Monday, May 19, 2008

Architect for Alternative Futures

David Macleod is a tall, lanky, graying red-haired man, who walks with a slight hunch and talks with a gentle, low resonant voice. He has spent a lifetime assiduously informing himself about the technical aspects of how wars are waged and how peace can solve conflict.

While some people regard David a hopeless idealist, others find him a steadfast advocate for peace. One of David’s proudest achievements was his suggestion that the government institute an international peace program. This idea turned out to be the Peace Corps, which John F. Kennedy announced in his 1960 presidential bid on the steps of the Student Union at the University of Michigan where David was a student.

The 71-year-old former professor turned handyman is currently studying how the Bush administration distorts scientific data in order to promote its agenda. He is also writing a book about the history of peace activism in Kalamazoo.

I first met David in 1985 at Nazareth College, a small, private, liberal arts college located in southwestern Michigan. He taught geography there as a part-time professor, one of many jobs he had stitched together to make a full-time living. He seemed reserved and a little eccentric to me at the time, but I didn’t really know him or understand his projects. Talking with him today about his tireless efforts for peace over the past 58 years sheds new light on him and the way an individual’s call to be a peacemaker is often a lonely, yet enduring, vocation.

In 1950 at age 13 David attended the Boy Scout Jamboree held in Washington, D.C. On the night before the event, he and a group of boys saw the movie, “Forgotten Men.” The film featured a history of World War I and how it led to World War II.

“I was so appalled, horrified and upset that night, I couldn’t sleep,” said David. When he finally got some sleep he awoke from a nightmare quite shaken with the sun shining in his eyes. It took him awhile to adjust to reality. He had just dreamed that the atomic bomb hit Washington and that he was trying to escape his hotel that was in flames.

After breakfast, David attended the Jamboree with 40,000 other boys from around the world. The event proved to be a moving and influential experience for him as well. “We all got along with one another,” recalled David. “Somehow, I thought back then, that we should all be able to avoid what the world was coming up against with war and nuclear weapons.” Ironically, on the same day, North Korea invaded South Korea (June 24, 1950). “It was only five years after World War II and we were right back into war again,” said David mournfully. It was on that day, however, that he made a lifelong commitment to peace.

During the late 1970s David and his wife, Mary, returned to Kalamazoo. On the day after they arrived, the Fetzer Institute held a peace conference that featured Anwar Saddat, prime minister of Egypt; Norman Cousins, editor of the Atlantic Monthly; and Robert Mueller, former U.N. undersecretary general and president emeritus of the University for Peace in Costa Rica. At the conference Mueller encouraged the audience to consider Kalamazoo an ideal place to establish a world center for peace that would offer conferences and serve as a think tank toward specific actions for peace. Besides, Mueller said, Kalamazoo’s odd name would attract the necessary attention for the cause.

“I was delighted to hear others reflect what I thought,” said David who never forgot what Mueller said. Ever since David has worked hard to make that vision a reality. For example, David taught a course in peace education at Western Michigan University and wrote a pamphlet to accompany the class entitled “World Peace: A Positive Approach.” Other professors across the country adopted it for their curriculum. In the pamphlet he advocates a five-point positive approach to peace that includes the establishment of idealistic but necessary beginnings:
· a code of world law
· a democratic world government
· a program of peace education and world citizenship
· a way for people to become world citizens
· a military conversion program, which adapts systems, hardware and
personnel to peaceful uses.

But David doesn’t just think up ideas, he works to implement them. For example, he developed a plan for a military-base conversion program in Michigan and, in 1976, came close to convincing the state to convert Kinchloe Air Force Base near Sault Ste. Marie into a global disaster relief project. The state seriously considered his plan until then-Governor William Milliken suddenly changed course and transformed the base into a state prison instead.

David also wanted to see the Fort Custer Army Base in Battle Creek converted into a world agricultural center. He submitted a proposal but this one, too, fell short of adoption. Part of the base did become an industrial park that welcomed several international manufacturing companies including Japan’s giant auto supplier, Denso.

In 1990 when Nazareth College announced it would close its doors, David proposed that the campus become a world peace education center, but authorities nixed that idea, too. Despite these setbacks, David has never given up on his vision for world peace. Actually, even today especially since 9/11, David still can’t fathom any reason why the world can’t be peaceful any more than he could when he was a boy scout at age 13.

“We have computer networks that allow us to speak to each other. We have an awareness that the violence of modern weapons could have untold destruction of the whole world,” said David. As an emergency preparedness coordinator for Kalamazoo Township, David also knows the tandem effects of nuclear weapons, that is, if one goes off, a whole system trips off a response for several other bombs to go off as well. “The first thing we should do about this nuclear weapons system is shut it all down,” said David.

Still, despite his efforts and his optimism that peace is possible, David said he is quite discouraged with what the Bush administration has done with Iraq. He has even become a full-fledged pacifist as a result, which surprises even him.

“I’ve found that various methods of violence are degrading to the human spirit and counter-productive,” said David who defines the scope of violence as anything from interpersonal relationships to global military conflicts.

“The Bush administration seems determined to make Iraq a U.S. colony, when the country has the potential of being an example of what can be done globally,” David said referring to the Iraqi Governing Council that wrote a democratic constitution. However, he maintains that Iraq presented no credible threat to the United States in the first place, at least, not enough to warrant going to war. He also questions why the administration saw such an immediacy to war with Iraq when it didn’t see one with the more volatile North Korea—which has nuclear weapons.

“The rule is that if we threaten them with the bomb, they’ll break down. However, North Korea’s one weapon is enough to create a credible threat to us,” said David. Consequently, David has made a stand for peace at the community peace vigils since fall 2002 and shows no signs of quitting.

To David, today’s geopolitical situation is as dangerous as it was in 1950. Back then he thought we were on the verge of World War III when he heard General Douglas MacArthur declare he wanted to use nuclear weapons to stave off the North Koreans.

“I felt an urgency then and I still do now,” said David. “I feel an urgency to do something.”

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