Archive for November 2014

The Ordinary, Extraordinary Life of David Hartsough

by Ken Butigan

Cover art courtesy

Years ago, my friend Anne Symens-Bucher would regularly punctuate our organizing meetings with a wistful cry, “I just want to live an ordinary life!” Anne ate, drank and slept activism over the decade she headed up the Nevada Desert Experience, a long-term campaign to end nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site. After a grueling conference call, a mountainous fundraising mailing, or days spent at the edge of the sprawling test site in 100-degree weather, she and I would take a deep breath and wonder aloud how we could live the ordinary, nonviolent life without running ourselves into the ground.

What we didn’t mean was: “How do we hold on to our radical ideals but also retreat into a middle-class cocoon?” No, it was something like: “How can we stay the course but not give up doing all the ordinary things that everyone else usually does in this one-and-only life?” Somewhere in this question was the desire to not let who we are — in our plain old, down-to-earth ordinariness — get swallowed up by the blurring glare of the 24/7 activist fast lane.

These ruminations came back to me as I plunged into the pages of David Hartsough’s new memoir, Waging Peace: Global Adventures of a Lifelong Activist. David has been a friend for 30 years, and over that time I’ve rarely seen him pass up a chance to jump into the latest fray with both feet — something he’d been doing long before we met, as his book attests. For nearly six decades he’s been organizing for nonviolent change — with virtually every campaign, eventually getting tangled up with one risky nonviolent action after another.

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Gandhi, Vinoba, and the Bhoodan Movement

by Jayaprakash Narayan

Narayan, c. 1947; Life magazine portrait by Margaret Bourke White; courtesy

The Bhoodan movement aims not only at establishing world peace but also at creating the foundations of a peaceful life. Although everyone is interested in the problems of peace, very few stop to question what the sources of human conflict may be, and why it is that in human society there is strife of every kind including war.

Mahatma Gandhi was an exception in that he tried to go to the root of this problem, and he built up a philosophy of life based on what he called truth and nonviolence. In building up his philosophy he took help from wherever he could. It is well known how deeply indebted Gandhi was to Jesus, and how he always considered the Sermon on the Mount to be his greatest single inspiration. The philosophy of turning the other cheek was the foundation of his whole satyagraha movement, first developed in South Africa in 1906, and then in India. Among modern thinkers, he acknowledged Tolstoy, Ruskin and Thoreau to be his teachers. Whatever he tried to do, he did with an open mind; nothing was foreign to him just because it happened in a foreign country. He was what might be called a universal personality.

Gandhi applied his philosophy of satyagraha to the Indian freedom movement.  I also was one of his humble soldiers and like so many Indians of those days I had to spend several years in prison. During those years, the freedom fighters had to go through all kinds of suffering, of which I think imprisonment was perhaps the least noxious. But travellers to India today are surprised to find that there is no ill will or bitterness anywhere for Britain or for the British people but, rather, a very warm welcome.

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The Gramdan Movement

by Devi Prasad

Cover of Gramdan brochure; courtesy WRI/London

Editor’s Preface: This article is the introduction to a special brochure published by WRI in 1969, Gramdan: The Land Revolution of India. We are posting under this date several essays from this publication. Although definitions of Gramdan and Bhoodan are given in some of the texts it might be handy to note here that Gramdan referred to a landowner’s donation of title of parcels of his land to the poor, while Bhoodan was communal or shared ownership by a village of donated land. Please also consult the Glossary at the end of each article. Further notes about authors, etc, are also found at the ends of articles. JG

The Gramdan Movement is not very well known outside India. There are people who have visited Gramdan areas, met some Sarvodaya workers and even worked in the Movement for sometime. Some of them have been impressed by the philosophy behind it and even consider it realistic but have been disappointed by the actual achievements of the Movement. Some think it to be purely Utopian. There are others who are moved by the humanitarian aspect, but who fail to grasp the political and social revolutionary elements. Very few people have yet been able to see Gramdan—the land revolution, as I would like to call it—in its totality, within the context of what is happening, and what is not happening, all over the world at the present time.

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Vinoba Bhave’s Gramdan Movement

by Siddharaj Dhadda

Vinoba Bhave on a Gramdan march; courtesy

Way back in 1951, the Telangana region, of what is now the Indian State of Andhra Pradesh, was seething with agrarian discontent. Vinoba [Bhave] started a walking tour of the area. Every day he went from one village to another, meeting people, talking to them and trying to understand their problems. On 18th April, three days after he had started from Hyderabad, Vinoba arrived in the village of Pochampally. As usual he went from house to house hearing the grievances of the people. Narrating their tales of woe, the poor, landless labourers asked him to give them some land so that they could eke out their existence. At the afternoon gathering, Vinoba pleaded for the landless and asked if some landowner would come forward with some land to be given to the poor. Moved by their plight, and the appeal of Vinoba, Ramachandra Reddy, a local landowner, immediately announced a gift of 100 acres of land.

As Vinoba said later, that night he was sleepless. He went over the day’s events again and again. He saw the message underlying it. Mal-distribution of land was, and continues to be, one of the major problems in almost all Asian countries. China had to use force to solve this problem. In Japan, General Douglas MacArthur intervened through legislation. Perhaps India could show a third way, the way of love, compassion, and nonviolence!

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The Challenge of Gramdan

by Manmohan Choudhuri

Logo of Vinoba Bhave’s Sarva Seva Sangh; courtesy

The quantitative achievements of the Gramdan Movement have been impressive in the last three years. At the moment we have nearly eighty thousand Gramdans, eleven districts (with populations ranging from four hundred thousand to four million) in which at least eighty-five per cent of the villages have opted for Gramdan, and six states in which the supporters of the movement have taken a pledge to achieve Gramdan in all their districts and thus have what has commonly come to be known as Gift of the State (Rajyadan), and this during 1959, the centenary year of Gandhi’s birth. [See Glossary at the end of the article for definitions of Gramdan, Sarvodaya, et al.]

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Gramdan and Shanti Sena

by Narayan Desai

Cover illustration courtesy

If the ultimate objective of Gramdan is to replace the present centralised state with decentralised village republics, the objective of the Shanti Sena is to replace the police and the army with a nonviolent volunteer force. Therefore, Gramdan and Shanti Sena are very closely interrelated. [See the Glossary at the end of the article.] Shanti Sena began as an offshoot of the Gramdan movement. Vinoba Bhave, who was walking in Kerala State in 1957, was concerned about the violent disturbances, which had spread after the reorganisation of states in India. Some riots took place very close to the Gramdan villages. “If they spread among the Gramdan villages,” Vinoba pondered, “the whole purpose of Gramdan will be lost. We must build a nonviolent army to defend the Gramdan villages from violence.”

Before he died Gandhi had outlined his concept of Shanti Sena. When Vinoba started on his march to Hyderabad in 1951, where he hit upon the idea of Bhoodan (land gift), he described himself as a volunteer of the Shanti Sena. A few years later when he was in Kerala he organised the first batch of Shanti Sena volunteers. During the eleven years since the launching of the Sena, it has grown into one of the major voluntary peace movements in India. On the other side Bhoodan has grown into Gramdan, Block-dan and District-dan. Both Gramdan and Shanti Sena are part of the larger movement called Sarvodaya. For the first five years most of the volunteers who joined the Shanti Sena were Bhoodan workers and it is only since 1962—after the clash with China—that more and more people outside the Bhoodan movement have joined it.

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Report on Nonviolent Resistance in the District of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, Haute-Loire, France during the War 1939-1945

by André Trocmé

André Trocmé; courtesy

Editor’s Preface: In 1952, at the WRI meeting of the International Council, the idea originated to publish a book of accounts on nonviolent resistance to the WWII German occupation. In January 1953 Grace Beaton, WRI’s General Secretary, sent a series of letters to the WRI chapters in twenty countries, asking them for personal accounts or knowledge of instances of nonviolent resistance during the war. Thirteen of these chapters replied, but only a handful of the accounts were about nonviolent resistance. The book was never published. As a consequence this article has remained unpublished until now. The most successful examples of nonviolent resistance were the reports sent from France about Le Chambon by André Trocmé, and Violette Mouchon’s account of the French youth organization La Cimade. Both paint a vivid picture of Christian pacifists who, amid horrendous violence and with great personal courage, remained loyal to their nonviolent principles. Pastor André Trocmé (1901-1971) was the spiritual leader of the Protestant Huguenot congregation in the village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon in the Haute-Loire region of Southeastern France not far from the Swiss border. In the early thirties he and his wife Magda (1901-1996) had been “banished” to this remote village because of their pacifist convictions. When in June 1940 France was occupied, Trocmé urged his congregation to shelter persecuted fugitives. Le Chambon and the surrounding villages became a unique refuge place in France, where many Jews, children and entire families, survived the war. In 1971 Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial Center in Israel, recognized André as Righteous among the Nations. In 1986 Magda Trocmé was also recognized. Several years later Yad Vashem honored Le Chambon and the neighboring villages and towns with an engraved stele in Le Chambon’s memorial park. Le Chambon’s and the Trocmés’ nonviolent resistance does not lessen the efforts of La Cimade. In October 1939, the YMCA, the Protestant scouting movement and the Federation of Christian Student Associations founded La Cimade (Comité Inter-Mouvements auprès des Évacués–the Joint Committee for Refugees), an organization originally dedicated to helping people who had been evacuated from the bordering provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. The goal of La Cimade, as it still is today, was to show solidarity with refugees and oppressed people by being “present” with them. During the war they did a good bit more than that, as they set up safe houses for persecuted refugees and managed to smuggle hundreds of Jews across the Swiss border. The original was written in English. Please consult the notes at the end for archival references. Gertjan Cobelens

Jewish children hidden in Le Chambon, 1942; courtesy

The WRI Report

Spontaneously, as soon as German Military Police, Vichy Government police and the Gestapo started to arrest political refugees (singly at first, then in groups), the Jews and the young men who were hiding to avoid working for the Germans, the resistance of the population all over France manifested itself. Its very spontaneity made it invulnerable, but that is all the more reason why it is practically impossible to tell its story; for it consists of a multitude of courageous acts by individuals.

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French Nonviolent Resistance during World War II

by Magda Trocmé

Editor’s Preface: Magda Grilli (1901-1996) was born in Italy of an Italian mother and a Russian father. She married André Trocmé in 1926. They had 4 children. She has been much honored from her nonviolent resistance to the German occupation during WWII, and especially for her role in saving an estimated 3500 Jews, mostly children, by both housing them in her home and helping to smuggle them over the border into Switzerland.  The two were named Righteous Among the Nations, an honorific granted by Israel for those non-Jews who played a role in saving Jews from the Holocaust. Lesser known is her work in Morocco during the Algerian War for independence against France, during which she helped start, with the Mennonites, Eirene, a counseling center for conscientious objectors. JG

Trocmé family, c. 1939; courtesy

Moral responsibility during the war was a terrible thing for the state officials. My youngest son came back from Italy August 27, 1951, many years after the war, and still a gendarme looking at his passport at the border said, “Trocmé? Are you the son of Pasteur Trocmé?”

“Yes,” said Daniel, very surprised.

“I was told during the war when I was at Le Chambon to go and arrest your father, but I managed not to do it because it was a dirty job.”

Yes, it was a dirty job, and that man managed not to do it; but how many others had to do dirty jobs because they were officials? Some of them believed that the government was right and that they had to obey even if the government was wrong, as a soldier obeys even when he feels that war is wrong. We had two interesting experiences of this kind with M. Bach, Prefect of the Haute Loire and with the captain of the gendarmerie in Le Puy. Both of them have been the executors of an unjust law and both of them asked for help later on when the situation had changed, when those who had been arrested had become powerful and free.

It was February 13th, 1943, around 7 o’clock in the evening when two gendarmes knocked at the door of the old presbytery in Chambon-sur-Lignon. They asked whether Pastor Trocmé were there. I answered that he had a meeting and would be back later, but that I could answer all their questions because I knew all about my husband’s work. They said that it was something very personal and they would prefer waiting. I took them to my husband’s office and forgot all about them; we had so much work to do and so little time to waste!

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Resistance or Christian Witness: CIMADE at Work under the Occupation

by Violette Mouchon

Editor’s Preface: This article is an unpublished English translation of an article Violette Muchon wrote for the French journal Réforme. The French original appeared in early 1945, that is, before the German surrender in April 1945. This translation was sent to WRI/London in 1951 for a proposed book on WWII nonviolent resistance, which was never published. Her translation retains the present tenses of the original French, and is a moving report from the field of extraordinary courage in appalling circumstances. We are honored to be able to post it. Further information about Violette Mouchon can be found in the Editor’s Note at the end. JG

A Cimade internment camp office; courtesy of

Occupied France… The crooked cross on our monuments… the hand of the occupier weighing heavily, invisible, on the Vichy government.

The system of concentration camps extended over the whole of France. The German authorities are interning in the Unoccupied Zone the political refugees from Spain and those who fled from Germany and Central Europe via Holland, Belgium, Northern France, and lastly Southern France. Jewish deportees also started to flow into these camps and by 1940 the camps in the Unoccupied Zone already held more than 70,000 internees.

Now, in October 1939, the Protestant Youth Movements: the Y.M.C.A. and the Y.W.C. A., the Scouts, and the Federation of Christian Student Associations, had founded an organisation of Christian witness and assistance, The Joint Committee for Evacuees, known by the abbreviation CIMADE, which was ready to work in the areas affected by the war.

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André Trocmé and the French Nonviolent Resistance to the WWII German Occupation

by Peace News

André & Magda Trocmé, Chambon, 1941; courtesy

André Trocmé was almost a pacifist when he was called up into the French Army in the 1920’s. He was in a geographical survey unit in which he hoped he would not have to bear arms. On landing in Morocco, where a rebellion was in progress, he was issued with a rifle, which he returned, and he proceeded into the desert unarmed. His action was discovered when an inspection took place several hundred miles from the coast.

After listening to Trocmé’s explanation an officer told him that he should have known sooner that he was obliged to carry a rifle. Now he was an integral part of a group of 25 men who might be called upon to defend themselves with arms. If the group were attacked he would be indicted before a military court as a deserter. Happily the group was not attacked. Trocmé had learned his lesson and became a fully convinced conscientious objector.

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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