Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

After 911

There are always crucial turning points in the history of man but after 911, it became clear that the risk to institutionalize war on a permanent basis had become the biggest threat to human reason and the greatest obstacle to those seeking peace.

Today, and since 911, we have primarily Iraq and Afghanistan in mind. This tragedy in New York initiated a new kind of war called 'the war against terrorism'.

For this new war Rumsfeld developed the doctrine of the 'permanent war'. Among other things, he stated explicitly that the US Administration would owe it to the children that while fighting this war, there is already the need to prepare for the next war, in order to secure their future. It is a clear perversion of what future children require. Unfortunately throughout the world similar ideas prevail, all justifying if not conduct, then preparation for war. Therefore, weapons production and trade continues while military forces remain a necessary and essential component of every society. That notion of the 'permanent war' has affected the perception of all those who seek and attain power, in order to govern on the basis of such political realism.

Unfortunately this doctrine has been adopted by Barack Obama. He has made that not only explicit in his decision to increase the troop level in Afghanistan, but fore mostly in what he said in his speech when accepting the Nobel peace prize. He resorted to the metaphysical term of 'evil' as prevailing in the world. Similar President Bush evoked in a rhetorical skilled way the word 'evil'. Naturally, it is understandable that Barack Obama as President of the United States must take any potential threat into serious consideration when formulating his policy. It should be mentioned that ever since he studied at Harvard, he has been concerned fore mostly by the nuclear threat and therefore his efforts to reduce nuclear weapons in the world to be most welcomed if he succeeds to convince all others to do likewise.

Still, whenever politicians link justification for military preparations and actions to 'threats" which exist, some critical attention should be given whenever such a term or any other for that matter is used. For instance, the term 'attack' was used by the Bush administration to describe and to denote what happened to the Twin Towers in New York. By implication, that attack became similar to the attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor as if the whole of the United States stood under attack. Literally, it would mean an army was standing at its borders and ready to take over the entire territory. Jimmy Cash, in an interview on CNN, had exactly that impression when watching while on his ranch on television events unfold in New York. He thought first of all, "the USA is under attack" and secondly he wondered, "who would be crazy enough to do that and think to get away with it?" The second thought anticipated everything which happened after 911, namely the USA lashsing out of a wish to revenge and therefore not heeding what one woman said about her husband who died after planes had crashed into the Twin Towers: "during his entire life he devoted himself to peace and therefore his death should not be used to justify the going to war." Unfortunately she was not listened to, and we have first Afghanistan, and then Iraq.

But to return to the use of terms, the use of the word 'attack' was used within NATO to demand from all NATO members immediate solidarity as specifically mentioned in the Treaty signed by all when joining, namely to come to rescue of any other member "when under attack". Now it can be rightly so argued that a terrorist attack is a single blow by using bombs to maximize damage not so much in real terms, even though it is frightening to see over and again how bombs going off hit above all just innocent bystanders, but its aim is a deeply symbolic one. It seems as if those behind all these bomb blasts know very well how the global media works. Arbitrary use of violence can evoke gruesome, equally powerful images with entire buildings, in this case the Twin Towers coming down. Still, there is no way to equate these terrorist actions with an attack by a standing army even if the adjective of war having become 'asymmetrical' is added. As seen in the case of Afghanistan and Iraq, the moment an army is set into motion, it has to have a clear enemy for otherwise there is no one to shoot at or to be taken prisoner. The frightening reality of no real enemy being made out is that civilians have to die instead. Repeatedly this has been the case in both Iraq and Afghanistan with still no consequences being drawn out of this fact at political level, even though to the credit of President Barack Obama he has acknowledged the increase in number of civilians killed in this war with a largely invisible and unknown enemy.

Thus we can return to the importance Kids' Guernica gives to children undertaking in their murals an analysis why war, why all this violence, but without taking recourse to 'enemy pictures'. Where this is not always the case as in the case of the mural coming from Palestine and depicting the 'other' as being definitely Israel and the Jewish state, this problem is being discussed for the sake of upholding the principle of non-violence as linked to being free from the need to make the other into an enemy to justify own hatred, revenge and even worse the urge to kill. Recent efforts in Palestine to plant instead trees to stop the landgrab by Israel is such a sign of new efforts to undertake non violent actions. As Jad Salman would also underline it is of utmost importance to respond to everything, even when surrounded by Israeli troops with machine guns pointed at him, first of all as a human being. He would also say the mural painted by various children from all over Palestine depicts the reality as they see it, and one must work from there to take things to a next level in order to see some perspectives for peace despite being under occupation and often mistreated by the Israeli Defense Forces.


The example of Palestine underlines that peace processes based on non-violence are crucial to understand how cultural actions can become community based actions. For once intercultural dialogue is included, as has been the case of taking Greek youth in Chios over to Izmir in Turkey where they could paint together with Turkish pupils and students a joint peace mural, the other is no longer identified by waving a Turkish or a Greek flag, but by understanding a common wish best expressed by painting together a tree of life.

Intercultural dialogue is all the more important when contemporary wars are waged more often against not a known, but an unknown enemy. Of course, mainly terrorists remain obscure, even if there is somewhere out there Bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Hence as part of the cultural work in need to be done by not only Kids' Guernica when undertaking these collaborative learning processes, is to translate 'threats' into 'challenges'. It would alter world politics and take it down from the military to the cultural level, in order to allow work for peace and would mean not to rationalize and therefore justify war. The increase in the trade of weapons in the world is alarming enough, while the killing of innocent civilians an unheard of violation of Human Rights.

Without culture people no longer talk to each other, but fight out of fear and misunderstandings. One of the most interesting insights into how it can come to war has been given by the Irish poet Brendan Kennelly. In the introduction to his epic poem 'Judas' he writes that many people are caught up in a logic of conversion. They convert when passing from childhood into adulthood initial prejudices, and therefore false generalisations about the others, into convictions and take them then to be absolute. That creates then the problem. Anyone attempting to challenge these convictions because they are merely prejudices, but which are not recognized as such by those holding them, leads to conflict and often if not war, then acts of revenge. For they retranslate the attempt to challenge them to think again into a threat to their personal identity and therefore mistakenly see it as an insult. The outcomes are well known. One needs only to think at the massive reaction in the Islamic world to the Danish cartoons to know when people feel insulted, they refuse to be challenged in how they deal with artistic freedom of expression as difference to everyone having a right to express his or her own opinion in public. Certainly the philosopher Bart Verschaffel is correct when pointing out the willingness but also ability to let one's claimed truth be questioned by others in public presupposes not only a definite political, but as well a cultural development. For the art of posing questions in a non violent way begins already when, for instance, Thomas Economacos starts painting actions for Kids' Guernica by letting children distinguish between the art of questioning to find out the truth without offending the other and the kind of questioning which can be perceived as highly aggressive and even violent to the point of going beyond being merely insulting. Often that goes hand in hand with the refusal to recognize the other as human being.

Unfortunately the United States converted after 911 happened this challenge to the system of security into such an absolute threat that everyone became a potential, equally helpless victim, so that only lashing out seemed to remain as the only option. It meant going to war with politicians belying the fact that they need to show immediately 'visible results' as was the case when Saddam Hussein was finally found hiding in a hole and later on, after a kind of trial, executed. For that underlines as well the fact that the declaration of war against someone or country by making it into an enemy means as well to evoke the death penalty. That is as well the case when perpetrators are killed by technical means such as the use of drones for then all political powers - executive, legislative, legal - melt into one and being declared as guilty suffices to legitimize a strike to kill without any trial. Europe has been for a long time in dispute with the United States about the use of the death penalty as means to deter further killings and crimes against humanity, but no one seems to take notice that any declaration of war means imposing potentially the death penalty not only against specific and identifiable individuals, but against entire people who happen to be in that specific area now a war zone in which soldiers can act at will and shoot whenever they feel threatened. To see heavily armed soldiers talking to Afghanistan men squatting on the ground and without any weapons on them underlines not only that asymmetry, but belies the fact as to who should feel being threatened first of all, the inhabitants of Afghanistan or the American and other NATO soldiers.

Principles to be considered by initiating the critical work of memory:


Of interest is what people perceive first of all when they read about Kids' Guernica when Tom Anderson gives, for example, an account thereof in the catalogue he prepared for the January 2010 exhibition in Tallahassee, Florida. He narrate what impact 911 had upon Kids’ Guernica and how this effort was continued by not going down that war path of revenge, but to seek peace by painting elsewhere a peace mural. Using the paint brush means to articulate wishes for peace by different means than guns and other technical ways to defeat the outer enemy, for without an inner peace this cannot be possible and that is best achieved by letting paint brushes speak on the canvas:

<<A major exhibition was to be held in Italy beginning on September 15, 2001,

but with the suicide plane bombing and destruction of New York’s Twin Tow-

ers we were unable to come together on that date, since air traffic almost

everywhere was completely grounded. We postponed the gathering, then,

until the middle of December. This gave us more than two months to regroup,

during which time the European organizers and Takuya Kaneda emailed me

and wondered if we could do an American post-9/11 mural. I knew it was

the right thing to do, so I suggested to my graduate students in Panama City,

Florida, that we stand up for peace in the midst of the turmoil, rather than

descending to the desire for revenge.>>

For the image of the mural that was painted then, see:



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