Monday, May 10, 2010

A Letter to the Next Director of Quaker House

A Note from the Quaker House Board: This past year, Quaker House celebrated its 40th anniversary in Fayetteville/Fort Bragg, NC.  But now another milestone for QH is quickly approaching. Chuck Fager, QH director for the past 8 years, informed us three years ago that his work at QH will conclude at the end of November 2012. 

We're grateful that Chuck has given us plenty of notice to plan for QH’s next chapter. It is a formidable task to find qualified leadership for this historic Friends peace witness.  We know it will take time to find a successor with Chuck's tenacity, vision, and the fundraising skill that has kept QH viable even in hard economic times.    

In his letter to the “Next Director of Quaker House” below, Chuck lays out for prospective director candidates the many challenges of the job.  His letter is an earnest call for those who want to do significant work in the peace movement to look long and hard at this opportunity.  

  Our call, too, is for a new Director who will be aligned with and dedicated to the Quaker peace witness, and who can see the potential and significance of upholding this light in a U.S. military town. We look forward to the upcoming search.

From Chuck Fager

Dear Friend,

My work with Quaker House will conclude by the end of November 2012. So in a few months, we'll start looking for you in earnest. I'm relieved that the Quaker House (QH) board plans to give this search plenty of time, because frankly, I think it will be a challenge. Carrying out the QH mission is a unique and grueling task.

Here's the job description in a nutshell: as the next Director of Quaker House, besides managing a small non-profit, you will be called on to continue a protracted, hand-to-hand combat with the Spirit of War, operating behind the lines of one of its main strongholds, far from most Quaker bastions, and largely on your own.

Where in Quaker circles are Friends being prepared to take on such a mission? Frankly, I don't know, so the QH Board will be casting the net far and wide.

Let's break down the Director's job description a bit. Many of the routine tasks are familiar, basic to small nonprofits: designing and running the program; reporting to the board; keeping the supporters informed; supervising a small staff; and of course, raising the budget.

All necessary, but not the heart of the matter.

The central skills grow out of the unique setting of Quaker House, and have a lot to do with temperament as well as actual capabilities.

Topping the list is the ability to live for extended periods outside one's cultural comfort zone (or CCZ).

It's a truism that American society has become balkanized along cultural, political, religious and other lines; more and more we hang out with people who talk and think like ourselves, we stay in our CCZ. And among these divergent “zones,” no chasm is deeper or wider than that between Civilian America and Military America.

Friends, particularly liberal Quakers, are no exception to this trend; and in this particular respect, we are almost all located deep in the heartlands of the civilian side of the gap, culturally if not geographically.

This is not said to criticize, but to underline a fact: to live at Quaker House, on the doorstep of Fort Bragg, is to leave that Quaker milieu behind. In place of a pacifist heritage and a culture of civilian quiet, you'll step directly into the maw of the war machine: it's all around, not only outside, but rattling the windows when you're inside. War is the main industry in this company town. Goodbye, cozy Quaker CCZ.

Is there any other domestic Quaker project that's similarly situated? Not that I'm aware of.

And the specter of war is more than a matter of uniforms or equipment; you will also have to confront the human cost of war on a daily basis. Its victims haunt the streets, fill the news columns, huddle in the bars and churches.

Speaking of churches, there are 300+ Christian congregations in the Fayetteville area, some quite large and visible. Among these, Quaker House is the only one willing to declare in public that when Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers," maybe he meant it. This is said less as a point of pride than an indicator of isolation.

To be sure, it's just as possible to see and speak to the Inner Light in military folks as in any other children of God. Our motto here is “YES to the troops, NO to the wars,” and as Director you will have ample opportunity to practice it. Plus there is a remnant of peace-minded folks in Fayetteville who can offer support; I have found good friends here. And Fayetteville Meeting is a tiny but tenacious Quaker bastion.

So the isolation is not total. But make no mistake: Quaker House is a mission outpost in foreign territory. So much so that you will soon find that very few Quakers from outside are prepared to venture from their CCZs to come to Fayetteville and ease your marginal status.

Indeed, there is a grim joke here, about how the distance from any of the region's established Meetings to Fayetteville must be much, much farther than that from Fayetteville to them.

Nevertheless, Quaker identity and connections are critical to QH and its mission. So if few Friends will come to you, then you will plan to go to them. Expect to spend much time on the road, especially in summer, visiting yearly meetings, monthly meetings and other gatherings.

More than spiritual support depends on these connections. They are also important to one of the Director's make-or-break practical capabilities, namely fundraising.

Apart from visits, our fundraising is mainly done on paper, via newsletters and appeals; so an effective Director will be a good writer. The internet is encroaching on print, so some web facility is also appropriate; but ink on paper will still be central to the fiscal health of QH for a long time to come.

Now, as to program: for as small an operation as we are, QH has fingers in many pies. This should be no surprise; militarism has seeped into every corner of our culture. No matter how much we do here, we can't keep up.

So as Director you'll be learning about some of the hundreds of regulations and policies involved in our GI Hotline counseling. Then there's the military recruiting apparatus to monitor. It's formidable and ubiquitous. It is abundantly financed and deploys top-flight marketing talent with great flexibility.

Recruiters also work hard -- many of them too hard, in ways that put their families and even their lives at risk. Witness the four suicides in one unit in 2007-2009.

This data points up another piece of the QH workload, one we did not seek but could not escape: what we now call Violence Within the Military.

It first came to my notice as an epidemic of domestic violence, especially shocking spousal murders. In the past year or so, these have receded, but only to be replaced by a surge of soldier suicides, which in 2009 exceeded the number killed in actual combat. These and associated phenomena are military-wide, with the heaviest toll in the Army.

In addition, there is another, even more ominous side of the military centered around Ft. Bragg: what we call the Torture Industrial Complex. Most of the known "rendition" flights that carried victims to secret prisons and Guantanamo took off from near here. The brutal and illegal "enhanced interrogation techniques" were taught here to the masters of Gitmo, and "migrated" from there to Abu Ghraib, Bagram and elsewhere. Further, several of the military's most secret and lethal units -- Delta Force and the Joint Special Operations Command -- are based and trained here.

As if all this isn't enough, there's one more important unit at Ft. Bragg, less colorful perhaps but very important nonetheless: the 4th Psychological Operations Group, a centerpiece of the Army's far-flung campaigns of "psychological warfare."

This unit's motto, "Words Conquer," points to a lot more than simply dropping leaflets on a battlefield urging enemy soldiers to surrender. It applies as much or more to the "homeland" as to any foreign adversary, and its principal, abiding "target" is us: the US citizenry, thee and me.

After all, Americans do not automatically start each new year resolved to spend more than half their tax money, and the lives of thousands here and abroad, to support a vast war machine: we need to be persuaded of that "necessity" and nobility, again and again.

Furthermore, when "Words Conquer" at home, the conquest depends as much on which words can be prevented from becoming part of public discourse as it does on inserting particular terms into it.

Many examples of such domestic psychological warfare could be listed here. Some of the most intensive skirmishes, however, involve issues that are close to our work: the tide of violence within the military (it must be downplayed at all times) and the programs of torture (which must never be admitted as such).

In my years here, this concentrated, relentless propaganda effort has had a major wearing effect. As much a course of self-deception as one of misleading others, it at once conceals, justifies and promotes the organized destruction and self-destruction that is our "military industrial complex."

And here we have named our principal adversary, and a formidable one it is: this “complex,” combines reinforcing elements of massive destruction, secrecy, torture, propaganda and deception into a machinery so vast and entrenched that it seems almost to run by itself. Indeed, the most useful image or metaphor for it to me is that of the biblical "principalities and powers." That is, forces that operate within and yet behind the visible components and institutions, moving the parts and the people within them.

As individuals, those caught in this web are as personally virtuous, or not, as anyone else. Yet this power encompasses all their individual wills (and in large measure ours too). And it bends the whole ineluctably in the direction of war and death.

This "Spirit (or Power) of War" is a metaphor, surely, and one drawn from a two-millennium old myth. And yet, at Quaker House this “myth” feels as tangible as the huge oak tree at the foot of the front lawn. For if its mechanisms have worldwide reach, many of the key cogs mesh and grind right here in eastern North Carolina. It can be heard rumbling through the woods; its priests and acolytes carry on their rituals in the open; its sacrificial victims stare out from the pages of our local paper.

At Ft. Bragg, for instance, more than three hundred soldiers had been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan by the end of 2009, and several thousand gravely wounded. In addition, dozens more have killed themselves or their spouses, and untold numbers bear the psychic wounds of what they have done in combat.

And how many Iraqis and Afghans have been killed, maimed or made homeless as these troops carried out their orders? Hundreds of thousands at least. In the CCZs, this appalling toll of death can be kept at a safe abstract distance. In Fayetteville, the windows rattle and one foregoes that luxury.

Now we approach what has been the most challenging part of the Director's mission, which brings together all the elements previously mentioned: namely, the call to see, name, and challenge this "spirit of war." Not just once, as amid the camaraderie of a springtime Washington peace march; but day in and day out, week in and year out. Thus the job demands both tactical skill and stamina.

Stamina: one of the most glaring defects of recent US wars is the near-total ignorance of our forces, from top to bottom, of the nations and cultures they are fighting. It takes time and commitment to develop the cultural competence for effective operations in a different society.

The same goes for peace work and Quaker House: it takes time for a Director to learn the “language” of a military town; it takes time to become established as a credible actor on the local scene. In my view, this means a new Director needs to stay for at least five years, and preferably longer. This is not a position for job-hoppers, or the unseasoned.

Nor, for that matter, for the faint of heart. Taking on this Spirit of War is what the same biblical texts which speak of such powers call "spiritual warfare" against them. And while this is another old metaphor, it too evokes an all-too-real combat.

In much popular religious writing, such "spiritual warfare" is typically reduced to calls for lots of prayer, and/or donations to some melodramatic preacher's ministry. Without disparaging either prayer or donations, taking on the "spirit of war" at Quaker House is a much more concrete contest. In taking it up, you will have more to learn from Sun Tzu than Pat Robertson.

I've written elsewhere of the value of studying classical military strategy and developing long-term planning and tactical agility in Quaker peace work; all this is intensified in Fayetteville. If the language, and still more the grim reality of such concepts and the struggles they signify are difficult for you, it will be advisable to look elsewhere for opportunities.

One other aspect of this strategic task is to regularly re-assess and recalibrate Quaker House's relationship to what is called the "peace movement." In 2002-3, for instance, we were happily a mere dot in a vast tide of antiwar protest. A couple of years later, QH and Fayetteville became movement focal points. Such occasions put dealing with police and press as additional items on the Director's skills list.

Since then we have watched this movement tide recede virtually out of sight, leaving Quaker House flashing our stubborn beacon like a lonely lighthouse across a deserted beach.

Yet if there's a lull elsewhere, QH is still plenty busy. And a broader surge may someday rise again. How will Quaker House relate usefully to it? The answer will be up to you, the next Director, and the QH board.

Ideally, the Board hopes to pick you from among a number of highly qualified Friends. And this is where the work of finding you could get tough. There are many places to pick up the basics of non-profit management and fundraising. But when it comes to learning to live outside the CCZ, up-close-and-personal with the war machine for extended periods, I don't know where in Quaker circles such training is available. Volunteer service projects once provided a path toward it, but this function was tragically abandoned a generation ago, and only a few now remain.

Nevertheless, there is much about the work of the Spirit among the Society that is beyond our ken. So during the many months of seeking that lie ahead, we can hope not only that you are in fact out there, but that our paths will cross, and the unique ministry of Quaker House can continue, in a manner that upholds "the Reputation of Truth."

I look forward to welcoming you to Quaker House.

In Friendship,
Chuck Fager