Facing angry mobs as they hurled threats, rocks and bottles, Mairead Maguire and her fellow peace activists chose umbrellas for defense amidst the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland in the 1970’s and helped spark a revolution in thinking about guns, security, fear, peace and prosperity.
Mired in polarized positions following British colonization and the wounds of three hundred plus years of fighting between independent minded Catholics and Protestant loyalists to the United Kingdom, people needed new thinking.
They did not choose to be “soft targets” as the advocates for arming school staff argue. Instead they chose to become peaceful warriors in the face of fear mongers who insisted on guns and bombs as the ways to fight for a better life.
Eventually the Good Friday Peace Accord was signed in 1998. For her courage and leadership, Maguire was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977. Visiting with Maguire in 2002 as I worked on my book, Teaching and Learning Peace, I remember her insisting that arming themselves would have only deepened the fear, the bloodshed and the wounds.
In the light of the Florida school shootings we must remember how the decommissioning of weapons in Northern Ireland has been critical for reducing the violence there. It is also important to know that funding from American supporters of the IRA was also shifted from weapons to economic development.
So I have to ask how we unplug the weapons profiteers, their proxy politicians and allies from wrong-headed answers to mass shootings and violence in the U.S.?
My recent visit to the Rotary Peace Center at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia reinforced the case for the leadership we so desperately need. Bringing in ten remarkable young people annually for a two-year fully funded master’s degree in peace and conflict studies is Rotary’s response to the violence in the world where governments put enormous investments into military academies and preparedness but so little into the study of peacebuilding.
Bill Timpson has been on the faculty at Colorado State University in its School of Education for many years and a member of the Fort Collins Rotary Club where his focus on sustainable peacebuilding in Burundi, East Africa, has been supported by two Global Grants.