Pacifism

Book Review: The Root of War Is Fear: Thomas Merton’s Advice to Peacemakers

by David M. Craig

Dustwrapper art courtesy Orbis Books; orbisbooks.com

Jim Forest has written a deeply personal book, The Root of War Is Fear: Thomas Merton’s Advice to Peacemakers (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2016). It is personal in two ways. First, the book is a memoir of Forest’s encounters with Merton during the 1960s. A co-founder of the Catholic Peace Fellowship and former managing editor of The Catholic Worker, Forest stumbled upon Merton’s spiritual autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain in late 1959 when he was still in the United States Navy. Up until Merton’s untimely death in 1968, Forest corresponded with Merton and visited him at his Trappist monastery in Kentucky. The book’s chapters proceed chronologically, weaving substantial excerpts from Merton’s writings on peace and war into an assessment of his intellectual, moral, and spiritual significance for the Catholic Church, peace activists, and Forest himself.

Second, the book locates the beating heart of Merton’s transformative influence in a Christian personalism. This theology affirms that every person is God’s child, while revealing each person as woefully self-justifying yet still redeemed in Jesus Christ. Merton’s theology manifests in vivid flashes of writing, not abstract doctrinal statements like this one. For example, Merton decided to intervene more publicly in contemporary debates following his 1958 epiphany on a Louisville street corner. Merton recounts how the “illusory difference” of human separateness vanished in a rush of unbounded joy that “God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race.” He continues, “There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun… There are no strangers… If only we could see each other [as we really are] all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed… I suppose the big problem is that we would fall down and worship each other.” (17-18, ellipses and brackets are Forest’s.)

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History of U.S. War Tax Resistance

by War Resisters League

Dustwrapper art courtesy www.warresisters.org

Refusing to pay taxes for war is probably as old as the first taxes levied for warfare. We offer below a summary of such protest, which is to say it does not include other forms of tax refusal and resistance, a common tactic in worldwide labor movements, for example, or in various anti-colonial protests including such well-known examples as the Boston Tea Party.

Indeed, until World War II, war tax resistance in the U.S. manifested itself primarily among members of the historic peace churches — Quakers, Mennonites, and Brethren — and usually only during times of war. There have been instances of people refusing to pay taxes for war in virtually every American war, but it was not until World War II and the establishment of a permanent, centralized U.S. military (symbolized by the building of the Pentagon) that the modern war tax resistance movement was born.

Colonial America

One of the earliest known instances of war tax refusal took place in 1637 when the relatively peaceable Algonquin Indians opposed taxation by the Dutch to help improve their local Fort Amsterdam. Shortly after the Quakers arrived in America (1656) there were a number of individual instances of war tax resistance. For example, in 1709 the Quaker Assembly refused a request of £4000 for a military expedition into Canada, replying, “It is contrary to our religious principles to hire men to kill one another.”

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Reflections on Thoreau and War Tax Resistance

by Lawrence Rosenwald

Poster art of Thoreau courtesy pinterest.com

Doing tax resistance has for me been connected with thinking about Thoreau, whose works I often teach in my classes. I used not to teach “Civil Disobedience,” but only Walden; although I admired “Civil Disobedience” very much, but couldn’t bring myself to teach it. It is an essay intended as an argument; I knew that if I taught it I would present it as an argument, as an argument I found reasonable and compelling, and then, I thought, some alert and nervy student would ask, “If you think it’s such a good argument then why are you paying your taxes?” And then I’d either mutter something about how times have changed, or say I was a coward, and I knew I wouldn’t like myself in either case. But when my wife and I began doing tax resistance, I began to teach “Civil Disobedience,” and in fact teaching it — not proselytizing with it, but teaching it on a footing of equality — is among the rewards doing tax resistance has brought me.

So I want to talk about Thoreau, first, and about the ideas his tax resistance came from; and then about myself, as someone who finds Thoreau’s stance attractive but who knows that, after all, times have changed, and that doing tax resistance now is different from doing it then, and grimmer; and generally about why so many people with political views similar to mine don’t find Thoreau attractive or at any rate don’t do tax resistance, and how this can perhaps be changed.

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War Tax Resistance

by National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee

Poster art courtesy nwtrcc.org

Editor’s Preface: This article continues our series of statements of purpose by various nonviolence organizations. The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC) is a coalition of U.S. local, regional, and national groups and individuals supporting, as they state, “individuals who refuse to pay for war, and promoting U. S. war tax resistance in the context of a broad range of nonviolent strategies for social change.” Their website is a primary source of information on war tax resistance, including tactics and legal consequences. Please see the note at the end for acknowledgments, further information, and links. JG

What is War Tax Resistance?

War tax resistance means refusing to pay some or all of the federal taxes that pay for war. While you can refuse income tax legally by lowering your taxable income, for many people war tax resistance involves civil disobedience. In the U.S. war tax resisters refuse to pay some or all of their federal income tax and/or other taxes, such as the federal excise tax on local telephone service. Income taxes and excise taxes are destined for the government’s general fund and about half of that money goes for military spending, including weapons of war and weapons of mass destruction. Through the redirection of our tax dollars, war tax resisters contribute directly to the struggle for peace and justice.

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Nonviolence: A Style of Politics for Peace

by Pope Francis

Giotto, “St. Francis Preaching to the Birds”; courtesy jssincivita.com.

Editor’s Preface: The following is the official Papal message for the 50th World Day of Peace, 1 January 2017. It is, however, the first such ever devoted exclusively to nonviolence, in the tradition of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. JG

1. At the beginning of this New Year, I offer heartfelt wishes of peace to the world’s peoples and nations, to heads of state and government, and to religious, civic and community leaders. I wish peace to every man, woman and child, and I pray that the image and likeness of God in each person will enable us to acknowledge one another as sacred gifts endowed with immense dignity. Especially in situations of conflict, let us respect this, our “deepest dignity”, (1) and make active nonviolence our way of life.

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Editorial: Peace Be with You

by Joseph Geraci

Edward Hicks painting, c. 1823, from the Peaceable Kingdom series; courtesy Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum.

Peace has been for centuries a universal greeting and sign. We may recall that the World War II military victory V-sign was transformed in the 1960s into a peace symbol; signs of the times. Peace was always more than a simple hello; it was a bestowal of peace on someone, a blessing. In the Middle East, for example, that area of the world so riven by violence, it is perhaps not so strange an irony that a common greeting is (in Hebrew) shalom aleikhem (Peace be with you), and the reply aleikhem shalom (Peace also be with you). In Arabic it is as-sal alaykum (Peace be with you), common to Muslims in Turkey, Indonesia, Central Asia, Iran, India, et al. The response is as-salamu alaykum, and can also be translated as “Peace also be with you”.

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Peace on Earth: The Street Spirit Interview with Country Joe McDonald, Part Three

by Terry Messman

Album cover art courtesy allmusic.com

We’re still struggling as a species with how we can stop war. The families (of Vietnam veterans) were so grateful that anybody would acknowledge their sacrifice. And I don’t mean sacrifice in a clichéd way. The war had reached out and struck their family in a horrible, terrible way.” Country Joe McDonald

Street Spirit: You have been deeply involved in supporting military veterans, but there’s a saying that no good deed goes unpunished. Did Bill O’Reilly of Fox News actually compare you to Fidel Castro because you organized a Veteran’s Day event in 2005 that involved the Gold Star Families for Peace?

Country Joe McDonald: Yeah, he did that! He did say that! He said on his show that me doing a Veteran’s Day event in Berkeley was like having Fidel Castro in charge of it, after we got publicity because we wanted to have a Gold Star father speak in one of our Veteran’s Day events.

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Singing of Liberation: The Street Spirit Interview with Country Joe McDonald, Part Four

by Terry Messman

Woody Guthrie poster courtesy countryjoe.com

I knew a lot of the people had to escape or they were killed by the junta in Chile. It was just tragic and terrible. I had grown up with a full knowledge of the viciousness of imperialism from my socialist parents. So I knew that, but I was still shocked.” Country Joe McDonald

Street Spirit: Robert W. Service called his poems about war “songs from the slaughter mill.” How did it happen that an acid-rock musician of the Vietnam era transformed poems written about World War I into a powerful musical statement in your album War War War?

Country Joe McDonald: When I got out of the Navy and was going to Los Angeles State College, I got a job working in East L.A. at a breaded fish factory. When I was coming home from work, I stopped at a used bookstore, and I saw a book called Rhymes of a Red Cross Man. I took it home and read the poems by Robert W. Service. His brother was killed in World War I and he himself was a Red Cross man during the war — a stretcher-bearer and ambulance driver. I knew about his frivolous, entertaining poems set in the Yukon, like “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” But I was really struck by his poems about war; they’re very different. I just thought they were great.

Spirit: Why were his poems so meaningful to you?

McDonald: They were poignant or humorous poems that were approaching war from different points of view. I just liked them and I thought they were really good. And I liked the little watercolor paintings that illustrated it. One particular poem, “The Ballad of Jean Desprez,” really affected me.

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Carrying on the Spirit of Peace and Love

by Terry Messman

Cover of Country Joe’s album, designed by Jane Fonda, sold for benefit of Free The Army’s anti-war performance troupe; courtesy thestreetspirit.org

Country Joe McDonald has carried on the spirit of the 1960s by singing for peace and justice, speaking against war and environmental damage, and advocating fair treatment for military veterans and homeless people.

The summer of 1967 was a moment when a utopian vision of peace and love seemed to be just over the horizon — or even down the next aisle in a record store. On June 1, 1967, the Beatles released the album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, It seemed to herald a new day when love would overcome the injustices and cruelty of a world plagued by war, poverty and racial discrimination. “With our love, with our love, we could save the world — if they only knew,” George Harrison sang on “Within You Without You.”

Only two weeks later (June 16-18, 1967) the Monterey International Pop Festival brought together an extraordinary gathering of some of the most creative and innovative musical artists in the world, including Jimi Hendrix, the Who, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Otis Redding, Booker T. & the MGs, Ravi Shankar, Canned Heat, the Electric Flag, the Mamas and the Papas, the Byrds, the Animals, and Country Joe and the Fish.

Taken together, those two momentous events — the Beatles’ imaginative and beautiful album, and the epochal gathering of legendary artists at Monterey — seemed to announce the dawning of a rebellious and visionary counterculture. The first rays of sunlight in the darkness of a world at war. It now may seem like a half-remembered fragment of a dream, but those days were filled with the hope that momentous social change might emerge suddenly from almost any protest, and breathtaking moments of beauty could be found in almost any music store or concert hall.

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Book Review: Nonviolent Resistance to the Nazis

by Gertjan Cobelens

Dustwrapper art courtesy youcaxton.co.uk

But what about World War II? It is considered the ultimate trump card in any debate on the effectiveness of nonviolent resistance. Not entirely by accident, it is also the title of an IFOR brochure on this very question. (1) It was President Obama’s main defense for his justification of the use of force in his acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize. It was one of the main stumbling blocks for Martin Luther King Jr. towards embracing nonviolence, and it is the standard reaction of most people involved in government and the military to suggestions of implementing forms of nonviolent civil defense. The implication, of course, is that the Nazi regime was so violent and abhorrent that it could only be stopped by brute force. The other side of the coin, though, is that if one could argue successfully that some forms of nonviolent resistance did prove viable during WWII, it would follow that these strategies would be effective under most circumstances.

That was what the War Resisters’ International set out to demonstrate when, in 1952, they embarked on the idea to put together a book on accounts of nonviolent resistance. Although the WRI succeeded in amassing some first-class examples, the amount of material collected was deemed insufficient to be published as a book. (2) Others followed suit, such as Gene Sharp in his 1958 Peace News Pamphlet Tyranny Could Not Quell Them, in which he detailed the successful non-cooperation campaign by the teachers of Norway, and Jacques Sémelin’s Unarmed Against Hitler: Civilian Resistance in Europe 1939-1943. (3).

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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