A QUAKER DECLARATION OF WAR page 2
Well, you see Ė Iím not exactly a barrel of laughs tonight. The question that has haunted me in the face of all this has probably been haunting you too, namely: What can we do about it?
Thatís the question I want to address here, and I want to do so as one Quaker speaking to other Quakers, and perhaps some other like-minded folks. Why am I being so sectarian about this? Doesnít the threat of religious war and the American drive for empire threaten those outside our little circle of Friends?
Of course it does, and Iím not ignoring the larger world. But my focus is on Friends because it is an article of my faith that the Religious Society of Friends has been gathered by God as a people to do a particular piece of work in the larger, mysterious divine plan for mending the world. And itís by discerning our particular work and pursuing it faithfully that weíll make our best and most important contribution to the larger world. Our piece may not be the biggest, or the flashiest. Itís not better than any other; but it is important, and above all it is OURS. It is our calling, and we dare not neglect it, or try to trade it in for somebody elseís.
This piece of work we usually refer to as our Peace testimony. The phrase describes a current that runs like a deep river through our 350-year history. But this river of testimony is a wandering stream, with many twists and turns. Itís not a self-defining witness; in worship and study and struggle, itís our task to discern its direction and call for us in each new era in which we find ourselves.
So what Iím doing tonight is part of this ongoing discernment, the work of answering the question of what to do. And at this point, I believe the short answer, as Iíve said, is that itís time for us to declare war, the Hundred-Year Lambís War.
To begin unpacking what this slogan can mean, let me speak as a Friend who for the past nineteen months has been living in Fayetteville, NC, close by Fort Bragg, one of the larger and more important military bases.
As Director of Quaker House there, my job has put me up close and personal with the US war machine. And from that continuing experience, Iíve come to some unexpected conclusions: I think that much of what Quakers need to know today, for peace witness in the New American Century, we can best learn from, of all unlikely groups, the US military.
Thatís right: believe it or not, I think the war machine has much to teach us about peacework, maybe even the most important things for our time, and I hope youíll let me explain why.
To begin with, letís acknowledge what most others in the world know, that the current US war machine is one of the most superbly efficient destructive forces the world has ever seen. To be sure, many things about the military, especially as a human society, are deeply flawed, even self-defeating. But when it comes to its principal mission, which is blowing up things and killing people, it simply has no peer. Itís not just big; itís not just costly. Itís also the best in its bloody business.
How did it get that way? What has made it so effective? There are many factors going into this performance; but I want to focus on three which, I believe, could also be applied nonviolently, to building an adequate Quaker peace witness.
1. The military thinks and plans for the long term, and with a big picture strategies.
2. The military is careful to "secure its base."
3. The military makes training a top and continuing priority, at all levels. And throughout, it respects what it calls the "tooth to tail" ratio.
(You might call these "Several Habits of Highly Successful Warmakers," or maybe, "Chicken Soup for the Imperialist Soul.")
Each of these characteristics could, I believe, be a major asset to Quaker peace witness. And in each of them, I also believe, the Society of Friends today falls far short of its potential, and what is called for by the situation we confront.
Letís start with the first of these lessons, taking the long view and thinking strategically. These are really two sides of the same coin: strategy is a way of looking ahead; and taking the long view incorporates the past into that process.
The importance of this two-sided process for Friends was brought home to me this spring, preparing for a week-long workshop on Lucretia Mott. During this study, I began to notice a striking pattern in her work. It goes like this: Lucretia worked personally for an end to legal slavery in the U.S. for fifty years. (I call her Lucretia because, after reading several hundred pages of her letters and lots of other material besides, it feels like weíre on a first-name basis.)
Fifty years working against chattel slavery Ė and she lived to see the end of that peculiar institution, though of course not the end of racism. And I also realized that when Lucretia began this labor, Friends as a body had already been working to end slavery for the previous fifty years. Thatís a hundred years of Quaker labor on this one issue.
Or take womenís rights. Lucretia personally worked on this cause, not for fifty but for sixty years Ė and she did not live to see its first major breakthrough, winning the right to vote. That took forty more years after her death in 1880. Thereís another hundred year project.
Then we come to the issue of ending war. Lucretia worked on this too. And as a very optimistic person, she believed the world was making progress toward permanent peace in her day. But reading her sermons on peace now often makes my heart sink Ė because sheís been gone for more than 120 years, and instead of progress, the world has unquestionably slid rapidly backwards on this life-or-death matter.
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