Gandhi’s Clarification of Satyagraha as Holding to Truth

“You asked me why I consider that God is Truth . . . I would also say with those who say that God is Love, ‘God is Love.’ But deep down in me I used to say that though God may be Love, God is Truth above all. I have now come to the conclusion that for myself God is Truth, but two years ago I went a step further and said Truth is God. And I came to that conclusion after a continuous and relentless search after Truth, which began nearly fifty years ago. I then found that the nearest approach to Truth was through Love.”
M. K. Gandhi


Founding a Nonviolent Community at Bangor, Washington: The Peace Blockade, Part 1

by Matt Dundas

Bypass Protest banners near Vandenberg weapons test site; courtesy

On August 12, 1982, the US Navy submarine USS Ohio barreled in to Puget Sound. It was the end of its long journey from Groton, Connecticut, through the Panama Canal, and up the west coast of North America. (1) The Ohio was the first of a new class of submarines intended to house the Navy’s newest nuclear weapon: the Trident missile. (2) Mixed emotions greeted the Ohio at the newly expanded Bangor military base on Washington’s Kitsap Peninsula. Some were eagerly anticipating the boat, elatedly waving American flags, dancing to the Navy band, and cheering on the sailors. (3) Others waited anxiously, as they had for days, to create a peace blockade of “ridiculous little boats” in an effort to stop the 560-foot-long, four-story-high Ohio from docking. (4)

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The Rise of Nonviolent Civil Disobedience: The Peace Blockade, Part 2

by Matt Dundas

Anti-Trident protest, Vandenberg test site; courtesy

During the height of the Pacific Life Community (PLC) and Ground Zero’s campaign, other campaigns around the country were gaining steam as well. They had a tactic in common with PLC and Ground Zero: nonviolent direct action. A prime example was the Clamshell Alliance, founded in 1976 in response to the planned nuclear power plant in Seabrook, New Hampshire, in a campaign that saw the arrests of more than 1,400 people during its biggest action. (59) Historian Barbara Epstein wrote, “The Clamshell Alliance combined small-group structure and consensus process with nonviolent civil disobedience.” (60) Indeed, PLC and the Clamshell Alliance were building on similar ideals, joined by other campaigns such as the Abalone Alliance in San Luis Obispo, California, which had 1,900 arrested at a local nuclear power plant; (61) and the Livermore Action Group, near San Francisco, where 777 were arrested for entering a nuclear test site. (62) Nonviolent direct action had become the dominant tactic in American activism.

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Life at Ground Zero of the Nuclear Arms Race

by Terry Messman

March 2015 anti-nuclear weapons demonstration, courtesy

Jim and Shelley Douglass helped to organize one of the nation’s most significant and multifaceted campaigns of nonviolent resistance when they uprooted their lives, left their home behind, and literally moved right next door to Ground Zero of the nuclear arms race, in a home adjacent to the Bangor Naval Submarine Base in Kitsap County, Washington. Their new next-door neighbors were a fleet of Trident submarines and an unimaginably destructive stockpile of Trident missiles in weapons bunkers. In the interview posted here, Jim Douglass has starkly described the genocidal power of this weapons system. “A single Trident submarine could destroy an entire country. A fleet of Tridents could destroy the world.”

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Blockading the “White Train of Death”

by Terry Messman

Book jacket art courtesy

A reporter warned Jim Douglass that he had observed a train north of Seattle that looked like it was “carrying big-time weapons.” The reporter added that the heavily armored, all-white train looked like “the train out of hell.”

Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker, has been a lifelong source of inspiration for James and Shelley Douglass, both in their nonviolent resistance to war and nuclear weapons, and also in their solidarity with poor and homeless people. Day devoted her life to the works of mercy for the poorest of the poor, and often quoted Fyodor Dostoevsky on the high cost of living out the ideal of love in the real world. “As Dostoevsky said: ‘Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams.’”

The same warning might be given to those who try to live out the ideal of nonviolence in action, since love and nonviolence are essentially one and the same. One of Mohandas Gandhi’s descriptions of nonviolent resistance is “love-force.”

Although it may be heartening to read about nonviolence in the lives of Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Dorothy Day, it is a “harsh and dreadful” proposition to engage in actual resistance to a nuclear submarine capable of destroying hundreds of cities, and protected by the most powerful government in the world. Instead of nonviolence in dreams, one faces nonviolence in handcuffs and jail cells, nonviolence sailing in the path of massive submarines, nonviolence on the tracks blockading “the train out of hell.”

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Gandhi’s Vision of Nonviolence, Holding Firm to Truth: The Street Spirit Interview with Jim Douglass, Part 4

by Terry Messman

Anti Iraq War protest, Washington, D.C., Sept. 15, 2007, courtesy

We chose to be in the sights of the weapons of our own troops. For a few days, we were just as vulnerable as the Iraqi people. Explosions were occurring all over the city from missile attacks by our fleet in the Gulf.” Jim Douglass

Street Spirit: Gandhi referred to campaigns of nonviolent resistance as “satyagraha” — holding firmly to truth. What are the essential steps in building satyagraha campaigns, both in Gandhi’s era and in our time?

Jim Douglass: The most basic thing is the commitment of the people who seek to engage in such a campaign. There would have never been satyagraha campaigns in Gandhi’s life if he hadn’t created communities out of which they could be waged. The ashrams in South Africa and later in India were the bases of his work. And even though the number of people living in community and taking vows of nonviolence was small, those people were totally freed to work together and to respond to the specific evils they focused on. As Gandhi always taught, you can’t take on everything in the world, so you focus by identifying a social evil, as for example we did in the Trident campaign.

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Acts of Resistance and Works of Mercy: The Street Spirit Interview with Jim Douglass, Part 3

by Terry Messman

The White Train transported nuclear weapons to military bases across the nation; photo by Chris Guenzler, courtesy

Street Spirit: The White Train campaign mobilized people in hundreds of far-flung communities to stand in nonviolent resistance along the tracks where nuclear weapons were transported. How did the White Train campaign get started?

Jim Douglass: Well, the White Train campaign began as the Tracks campaign at a time when we didn’t yet know there was a White Train. Shelley and I had been looking at a house for years next to the Trident base as a location that was analogous to the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, which was itself a piece of land 3.8 acres in size alongside the Trident base that we had bought as a community.

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Gandhi, Parrhesia, and Comparative Philosophy: An Afterword

by Max Cooper

Logo courtesy

We noted in two previous essays comparing Gandhi and Foucault that our study was apparently the first specifically to compare the lives and philosophies of Mahatma Gandhi and Michel Foucault, and the first to suggest Gandhi as Foucault’s wished-for modern exemplar of the Hellenistic ideals of epimeleia heautou and parrhesia. Considering the mass of scholarship relating to the work of Foucault, and indeed the vast and meticulous output of the academic enterprise generally, it seems curious that we should be the first to draw these connections. This afterword will briefly inquire as to why this should be the case. Suggesting that possible concerns with our claims (Gandhi as exemplifying epimeleia and parrhesia) are generally unfounded, we will propose that this small lacuna rather reflects a greater and more troubling chasm between Eastern and Western philosophy in contemporary academia. We hope, therefore, that further projects may span the gap between two ancient traditions of human wisdom.

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On Anger

by Barbara Deming

Portrait of Deming c. 1960s, courtesy

Editor’s Preface: Barbara Deming (1917-1984) was a lesbian/feminist activist and proponent of nonviolent social change, her most notable work being Revolution and Equilibrium (New York: Grossman Publishers, 1971). A foundation has been set up in her name to give financial support to women’s causes. Their website has further biographical information. This article is taken from War Resistance: Journal of the War Resisters, issue 39, fourth quarter, 1971. Please also see the archive reference information and acknowledgments at the end. JG

I have been asked to write about the relation between war resistance and resistance to injustice. There are many points to be made that I need hardly labor. I don’t have to argue at this date that if we resist war we must look to the causes of war, and try to end them. And that one finds the causes of war in any society that encourages not fellowship but domination of one person by another. We must resist whatever gives encouragement to the will to dominate.

I don’t think you would object to my stating the relationship between the two struggles in another way; restating it, for it has been often said: Bullets and bombs are not the only means by which people are killed. If a society denies to certain of its members food or medical attention, or a political voice, the sense of their own worth, the freedom to exercise their talents — this, too, is waging war of a kind.

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The Historical and Philosophical Background of Modern Pacifism

by Harold F. Bing

Editor’s Preface: Harold Bing was chairman of WRI from 1949-1966. During World War I he was an “absolutist” conscientious objector, and received an unusually harsh sentence of three years imprisonment, while the norm was six months. He wrote pamphlets on pacifism, Palestine, and other topics. The Peace Pledge Union has an interesting article about him, at this link. This article is taken from War Resistance: Journal of the War Resisters, issue 39, fourth quarter, 1971. Please also see the archive reference information and acknowledgments at the end. JG

Drawing by a WWI British conscientious objector, courtesy

Although in origin the word Pacifism means merely ‘working for peace’ or ‘the creation of peace’, in recent years it has come to mean a code of conduct or a philosophy of life which rejects war of all kinds and relies upon nonviolence as a means of achieving both private and public ends. While, however, this interpretation of the word pacifism is relatively modern, the ideology which lies behind it is very ancient.

We know little about the moral code of primitive man, but there is considerable evidence to suggest that war, in the sense of organised conflict between groups of men specifically trained for that purpose, developed relatively late in human history and, in fact, coincided with the rise of private property in land and other primary sources of wealth and the division of society into classes differing in their privileges and possessions. The desire to secure economic advantages and social prestige, or to defend them if already possessed, led to armed conflict. Tools rather than weapons are found in the surviving remains of the earliest human settlements and no doubt a sort of communism characterised primitive human groups.

But as far back as recorded history goes, which is no more than some six thousand years out of the hundreds of thousand that man has been on the earth, mankind seems to have been troubled by wars and rumours of wars. At the same time there have been teachers, prophets and philosophers who have pointed out the evils of violence and suggested a better way.

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The Auschwitz of Puget Sound: The Street Spirit Interview with Jim Douglass, Part 2

by Terry Messman

Poster art courtesy Ground Zero Center;

When Father Dave Becker came to dinner at the home of Jim and Shelley Douglass next to the Trident base, the first sentence he said after he sat down on the sofa was, “I want to understand from you what it means to be the chaplain of the Auschwitz of Puget Sound.”

Street Spirit: After Robert Aldridge alerted you that first-strike Trident nuclear submarines would be based near Seattle, what were the first steps in planning a campaign that could resist such an overwhelming weapons system?

James Douglass: Number one, every worker on the Trident nuclear submarine base is Robert Aldridge.

Spirit: A potential Robert Aldridge, meaning a person of conscience?

Douglass: Yes, potentially. Therefore we must respect, understand and grow in truth through dialogue with every worker, and every civilian military employee on the Trident nuclear submarine base. We lived alongside it and worked alongside it. So everything we did had to fulfill that purpose.

On the one hand, we had to block the system — that systemic violence we’re talking about. That’s the Trident system which could literally destroy the world through nuclear fire and radioactivity. We had to block that through nonviolent and loving resistance.

And secondly, we had to engage in dialogue and respectful relationships with the people who were involved in that system, just as all of us were, and are, involved.

We are all involved. That goes from paying taxes, which we all do, even those of us who are military tax resisters because they collect the taxes in other ways. And through our silence, which we all do to the extent that we all aren’t constantly out there speaking against the evils in our society. And the number one evil is our capacity to destroy all life on earth, since we are U.S. citizens with the most powerful arsenal ever devised.

So on the one hand, resistance. On the other hand, dialogue.

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“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi