Faculty of the Kroc School of Peace and Justice Visit South Korea – 2023

Faculty of the Kroc School of Peace and Justice Visit South Korea – 2023

When you want to understand a global conflict, experience it with your body. I don’t mean that you need to get shot, but at least breathe in the air and talk to the people living it out. That’s why, the day after graduation, faculty of Kroc School of Peace Studies hopped on a plane to visit South Korea. Our school, located just thirty minutes from Mexico, offers numerous opportunities for faculty and students to contemplate and engage with issues of borders and divides. This trip enabled us to consider these same themes from a different vantage point; the divide between North and South Korea and the historic U.S. role in that division as well as the on-going tensions. 

We know that engagement with the subjects of peace, justice, and innovation requires engagement with Asia. Otherwise, our teaching and thinking becomes too parochial. We too easily focus on domestic issues and rely too much on approaches to conflict developed out of conundrums faced by the west. Putting our bodies in the east expanded both the kinds of conflicts we’re considering as well as approaches to those conflicts. Visiting BCorps exposed us to different approaches to equity and environmental restoration. 

Standing in the demilitarized zone between North Korea and South Korea reminded me that the United States has comparative great neighbors. Mexicans want to move into the United States, not annihilate it. Neither neighbor has nuclear weapons pointed at us. 

It’s easy to blame those closest to a conflict for its existence. That’s a mistake, especially in this particular conflict. I learned that the United States dropped more bombs on North Korea during the Korean War than it did on Germany or Japan during World War II. The U.S. decimated the country. So when the North Korean leadership preaches to its citizens about the dangers of the “western imperialists” returning, they can point to relatively recent history.  We often rush too quickly in conflict resolution to the “solution” without taking time to understand how problems came to be and our country’s role (past or present). 

Visiting South Korea even enriched my understanding of San Diego. If North Korea decides to invade South Korea, our local navy bases would engage. Because even though South Korea maintains its own robust military, the country relies on this backing from the U.S. military. Some say that just knowing that the U.S. would come to help gives them peace of mind. This links us. If they go to war, so do we. If Seoul, which sits quite close to the border, gets attacked, San Diego-based military will mobilize. Our destinies are intertwined. 

The opening ceremony of the ” Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity: Working for Sustainable Prosperity in the Indo-Pacific ” offered me an opportunity to confront my western-centrisim.  BAN Ki-moon, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, spoke about the important role of South Korea in supporting peace in the indo-pacific as well as the larger global political power struggle between China and the United States. Because while South Korea aligns politically and economically with the west, culturally Korea resembles China. He sees South Korea as a potential mediator between the U.S. and China. I had never considered South Korea as a potential global mediator. But why not? The United States and other western countries are not always in the best position to bring peace and prosperity. 

I look forward to returning to Korea, hopefully with colleagues to the Jeju Forum in 2024, to further engage with the peacebuilding community there and to welcome more students from the region into our program so that we can continue to learn from each other. 

South Korea BC Corps

Visiting BCorps, companies in South Korea committed to “Using business as a force for good.”

(Memorial for the Koreans who lost their lives in the Korean War)’






It’s What They’re Not Saying That is Most Dangerous

It’s What They’re Not Saying That is Most Dangerous

Last night Genocide Watch at the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution hosted a screening of the film of the 2001 film, Conspiracy. This film provided an attempted reenactment of the 1942 Wannsee Conference during which senior Nazi officials, lawyers, and SS discussed killing centers as a way to rid Europe of Jews.

Haunting film puts words to what all Nazi documents obfuscated.
At the conference, the film claims, people talked about the actual murder of the Jews. Even though the meetings minutes never said the word death, murder, or execution.

What’s so haunting about the Holocaust (and some other atrocities) is the strange vocabulary developed that allows people to pretend they do not know what their eyes tell them.

The father of Holocaust research, Raul Hilberg, noted that in his review of hundreds of thousands of Nazi documents, not one document actually said “we are going to kill the Jews.”

They talk about the “Final Solution” and use words more like evacuation. The film highlights this aspect of the Nazi approach when some meeting attendees kept asking questions like “What do you mean exactly when you say ‘purge Europe of Jews’ or ‘evacuate Jews.’ What they meant was gas and then burn them.

Even now, writing those words gas and burn Jews at a rate of 20,000 a day (their original goal- according to the film) makes me feel sick.

Word are so powerful! Even writing “purging” feels different than writing “burn.”

Language can bring us closer to life or give us a feeling of being stoned — removed, floating and far away.

The next conflict you read about, observe or participate in, consider the language being used. Is it bringing the perpetrators or the problem into focus or is it pulling your eyes sideways? It happens subtly; by being vague, the Nazis could lure those less violent, but followers nonetheless, to support its efforts. They are not the only ones who have done this.

I think what left me feeling so horrible after the film was having to watch these movie stars say these horrible things. I know they were acting, but even so, watching Colin Firth, Kenneth Branagh, Stanley Tucci, Brendan Coyle and others spew hateful language about an entire people and in support of racial superiority hurt. Words hurt, but perhaps confusing and vague language can actually kill.

It’s What They’re Not Saying That is Most Dangerous

Who put the “tank” in “Think Tank”? Violence in American English

There seems to be quite a bit of violence in American English…

A few blogs back, I wrote about the U.S. obsession with making everything a “Boot Camp.” Boot camp is something new military recruits would endure to prepare them for life as a soldier and in worst cases, battle.

Have we reserved such terms to war? Now, now we have Yoga Boot Camps and Writing Boot Camps. Surely you have seen other kinds as well. There probably are even Flower Pressing Boot Camps.

Scholar Vivian Jabri would say such terms are not just funny and trite little expressions, they represent the deeply embedded violence within our discourse.

It isn’t surprising some of our kids and police are so violent…and that we often think of battle first. We are living in violence everyday though much of it is verbal.

This Blog is entitled The Language of Conflict because part of my work is raising awareness to the language we use and how that impacts the way we live and what kinds of policies we produce.

Rethinking “Think Tanks”

I always find new examples. This past week, I was spending time with some Francophones. The conversation was trotting along nicely in French until someone wanted to say “Think Tank” and we could not find the French term for it.

“Group de réflexion”! Someone exclaimed. The French call Think Tanks, “Reflection Groups.” I laughed when hearing the expression imagining a group of French folks sitting like Rodin’s thinker…reflecting…and reflecting and reflecting.

After I got done laughing at the French, I started to think about our expression, THINK TANK.

Really, even our reflection has to be in preparation for battle? Our think tanks are largely trying to help us get around violent conflict (I hope) not prepare us for battle.

If any of you use a Nutribullet to make your smoothies or hummus take a look at it. Not only have we inserted the word “bullet” into our smoothie makers, it looks like some sort of missile. The words on the box and in the recipe book promise us the machine will pulverize our broccoli to pieces.

Something to think about….If Think Tanks inform strategy and policy and their name positions them to head for battle, then might not their findings advocate for violent, bulldozing solutions?

I may be teaching a course on NARRATIVE & CONFLICT RESOLUTION at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution
…Stay Tuned…

It’s What They’re Not Saying That is Most Dangerous

Guns Aren’t Just In Schools, They’re In Your Bananas

Many of us have been worried about the amount of guns moving about the United States. There are more guns than people at this point. It’s amazing we don’t stumble on them on the way to work.

Even though I study corporate accountability for mass atrocity, I did not know until today, however, that our delicious bananas are part of a gun problem.

In 2001, court documents showed that Chiquita banana (whose bananas I enjoy daily) bought 3,000 AK 47s and 5 millions rounds of ammunition from Nicaragua.

Yes, that’s correct.

……………5 million rounds of ammunition…………………

I guess it has been, “Bananas for Bullets.”

And the company does not just have its hold on bananas. It’s one of the largest food distributors in the world with annual revenues around $4.5 billion. So, a few million bullets would hardly seem prohibitively expensive.

Who are the bullets for?

The company has been in operation in Colombia since 1899 and has had been deemed complicit in the murder and torture of townspeople as early as 1927 and as recently as 2001. The company has paid off FARC and other warring factions and still seems up to all kinds of shenanigans.

Holding Our Bananas Accountable

The U.S. State Department took the company to task in 2001, but the results disappoint.

While Cincinnati-based Chiquita Brands International, Inc. paid $25 million in fines for some naughty behavior, most of that money went right to the U.S. Justice Department and NOT to the Colombians. You see, Colombians cannot be represented in U.S. Courts. Complicated.

What seems far more disappointing is that Eric Holder who represented Chiquita was appointed by President Barak Obama eight years later as U.S Attorney General.

I think you might agree that the whole thing sounds bananas.


It’s What They’re Not Saying That is Most Dangerous

Violent Places: Everyday Politics & Public Lives in Post-Dayton Bosnia & Herzegovina by Tobias Greiff

I first met Tobias while he had a research position at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. He moved around the halls carrying a white mug that said, “war crimes.”

When you held this mug with your right hand you saw nothing else, no explanation, just the black letters “war crimes.” And these crimes were clearly always on Tobias’ mind.

Sipping from his cup, he talked to me about his research, deep exploration of positioning theory and his non-profit organization in Bosnia which has long-helped orphans. When he invited me to give this talk, I was eager to see what became of all his ideas and experience.

What struck me first as a non-expert in the Balkans, was hearing about the growing insecurity. I like many, thought of Bosnia as a place safely classified a “post-conflict” region. In the past 20 years, however, the exclusion, repulsion and open aggression towards Bosnians has continued largely invisible to the international community.

Post-war Bosnia is not okay.

Some places face up to 50% unemployment. Many lack money for basic needs, with the older folks facing tremendous vulnerability.

Tobias raises the critical question; how did all that investment in post-war Bosnia not build the resilience needed to resist and prevent some of the exclusionary tendencies and new moves towards radicalism?

He holds us, by “us’ I mean the post-conflict and development community as partly at fault. He says perhaps we have misunderstood what being Bosniack, Croate, Serbian means to people today in daily life.

We must seek to understand this. We must also restory the Balkans as the “powder keg” of Europe while simultaneously restorying post-war Bosnia as a success story.

Only by taking off our rose-colored glasses can we see the on-going tensions. Only through clear vision, can we help increase trust. Trust creates stable relations which in turn attract investment. Investment can help local populations resist pressures to radicalize.

Pressures continue from Turkey and Saudi Arabia which seem to be engaging in a kind of proxy war through this shattered society. Improvised people are increasingly vulnerable.

Such precarity prompts us to ask, is the war over? Is this a negative peace? The society seems to have all the indicators of heading towards future outbreaks or at least oppression.

To help us see the present-day situation with clear vision, Tobias pushes us to let go of the hope of e pluribus unam by considering the many within the “one.” And this many means more than ethnic groups. He makes a convincing case that ethnic divisions have camouflaged other differences perhaps equally as important.

Through research collected on 6 visits over 5 years, the book takes us on a tour of four cities, Gorazade, Mostar, Banja Luka and Sarajevo. We travel along rivers, dirt roads, and nicely paved toll roads for the “rich” which transition us from one community to another. Pastoral landscapes constantly being disrupted by the ravages of war.

As someone who writes about how we label and conceptualize perpetrators, I appreciated Tobias’ acknowledgement of some Serbian perspectives. In seeking the marginalized victim, we can too often and easily silence the “perpetrators.” When our own work marginalizes those deemed “perpetrators”, we contribute to dynamics of exclusion and perpetuate cycles of violence.

Instead this book keeps multiple parties visible highlighting both who and what is present and what & who is absent in public spaces. Perpetrators and victims , he says, first linked through violence are now linked by remembrance.

We see the remnants of war and unresolved trauma in street names, flags, burial grounds, bazars, graffiti, memorials, university catalogues as well as the presence/absence of religious buildings.

Tobias Greiff is clearly an expert on the region and convinced me that we need to look at Bosnia again, with new eyes. In the face of so many violent conflicts already in full eruption we can miss those starting to bubble at the surface.

Book introduction given by Sarah Federman at the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University, Tuesday October 23, 2018.