28 January 2010

Men of Peace

It was during my high school period that I became conscious of the rest of the world out there, after World War I. We had seen awful pictures of the gruesome deaths and the destruction of the war. And this was unthinkable! My position was a Christian position that we as followers of Jesus would not participate in war. It was a violation of the gospel of love. It was at that time that I began to think of myself as a pacifist.

These words (and pictures) of George Houser are from the book Men of Peace: World War II Conscientious Objectors, edited by Mary R. Hopkins, and about to be published by Producciones de la Hamaca. For the last couple of weeks I've been absorbed by this book--and I hope many others will have the same experience.

We can almost hear the voices of Houser and the thirty others who tell their stories in this book. Their words are in response to a carefully structured set of questions that they were all asked; their answers were recorded and transcribed, and each man was able to review and amend his interview. The interview questions are available in an appendix, but the editor made the wise choice of presenting only the responses in the main part of the book. Their uninterrupted reflections, usually low-key and often endearingly modest, provide a wonderful glimpse into their personalities.

PhotobucketI've known a few of these men myself, so I particularly enjoyed meeting them again in the pages of this book. Can't you just hear Canby Jones saying this?--"Committed to Jesus not only as Lord, but also as Prince of Peace and peacemaking as his warriors, we eschew anything to do with war and the things that make for war. He commands us to love our enemies to return good for evil and to pray for those who despitefully use us. I see his command to love our enemies as binding on all Christians. No exceptions! Do you?"

Or Stephen Angell, on his first experiences with Alternatives to Violence: "...But I took the workshop and I found out some things about myself I didn’t know before. Sometimes I could be violent without it looking like violence, like attitudes and responses to children’s misbehavior. Even when I took that first workshop, I recognized that this was something I should be doing!"

What encouraged and confirmed these men in making choices that were unusual in their time? Almost all came to pacifism through Christian influence. I was surprised and intrigued by how many were influenced by Methodist youth movements between the world wars. Most had supportive parents--even when the parents didn't actually agree with their sons' decision to go the conscientious objector route.

During World War II, most of these men served in Civilian Public Service; a few went to prison. After the war, some of the men spent a lifetime laboring for peace and justice in such organizations as the American Friends Service Committee, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the American Committee on Africa. Others went into teaching or business or other professions (even inventors--Chris Ahrens, Roger Way), but continued to hold a nonviolent witness. Along the way, many were caught up in the civil rights movement.

These men are perhaps heroes in their own right (they might deny it!), but they also provide us a living link to some major figures of peace and justice in the first half of the twentieth century. James Farmer, Bayard Rustin, Reinhold Niebuhr, Kirby Page, Martin Luther King, Jr., Frank Laubach, John Dewey--we get a chance to meet them all for a few moments through these marvelous interviews.

When I was still a teenager, just starting to become convinced of the peace testimony, I looked around at the adults in my life, for whom respectability and obedience to authority seemed to be the controlling values. I felt chronologically isolated, as if the dilemmas my friends and I were facing in the context of the war in Viet Nam were new to our generation. Could anyone above 30 even understand us! Later, when I became a Christian and began reading about the church, I began to realize that we had a great cloud of witnesses--generations of prophets and disciples who had faced these same dilemmas before us. Reading this book, once again I had that same feeling of companionship and encouragement.

Righteous links:

Other reminders of World War II and its cost: Here's a video about the museum "in memory of the unknown soldier" here in Elektrostal. (I told about my visit to this museum here.)

Legal advisor to the Blair-era British government: the Iraq war was illegal.

Does anyone have feedback on this service for short-term missions? (It's linked to the Christianity Today family of publications.)

Letter from an agnostic.

What has Russian singer Zemfira been up to lately? You have to look carefully.

Friday PS: Visiting this blog is how I found out that Howard Zinn died. ... Thank you, and rest in peace, Howard. (I use his People's History of the United States alongside a mainstream history text in my American Studies course here.)

New York Times on Howard Zinn.

B.B. King:


Anonymous said...

"Everyone is crying out for peace, nobody is crying for justice...." - Peter Tosh (1977?).

kevin roberts said...

My own children are growing up in the company of COs, those who went to prison, jumped out of airplanes to fight Montana wildfires, went through medical experimentation, or served unpaid years as staffers in mental hospitals.

We're lucky enough to have them live nearby.

Johan Maurer said...

Our children also had this advantage, especially at Reedwood Friends Church.

I remember this helpful ITVS television program broadcast on the PBS network in the USA: The Good War and Those Who Refused to Fight It. (Link is to the first in a series of YouTube-sized segments of the documentary.)

David Millar said...

a very moving book by Philip Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood be shed about the Protestant village Le Chambon that sheltered Jeweish children in WWII