'Alternatives to War'

Posted on June 15, 2012 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Weapons analyst turned peace activist Russell Faure-Brac will speak in Sonoma on Sunday, June 17, at Murphy’s Irish Pub.

The author of “Transition to Peace: A Defense Engineer’s Search for an Alternative to War,” Faure-Brac holds a master’s degree in Engineering Economics from Stanford University, and worked at Stanford Research Institute where he conducted studies on aerospace and weapons systems. Now retired, he is active with both the peace and transition movements.

Presented by the Praxis Peace Institute at 1 p.m. $5 Praxis members, $10 general. No host lunch. Murphy’s Irish Pub, 464 First St. E. Sonoma. 939.2973.

One man’s ‘Transition to Peace’

Russell Faure-Brac, author of “Transition to Peace — A Defense Engineer’s Search for an Alternative to War” shares the defining moment that led to his work as a peace activist.

While the Vietnam War was raging, I was in my office fiddling with a slide rule, calculating the most cost-effective way to blow up the world. It was 1967, and I was part of the military-industrial-think tank complex, working for Stanford Research Institute (now SRI International) as a systems analyst.

I didn’t think war made any sense, but as with most people, I believed we had to live with it as a necessary evil. Besides, I wasn’t carrying a rifle on the front lines — I was just doing technically interesting work behind the scenes with a defense deferment, compliments of the Selective Service System. One day, I found myself staring at a top-secret map of radar and missile installations in North Vietnam. My job was to analyze the use of electronic countermeasures (ECM) equipment by our naval strike aircraft to determine the best way to penetrate North Vietnamese radar and missile sites. The data from this analysis would assist the Department of Defense (DOD) in making purchase decisions for ECM devices in the future. In doing the calculations, I remember using the term p(k), meaning the probability of kill, and placing a dollar value on the loss of an American soldier’s life (about $50,000 then). No accounting was made for the value of Vietnamese lives. That was when I went over the edge—my defining moment.

I couldn’t believe it had to be this way; there had to be an alternative to the craziness of war. But I felt I couldn’t quit my job unless I believed there was a viable alternative to war. So I started taking classes at the Institute for the Study of Nonviolence and studied the principles and actions of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and others. I participated in a role-playing exercise called Peace Games, exploring the concept of nonviolent civil resistance against an invading Russian army. I also attended the Tuesday luncheons of a support group for disillusioned people working in the defense industry. After a year of study, I concluded that war was not a necessary evil and that there was a more effective and sane way to defend ourselves. In an act of youthful defiance, I hung a poster in my office saying “War is not healthy for children and other living things.” Shortly thereafter, my supervisor tore it down, saying, “It would offend our clients.” I sought in vain for non-defense work in the company (90 percent of our contracts at the time came from the DOD), and then I decided to resign.

Most of us have a major turning point in our lives, and that was mine. Determined to place an exclamation mark on my decision, I made a film called “But What Do We Do?” documenting my decision to leave the defense industry. I then began a career as an environmental planner, in which I mostly forgot about issues of war and peace. Thirty years later, after selling my business and retiring, I watched the World Trade Center towers collapse in the attacks of 9/11. It triggered memories of my earlier years grappling with the question of war. It was an opportunity to revisit my earlier beliefs and to delve into the issue more deeply. How, specifically, could our nation, so invested in war, find a path to peace? That was the genesis of this book.

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