When peace bloomed at Easter
Date: Monday, April 21 @ 12:40:48 UTC
Topic: Trinidad and Tobago


by Marion Ocallaghan, Newsday/TT

Sometime during the first two weeks of the Iraq war, Colin Powell spoke from Philadelphia. Few would know the symbolic significance this held for some. Philadelphia, capital of Pennsylvania, was established by William Penn from whom Pennsylvania took its name. It was William Penn who with a small group founded Pennsylvania. William Penn of Youghal, Co Cork, Ireland, granted titles to land by an English King glad to see the back of him, was a Quaker.

Here in Pennsylvania, Penn hoped to set up the ideal state. It would be one of democracy, radical equality and of course peace. By 1660 Quakers had declared that they would fight no wars either for the Kingdoms of this world or the Kingdom of the next. The declaration was not taken kindly in an England where Quakers, considered Jesuits, were already fiercely persecuted. Penn sailed for America. The story of William Penn would be passed on through Quaker generations as the proof that peace was not only possible but desirable, whatever the circumstances. The story was of Penn and his settlers coming to Pennsylvania and, early o-clock, holding the First Day as Sundays were called meeting in a shack they had hastily constructed. As they sat in silence, as was their custom, they were surrounded by menacing Indians. Quakers continued their silence. Little by little the Indians joined them. They all sat in silence Indian and Quaker.

At the end of the silence they had made friends. Penn struck a deal with the Indians for land in return for trade and money. At first the two groups lived side by side in friendship. There were none of the wars that marked other settlements nor were there the Indian raids settlers feared. Conflicts were resolved together. As Pennsylvania became known other settlers, non-Quakers, trekked in. These agitated for the arming of Pennsylvania against the Indians. Penn and his Quakers resisted. However, one day they were outvoted. Pennsylvania armed itself. It was instantly attacked by the Indians, to the horror of its founder, in one of the bloodiest battles of the time. There ended the story of the Quaker State and the City of Heavenly Peace. In the 20th Century Penn's Indians were found desperate and poor. I recall the story for another reason. During the buildup to the war with Iraq there has been a mushrooming of anti-war sentiments. Peace movements have sprung up across the world and it is Easter.

Marching for Peace

During the 50's and 60's, Easter was the time for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament march. This beginning at Aldermaston, the British nuclear base, and ending at London's Hyde Park, gathered together a motley group of students, socialists of the Labour Party, pacifists, anti-colonial activists, all opposed to Britain's bomb. Organised by the remarkable Peggy Duff and the equally remarkable Canon Collins of St Paul's Anglican Church, this march marked the British political landscape before the student revolts. The demand was for Britain to unilaterally dismantle its nuclear armament and take the lead to have nuclear weapons banned internationally. The CND movement bequeathed to another generation the Y in a circle as the anti-war symbol and the hope that mass protests would affect political action. CND would fail. Every Labour Party conference passed a resolution banning the bomb. Every Labour government in power kept the bomb and expanded nuclear research. It was this failure which would influence the emergence of Peace Research in Britain and the Scandinavian countries and the emergence of conflict studies in the Behavioural Sciences in the USA.

The failure also split the CND movement. Bertrand Russell was to head the committee of 100 whose goal was to use Gandhian non-violence in order to stop the nuclear research which Russell was convinced would one day threaten life itself. That too failed. CND would however have an impact on the emergence of the anti-Vietnam war protests in the USA. These certainly changed the course of the Vietnam War. Hope that it would change American society would evaporate with the assassination of Robert Kennedy. What those protests did prepare was the way for Ronald Reagan, as protest over war became protest over culture. Indeed the real loser of the Vietnam war was the American Liberals of the North. Democrats, already split between North and South over the ending of segregation, split again over the Vietnam war. Both splits would consolidate the Right Wing of the Republican Party while the intellectual vacuum left by the anti-intellectualism of the student revolts permitted the rise of what the American Right had so far failed to achieve: a Far Right intellectual core. Mass Movements for Peace had failed or worse, backfired. And Penn's Quakers?

Joan Baez, part Indian Quaker, would sing her peace songs and threaten not to pay taxes that could be used for war. Quakers would assist those seeking conscientious objector to war status. And a group of 'diplomatic' Quakers would attempt to construct a third way for Vietnam. Strange, as the Iraqi war loomed I would read the news of Catholics in the USA who were against war. They too were helping conscientious objectors while a group of Protestant clergymen were seeking for a 'third way' for Iraq. In the case of Vietnam, Quakers had failed. What seemed to be successful was the action at diplomatic level.

Diplomacy and Socialism

Quakers were split over CND. An 'historic peach church,' as they came to be called, Quaker pacifism would see Quakers refuse the conscription of the 1914-1918 war. They were sent to concentration camps, the horrors of which have only recently been unearthed. That internment would win the victory of the acceptance of conscientious objection in Britain and the USA as a valid refusal to fight in war. War was a religious refusal of war, however, compatible with movements more directly linked to the political arena? Or would Quakers better serve the cause of Peace by Quaker mediation cashing in on the trust which had been built up over the centuries? 'Diplomatic' Quakers preferred gentle persuasion to mucky CND marches. It was this mediation which had seen Quakers active in the establishment of first the League of Nations and then the UN. States, it was believed, like human beings could regulate their affairs in rational debate while peace could be assured by treaties which progressively banned weaponry. The problem was that these treaties depended not on unilateral disarmament but on a balance of power.

Much has been said of the impact of the end of the Cold War on the Non-Aligned Movement. Little has been said on the impact of the end of the Cold War on Peace Movements. With the end of the Cold War, Peace as a balance of power ended. The USA emerged as the only military Super Power. Treaties not only declined in importance they could be ignored. Nor had the behavioural sciences worked. There is no indication that, in spite of the popularity of mediation and of no-flogging in schools, a new generation of Americans are less violent than those before them or less willing to go to war. The present Iraqi war with the debacle of the Security Council makes the ending of that Post World War II peace optimism. Those Quakers, suspicious of what they called 'diplomatic' Quakers, could say we told you so. What then of the new explosion of Peace Movements? We often forget that peace was part of the socialism of before the 1914 war. To this extent it could claim a lineage with the Levellers of the 17th Century.

The rump of these the major British agrarian revolt had entered, Quakers taking with them their radical social equality. This anti-war socialism, based on the idea of the common interests of all workers, would end in the upsurge of nationalism that marked the onslaught of hostilities in 1914. It could point to some success: the anti-war movement in Ireland would be an important ingredient in the anti-colonial Irish rebellion which followed, while in most colonies, including in Trinidad and Tobago, there was a certain suspicion of war as being really about colonies. This international peace, embraced by Lenin, would become suspect with the rise of the Soviet Union. Nowhere was this more so than in the USA where, apart from Quakers and that other historic peace church the Mennonites, anti-war was intertwined with American socialism and feminist movements. To this extent CND was less of the line of Christian pacifism than of a certain British socialism. The end of the Cold War, the impact of certain policies of globalisation not only on 'the Third World' but properly in the First, would see the rise of movements against globalisation, movements against poverty or trade unions reeling from the unemployment of structural adjustment polices, movements against the indebtedness of Third World countries or against what was seen as the contempt for the environment.

These movements increasingly mobilised internationally. Social fora held in Florence or in Brazil witnessed to this. It is these which would form the kernel of the anti-war resistance. The Iraqi war in removing the slender, it is true, bulwark of the Security Council, threw these movements into prominence. It was the emergence of these movements which in turn has influenced the beginning of the re-emergence of the Non-Aligned Movement. As the Iraqi war loomed, it seemed that the Peace Baton had been passed to a Catholic Church horrified at the new weapons of war and fearful of a peace which could throw Christian and Muslim into wars without end. True Christian pacifism is not the position of the Catholic Church. In theory at least it remains the Just War. And yet, as a former Quaker who has never given up on that 1661 Peace testimony, I chuckle a bit. The recent pilgrimage of the Catholic Church since John XXIII's Pacem en Terris, now 40 years old, is very familiar. Perhaps there is hope.







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