephemeral transnational empire that required little in the way of personnel or men under arms, and was mainly concerned with governing what’s often classed as the private sphere.

Eventually, the church’s client states had a problem keeping their peasants in line, because the church and the aristocracy wanted to steal all the land and privatize it for themselves through enclosure of the commons.

As Sylvia Federici explains in her book, Caliban and the Witch, secular authorities eventually hit on the popular strategy of giving everything that women had to men, including the women themselves. Civil servants didn’t forget to account for the economic value of women’s work; rather, it was explicitly written out of economic accounting — declared to have no value during the enclosure era. Male tradesmen coordinated boycotts of female competitors and of men who worked with them. Women who persisted in trying to engage in public trades were harassed, called “whores” or “witches,” or were even assaulted without repercussion.

Eventually, to be a woman in public alone was very nearly synonymous with being presumed a witch or prostituted woman. Violence against women was both normalized and sexualized. Women were increasingly driven into prostitution  if no man supported them or if they were pushed outside of polite society through accusations of misbehavior, unsanctioned relationships, or sexual abuse. In the sex trade, upstanding men in their communities could torture these women at will, their victims the only party subject to legal sanction.

In order to do their part in solving the problem of the revolting peasantry and acquire their own share of the former commons, the church stepped up to bless this destruction of women’s rights and independence with the seal of divine approval. Their priests invented witches. That is, they invented women who worshipped and had sex with the Devil, who then gave them ludicrous powers  — what feminist historian Max Dashu calls “diabolism.” The church further asserted that everything that wasn’t approved as Christian was diabolism.

Again, there weren’t any witches as the church defined them. The pornographic, diabolist image described in the Malleus Maleficarum didn’t refer to any existing persons. For the most part, it didn’t even refer to things that are possible, in spite of the fact that some Indigenous spiritual and women’s health practices were included as evidence of witchcraft.

“Witches” were just women. That’s what men meant, in their own words.

“All wickedness is but little to the wickedness of a woman… What else is woman but a foe to friendship, an unescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, domestic danger, a delectable detriment, an evil nature, painted with
fair colours… When a woman thinks alone, she thinks evil… Women are by nature instruments of Satan — they are by nature carnal, a structural defect rooted in the original creation.”Malleus Maleficarum

Diabolism was so broadly defined that any female rejection of male authority was potential evidence of witchcraft. Any woman could be a witch. Any look or word that offended a man, any angry speech, any unnecessary fraternization with other women, any sexual activity outside church-approved relations — all could trigger a charge of witchcraft.

Accusations could also be levied for material gain, as the church or state could then seize the property of the accused or charge them ruinous fines for a chance at freedom. Jews and Muslims were targeted as well, fitting the expansive view of diabolism as synonymous with being non-Christian, conveniently enriching the prosecuting authorities.

It became a major public project to humiliate and subjugate women, or to get women and girls to testify against their accused mothers and then stand at the front as they were executed.

serveimage-2Women could also be made to wear scold’s bridles, or branks, in public for speaking out of turn to any man, including their husbands, or for simply being poor and too old to work. The injuries sometimes sustained while they were paraded through the streets would have been life-threatening in the days before modern medicine and antibiotics.

When chattel slavery was instituted in the colonies, the brank was used as a methodserveimage-3 of breaking the will of slaves. It had worked so well with the women back in the old country, after all. Throughout the colonies, subjugated peoples were controlled after the initial conquest in ways that strongly echoed the patterns of dominance European men had been trained to enact towards their female peers.

Again, every woman was maybe a disobedient witch who might displease her Lord or master. Every woman needed strict control to keep her in line and loyal in allegiance to men. The fact that the last two sentences are both true and sound like purple prose from a BDSM story should indicate that these attitudes remain with us. Eventually, European men no longer needed to burn their women alive or subject them to public torture in order to get them to cooperate, to be quieter, or to consent to play along willingly, even eagerly, in their own submission.

“Sadomasochism is an institutionalized celebration of dominant/subordinate relationships. And, it prepares us either to accept subordination or to enforce dominance. Even in play, to affirm that the exertion of power over powerlessness is erotic, is empowering, is to set the emotional and social stage for the continuation of that relationship, politically, socially, and economically. Sadomasochism feeds the belief that domination is inevitable and legitimately enjoyable.” – Audre Lorde

When men are put under constant surveillance, restricted in their speech, dehumanized, otherized as dirty and innately evil, or subject to torture or murder on the barest pretexts, all in hopes of a societal rebirth from the decadence of carnal softness, they call it fascism.

When women have to teach their daughters to conform to that sort of oppression, generation after generation, without any other hope of survival, men call it the natural order.

People seem to think that it was so long ago, it could hardly matter. Or that it only affected witches, whoever they were, and they sound like awful, terrible women, anyway, didn’t they.

The important thing to realize is that “witches” were just women that men were either jealous of, felt threatened by, or didn’t like. In practice, those were the triggering conditions for getting tried as a witch. More simply, witches were just women. Potentially all women.

To survive, women under the Inquisition submitted to isolating themselves away from the friendships of other women, and learned to be very good at making men like them. They taught their daughters to do the same.

For hundreds of years, any woman could be taken away to jail to be tortured and sexually assaulted. Any women could be pornographically tortured in public before her execution, in front of her family if she had any.

Why didn’t she speak up? That’s why. Why didn’t she stand up for other women? That’s why. European men ritually abused women for expressing any social solidarity with each other, or independence for themselves, for generations.

Men forced women to testify against other women, even their own mothers, to live. Yet they still mock women as jealous and spiteful of each other, still joke about “cat fights.”

The destruction of women’s history of community leadership, economic independence, and support for each other wasn’t so complete that there was no evidence remaining. But the living cultural practice of female solidarity was so utterly destroyed that it’s still newsworthy for us to talk about supporting each other.

Long after they stopped burning us alive in public, women could still be removed from public life to asylums , or subjected to torture, for displeasing men or showing too much independence. They could be abused for being pregnant or an unmarried mother.

When domestic violence wasn’t a crime, that meant it was still legal for a man to torture his wife in the privacy of their home if she displeased him. Or for no reason at all. The state considered it a matter of public health and safety to prosecute assaults, except of a man against his wife, which was legal. Marital rape wasn’t a crime in all 50 U.S. states until 1993. And given that barely one per cent of rapists ever see a day in jail in even the most supposedly egalitarian countries, that form of male torture against women is still effectively legal, also.

Individual men sometimes go to great lengths to plan to commit abuses against women and children, and this is often written off as inevitable misfortune. Other men often cover up for them out of a sense that they should give the male perpetrator the benefit of the doubt — an attitude which even police seem to extend to accused men, but often lack for female victims, empathy for women having been burned right out of our social norms. Male coverups and victim blaming is how individual misdeeds are transformed into what Andrea Dworkin called the barricade of sexual terrorism.

There are women still alive today who were simply disappeared from their communities for unsanctioned sexual activity. Maybe they became pregnant “out of wedlock,” outside the control of a husband, whether by choice or rape, and their children were taken from them. They were the girls who went away, either to give a child up for coerced adoption or to be committed to psychiatric hospitals and possibly treated with electroshock.

If you make the men angry, you can just disappear. That’s been true for a very long time. So many men still act in expectation of the instant obedience such fear can command, that the tragedy continues.

These forms of abuse were exported to colonized states, and having started as a political persecution of women for economic gain, they metastasized into a political persecution and style of conquest employed against non-Christian peoples across the world.

The theft of children from Indigenous populations by settler states, alone, is an ongoing rights violation that differs more in scale than in kind from the historical thefts of children from “wayward” white women. It’s a logical consequence of societies operating under the cumulative presumption that only (white) men really have any rights to children; damn the mother, damn the child themselves,
damn the forcibly “feminized” masses of the brutally subjugated

The Inquisition certainly didn’t invent patriarchy, torture, or reigns of public terror designed to break the will of a conquered people. Yet it did set in motion a powerful set of social norms that remain with us. And even though the world has changed so much that the Catholic Church has apologized for persecuting heretics, such apologies are rare among the other churches and governments that murdered people on allegations of diabolism.

Women continue to be driven out of employment by male harassment, publicly vilified in sex-specific ways, tortured for entertainment in the sex industry, and killed for displeasing men.

As then, as ever, these injuries add up to degradation and disadvantage. Though they feel very personal when we are subject to them, the men who benegt from driving us out of public competition for power and resources don’t really care who we are. If another woman was in our place, they’d do it to her.

It’s the result of a centuries long, deliberate political project of destroying women’s will, power, and independence. That power and independence won’t be restored without similarly
deliberate political resistance. Because, as Lierre Keith says  oppression is not a misunderstanding.

This is how they made her a political prisoner in her own home. This was how they broke her. Remember.

 Natasha Chart

 

To the Next Generation of Artists

(A timely message from two favourite and respected artists, aimed at an artist audience, but relevant for everyone)

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Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock have been friends for over forty years. In the pursuit of their art, they’ve shattered boundaries previously believed unbreakable, they’ve revolutionized the concept of innovation, and have chosen to make the endeavor of living compassionately and courageously the center of their lives.

From their early days composing and playing together with Miles Davis in Davis’ Second Great Quintet, to branching out and flourishing in their individual endeavors, Wayne and Herbie’s contributions to the world of music have been nothing short of extraordinary. Together, they’ve won a combined total of twenty-five Grammys. Despite their countless accolades, they’ll both insist that their greatest achievements lie in their roles as husbands, fathers, and humans of this earth.

After the recent rash of tragedies around the globe in the past year from Paris to San Bernardino, we had the opportunity to ask Wayne and Herbie how the next generation of artists can respond. Below is an open letter with their thoughts.

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To the Next Generation of Artists,

We find ourselves in turbulent and unpredictable times.

From the horror at the Bataclan, to the upheaval in Syria and the senseless bloodshed in San Bernardino, we live in a time of great confusion and pain. As an artist, creator and dreamer of this world, we ask you not to be discouraged by what you see but to use your own lives, and by extension your art, as vehicles for the construction of peace.

While it’s true that the issues facing the world are complex, the answer to peace is simple; it begins with you. You don’t have to be living in a third world country or working for an NGO to make a difference. Each of us has a unique mission. We are all pieces in a giant, fluid puzzle, where the smallest of actions by one puzzle piece profoundly affects each of the others. You matter, your actions matter, your art matters.

We’d like to be clear that while this letter is written with an artistic audience in mind, these thoughts transcend professional boundaries and apply to all people, regardless of profession.

FIRST, AWAKEN TO YOUR HUMANITY

We are not alone. We do not exist alone and we cannot create alone. What this world needs is a humanistic awakening of the desire to raise one’s life condition to a place where our actions are rooted in altruism and compassion. You cannot hide behind a profession or instrument; you have to be human. Focus your energy on becoming the best human you can be. Focus on developing empathy and compassion. Through the process you’ll tap into a wealth of inspiration rooted in the complexity and curiosity of what it means to simply exist on this planet. Music is but a drop in the ocean of life.

EMBRACE AND CONQUER THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED

The world needs new pathways. Don’t allow yourself to be hijacked by common rhetoric, or false beliefs and illusions about how life should be lived. It’s up to you to be the pioneers. Whether through the exploration of new sounds, rhythms, and harmonies or unexpected collaborations, processes and experiences, we encourage you to dispel repetition in all of its negative forms and consequences. Strive to create new actions both musically and with the pathway of your life. Never conform.

WELCOME THE UNKNOWN

The unknown necessitates a moment-to-moment improvisation or creative process that is unparalleled in potential and fulfillment. There is no dress rehearsal for life because life, itself, is the real rehearsal. Every relationship, obstacle, interaction, etc. is a rehearsal for the next adventure in life. Everything is connected. Everything builds. Nothing is ever wasted. This type of thinking requires courage. Be courageous and do not lose your sense of exhilaration and reverence for this wonderful world around you.

UNDERSTAND THE TRUE NATURE OF OBSTACLES

We have this idea of failure, but it’s not real; it’s an illusion. There is no such thing as failure. What you perceive as failure is really a new opportunity, a new hand of cards, or a new canvas to create upon. In life there are unlimited opportunities. The words, “success” and “failure”, themselves, are nothing more than labels. Every moment is an opportunity. You, as a human being, have no limits; therefore infinite possibilities exist in any circumstance.

DON’T BE AFRAID TO INTERACT WITH THOSE WHO ARE DIFFERENT FROM YOU

The world needs more one-on-one interaction among people of diverse origins with a greater emphasis on art, culture and education. Our differences are what we have in common. We can work to create an open and continuous plane where all types of people can exchange ideas, resources, thoughtfulness and kindness. We need to be connecting with one another, learning about one another, and experiencing life with one another. We can never have peace if we cannot understand the pain in each other’s hearts. The more we interact, the more we will come to realize that our humanity transcends all differences.

STRIVE TO CREATE AGENDA-FREE DIALOGUE

Art in any form is a medium for dialogue, which is a powerful tool. It is time for the music world to produce sound stories that ignite dialogue about the mystery of us. When we say the mystery of us, we’re talking about reflecting and challenging the fears, which prevent us from discovering our unlimited access to the courage inherent in us all. Yes, you are enough. Yes, you matter. Yes, you should keep going.

BE WARY OF EGO

Arrogance can develop within artists, either from artists who believe that their status makes them more important, or those whose association with a creative field entitles them to some sort of superiority. Beware of ego; creativity cannot flow when only the ego is served.

WORK TOWARDS A BUSINESS WITHOUT BORDERS

The medical field has an organization called Doctors Without Borders. This lofty effort can serve as a model for transcending the limitations and strategies of old business formulas which are designed to perpetuate old systems in the guise of new ones. We’re speaking directly to a system that’s in place, a system that conditions consumers to purchase only the products that are dictated to be deemed marketable, a system where money is only the means to an end. The music business is a fraction of the business of life. Living with creative integrity can bring forth benefits never imagined.

APPRECIATE THE GENERATION THAT WALKED BEFORE YOU

Your elders can help you. They are a source of wealth in the form of wisdom. They have weathered storms and endured the same heartbreaks; let their struggles be the light that shines the way in the darkness. Don’t waste time repeating their mistakes. Instead, take what they’ve done and catapult you towards building a progressively better world for the progeny to come.

LASTLY, WE HOPE THAT YOU LIVE IN A STATE OF CONSTANT WONDER

As we accumulate years, parts of our imagination tend to dull. Whether from sadness, prolonged struggle, or social conditioning, somewhere along the way people forget how to tap into the inherent magic that exists within our minds. Don’t let that part of your imagination fade away. Look up at the stars and imagine what it would be like to be an astronaut or a pilot. Imagine exploring the pyramids or Machu Picchu. Imagine flying like a bird or crashing through a wall like Superman. Imagine running with dinosaurs or swimming like mer-creatures. All that exists is a product of someone’s imagination; treasure and nurture yours and you’ll always find yourself on the precipice of discovery.

How does any of this lend to the creation of a peaceful society you ask? It begins with a cause. Your causes create the effects that shape your future and the future of all those around you. Be the leaders in the movie of your life. You are the director, producer, and actor. Be bold and tirelessly compassionate as you dance through the voyage that is this lifetime.