By Chuck Fager
I. A Letter from Lincoln
Reflecting on the Kosovo war as a Quaker, a recent joke came to mind:
Question: What did one paradigm say to the other paradigm?
Answer: Shift happens.
What sorts of shifts does Kosovo confront us with? There are at least five that I have noticed and want to mention here. The first and most obvious appeared on the U.S. political horizon:
When, for instance, was the last time we found the American Friends Service Committee, the American Legion, and Patrick Buchanan all on the same side of an issue? Yet there they were, united in vigorous opposition to the war. Indeed, if anything, the Quaker groups were the moderates in this lineup. The Legion loudly demanded immediate US withdrawal, and Buchanan along with a band of born-again conservative Congressional peaceniks like Rep. Tom DeLay vehemently insisted that the war was nothing less than immoral.
On the other side, left-liberals like U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone and Rep. Bernie Sanders, and in Europe the German Green Party, which first gained the political spotlight with a campaign against NATO missiles, were among the war’s supporters. The list of such strange bedfellows on each side could be extended for several pages.
Some of this, of course, may be no more than partisan politics by other means. Yet my own sense is that beyond the usual jockeying, there is a legitimate basis for this bewildering mix of support and opposition. This war highlighted a broader confusion among policymakers and active citizens alike. Encrypted in the arguments for the war, bubbling under their surface, was a whole turbulent ideological stew:
Memories of Munich and the Holocaust;
Fumbling steps toward what is called a “New World Order”;
Embarrassment over failures to stop genocide in Rwanda, Bosnia and elsewhere;
The self-identification of the US and NATO as the bearers and defenders of truly “civilized” values;
The self-ascribed global duties of the “world’s only superpower” (with its closest allies);
And even lingering movie images of the lone sheriff bringing law and order to an untamed frontier.
This multi-leveled confusion has affected Friends more than many of us may care to admit. The shifting paradigm most troubling to many Quakers, however, was identified as long ago as 1864, by no less a personage than Abraham Lincoln.
After three years of Civil War, Lincoln wrote to Friend Eliza Gurney, who had visited and prayed for peace with him at the White House two years earlier.
“We hoped,” Lincoln wrote, “for a happy termination of this terrible war long before this, but God knows best and has ruled otherwise. We shall yet acknowledge His wisdom and our own error therein, and meanwhile we must work earnestly in the best light He gives us, trusting that so working still conduces to the great ends He ordains….
“Your people, the Friends,” Lincoln continued, “have had and are having a very great trial. On principle and faith opposed to both war and oppression, they can only practically oppose oppression by war. In this dilemma, some have chosen one horn of the dilemma, and some the other.”
There is, of course, a rationalizing subtext in Lincoln’s note. First the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Army shifts responsibility for the war to God. Then he deftly begs the pacifist’s unspoken question of whether there was not some way to escape his version of the dilemma, and to “practically” oppose oppression without war.
At the same time, the letter shows Lincoln’s shrewd political insight: It is a fact of our history that while Friends’ corporate opposition to war “in general” has never really wavered, it has been a different story when it came to wars in particular. Many individual Quakers have often had trouble opposing specific wars, especially those waged in pursuit of what these Friends felt was a worthy goal, or against a monstrous evil.
Some Quaker statements on the Kosovo war I have seen and heard have reflected this ambiguity. Most have urged a halt to hostilities, but some have done so in a curiously muted way. This should not be surprising. For many, Kosovo resurrected the same dilemma Lincoln defined:
The Serbian “ethnic cleansing” under Slobodan Milosevic seemed like a repetition of the darkest chapters of a dark century. The US-led NATO war, however clumsily destructive, was intended to stop it.
Oppression vs. war; one horn or the other.
If a poll were taken among those U.S. Friends who vocally opposed, say, the Gulf War of 1990-91, I believe it would show them (or rather us) to be distinctly divided this time, with a significant number leaning definitely, if quietly and with misgivings, toward the view that the war, however unfortunate and ugly, may have been the lesser of available evils.
As Lincoln’s letter suggests, such division of opinion would not really be a new phenomenon. It has even cropped up among Friends who stuck by the traditional refusal to take part individually.
Listen, again, to two of Lincoln’s Quaker contemporaries, who struggled with this dilemma: First the poet John Greenleaf Whittier, probably the best known Friend of his time, writing to a local newspaper:
“No one who knows me can doubt my deep sympathy with the united North, and with those who, with a different idea of duty from my own, are making generous sacrifices of person and property; but as a settled believer in the principles of the Society of Friends, I can do nothing at a time like this beyond mitigating to the extent of my power, the calamities and suffering attendant upon war, and accepting cheerfully my allotted share of the privation and trial growing out of it.”
(Actually, Whittier rather understated his willingness to act on his Union sympathies; his weaponry may have been confined to verse, but he was an active and very effective propagandist for the Northern war effort.)
Or Lucretia Mott, writing after a cousin was killed in battle: “If, by this means, these cruelties [of slavery] can be arrested and an end drawn…to man’s claim of property in his fellow man, we need not ‘be troubled’ knowing that ‘these things must needs be’….My faith however in the superior force of the ‘mighty weapons’ that ‘are not carnal’ is unshaken.”
More recently, the overall response of U.S. Quaker COs in World War Two was rather similar: a personal refusal to bear arms, but combined with a foreswearing of public protest, indicating a resigned acceptance of the war’s unavoidability, if not its legitimacy in the face of Nazi and Japanese tyranny.
(Parenthetically, when it comes to Kosovo this reluctant, lesser-of-two-evils attitude seems to me reflected outside our ranks as well, in the somber and relatively restrained statements and demeanor of no less a protagonist than President Clinton. His subdued approach to warmaking was especially notable when one recalls the orgy of jingoism and war fever that was consciously whipped up by the Bush administration after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. No doubt this was an appropriate posture for the president who was a Vietnam draft evader; he would hardly be credible acting the part of the bellicose crusader. But for whatever reason, we have thus far been spared the plague of yellow ribbons this time around, and I thank god for that, as long as it lasts.
II. War & Peace Cops vs. Generals
But there is an additional level of complexity for Quakers regarding Kosovo which needs to be teased out, a third paradigm that may be shifting out from under us, making our footing uncertain. Again this can be illuminated by a glance into Quaker history:
While early Friends regularly denounced war as an instrument of state policy, they also generally upheld the place and role of what they called “the magistrate,” in enforcing what we would now think of as “law and order” within a society.
This distinction can perhaps be usefully summed up as “the Cops versus the Generals.” Early Friends were anxious to dispense with generals and armies; but they weren’t in such a hurry to get rid of the cops. Fox among others more than once quoted scripture (cf. Romans 13: 3-4; 1 Peter 2:14) to the effect that “magistrates,” local authorities were divinely sanctioned as “a terror to evil-doers,” who did not “bear the sword in vain.” (As the Quaker community gained acceptance and wealth, its concern for “law and order” increased, as does that of most people with something to lose.)
Of course, in practice there have often been gray areas and overlaps between the two realms of the cops and the generals. The necessity to draw lines between them has made for recurrent headaches for the weighty Friends called upon both to uphold a peace testimony and to survive as a community in a tough world.
To take one obscure but apposite example: in 1705, the Meeting for Sufferings of London Yearly Meeting was asked to adjudicate a dispute among Friends on the Caribbean island of Antigua. Island officials, fearing a French invasion, were building various fortifications, posting sentinels and training a militia. They had offered Friends there the option of helping with some of the construction work, as well as keeping watch, in lieu of serving directly in the armed militia.
Older Friends were ready to accept this arrangement as a reasonable accommodation of their pacifist scruples. But then a group of young radicals loudly dissented, insisting that such supposedly nonmilitary efforts were in fact “all one,” of a piece with the military effort, and all were contrary to Quaker convictions. The two groups could not resolve this difference, so both factions appealed to London for support.
Meeting for Sufferings took awhile to respond; were its members squirming? I wonder.
But in the end, being the Establishment, they sided with the older Friends, arguing that keeping watch and helping build walls were not inherently warlike, but were simply prudent precautions that good neighbors owed each other under the Golden Rule.
Who was right? Or, suppose you (or I) were on meeting for Sufferings who would we have sided with?
Today many believe our planet is increasingly resembling that island of Antigua, more and more of an inescapably close-knit community than a collection of heterogeneous sovereignties, each a law unto itself. In this globalized context, NATO’s Kosovo action can be portrayed as more an attempt at international law enforcement than as a specimen of traditional warfare.
But if so, then perhaps NATO’s bombing campaign, however bloody, was not really a “war” it was the work of the cops rather than the generals (even though, admittedly, it was the generals we saw every night describing its course). And if that is a plausible interpretation, then perhaps a Friend could accept or even affirm its necessity and rough justice, much the way Meeting for Sufferings okayed the general defensive precautions on Antigua, without thereby abandoning our traditional peace testimony.
Such a line of argument seeks to escape Lincoln’s dilemma by redefining it out of existence: We Quakers don’t really have to choose between war and oppression, because, if it is fought against grave “oppression,” such a campaign isn’t really a “war.”
To be sure, it is easy to find Friends who, like the young Antigua dissenters, would reject this whole “world cop” notion as an abandonment, even a sellout, of 350 years of Quaker pacifism. To them Kosovo is “all one” with other wars, of a piece with Vietnam and Desert Storm, no more than another bloody example of American militarism and imperialist pretensions running amok.
Jeremy Mott was one: “These days,” he recently wrote in Friends Journal, “I have the same gut feeling that I had in 1965,” about an impending, expanding war. Mott was a Quaker draft resister during Vietnam. “Please pray that I am wrong,” he pleads. But who can say that he is?
The Friends Committee on National Legislation was another. In an April 29 letter to US Senators, it declared flatly that, “Continuing the U.S.-led NATO bombing, or escalating U.S. military action with more bombing or ground forces, would be like throwing gasoline on a burning house to put out the fire. The U.S. risks destroying Kosovo to save it.” FCNL goes on to echo the American Legion and Patrick Buchanan by calling for withdrawal of US forces from the area.
Even conservative columnist Thomas Sowell was unimpressed by the world cop rationale: “Perhaps the most dangerous of all legacies left to the United States, to NATO and the world [by Kosovo],” he wrote, “is the notion that our role is to launch military interventions whenever television puts horrible pictures on the screen at dinnertime. There is a staggering amount of evil in this world, but a finite amount of Americans.” (from the Orange County Register, 6/20/1999)
Yet there are in fact thoughtful Friends who have adopted the world cop view, at least in principle. One is Daniel Seeger, the Executive Director of Pendle Hill, formerly a career executive for the American Friends Service Committee, and a very weighty Friend. Writing in 1995 (in A Continuing Journey) on the character of Quaker peace witness in a “post-Cold War world,” he concludes:
“It is my conviction that if progress is to be made in…the prevention of ethnic violence; and the ending of the arms trade and arms profiteering such progress will require development of a body of international law governing these matters and a capacity of the international community to enforce these laws on behalf of the common good. It seems to me that this will involve some sort of international police force…to intervene when, in the power vacuum created by the collapse of empires, ethnic strife breaks out.”
Seeger hastens to admit that there are risks associated with this concept, and urges Friends to begin thinking these questions through in a deliberate and searching way, especially the task of designing safeguards against the abuse of such power.
Indeed. One can hear the skeptics already: designing such “safeguards” will be no small task. If police forces are so benign, it will be asked, why is there such a continuing plague of cases of notorious and atrocious police abuse? What about the 41 bullets pumped into Amadou Diallo, and the brutalization of Abner Louima by New York cops? Or California’s Mark Fuhrman, whose chilling habit of faking evidence against persons of color helped acquit O.J. Simpson, to take only a few recent examples?
The record of violent police misconduct is long and daunting. It could easily be argued that police forces are just as dangerous as armies, except for the fact that they’re smaller.
However risky it might be, though, Quakers are not the only ones pondering the world cop idea. At the US Army War College, there is now a Peacekeeping Institute, which helps train American and other military commanders for the growing category of “peacekeeping” operations they are being ordered to perform.
Some pacifists might regard this venture as just warmaking with better spin control, and they are not alone. One Friend who has worked in Kosovo, David Hartsough of San Francisco, argues that, “Instead of troops, the international community should send thousands of civilian peace monitors to Kosovo. Trained in peacemaking, relationship-building and community development, this “peace army” would monitor the agreement and help refugees rebuild their lives. The monitors also would help rebuild the institutions of civil society that an autonomous, democratic Kosovo will need, including independent media and a civilian justice system.”
But the fiercest opponents of the Peacekeeping Institute, and the concept it attempts to embody, are not peaceniks, but come from within the military itself. Many senior officers consider such missions a frivolous, politically-driven debasement of the serious, old-fashioned war-fighting that armies are intended for. Paradigms, it seems, don’t shift any more easily in the military than among pacifists.
But despite the grumbling, in uniform and out, this concept isn’t going away. The Kosovo “peace plan” involves another such mission, a substantial, long-term and hazardous one at that.
Does the Kosovo campaign embody what Seeger had in mind? What, after the three months of the war (or whatever it might be called), can Friends make of it?
For myself, while the “world cop” idea has a certain plausibility, it still seems very risky. Here are some of the hazards its current incarnation seems to carry:
Do we know what kind of “law and order” NATO is out to enforce? I don’t. There was no United Nations authorization. A NATO protectorate is being established in Kosovo, amounting to an occupation. How long, and at what cost, can such an arrangement be sustained?
Indeed, will this “victory” be worth the longer-term cost? The price in lives was high and is still rising. Casualties aside, Yugoslavia has by all reports been set back decades economically by the bombing. Beyond the Balkans, this war seems to have called into very serious question the relations between the US, Europe, and such powers as Russia, China, and even India. Will we end up trading an enforced stability in one small province for a much more dangerous instability on a much larger stage?
Or, to pursue the “what if” one step further, what if the present arrangement falls apart? What might that mean? We can get some clues, I think, from the fact that it was the Pentagon, not mobs of protesting peaceniks, who raised the fiercest objections to earlier plans for US military intervention in the Balkans. They did this quietly, “through channels,” but it was no secret, and was confirmed to me by an experienced military planner over a year ago. This is an important point, I think.
The basis of the generals’ unease was that the region presents many difficulties and traps for a military mission; I believe the word “quagmire” has been mentioned. This assessment was repeated for all the world to read on June 3, in the New York Times’ account of President Clinton’s meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“Among Pentagon strategists,” reads the dispatch, “there are strong reservations about an invasion that could quickly become mired in the Balkans with no clear exit in sight.”
A few paragraphs later, the point is repeated: “From the start, the chiefs have expressed reservations about NATO’s strategy and ever deeper misgivings about the prospects of an invasion, which would require thousands of troops and would risk significant casualties. On the 71st day of the air campaign, those views have not changed, the officials said.”
Nevertheless, the generals will follow orders.
In short, the situation, calamitous as it already has been, could easily become disastrous.
This is a worst-case scenario, of course. On the other side, maybe Milosevic has been decisively defeated, and NATO’s protectorate will portend and enable a quiet recovery. The Albanian Kosovars have returned, and rebuilding is reportedly beginning. The cop may win this round with the bad guy after all.
What might all this mean for Friends? Is there a useful place for our Quaker peace witness in light of such “world cop” efforts?
III. Facing A Few Uncomfortable Facts
In the political arena, I believe the honest answer to the question of what useful place Friends might have is, not much. Like most citizens of NATO countries, we were mainly spectators at this particular contest. To be sure, we drafted our minutes, penned our letters to Congress and the editor, and wrote checks to various relief groups. A few of us have even been to the Balkans, and a few more will probably go. A handful might even have been called by the pollsters who really seem to guide the ship of state.
All this is as it should be; but let’s not flatter ourselves: “Democracy” is at one of its weakest points when it comes to such ventures. As FCNL’s Joe Volk noted in a speech to a protest rally in early June, “President Clinton is in violation of important laws in Kosovo, as he is in Iraq: the U.S. Constitutional provision on the declaration of war, the U.S. War Powers Act, the UN Charter that requires UN Security Council authorization for the use of military force, and the Geneva Conventions and Protocols which prohibit the targeting of civilian infrastructure.” I would add, he not only violated or ignored all these laws, he also got away with it.
Stopping or changing a leadership bent on making war by public outcry is a long and difficult process. As for protests, Quakers did no more than other groups, and some others did it better. Furthermore, even if all Friends were of one mind about the war which we definitely were not our organized impact on the structures of power is so minuscule as to be negligible.
Furthermore, our potential impact has been additionally diluted by the fact that post-Vietnam presidents have become quite adept at techniques for neutralizing public unease about military ventures: They practice “safe war” in a manner not unlike what is called “safe sex.” (When it comes to war, of course, Quakers are strongly in favor of abstinence; but we also know that lapses occur.) The recipe, after all, is fairly simple:
- Skip the draft;
- Keep the wars short;
- Minimize American casualties, or better yet, avoid them entirely;
- Occupy the media with frequent, carefully choreographed briefings featuring high-tech videogame images of exploding buildings; and
- Let White House and Pentagon spinmeisters take care of the rest.
It works, you know.
All this puts Friends directly in the way of one more shifting paradigm. This one involves the whole understanding of our peace testimony, especially in the form of politically-oriented “activism,” which presumes that the world is moved from Washington, and it is our job above all to move those who move Washington.
North American Friends, and perhaps most British Quakers as well, are modern persons, the heirs of activist political traditions, part of larger societies which pride themselves on being able to Get Things Done. As William Penn put it so long ago, “True religion does not draw men [and women] out of the world but enables them to live better in it and excites their endeavors to mend it.”
When AIDS appears, we demand a cure. John Kennedy vows to put a man on the moon, and it happens; and so forth. When it comes to war, this description especially fits the Vietnam generation, which saw a vigorous antiwar movement form and make a difference: it would seem that some wars and some presidents can be stopped or at least impeded, eventually. Many of the highlights of Quaker history are of the same order: We were against slavery, and slavery is gone (except in places like the Sudan and a few other countries.) We wanted women to be able to vote, and now they can. In the U.S. we wanted the draft to end, and it did. (One might also, in fairness, add: we demanded Prohibition, and we got it; and it blew up in our faces.)
Nor is this attitude confined to liberals or radicals; it is just as common among modern “conservatives.” Are pornography and abortion considered abominations? They can be eradicated! They demanded the return of the death penalty, and it came back; etc.
You can find this outlook on both sides of the Kosovo issue: Supporters consider stopping the Serbian slaughter of innocents of a piece with this tradition: the bombing “worked”; now the forces of virtue and progress are moving to see Kosovo rebuilt, and the new world order advanced. Opponents, perhaps less confidently, yearned for a resurgence of mass protest which could have brought the bombing to a halt and forced an American withdrawal. Maybe next time.
Unfortunately, this model of peace witness does not fare very well in relation to many American wars not just Kosovo but the Gulf War, and World War Two. I am more and more inclined to think that Vietnam was the exception, and popular wars, in which protest is either ignored or suppressed, are the rule.
This conclusion was reached a few years ago by a distinguished Quaker historian, J. William Frost, Director of the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College. Writing in the same volume as Dan Seeger, Frost came at the activist view of peace witness obliquely, through several years of study aimed at finding an answer to the question, “has religion ever prevented or stopped a war?”
Or as he put it more pointedly, “is there historical evidence that religious leaders have stopped wars from beginning or shortened their duration?”
His sobering answer, in sum, is: No. there is very little such evidence.
The record of history, as Frost reviewed it, shows that a church “cannot prevent war, because it has neither theology, mission, nor the leverage in society to do so.” Even the largest, most “established” denominations have lacked much real leverage, he found. Much more often, even typically, churches blessed wars, and assured their various rulers that the deity was on their side.
Frost looked mainly at the record of weighty church powers, like the Vatican. But Friends have their own list of such war-preventing sorties as well:
In 1675, Nicholas Easton, the Quaker Lieutenant Governor of Rhode island, visited the Wampanoag chieftain Philip, in a bid to head off an Indian uprising. Philip agreed with Easton that “fighting was the worst way” to resolve the natives’ grievances. Nevertheless, what is called King Philip’s War soon broke out, and became the bloodiest conflict in New England’s history.
More than 150 years later, two wealthy British Friends visited the Czar, trying to prevent armed conflict between Russia and Britain. They too failed, and the Crimean War went on its bloody, pointless way. There are more examples, with very few different outcomes.
Frost adds that in our time, “there is little evidence that those in power…have paid much attention to what Quakers had to say about foreign and military policies. Longtime lobbyists for the Friends Committee on National Legislation, asked to point to the hard results of their decades of labor around Congress, can point only to a barely visible thumbprint here and there on federal policy.”
(By the way, if it’s any comfort, the Pope was vocally opposed to the Gulf War of 1990-91, as was the head of George Bush’s own Episcopalian church; you may recall how much difference they made.)
Based on this record, Frost calls for a revamping of our understanding of pacifism and the peace testimony. In particular, he writes, “I propose that Friends rethink and jettison the twentieth century linkage between service and peace.”
Under “service” Frost lumps most of the kinds of social-political activism Friends today are so familiar with. Note that he is not suggesting that we jettison efforts at service to which we might be called; they have their own value on their own terms. It is the link between them and something called “peacemaking” that he is dubious about. In fact, the very notion that a religious peace witness can prevent or stop wars is, he insists, a conceit of rather recent vintage, with little in the way of concrete achievement to support it. This is particularly true when this “service” is cast, as it so often has been, in effectively political terms of visible impact on legislation and government policy.
As an alternative to this politically-centered activism, Frost much prefers the Quaker pacifism of the Quietist era. “Then,” in his view, “pacifism was an integral but neither the defining nor most important ingredient in Quaker religious life.” This humbler conception was, he feels, also more realistic, more suited to the actual potential of Friends’ place in the world.
In theological terms, Frost is arguing for groups like Friends to serve as a sign, rather than a lobby or a pressure group. This stance was more like what theorists call nonresistance: “I cannot fight, and I cannot aid you who fight,” is Frost’s summary of the Quietist Friend’s responses when the draft notice came or the war tax bill arrived. Otherwise, they went on about their (often quite prosperous) business. The peace testimony, he says, was “not a strategy or technique for success;” its basis was simply obedience to what Friends thought was God’s will for them, for us.
Returning to Lincoln’s dilemma of oppression versus war, Friends of this persuasion would deal with it not by redefining it as Dan Seeger might, but rather by simply ignoring it: wars, regrettably, will come and go. From a worldly, political perspective, some may seem more justified than others. That’s as may be, and those debates will be end-less. But Friends, to the maximum extent possible among imperfect humans, are called to have no part in any of them.
This conviction was more than an individual matter. “For the minority consecrated to peace,” Frost says, “the church can provide a sanctuary, and it can defend those who for Christ’s or conscience’ sake refuse to fight, and stand as a rebuke to those who seek to sacralize war.”
What shall we make of this argument? For my part, I think Frost is a little more than half right when it comes to gauging the effect of organized religion on conventional politics and diplomacy. But I believe he underestimates the social impact such “signs” can have.
IV. Exceptions Past And Future
For that matter, Frost himself admits of one significant exception to his almost uniformly dreary record of religious support for, or irrelevance to, warmaking, and that exception is no less than William Penn’s Holy experiment in Quaker Pennsylvania. Penn’s colony had no army and yet maintained peace with its native neighbors for 70 years, a record unmatched in American colonial history. Even here, to be fair, the evidence is not unambiguous, and so-called “realist” historians have dismissed this record as either a fluke or an illusion. But Frost gives Penn and his cohorts some credit for their “American exceptionalism,” while still maintaining that its rarity nonetheless proves the rule of religion’s ineffectuality as a remedy for warmaking.
This exception is more meaningful to me than it evidently is to Frost, because I have a more optimistic estimate of the concrete social potential of our authentic religious peace witness. Let me see if I can explain why.
Yes, for Quakers to confront a militarist government head-on is a grossly unequal, even silly competition. It may sometimes be necessary as a religious witness; but it will rarely if ever be good politics. However, this does not mean we can’t have any influence. We can still help “mend” the world, in Penn’s phrase. Consider a couple of examples:
During the Vietnam War scores, maybe hundreds of Friends meetings provided draft counseling to thousands and thousands of young men, the vast majority of them non-Friends. This form of witness was entirely legal and non-political, consistent with Friends’ principles, and virtually unnoticed by the authorities or the media. Yet the record shows that the US military developed increasingly severe morale and recruitment problems as the Vietnam war went on, to the point where its combat capabilities were significantly and adversely affected.
Was there a connection between this and our years of draft counseling? It is hard to prove, but I believe there was.
Similarly, during the Central American wars of the Reagan years, it was a Friend, Jim Corbett, who essentially invented the Sanctuary movement. He did this, not at a Washington conference, but in the deserts of southern Arizona. Operating quietly at first, strictly within religious networks, this form of resistance soon spread far and wide. Sanctuary eventually wore large holes in government efforts to return such refugees en masse to the repressive governments of their war-torn homelands. Sanctuary saved many lives, and may well have helped to blunt a coldly brutal policy.
Other examples could be cited, but the point should be clear: yes, Friends carry little or no weight in the usual scales of secular power; we are neither wealthy nor shameless enough to buy politicians, and there are no congressional districts which turn on the “Quaker vote.” But these are not the only ways the world is mended. When we operate in accord with Jesus’ admonitions to be like salt and leaven, working in our own way, quietly, cooperatively and diligently, Quakers have indeed made a difference in our society and the world. I suspect J. William Frost would be sympathetic to such a qualification of his thesis.
There is, further, another dimension of this tradition which I think Frost also overlooks, that part which is aimed, not at stopping this or that war in particular, but rather at working to end war “in general.”
For instance, as far back as 1693, William Penn published “An Essay Towards the Peace of Europe,” proposing the creation of a European parliament as a way of avoiding wars between the various continental powers. In the short run, no statesmen paid much attention; but in the long run, this essay became one of the intellectual ancestors of the current European Union, which has helped end wars among states which used to fight each other regularly.
More than two centuries later, it was a British Friend, Lewis Fry Richardson, working alone and without encouragement for many years after world War One, who essentially invented the discipline of peace research. A generation later, Elise and Kenneth Boulding took Richardson’s work and moved it forward by orders of magnitude.
In the 1970s, another Quaker couple, Miriam and Sam Levering, labored quietly but very effectively to promote the successful negotiation of the Law of the Sea treaty.
Other examples could be cited. (Many can be found, in thumbnail form, in the pioneering summary-overview of Quaker peace work in the twentieth century prepared by a young scholar, Maya Wilson, for the volume, Sustaining Peace Witness in the Twenty-First Century.) These were efforts which did not aim directly at countering political power; but they were ambitious, and conceived on a large conceptual scale: they aimed to alter the overall context in which politicians do their work. To paraphrase a more recent politician, they “triangulated”; they aimed at preventing war “in general.”
If we reformulate Jerry Frost’s question about the churches, to ask whether theyand in particular, Friends have had any effect in ending or preventing wars in general, I think the answer of history is much less bleak than that given his more particular inquiry. However, the successes of any such “high concept” projects are paradoxical, in that they are likely to be quiet incremental, and as undramatic as the Law of the Sea treaty, a document including several hundred articles and reams of mind-numbing technical text.
This very undramatic character, along with the fact that their impact is measurable primarily in terms of what does not happen, is essentially the very antithesis of “news,” and thus makes such witness all but invisible to the sensation-dependent media. Yet this is precisely why the Leverings worked for the success of the Law of the Sea treaty: because it would and does provide ways of resolving maritime disputes without combat. The Alternatives to Violence Project is another example of such quietly successful Quaker work, though it does not yet operate on a comparable scale.
Each of these projects by itself may not seem like much. But taken together, and over time, they add up to more than the sum of the parts. A third contributor to A Continuing Journey addressed this prospect very aptly. David Jackman, from the Quaker UN Office, suggested that efforts like those just mentioned, along with many others, are beginning to pay a kind of compound interest, in the form of another new paradigm, the last on my list, that of an “Emerging Peace Structure” for the world.
This “peace structure,” which is part formal and part informal, consists, Jackman says, of “a cycle of overlapping and interrelated programs that begin with conflict preventive actions, move on to more crisis oriented steps…then respond during post-violence (“post-conflict”) stages with peacekeeping, humanitarian and eventually long-term development programs.
“The overall aim,” Jackman continues, “is not to suppress conflicts they will be inevitable and, indeed, necessary but to ‘inoculate’ societies against using violence as a means of conflict management.”
This “structure” is not centrally organized, and Jackman is careful to emphasize that “emerging” in his description means we are still a long way from nirvana. Further, with a bow to the cops-vs.-generals divide, he concedes that in the near term, when violence gets out of control, “there may well be a need to stabilize the situation by the imposition of a peacekeeping force. These operations are likely to be military in nature for some time into the future. They require some capabilities and skills that at present only the military is organized to provide at the necessary scale and speed.” This caveat seems to me only realistic. David Hartsough’s peace army for Kosovo may be a good idea, but it is still very far from becoming a reality; even he admits it may be fifty years in development.
Nevertheless, Jackman sees the quiet efforts of many groups, on many fronts, contributing to something new and important on the world scene. Friends have played many important roles in this structure’s development, along with other religious peace workers. If this structure finally does “emerge,” it could prove to be the next major exception to Jerry Frost’s depressing catalog of failure.
Jackman believes there are many ways, globally and locally, we can plug into this work. There is much to learn, but no grand coalition to join, no single party platform to endorse. I was going to add that there are no dues to pay, but of course there are, in the sense that the blues singers use that term: If any Friend wants to work seriously and constructively in a field of international conflict, she or he will have plenty of dues to pay. There is another advantage as well:
Work against war “in general” is much less subject to the recurring differences of conviction over oppression vs. war. It points toward a day, distant perhaps but not inconceivable, when Lincoln’s dilemma could be resolved simply by becoming largely obsolete.
In the meantime, if future wars resemble the past, conflicts which are relatively easy for most Friends to oppose, like Vietnam, will also be relatively rare. Kosovo is likely to be more typical (like the U.S. Civil War, and World Wars I and II). If so, we can expect to see Lincoln’s dilemma surface again, along with the predictable differences over the horns of oppression vs. war. In such cases, Friends will do the best we can, and most will probably feel, with some justice, that we have not done enough.
Nevertheless, Jackman offers an informed, hopeful vision in the midst of the gloom generated by Kosovo. I share his sense that Quaker peace witness that is indigenous, inner-directed, cooperative, and deploys the resources of Friends and like-minded persons can, over time, have a significant, and usually surprising impact on the larger society and the problem of war “in general.” It will be an impact most visible to the informed eyes of people of faith, who can see beyond the diversionary spectacles offered by the mass media; but the media do not define reality.
In particular, Jackman wisely notes that this vision can help us “combat the inevitable fear that we have to fix everything. We can choose what is appropriate or crucial for us to do, and know that others will do likewise. Too often nothing gets done when we treat peace work as a huge amorphous cloud of needy symptoms. We need to explore situations, identify what our best contribution can be and then stick at them.” This advice applies, I might add, even to those who are called to work on policy issues in Washington, DC.
When it comes to Kosovo, what can this mean? If the war is indeed now over, there is lots of room for work involving the three Rs: relief, reconstruction and reconciliation. These are all part of the long-term work of peacebuilding, along with ongoing efforts to counter militarist ideology and propaganda. Even Jerry Frost affirmed that “the church can provide a sanctuary, and it can defend those who for Christ’s or conscience’ sake refuse to fight, and stand as a rebuke to those who seek to sacralize war.” Paradigms shift and shift again, but that still leaves, to borrow a biblical metaphor, many fields ripe for the harvest.
In short, what does Kosovo mean from a Quaker perspective? Well, for this Quaker, it provides a useful reminder of our limitations, but it still leaves us plenty to do, and no room for despair.
The essays cited here by J. William Frost, David Jackman, and Dan Seeger are all published in: A Continuing Journey: Papers from the Quaker Peace Roundtable, Pendle Hill 1995, edited by Chuck Fager. Pendle Hill, 1996. Sustaining Peace Witness in the Twenty-First Century, also edited by Chuck Fager, was published by Pendle Hill in 1997.
The proposal by David Hartsough for establishment of a nonviolent peace army is, at this writing (July, 1999), circulating in manuscript form. A copy can be obtained via e-mail by contacting: email@example.com.