West Point and the U.S. Army trained me how to be a peace activist. If you think working for world peace means pursuing a naïve and impossible dream, what I learned in the military may change your mind, just as it transformed my understanding of humanity’s potential for peace. To explain my transformation, this book will shatter commonly held stereotypes about soldiers and peace activists. These stereotypes not only deceive and divide us, but they also prevent us from understanding the art of waging peace and the power it gives us to solve our national and global problems. Before I can explain what waging peace is and how I learned the deepest secrets of this art while serving in the military, I must first tell you an unlikely story. It is the story of who I am, and how I got here.
Waging peace empowers us to create three forms of change: societal change, spiritual change, and ideological change. My life embodies these three forms; they are the reason I am able to write these words and work for peace today. The first form, which has affected my life and the lives of countless others, is societal change.
I am a descendant of African slaves, and I grew up in Alabama. Although I was born in 1980, my father taught me to think like someone living before the civil rights movement. During my childhood, my father always told me, “The army is the only place in America where black men are given a fair chance. You’ll never be able to get a decent job unless you’re in the army.”*
Half black and half white, my father was born in 1925 and grew up in Virginia during segregation and the great depression. The U.S. Army was desegregated in the early 1950s, many years before segregation ended in the South. This made a strong impression on my father. During the 1940s and
1950s, his belief that he only had opportunity in the military was largely true. A hard worker who began picking fruit when he was six years old to earn extra income for his family, he fought in the Korean and Vietnam Wars and retired as a command sergeant major, the highest enlisted rank.
I graduated from West Point in 2002 and served in the army for seven years. My mother is Korean, and when I told her in 2009 that I was leaving active duty, she said: “Are you out of your mind? Nobody is going to hire you. It’s bad enough you look Asian, but you’re also part black. Nobody is going to give a job to a black man who looks Asian.” My parents did not tell me lies. On the contrary, they told me their truth.* They were describing life as they had experienced it and trying to protect me from the suffering they endured. Although I experienced racism as a child, as an adult I began to realize that my multi-ethnic background was no longer the hindrance my parents believed it to be, and that I owed my very existence to the power of waging peace and its ability to change our society for the better.
America’s Founding Fathers rebelled against Great Britain because they felt unfairly treated. They believed it was unjust to be taxed or controlled without the opportunity to participate in the political process. They also believed that those who govern must gain the consent of the governed. The motto “no taxation without representation” echoed their outrage and became a call to arms, leading to the American revolution (1775–1783). Yet decades after the war ended, less than ten percent of the American population could vote in national elections. Women could not vote. African Americans could not vote. And most white people could not vote unless they owned land. During the early nineteenth century “no taxation without representation” only seemed to apply to the rich. (1)
How did so many Americans increase their liberties during the past two hundred years? Did non-landowners fight a war to obtain the right to vote? Did women fight a war to get the right to vote? Did African Americans fight a war to attain their civil rights? Did American workers fight a war to gain their rights? Was a war fought for child labor laws? These victories for liberty and justice were achieved because people waged peace, but this is a part of our history many people do not remember.
This is not the only part of our history that has been largely forgotten. By exploring the truth of our human history, in addition to the history of our country, we can understand how far humanity has come, how much further we can go, and how we can get there.
Five hundred years ago ideals such as democracy, the right to vote, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and women’s and civil rights virtually did not exist. And how many democratic countries were there two hundred years ago? Napoleon overthrew the democratic government in France, and the United States was not a democracy for African Americans, women, and even many white people, since owning land was a common requirement for voting. But because people in the past took action, democracies now exist in many parts of the world, and America has become a place where I can write these words today.**