From Protest to Resistance --
The Quaker Peace Testimony
During the Vietnam War -- 4
What can one say about this Quaker- and pacifist-led campaign of all-out nonviolent resistance against the Vietnam War?
First, it certainly did much to reduce the American ground war in Vietnam, and ultimately to end it. Conscription was almost destroyed.
Second, military resistance -- the refusal of American troops to fight -- was surely even more important than civilian resistance in ending the ground war. Yet the civilian resistance stimulated military resistance, and helped military resisters with counseling, coffeehouses and the like. Maybe we should thank the civilian resistance for the amazing nonviolence of the military resistance.
Third, in 1968 and 1972 war resistance cracked open a closed American politics, and allowed a new diversity of views to be heard.
Fourth, war resistance brought everyone back to old knowledge: wars are not conducted by majority vote but by Quaker-like consensus. Someone said that war resisters demonstrated dissent by putting on the “biggest temper tantrum in history.” We did, to good effect.
Fifth, AFSC and many other Quaker groups adopted nonviolent war resistance, and many of the programs connected with it. What is more, the resistance idea spread widely, and was even used to prevent a war earlier this year.
Yet much must be said which is not so positive:
First, a war-spirit developed that made many Friends and pacifists provide nonviolent support -- often ideological and emotional support -- to violent revolutions worldwide, and to socialist and communist revolutions in particular. This divided Friends and helped no one.
Second, the same war spirit sometimes prevented Friends from being friends with those with whom they had political disagreements.
Third, some identified a particular political order with the Kingdom of Heaven, and were blind to great failures in that order. This happened most notably in the case of Cambodia.
Fourth, soldiers in the antiwar were subject to emotional and spiritual pressures like regular soldiers. Some burned out, or became cynics, or both. Many left Friends and left nonviolence.
Fifth, continual experiences of pain and loss, coming during many years of antiwar work, have left many Vietnam War opponents suffering from what can only be described as a type of Post-Traumatic-Stress Syndrome. Other Friends, and the victims themselves, have sometimes dealt with this PTSS by denial.
Sixth, the anger characteristic of war and PTSS has destroyed the mental stability, marriages, and families of many anti-war Friends and friends.
Seventh, the denial characteristic of PTSS has given some of us a poor grip on reality. Alcohol and drug use to assuage pain has not helped some Friends’ sense of reality either.
Eighth, the collapse of sexual morality typical of a long war affected anti-war people as much as anyone. In a profound sense, the anti-war became part of the war.
Ninth, thousands, probably tens of thousands, of members and attenders felt so dissatisfied with the Society of Friends that they left it.
How many Faith and Practice books mention this new part of our Quaker Peace Testimony -- a nonviolent resistance campaign against a war -- and the problems it can bring? How many Quaker historians, sociologists, psychologists and religious leaders are trying to understand all this? Why do no Quaker schools other than Pendle Hill show any interest in this subject?
Nonviolent war resistance -- very costly but sometimes extremely effective -- is now, after the Vietnam War, the eighth major part of the Quaker peace testimony. Yet it is not the newest part. I can see three even newer parts, at least two of them growing directly out of the Vietnam War experience.
1. The Quaker Peace Testimony now includes a tremendously expanded and strengthened practical testimony against personal violence of any kind. We’ve always opposed capital punishment. Now we are learning how to prevent and treat child sexual abuse, and teaching prisoners how not to be raped, and teaching schoolchildren and prisoners how to prevent fights. There must be dozens of Quaker and Quaker-founded organizations, from the Alternatives to Violence Program, to Stop Prisoner Rape, working on personal violence. This new ninth major part of the Quaker Peace Testimony proves how vital and innovative our testimony is.
2. Don’t we have a new tenth part of the Quaker Peace Testimony called “unity with nature” or “nonviolence to all living beings (including the Earth)”?
3. And as an alternative to massive costly war resistance campaigns -- or maybe something to go with that -- now we have “accompaniment,” an eleventh part of the Quaker Peace Testimony. There are experts on accompaniment at this conference, so I won’t say anything more about this topic.
The Vietnam War was an unparalleled catastrophe for everyone involved, including the Society of Friends. Yet good things sometimes come from catastrophes. If we Friends could only admit and reconcile ourselves to our losses, then maybe we could teach the world how a massive war resistance campaign should be waged before the war, not during it, of course!
I suggest that we think for a moment about Alice Herz and Norman Morrison, the two Friends who publicly immolated themselves in protest of the Vietnam war. We might think of Rick Thompson, killed in AFSC service in Vietnam. And who knows how many Quakers’ names are listed on that long black wall in Washington?
Let us pray: Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever. Amen.
Thank you to Peter Brock, friend of Friends and author, whose books include The Quaker Peace Testimony, 1660-1914, the standard work in the field.
Thank you to Alice and Staughton Lynd, the best friends a writer could have, who made suggestions and corrections for this speech on two or three days’ notice. Their own books include We Won ‘t Go; The Resistance; and The Other Side.
An enormous thank you to the pacifist communities I have been part of: The family of John and Kathryn Mott; Ridgewood Friends Meeting; New York Yearly Meeting of Friends; Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS); Chicago Area Draft Resisters (CADRE) Midwest Committee for Draft Counseling (MCDC = the CCCO office in Chicago), and many others.
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