Priyanka: Thanks a lot for joining us today on Peace Talks Radio David. I’ve recently begun following your work and was really intrigued by the book White Flour, because reading the gist of it, I felt it resonates with the events occurring in today’s world. What was happening in2007 that made you feel that this story had to be told?
David: So I put out a book called White Flour Flour in 2012 that was about an event that happened in 2007. It's a true story. I took a few liberties, but basically I took this story and made it rhyme and illustrated it. The book looks like a children's book, but it's actually for adults, as are all of my favorite children's books. So what happened was there was a neo-Nazi and Klan rally in 2007 espousing some views that a lot of local folks really wanted to oppose, and they were thinking about how to do that. And this story is such an important story of creative non-violence, and that's why I wanted to amplify it. So I wrote a poem about what happened, and then I illustrated it and made a book out of that. Basically what happened was that when this rally happened in the downtown, the Klan and the neo-Nazis reserved the square downtown for four hours. And the counter-protesters, who were made up of local environmental activists. Staged some street theatre in response, Walter Wink used to write about Third way responses about creative non-violence because our first natural responses don't require much creativity. Of course, fight and flight come very naturally when people are aggressive. It's natural to be aggressive in return or to run away. But our best responses often are creative responses because neither of those really seems to work out very well. So these folks organized a group called the Coup Clutz Clowns, and the Coup Clutz Clowns met the Ku Klux Klan that day. And the Klan actually was so baffled by their response that they left an hour and a half early. It worked so much better than fight or flight would have worked. So they organized some street theater. And when the Klan started chanting "white power", the clowns started chanting "white flour" in response. And they pulled out big bags of flour and threw it at each other and had a big flour fight in the street. And people were laughing. And it was exactly the wrong kind of energy for the Klan. It was the opposite of what they were trying to create. They worked that gag for a minute and then they said, No, I think we heard them wrong. It wasn't "white flour", it was "white flowers". And they handed out flowers to everybody. And then they said, No, that wasn't it at all. It was "tight" showers. And they held up a camp shower and crowded beneath it. And then they said, no, that wasn't it at all. This is a rally for "wife power". And they pulled on wedding dresses and chanted, "Here's to wives and mothers". And the way the poem and the book end is kind of the heart of it., It says. "And what would be the lesson of that shiny Southern day? Can we understand the message that the clown sought to convey? It seems that when you're fighting hatred, hatred is not the thing to use. So here's to those who march on in their big red, floppy shoes". So I felt like it was a story that needed to be amplified because it's very instructive and a lot of moving things have happened with the book in the years that since it came out a little over a decade now. But the most moving thing was that after George Floyd was murdered, the Essence magazine, which is a magazine by and for African-American women ,put out an article called "11 Books to Help Your Children Understand Racism". And they listed my book as number four. I was more moved by that accolade than any other.
Priyanka: This is really interesting. What particularly stands out to me from what you just said about the book, is the concept of creative nonviolence. Could you tell me a little bit about what that means to you and how it could be applied in today's world? Also was a form of creative nonviolence used in the book?
David: So this story is really one of my favorite examples of creative nonviolence, partly because it's modern. It happened actually not far from where I am geographically, but also not so long away in time. So many of the examples we give when we're trying to teach about nonviolence for kids today, I think it feels like it happened in black and white. It happened in another era that's just too far away to be relatable. So these modern examples of creative nonviolence are really quite important. And nonviolence, of course, is not just about not being violent. It's about finding solutions, finding creative ways forward to transform the world around us and ourselves without resorting to violence, which we often I think culturally people assume that violence is the strong thing, the thing that works. But we don't really measure violence and nonviolence by the same metrics. The truth is that violence very often leads to more violence and very often doesn't work to achieve the goals of the people who employ it. Nonviolence turns out to work much better actually, than violence does. In terms of recent revolutions in the last 30 years or so, some really interesting academic study has been done comparing violent revolutions to nonviolent revolutions, and the nonviolent ones turn out to be more successful.
Priyanka: Do you feel nonviolence could be something that could be used to address the ongoing wars right now? Or do you feel these days it's more about negotiations and dialogue?
David: Well, I was at a conference years ago in the United States here, and people were there from around the world. And I said something about alternative conflict resolution. And I was putting alternative conflict resolution in contrast to legal issues. And a lawyer came up to me afterwards and said, you know, the law is alternative conflict resolution already. Right. Because the natural ways to resolve conflict involve violence. The law is a step away from that. I think that's absolutely right. And I was glad to be corrected in that way. And I think there are even better ways to address conflict than legal wrangling. Mediation is a powerful force, and many, many academic studies have shown that people are so much happier coming out of a mediation scenario than they are after a legal fight. Even the winners of a legal fight often rate their satisfaction with the process very, very low. So there's a lot that we can do. But to come back to your question, in terms of war and physical conflict, yes, I think negotiation and dialogue are a form of nonviolence, very often, although they can involve a whole lot of pressure. There is certainly coercion in that process. But I think the most important work of nonviolence happens before and after overt conflict. It's often asked of people who argue for nonviolence, you know, what are you going to do when somebody comes up and attacks you violently? Right. What do you do when one nation invades another sovereign nation? How are you going to do that non-violently? And Jean Sharp, the great nonviolence theorist, wrote, you know, he got kind of angry when people would say that. He was like, look, you're driving a car at 100 miles toward the top of a cliff at 100mph. And you're asking me in the last three feet what I'm going to do. Now, the work of nonviolence should have started long, long before. So there are many ways to to address conflict scenarios before they get to violence. And that's where we have our best chance to stem the tide, I believe. So it's a it's a lifestyle. It's not just when a situation pops up. How do we deal with it? It has to do with addressing the justice issues that are generally long, long in the making before violence actually breaks out.
Priyanka: That's really interesting. I'm curious what got you into discussing and writing and even singing about these topics?
David: So I grew up in the 80s in the United States. I'm in my mid 50s now. So I was it was the Reagan administration. It was the last days of the Cold War, and mutually Assured Destruction was a term that people talked about quite a lot at the time when the Soviet Union and the United States were in a big arms race with nuclear arms. And it felt very precarious to me. Even as a teenager, I really wondered if I would make it into my 20s because it felt like any small provocation could set off a nuclear Armageddon at that time. And I actually don't think I was wrong about that. Happily, we skirted those provocations, but it could easily have gone the other way. So I was looking at a world full of conflict and of course, conflict on a local level in my community and and around me in more personal ways. And I was thinking, you know, I wish there was a better way to do this. I got to college and I began to learn about mediation and alternative conflict resolution. And I did some study and some training at the Community Mediation Center in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where I was going to college at the time. And I started to learn about this, and I realized that itis learnable and it is teachable. And I started to wonder why this isn't a required course in every middle school in the nation to learn about how to do conflict. What could be a more practical skill than to learn healthier ways to address conflict? And let me be clear conflict is not always a bad thing. Conflict is very often necessary on the way to justice. But the work of peacemaking for me is about approaching conflict in ways that are constructive rather than destructive. That's the work before us, and I got more and more passionate about that as I went through college, and I also started performing publicly in college. And so both of these passions kind of took a hold of me in those early years of my 20s. And they've only gotten deeper over the years.
Priyanka :And is that what also got you to singing? I think you do sing a lot about these topics and I wondered if there's a particular song that you feel is really prevalent to the conflicts that are going on in the world today? Is there anything you'd like to share?
David: I am moved by music and so I think. It's a natural thing to want to make music that connects with people's hearts, and hopefully that happens from time to time. I do sing about issues from time to time, but I don't really think of myself as a movement singer or a political singer. I'm really just trying to sing about what it is to be human and say things that are true in my songs and that maybe call us to our deeper selves. But. I'm not trying to coerce people to think like me in my music. I really want to just sing about what's true. And part of what's true for me is that we could be doing better when it comes to peace issues. I don't think peace is a static state that we are trying to achieve. I don't think it's about getting there and solving all the problems. The question isn't for me, is peace possible? The question is, is more peace possible? Can we be doing any better than we're doing right now? And I think we can. I don't know if this is making it across the ocean, but in the United States right now, there's some controversy about a country song that came out recently that seems to be threatening violence to progressive activists. It says, don't try that in a small town. And it begins with a line about a gun that the singer's grandfather gave to him. So it seems a pretty clear threat, although it's not completely explicit to not try progressive movement work in a small town. Well, I live in a small town in the south and I am a Southerner. And so it's important to me, too, that people understand that the South is not monolithic, that everybody doesn't approach things the same way in the South. For one thing, there's a Southern experience that doesn't have to do with being white. But even me as a white Southerner, I don't want people to assume that I buy into things that seem to be conflated in a songlike that. So often, Southern culture is equated with support for the Confederacy and for racism, and that's not who I am. It's not what I stand for. So I wrote a song a couple of years ago. It's on my most recent album that came out last year called Look Away. The unofficial anthem of the Confederacy is ais a song called Dixie. And that song says, Look away, Look away, Look away, Dixie Land in the chorus. I was an adult before I realized that that song is saying the quiet part out loud. Because looking away is precisely what we've been doing in the South for many years, looking away from the hard parts of our history and not wanting to talk about it. And I think the only way toward healing is going to be talking about the hard parts. And it's a mark of maturity to be able to talk about difficult things. So it's deeply troubling tome in the South right now in the United States that there are a lot of movements to ban books and to limit the teaching of history and exclude things that make people feel uncomfortable, because I think we have to be uncomfortable in order to grow and in order to heal.
That’s our guest on Peace Talks Radio, David Lamotte, from his 2022 album Still, part of the song, Look Away. David is a musician, an author, a speaker on peace and compassion and community.... and he’s speaking with our correspondent Priyanka Shankar today....
Priyanka: What can we be doing more for peace? I wondered, is the idea of doing more for peace, inspire you to write your other book?
David: So this new book is called You Are Changing the World, Whether You Like It Or Not. And that's a little bit cheeky to say it quite that way. But I think it needs to be said that there's a lot of eye rolling. There's a little bit of dismissive attitude that comes up when you talk about changing the world. And I think part of the reason for that is that we. Use these three phrases interchangeably, change the world and fix the world and save the world. And those are actually three completely different things. If you think you can fix the world that is worthy of an eye roll, that's naive. You can't fix the world if you think you can save the world. I don't necessarily think it's my job to save the world, and I'm not sure it's possible. But changing the world is a different concept. It is not naive to think you can change the world. Itis naive to think you could possibly be in the world and not change it. Everything we do changes the world. So the question is how much intention we're going to bring to the changes that we want to make. And I think part of the issue there is that we have cultural narratives about heroes changing things, right? Big, dramatic actions seem to change the world in movies and sometimes in history classes. But actually that's never been the way it's happened. That one person has affected a large scale social change in the absence of a movement. What changes things is a lot of people moving in the same direction. That's what a movement is and that's the real work ahead of us. So that's good news and bad news. The good news is you're not powerless. You can show up and do a little bit, and that actually does matter. The bad news is you're not powerless. So that means you may have some work to do.
Priyanka: Do you think it is easy for everybody to change the world? There's also this debate that, you know, you need to have a certain level of privilege to be able to make changes. What do you have to say to these kind of obstacles that could hinder people from trying to change the world?
David: Well, let me take both of those questions, because they're both really good. First one, no, I don't think it's easy. It's not even a little bit easy. It's very hard. And I think we need to remember that small actions actually do count. They're the only thing that's ever changed the world, an accumulation of small actions. So it's important to just remember that you don't have to be a big, dramatic hero to have an effect because the room that you're in right now, the town that you're in right now, is part of the world .And if you change that, if you change a dynamic within your family, you are literally changing the world. And when you look at really big issues like toxic governmental power, that's huge. Right. And it takes a lot of change there. But when we look at the positive changes that have happened in the world, it's always been movements, It's always been a lot of people showing up to do a little bit each. The one person doing the big, dramatic, heroic thing has no effect unless all the others show up. So I think it's important to realize that to remember that we're not powerless. As for privilege, yes, absolutely. It matters what your social location is, and we should never discount that and assume that the the playing field is is flat because it's not it's tilted towards some people. And I happen to have been dealt a whole lot of the privileged cards in the world. Right. So what that means is not that I'm a good person or a bad person, it means that there's stuff that I don't see and I need to listen deeply to people at the margins so that I can learn from them because they can see better from there than I can see from the middle. That said, I do think that all of us have a little bit of privilege and all of us have at least a little bit of power. I just returned from Guatemala, from rural Guatemala, where I was with some friends there who were not born into any of the privilege that I was born into, and they were making massive changes in their communities doing really good and important work. In fact, it's those voices that I want to amplify, right? It's those folks who really inspire me. And it's people like that that I write about in the book who are making really big changes with the tool bags that they've got. So I think, yes, privilege matters and should not be discounted in the conversation. And. All of us have some work to do. So creative responses to hatred, I think, are the only healthy way forward. There is a lot of anger and hatred in the world, but when we let that anger calcify into hatred, hatred means wishing someone else harm. That's different. You can you can love someone deeply and be angry with them. Right? Anyone who's ever had a family knows that that can be true. But hatred is different. Hatred means wishing someone harm. Even when I'm angry with someone I love, I want the best for them. Right. So as we try to figure out how to respond to hatred, I think it's important to not sink into that hatred ourselves, to find ways to to heal that. And I think it's really healed through relationship and through compassion. It's it's amazingly it sounds so trite to say that love is really what changes the world, but actually it's empirically true. Love is what changes the world. And and I mean, not just the emotion of love. In fact, I don't even mean the emotion of love. I mean a policy of love holding up someone else's dignity and value as equivalent to your own and treating them accordingly, no matter how you feel sometimes in spite of how you feel, rather than because of it.
Priyanka: What are your thoughts on community peacemaking?
David: So in November of 2016, in the United States, there was a very contentious election that I think everybody on the planet is probably pretty much heard about when Donald Trump was elected. And I live in a neighborhood in a small town in the south that. Didn't have a sidewalk on my street for many years. And people would sometimes walk up and down the street. But cars went on that street very, very fast. And I was afraid for them every time I saw somebody walking. And then one day, the town actually listened to some complaints from neighbors and came and put the the sidewalk in to my neighborhood. And over the next year or two. I watched my neighborhood change as people started walking their babies and walking their dogs and walking down to town along that sidewalk. They started to know each other a little bit and threads of connection were woven in this neighborhood. And then this election happened in 2016, and I felt like the town had come in and ripped out the sidewalk because my neighbors were all afraid to talk to each other. They didn't know how they voted, and they were literally afraid of what was going to happen next. And they didn't want to deal with the conflict of finding out that they had voted differently from each other. That election mattered a lot. People live and die by elections. I'm not trying to minimize the significance of it, in fact. Just the opposite. It matters a great deal. But I found that my neighbors were afraid to talk to me, and I wanted my neighbors to know that no matter who they voted for. I would happily jump their car battery if their car battery was dead, if they needed to borrow some groceries because they were in the middle of making something, they could come and knock on my door. I wanted to let my neighbors know that I still want to be in community. Not because the differences don't matter, but because they do. Our only chance of moving forward is to know each other and love each other because people are very seldom rejected into more compassionate ways of living. So I just wanted to puta sign on my house and I was saying that to my family one night over dinner. I was so frustrated. I said, I just want to nail a sign to the front of the house that says, Hey, you can knock on our door. You can you can talk to us if we can help you in some way, no matter who you voted for. Because I think relationship comes first and then transformation happens, not the other way around. We can't demand that people are transformed in order to be in relationship. It is relationship that changes us. So then it occurred to me that I actually knowhow to have signs made. So, you know, it's always dangerous when you hear yourself say somebody ought to because then you remember that you're somebody. So I actually did. I had a big sign made and I nailed it to the front of my house. It's three feet wide and eight feet tall. And it says, You are our neighbors. No matter who you vote for, who you love, where you're from, the color of your skin. We will try to be here for you. That's what community means. Let's be neighbors. And I nailed that sign to the front of my house and it was amazing to see the conversations that grew out of that as people came and knocked on my door and asked me about the sign. People pulled into the driveway to take pictures of it, and then people started asking where they could get one. And so I started making them for people. And now there's a website, Let's be neighbors.org or.com. That is where people can go and get it. And I feel so strongly about the message that people can actually download the sign and print their own if they want for free. They don't have to pay me anything for it, but they can also order signs if they want to. And now those are hanging across the country on businesses and communities of faith and homes. And I think that matters. I think the stories that grow out of that, the conversations that grow out of that weave the threads of the fabric of society. And in a time when people are actively trying to cut the fabric of society to shreds, I think it's really important that we not only refrain from cutting the fabric of society, but that we actively weave the threads back together. So. I believe in community peacemaking and community justice work. I think all of us can show up for that in our own small ways, and I really think it matters.
After listening to David LaMotte’s views on peace and creative nonviolence, we now hear from John Lawrence, the author of the book Charlotte's War.
Graham has a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and has taught courses in behavioral sciences at both the University of Southern California and, most recently, at UC Irvine, where he isa professor emeritus. He has published eight other books, both fiction and nonfiction. Lawrence is also an award-winning photographer who has exhibited his work at the Festival of the Arts in Laguna Beach and at other locations in Southern California.
Priyanka: John, I'm just looking at the book Charlotte’s War right now. The cover page has the picture of this naval officerin his uniform and then the word Charlotte's War are printed over it. For someone who hasn't read the book as yet, take me through it and could you tell us what the cover of the book that I'm looking at, means? Is it is it a story of a naval officer or is it a story of Charlotte? Who is Charlotte?
John: We made it a little bit ambiguous, but there are four main characters in the story. Actually five main characters. Two of them are historical characters. That's Ho Chi Minh and Henry Kissinger. Then the two main fictional characters are Charlotte and her son Jack. And that's Jack's uniform. He and he's portrayed in the book as a Navy Seal. A lot. Some of that's autobiographical, of course, related to the time. The fifth character that we build and portray throughout the book is television. And television had a big impact on that war. The war in Vietnam, at least in the United States, and affecting public opinion and world opinion and all that. So that's more on Charlotte's War. Really happy with the way the book turned out. It's my first novel.
Priyanka: So what's the story about?
John: Let me explain. So it takes place basically in the it's about an extended family, Charlotte's extended family. And it goes back to her parents, who were missionaries in China, and that's where she's raised in China. And it runs from basically 1938 until 1972.So her family is trying to survive and get through three different wars, World War Two, the Korean War and Vietnam. So that's the fundamental story. I don't want to give away any of the plot points. I mean, it's a book about peace, but it's a book about the futility of coercion and international relations and, for that matter, interpersonal relations.
Priyanka: I Understand, you can't give out many details, but I really picked up on the fact that firstly, you said it's a book on peace, right? The title says Charlotte's War. And I was wondering,, is it something that embraces the complexity of the war in Vietnam to then harbor peace? Or is it something about Charlotte's personal journey in finding peace? I'm really curious to understand more.
John: Fundamentally, Charlotte's war is against war. She is a peace activist and she's fighting against war and all the forces that are causing those three wars. And so her war is against war. That's the same one you and I are fighting, by the way. Sorry for that tricky title. I mean, the other way the title works. I don't know if you've read Charlotte's Web. There's some interesting themes in both Charlotte's Web and Charlotte's War that kind of overlap as well. That's where the title comes from. Charlotte is literally fighting a war. She's fighting it in the streets and at the podium. She ends up being an anthropology professor, but she knows Kissinger and Kennedy and. Other folks like that and is trying to influence them to not continue the war in Vietnam because her son is facing that problem as the book proceeds. He starts out at age 12 and and in 1972, he's about 25.
Priyanka: So Charlotte's husband has gone to the war. Her son has gone to the war. So it's kind of her fighting this personal journey of having all her family members at war. So she wants to find peace. Did I understand that correctly?
John: From her point of view, the wars are completely unnecessary. I carefully describe as how Vietnam evolved as a war. And when you look back at it, it makes no sense at all unless you understand people like Richard Nixon and the great fear of communism, which she learns that that was an unfounded fear for the United States, because you can't have a communist revolution unless you have a bourgeoisie and a proletariat. And in the 1950s, when the anti-communism, anti-communism, witch hunt was happening in the United States, we had a huge middle class. Communism doesn't work in a country like that. Sothis whole war, many of the conflicts during the Cold War made no sense because communism was never going to work.
Priyanka: How come you decided to tell the story of war through a woman's perspective? We don't see that quite a lot. And was it a personal inspiration for this or were you trying to research Women in War?
John: The key book that I read that inspired Charlotte and Taking a Woman's Point of View is a book by Steven Pinker. He's at Harvard University. He has many books, but my favorite is one called The Better Angels of Our Nature. Andin that, he describes the great peace that we're living in. Now, I'm going to repeat that because it sounds like nonsense. But he describes the great peace we're living in now, and he emphasizes the importance of looking at trendlines, not headlines. Now, if you read the headlines in the United States, things are awful. We've got kids being killed. We've got this war. We've got the threat of nuclear weapons again. And how could things be worse? Well, they have been worse in the past. All those things have been worse, worse in the past. But the four reasons he gives for the great peace are rule of law. So we have laws now that most people pay attention to, like war crimes laws and things like that. Some don't, including Putin and the United States. The second explanation is the rule of reason. We don't have many religious wars. We still have them in the Middle East, of course, but they aren't as frequently the problem. And since everybody has information on everyone else, you can see clearly that some wars don't make sense. And the Japanese knew about American industrial capacity. They would have started a war with us in 1940. The third reason you're going to like, and that is Pinker finds or reports that when women are in leadership, we have fewer wars. So women have a different view about violence and war and their sons than men do. And that's what I was trying to get at. The fourth reason I particularly like is that we have this great peace and it's because of international trade. And international trade builds peace. It doesn't make peace. It builds peace. And three ways. One is it creates interdependence. You've heard that explanation, interdependence between countries. There's never going to be a war between China and the United States. Neither of us can afford that war. Our economies are dependent, interdependent with one another. The second reason is international trade builds interaction between people, and they begin to learn their other cultures and languages and all. That's a good thing. But I think the most important is the third reason, and that is diversity. Builds creativity and invention. Going back to your initial question, it was really Pinker identifying women as the key to peace. And it's so crystal clear that women think about violence so differently from men, and I get in trouble generalizing. Certainly there are plenty of peaceful men and violent women, but the numbers are quite clear. For example, if you look at homicides in the United States, 80% are committed by men, only 20% by women. Or if you look at the US military, that percentages are the same. About80% of the US military are men and 20% women. The key is. Women think about war. They think about their families. They have one family or a few children and men in our. We're all over the place, I'm sorry to say. And violence seems like a sensible solution to a lot of things.
Priyanka: That's really interesting. And, you know, you kind of ended it saying women think about war. And I wondered in the case of this book, what were Charlotte's thoughts about peace and how can you apply that in today's context?
John: Charlotte and her advice to Kissinger and other American officials. She's advocating engagement. In the way Kennedy did. She worked have her working on Kennedy's campaign, but need to go back to 1946. Nixon and Kennedy both were running for Congress after World War II. They were both naval officers. Nixon ran in Southern California about 20 miles from where I'm sitting right now, and he used a fair appeal about anti-communism. He was afraid of the commies. He accused his opponent, the Democrat, as being a communist. On the other side of the country, Kennedy was campaigning on the United Nations and engagement and world peace. It's a very different approaches. Nixon was arguing, arguing for coercion. And Nixon's approach continues throughout the book, particularly when he's president. He uses this approach in trying to solve the Vietnam problem. He's trying to bomb them into making negotiations. Uh, agreed to negotiate a negotiated settlement in Paris. Kissinger One of his big mistakes was conflating negotiation and war. He thought they were two parts of the same thing, and they absolutely are not because war means you're killing people. That's very, very different thing from talking or peace talks. So. How does that apply now? Well, I think that we could talk for a long time about US-China relations. I'm happy to do that. One of my books is on negotiating with the Chinese, but I'll go directly to the Big Question on the table now, and that's what do we do about Putin? And I think the one thing I haven't heard. Is right. If you look at what we're doing right now, we're coercing them. Militarily, we're trying to. But we've had trade sanctions on the Soviet Union and Russia for decades. They don't work. Trade sanctions don't work. Punishment and coercion don't work. There's great studies done on the efficacy of trade sanctions. Maybe they achieve their stated political goals on 25% of the time, but they ruin relationships between countries. And you've got examples like Cuba, Iran, Russia, China. We've studied negotiation styles in all those countries, and they're actually influenced by being sanctioned. And so sanctions don't work. So logical conclusion is you put it on the table in the negotiations with Putin. We will drop all sanctions. That's my suggestion. Put that on the table. Maybe it's already on the table in. In the negotiations, but I doubt it.
Priyanka: You are talking about trade and peace. Is that something you talk about in the book as well, or trade during the Vietnam War? And were there lessons to be learned from then that could be applied now?
John: Yes, we do talk about that in Charlotte's War. And in fact, history takes it into account. The final peace agreement for Vietnam included the United States helping to clean up clean up Haiphong Harbor. So that trade could run more efficiently. That meant getting rid of the mines, and the agreement required that the United States also support. The summary building of the Vietnamese economy. Now that never really happened for a bunch of reasons, but that was in the agreement. But Charlotte talks about the importance of trade and peace and the idea of building relationships. Long term relationships of working together. And the most common way that happens is in international trade. The like I said, the best example, if you like, are things like. Um, the Apple telephone or the 787 Boeing jetliner, which is built in a large part in Japan. We used to have Boeing aircraft and Mitsubishi aircraft fighting the war during World War Two, the air war, and now they collaborate in Building 787. So those are examples of working together in a positive way, and that helps assure a long term relationship of interaction. Trying to make peace or solve problems or end wars. That's important, of course. But in the long run, it's the relationships between countries. And right now we need those relationships. We've got huge common problems. For me, the two big threats to peace on the horizon that we can't do anything about. One is climate change. We really need to collaborate on those issues, particularly with China, and we just aren't doing it. The other one is demographics. All the countries are aging fast, and in the United States, we just can't handle the surge of baby boomers that are heading our health care system and and our pension systems. And if you look at you can see it most easily by looking at population pyramids. But Russia and China have worse problems. They're going to have worse domestic problems than we're having right now. And you can just see it coming in, the demographics. It's easy to predict.
Priyanka: Coming back to the book, I think I find it quite fascinating that you kind of weaved between history and fiction. And what was that like for you personally?
John: It was a real lesson for me. There's a lot I didn't know until I did the research about both Kissinger and Ho Chi Minh. And so that was fascinating for me and it helped me realize why we had that war at the time when I was in the military. I just wasn't paying attention. I was in my early 20s and I just was drafted. And so I joined the Navy and I just was not paying attention to what was going on in global politics. And, you know, it's hindsight. Great hindsight. Right? But anyway, it was fascinating to learn the details about both their lives and how they ended up at odds with one another. Um, the historical context is quite accurate. Uh, as long as there's not as soon as you bring in Charlotte or her relatives. And that's fiction. It's fictionalized. There was no Charlotte who negotiated with Kissinger, for example, but. It was fun bringing her in and thinking how she might behave. We've also studied how American women negotiate compared to American men. And so we had some ideas about it. But the fun part really was getting to know Charlotte as her character evolved on the pages in front of me. And that was quite a bit of fun. And Charlotte is based an amalgam of women I've known throughout my career, strong women, strong opinions. And so I had some good examples to borrow from. And also Jack, the other main character. A lot of that's autobiographical, but much of it is not. And so it was just describing how history affected him or me, if you like, at the time.
Priyanka: You spoke a lot about negotiations and, you know, Charlotte negotiating with world leaders. Out of curiosity, who is that woman you see not fictionally, but actually in reality today, who maybe has that capability to negotiate in different term polarizing issues and and get and find peace? Is there is there a particular woman or a group of women who you feel have that capability?
John: Well, a woman that I work with, I've neglected to mention what I've been doing for the last 20 years at UC Irvine. I was the co-director of the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding. My other director was a woman by the name of Paula Garb and she's taught conflict resolution and peace pretty much her entire life. She was an American woman that moved to the Soviet Union in the70s. She's an anthropologist, but she would embody a lot of the qualities I described. And she's retired recently, too, but she still writes and and works with the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding, as do I. But there are other examples as well. Paula is really, I think, an important one.
Priyanka: Her name is Paula?
John: Yes, Paula garb.
Priyanka: I hope that I'm well Paula garb in the world. And also what does the book mean for people joining the military and going to actually fight the war?
John: We have had veterans who fought in the war read the book and in some ways I know it's troubling, but in other ways I hope they understand. Finally, the causes for the war that affected their lives so much. A lot of bad things happened in the war. That was before we knew about PTSD and things like that. And the experiences of so many American men in Vietnam were awful. So I hope it's a bit therapeutic to understand what the heck happened there. Why did we have that war? Well, there's really no good reason. One of my favorite passages in the book is a veteran who describes how in order for him to kill Vietnamese, he had to dehumanize them. He felt uncomfortable killing people, but he was okay killing things. He describes that in detail in the book, and those are some direct quotes. So that was an awful war and for so many reasons, and hopefully the book has some therapeutic quality to it as well.
Priyanka: You personally were also in the forces and writing this book. Were there any challenging moments for you? You've been to the frontline and you know how it was, did it bring back memories? And did the book sort of help you get the closure to the questions you had or the situations you experienced?
John: Yes. Basically, as a writer I can only speak for myself. But as you're writing, you're kind of reliving. Or experiences or trying to live the experiences of your characters so they can you can write the dialogue and the thinking and. That was very useful for me. It made me rethink some of my actions. Uh, when I was in my 20s it becomes kind of a big joke. One of the things that I have one of the characters say, which I have often said is the stupidest form of human being, is the teenage boy. Um, I still believe that. And the actuarial tables and. And for car insurance tell the story. The price of car insurance goes down at age 25. But we just are young men. You can't have a war without young men. Because wars. People wouldn't go to war. If you look at what's happening in Russia now. Older men are leaving the country rather than fighting in the army. You have to have mercenaries to do that fight. But anyway, that's you. Just as a writer, you kind of review all your behaviors and actions and criticize them and try to understand them better. And so it's areal opportunity. In that regard.
Priyanka: You know, for people who aren't necessarily interested in reading about war or peace, they might look on a book on the shelf the word war might just make them skip reading or buying the book. But why should people care about this book and other books and articles about war? Will it help in community peace building?
John: Guess the literature has always had books about war and peace and trying to relate how awful it is and how different it is from what you see in movies and things like that, and how different it is from the portrayals that politicians use to sell fighting. I think the book is important for Americans who experience that history, but it's also important to understand what happened. If you're a younger American, you know what happened during Vietnam? It seemed like a long time ago. Yeah, a lot of people died. There are a lot of protests. Um. So what? That's not going to happen again? Well, the point is, it can happen again. Although I have to say, I think we if I go back to Pinker's argument that we're in this great peace, I'm hopeful. I'm hopeful if we can get through this. Uh, Putin insanity without real damage done to the world relationships, then we're going to see understand the futility of coercion and aggression internationally and and it'll be the end of it. You know, in the last century we ended things like colonialism and slavery. And hopefully that's ending. And we can focus more on trying to build peace through trade and interpersonal understanding.