Peace In Their Time

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MAKING PEACE [image, unknown] Not just disarmament

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Peace in their time
Peace is not just disarmament or the absence of war nor are peace movements limited to action against nuclear weapons. Sandy Merritt reminds us of some peacemakers and peace movements in history, and looks at the roots of their commitment.

[image, unknown] The quest for peace may arise from a social or religious creed...

Christ preached, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.’ Five centuries before, Gotarna Buddha had taught nonviolence and the search for ‘the middle way. In the third century BC King Ashoka, an Indian ruler, gave up warfare in order to spread Buddha’s message. In Judaism too there is the concept of sha lom and in Islam of salaam — meaning peace rooted in wellbeing and completeness, quite separate from the idea of peace as not-war.

Peace can also be based on individual conviction.

Henry David Thoreau’s essay On Civil Disobedience (1848) does not specifically mention opposition to war or armies as a reason for his tax refusal. Yet this essay, emphasising individual conscience and nonviolent resistance to government, has inspired many peacemakers since then to face arrest and imprisonment rather than co-operate with the military machine.

War tax protest

Peace can be sought through disarmament and abolition of the causes of war.

Drawing: Peg Averill Nine months after World War I began, over 1000 women from 12 countries met in the Hague the first time women from different countries had met together publicly in wartime to express their opposition and consider ways of ending the conflict

From this conference was born the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). With a programme not dissimilar to today’s women s peace movement protesting against nuclear weapons, WILPF has for more than 60. years studied and public ised the causes of war, encourage personal reconciliation and advocated just and humane national and international policies.

The peacemaker may stand alone

Franz Jagerstatter was the only man in his small Austrian village to vote against the Anschluss when Hitler’s troops invaded Austria in 1938 and he refused to do military service when called in 1943. On 9 August 1943, after a military trial, he was beheaded. ‘Just as those who believe in National Socialism tell themselves that their struggle is for survival,’ he wrote before execution, ‘so must we, too, convince ourselves that our struggle is for the eternal Kingdorn. But with this difference: we need no rifles or pistols for our battle.’

Peace can mean the pursuit of social justice.

‘I work for the liberation of all people,’ Fannie Lou Hamer wrote, ‘because when I am liberating myself. I am liberating other people. The freedom of the white woman is shackled in chains to mine, and she is not free until I am free.’ A poor black Mississipi sharecropper profoundly influenced by Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and other civil rights groups of the early 1960s, she became active in the voter registration campaign, rail for Congress and helped set up a 'Freedom Farm Co-operative’ and garment factory. By the 1970s. she was known in the US as ‘the first lady of civil rights’.

[image, unknown] The peacemaker may be one among millions.

In December 1964, 1,500 people shivered through the first major US demonstration against the war in Vietnam. By the time the war ended a decade later, millions of people had marched, written letters, signed petitions. Tens of thousands had burned draft cards, sat-in, been arrested, beaten up by police or soldiers. Others took their protest even further, setting fire to themselves as Buddhist monks were doing in Vietnam. The anti-Vietnam war movement helped prevent the US governmeent from undertaking even worse atrocities in Vietnam, aroused worldwide protest and, along with the ‘flower power’ counterculture, sparked a new political awareness in the late 1960s.

[image, unknown] Peace may demand liberation from oppressive systems and structures.

Only the liberation movements which use violence seem to be newsworthy. Yet in every country where people arc fighting for liberation, there is also a nonviolent struggle going on. Nonviolence is particularly strong in Latin America, where it grows out of grassroots Christian ‘base communities’. One example is the peasants’ struggle for land in Alagamar, northeast Brazil. The peasants’ principles are never to kill or hurt, to commit

themselves with persistence, to remain united, and to disobey any orders of the authorities that violate or destroy them. Archbishop Jose Maria Pires has appealed to the whole diocese to support them and follow their example: ‘The se peasants are truly living the liberating power of the gospel.’ When a landlord sent cattle into the peasants’ fields Archbishop Jose led the people in chasing the animals away.

Peace can be sought through new ways of living and working together.

Neve Shalom, founded in 1 970 by Egyptian-born Israeli citizen Bruno Hussar, is a living example of community a steadily growing village of Moslems, Jews and Christians on the border between Israel and the West Bank. Neve Shalom— ‘oasis of peace' — is not only a centre of peace for the people who live there but a centre for activities in which people ofdifferent— and often conflicting - groups and outlooks meet in workshops, seminars, recreational programmes and other cultural and educational activities. Neve Shalom hopes to provide an example for other peace centres throughout the country.

Drawing by Ben Shahn Real peace is sought through a commitment to respect for the dignity of every human being: a search for reconciliation rather than dominance; the courage not to co-operate in any evil or oppressive act: a conviction that every individual action, no matter how small, can contribute to the creation of a more peaceful world.

The 20th century figure to whom most people turn for an embodiment of peacemaking ideals is Mahatma Gandhi, whose work was rooted in satyagraha — ‘the force which is born of truth and love or non-violence.’ Satyagraha is a total approach to conflict, confrontation and injustice. As Gandhi wrote, ‘It is totally untrue to say that satyagraha is a force to be used only by the weak so long as they are not capable of meeting violence by violence. This force is to violence, and therefore to all tyranny. all injustice, what light is to darkness.’

For all peacemakers, no matter how or where they work, the quest for peace is the quest for that light.

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New Internationalist issue 121 magazine cover This article is from the March 1983 issue of New Internationalist.
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