Metta Spencer

Metta Spencer: Peace researcher and UN Award Winner

By Sean Cain (interviewer)
The Medium, Erindale College (now UTM), September 25, 1995

Dr. Metta Spencer is founder and faculty coordinator of the Peace and Conflict Studies Program at Erindale College. This summer she was nominated for the United Nations Association of Canada Global Citizenship Award, which is given to one Canadian each year for outstanding achievement and contribution to world peace and stability.

The award will be presented on November 3, 1995 in Toronto. Spencer was recently interviewed in her office on Erindale Campus.

Sean Cain: What motivated you to become so interested in Peace and Conflict Studies and in the Peace Movement in general?

Metta Spencer: Well, I certainly remember a lot of feelings about the Viet Nam War,  as I was living in the U.S. at the time, and knowing that it was a terribly unjust war.

When I was twelve or thirteen, the Hiroshima bomb was dropped and I remember how excited and pleased everybody was. Looking back on things like that, there's a lot of work to be done to overcome ideas of that sort.

There was a turning point in my life when I wanted to make a contribution, and when I die I hope the world will be a little better place" than when I had first walked on it.

S.C.: What are some of the highlights of your career, both inside and outside the classroom?

Spencer: I am very happy to say that I took responsibility to organize the Peace and Conflict Program at Erindale. I feel good about that and I hope it lives after I retire. I also have devoted a tremendous amount of my life to editing Peace Magazine, and sometimes I wonder how much effect it has to have to make it all worthwhile.

I have also been working on a book that is important. If enough people get to read it I will be able to show, contrary to popular belief, why the Cold War really ended. It was not because the West kept up its military posture so much, as it was the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, who adopted ideas that he had been in the intemational Peace movement for a long time and brought about great change. Those who really deserve the credit [for ending of the Cold War] are the people from both east and west who worked together to develop alternatives to militarization as a way of handling the conflicts between the two great powers.

S.C.: At this point in time, what is the greatest obstacle to world peace?

Spencer: I think that it is the belief that military solutions work and are necessary. Right now we are at a period where it is difficult to find a solution to the war in Yugoslavia. People felt frustrated enough to be driven to the point of bombing the Bosnian Serbs into accepting a peaceful solution. I’m not sure that the prospects of peace are favorable in the long run.

Having said that, I put myself in a position of having to give you a good alternative. I think it would have been possible to come up with solutions earlier in Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. There were alternatives, but at this point, I don’t see any good ones.

S.C.: What is your best advice for young people working in the peace movement?

Spencer: First of all, you can work at almost any level.

You can find ways of being of service at the structural level and create greater justice.

Trying to create peace without any use of justice and failing to harmonize one’s lifestyle with the environment is not very satisfactory and doesn’t work.

But if you ask me, at the other end of the scale, what is the most challenging and dramatic action that young people could take and what would really be constructive is for the information of civilian peacekeepers, I think young people would be ideal to serve in that capacity, but they should not be the only ones.

S.C.: With the recent events in China, what specifically can women do to build world peace and stability?

Spencer: Well, what they're doing in China is wonderful. They have made their voices heard. The Chinese won't easily forget that women happen to have opinions about things. But in general, you have to give credit for the fact that most peaceniks in the world are women.

We are doing a great deal, even though women don't have the resources and the power that most men have.

Sometimes women put themselves into challenging or threatening situations to do this.

I am thinking, for example, of an organization called Mothers of Soldiers in Russia that organized a march down into Chechnya. Some of these ladies really had nerve, they would march into the recruitment centers where their sons were and demand for their release. And most of the time, the sons would be let out! Although they didn't put an end to the war, I think it can be very inspiring to see this. But you know, we have such an easy life here, it is so cheap for us to do something. There is no sacrifice involved. So if we don't do anything, then it’s shameful because there are other people who have to put their lives on the line.

Going up against the Russian Army is a very daring thing to do. Let that be a lesson to us that we can do things too. It's so much easier for us to do things, so let's do it.

S.C.: What can the average Canadian do to forge a more stable and peaceful world? Spencer: Work for justice, support peaceful means wherever possible and work through political parties to make sure the power structure within the country is responsive to the demand for peace. I think converting some ordinary institutions of life, such as businesses and universities, into places in which people can voice their concerns and empower themselves would also help.

For instance, I'm concerned about the globalization of the world economy, which may be a good thing in the long run.

However, unless we have democratic institutions that go with it, it’s a real threat. And I don't see those democratic institutions coming along very fast. So I’d like to see multinational firms be required to disclose where they have financial holdings and what they're doing with them do we can trace the consequences of their actions and put pressure on them. Use economic sanctions and boycotts. I’d like us to be boycotting the French, for example, to make sure that they realize the world won't let them (test nuclear weapons in the South Pacific Ocean).