A few weeks ago, noted feminist peace scholar Betty Reardon launched a new book edited by her and Asha Hans, noted Indian feminist peace scholar. Pubished by Routledge, it’s called “The Gender Imperative: Human Security vs State Security,” and the articles in it describe some of the ways in which war and women’s lives are connected.
As I listened to the authors of some of the articles in the book talk about their work, I could not help thinking back to a talk on security Betty Reardon gave at Network for Peace way back in 2003. Unfortunately, it is as timely today as it was seven years ago. Following is a report of it as it appears on the Network for Peace website.
How Do We Get Security?
Our society is based not on achieving security, but on a systematically created insecurity. We are supposed to feel insecure. We are manipulated to feel insecure in order to support what is called “The National Security System.”
The National Security System is in essence a war system. It requires us to believe that war is necessary and inevitable. We’re told, “you gotta give us your sons, your taxes” because it is the only way you can be protected from attack. Money is taken out of our pockets for weapons testing, manufacture and deployment, while we are being convinced that we have to have them to be safe. But the military might of the United States did nothing to protect us from the events of September 11, 2001. Furthermore, the military response to that tragedy has not made us safer, but more vulnerable.
There is another way to think about security. Some time ago, I was asked by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom to go on a speaking and listening tour called “Listen to Women for a Change.” As we went around the country, we found that women were working on four major areas to take care of their families and their communities. These four areas were: the environmental movement; addressing poverty to assure that people’s basic needs for living in dignity are met; human rights issues such as discrimination on the basis of race, sex, ethnicity, religious or sexual preference, and protection from avoidable harm.
Women were focusing on over-all well-being. When they thought about protection, they were interested in making sure that the fire stations were properly staffed and equipped and that there was adequate provision for predictable emergencies. They understood that nobody has full security: you can’t be invulnerable and also alive. Vulnerability is built into living systems. But they were looking close to home for practical ways to prevent harm.
The United Nations has issued a report called “Human Security Now.” It identifies such problems as AIDS, hunger, and women’s safety that need to be addressed in order to create security. However, it has a flaw in that it calls these kinds of security “a compliment” to state security. In my view, state security is the main problem. State security is a system that makes the people in control of the state secure. I was raised to believe that this country was about a fair shake for most people. I no longer believe this.
We have to create a substitute for the kind of patriotism that lets people think that some lives (ours) are more important than others, and that some groups are worth protecting while others are not. The positive aspect of patriotism is that it gives people a larger identity and relates them to lots and lots of other people. What unifying ideas can we call upon that are not bound up with nation and war? What spiritual impulses can we call upon? The monster of militarization is casting a shadow on our present and future. So-called “full spectrum dominance,” envisioned by some in government, involves control over petroleum resources, military bases all over the world, control of space, and control over us all. It is crucial to act now. We have to create an alternative.