Kathy Kelly is an a peace activist, a pacifist, and an author. She’s been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize three times. Her life's work has been traveling to war zones around the world to be a voice for people who are endangered and trapped by the political games of governments battling over economic bones. She's visiting Morgantown this week talking with students from West Virginia University, members of the media, and community members.
Path of the Pacifist
Kathy Kelly grew up on the southwest side of Chicago. She says she gleaned a lot about poverty from the members of her community who embraced it:
“One thing about the nuns was that they never showed the slightest interest in acquiring personal wealth. And we were pretty sure that among their numbers there were people who were selflessly helping people in other parts of the world who were much needier than we were. So those were good guidelines.”
Kelly says she was especially affected growing up by what she came to learn about German concentration camps of World War II. She resolved at a young age not to be complacent. That set her on the path of the pacifist.
Since then, she’s toured many war-torn zones of the world, protesting.
Kelly was in Baghdad during the United State’s initial invasion into Iraq in 2003. She says she had an experience there that changed her:
“The bombs were relentless. If you can imagine mother’s faces and children’s faces with these ear splitting blasts, and sickening thuds, and gut-wrenching explosions. And I didn’t have any medical skills to bring to this situation at all.But we did have living in our peace team living in a small family-owned hotel—just a five-story hotel—a medical doctor, April Hurly.”
Kelly worked with Hurly and was able to get her back and forth to a hospital. It was there where Kelly encountered a woman who’d lost nearly her entire family when a bomb hit their family home.
“She just quivered and wept and I put an arm around her. Then she spoke a little bit of English. She was asking, ‘How I tell him?’ ‘What I say?’ She was trying to figure out what she would tell her nephew that not only had he just lost both of his arms—the surgeon had to cut them both off at the shoulder—but she was now his only surviving relative,” Kelly recounts. “And apparently when he woke up he asked, ‘Will I always be this way?’”
“The impact of that question, ‘Will I always be this way?’ just sent me into something like fury and grief that I thought I’d never get out of it. So I didn’t want to leave my room, I didn’t leave my room, I just pounded pillows.”
“When I did come out,” Kelly continues, “I was going down the staircase and there was one man who had stayed in the hotel as a chef—a big roly-poly, almost a cross between a polar bear and a teddy bear. He was such a dear man. And he saw me and he started to cry.”
“He said, ‘I was so worried about you, I knew there was something wrong,’ and, ‘I’m so glad to see you.’ And I know it’s not normal for a woman and a man to embrace each other on a staircase in that culture but we just shared a tearful embrace.”
“That loving kindness, that care, stays with me in many ways.”
Kelly says these moments of human kindness amidst great tragedy and grief ground her.
“I’ve been so fortunate to be surrounded by some of the finest people in the world," Kelly says. "It seems like just about wherever I’ve landed whether it’s been in a federal prison or in a war zone coming from the country that’s dropping the bombs, (if you can imagine). I’ve still been surrounded by people that you so easily fall in love with. You can’t imagine.”
Kelly’s agenda is to end war. She works to combat fatalistic attitudes and educate individuals and communities about the possibility of a reality that doesn’t require bloodshed. Kelly believes one important key to a peaceful future is de-funding the military, but she’s equally passionate about derailing other trains, as well.
“We’ve got to stop the pillage, the pollution of our ground, our air, our water, and the depletion of our resources,” Kelly says. “It’s almost as if, when you step back and think of it, you know the train is going over the abyss. And by some irrational Dominance it’s like we’re all on the observation deck looking out and saying, ‘Oh yeah we know we’re going over the abyss, but the view is great! Don’t stop the train!’”
“We have to stop that train,” she concludes.
When it comes to guiding human interaction, Kelly preaches the Golden Rule. “Do unto others…” she says. When deliberating about the future, she says there’s a ready-access moral compass that’s tried and true:
“I think we have to stay with what we know. We know we love our children. We know we want the children to survive. And then [we need to] really think about what distracts us from being able to reasonably and in an adult way fashion a better world for the children; and also, how we might be manipulated into thinking that by putting everything into the baskets of ‘sports’ and ‘entertainment,’ we might somehow give our children a better world.”
Kathy Kelly is giving a lecture tonight at WVU entitled “Courage for Peace, Not for War.”