Safe Passage on the Earth

By David Swanson

In 1975 Dorothy T. Samuel published “Safe Passage on City Streets,” a book that examined the state of mind and behavior of people who tended not to get attacked on city streets or tended to walk away unscathed. She found that the safest people were not those who focused on the danger, not those who walked in fear, and not those who carried weapons – which, as often as not, were turned against them. The safest people – though there was no guarantee – were people who put danger out of their minds and when attacked reacted with surprise, indignation, or humanity.

A response of “Hey, wow, it’s cold out, why don’t you take my coat,” or “Absolutely not, now put that gun away,” tended to protect people much better than a response of “Oh God, don’t hurt me,” or “Get back, I’ve got a knife.” Attackers, it turned out, were often more scared than their victims, were easily thrown off guard and bewildered or altered by kindness and decency. Reactions of fear or of violence, however, tended to fit right into their attacking frame of mind and encourage them. Ultimately, however, Samuel found that the best protection was for more people to walk the streets and for them to talk to and know each other.

It occurs to me that if we think of the planet as a city street at night, and if we think of the citizens of other nations and religions, cultures and races, as potential attackers, then the United States in our foreign policy is behaving exactly wrong, is doing everything that one would expect to encourage attacks. We’ve labeled nations and religions and races as evil and as likely terrorists. We’ve instituted all sorts of absurd rituals in airports and on the evening news aimed at heightening our fear. We’ve built up weaponry and challenged others to attack us or to “bring it on.” We’ve isolated ourselves and refused to talk to the leaders of other countries, offering them violence as the only form of communication that we will understand. And, ultimately, we’ve done everything we could to break down international community, cooperation, and understanding.

If the rulers of this country wanted it to be attacked, is there anything they would do differently from what they are doing right now?

If they do not want it to be attacked, then please explain to me the value of pushing Europe to build a missile shield against an imagined threat from Iran. Explain to me what would be gained by testing massive weaponry in Nevada. Tell me what is accomplished by announcing every 15 minutes in the subway that people should watch out for suspicious activity. Enlighten me as to the value to be found in neglecting the presence in foreign lands of starvation and AIDS but addressing the presence of oil as a dire emergency. Explain to me how guarded military bases and private clubs and ostentatious wealth paraded before the noses of other people in their cities makes anyone safer.

We are behaving nationally like a terrified victim looking for trouble and waving a knife around as a challenge for a fight. We don’t feel any safer, but we grip the knife tighter as our fear grows. And once we’re attacked – as our behavior makes quite likely – we’ll trade the knife in on a Humvee and guns.

Or we’ll change our way of thinking.

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