STAR-ADVERTISER “KEEPING FAITH”
KAT WADE / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-ADVERTISER
A Memorial Day prayer breakfast included a number of faith leaders: Paul Gracie, left, Rabbi Peter Schaktman, Bishop Stephen Randolph Sykes, Rev. Jonipher Kupono Kwong, Robert Cody, and the event’s speaker, retired Army Col. Ann Wright.
Ann Wright, a retired Army colonel and former U.S. diplomat who resigned from the State Department 11 years ago in protest against the Iraq War, told local faith leaders on Memorial Day that they are not doing enough to fight for world peace.
Six years ago Wright, who had served in the military and in diplomatic service for many years, co-wrote “Dissent: Voices of Conscience,” about government insiders and active-duty military personnel who challenged the Bush administration’s reasons for invading Iraq in 2003. Since resigning, Wright has traveled extensively as a peace activist and has been arrested 15 times for civil resistance.
On Monday, at a Memorial Day prayer breakfast co-sponsored by the Honolulu Friends Meeting (Quakers) and The Interfaith Alliance Hawai’i, Wright spoke about the increasing militarization of society and her recent trip to Vietnam. Other representatives of various faiths also shared their personal perspectives on war.
Wright said the interfaith event, held at the Quakers’ Manoa meeting house, served as an opportunity “to see if these religious communities are doing all they can do to stop this scourge on humanity we call war.”
She continued, “Members of our congregations are in the military; we have a huge military community here in Hawaii and particularly Oahu, with the four major military bases here. It takes a lot of chutzpah to stand up to say, ‘No, these things are wrong.’
“I appreciate the fact that our nation honors those who sign up and say, ‘I agree to do what our political leaders tell me to do.’ On the other hand, I think that we should be challenging that concept, too,” she said.
“We as American civilians have to be even more vigilant, we have to be pushy and … to hold accountable those who do cause these wars, who do cause torture, these indefinite detentions, who do cause assassin drones, to hold those administrations accountable. It’s not a Democratic or Republican thing; it’s a human thing.”
Wright has spoken frequently at Quaker events as, in her words, “Quakers are such a strong anti-war group,” and she has worked with the American Friends Service Committee to promote social justice. Raised a Methodist, she aligns more with Quaker and Unitarian Universalist views, she added.
The Honolulu Friends Meeting conducts unprogrammed worship in silence, without choirs or sermons. Quakers do not have creed or dogma.
Last month Wright presented her research on restoring a sunken Quaker peace ship, The Golden Rule, at the Asia-Pacific Regional Conference on Underwater Cultural Heritage. The boat played a key role in changing public opinion about nuclear testing more than 50 years ago, Wright said.
In 1958, after the U.S. government announced plans to set off nuclear bomb blasts near the Marshall Islands, Quaker pacifist Capt. Albert Bigelow and three crew members sailed the 30-foot vessel from California, stopping over in Hawaii before pushing on to the Marshall Islands in an attempt to stop the testing.
Renie Lindley, lay leader of the Honolulu Friends, said local Quakers were “very much involved in supporting the crew,” whose members were convicted and imprisoned. The sunken ship was discovered in 2010 in Northern California’s Humboldt Bay. Veterans for Peace is restoring the ship with the intention of one day launching it on a mission of education for peace.
“Quakers are unequivocal on the question of violence,” Lindley said. “We totally oppose all wars, all preparation for war, all use of weapons. But refusal to fight with weapons is not surrender. We are not passive when struggling to remove the causes of conflict, working to address all forms of cultural and economic oppression, which lead to violence.”
In her recent trip with the Veterans for Peace to see how Vietnam has recovered from the war that ripped the country apart from the 1950s to ’70s, Wright said she was stunned to see ill effects of Agent Orange showing up in fourth-generation Vietnamese residents as well as U.S. veterans who sprayed the defoliant. She also saw civilians crippled by the tons of unexploded ordnance left behind and accidently detonated after the war.
“The U.S. has finally acknowledged there are Agent Orange hot spots and began its first remediation after 50 years to remove dioxin contamination … and our veterans are finally getting compensated” for 19 different diseases that were manifested from contact with the residual toxin, she said.
Wright said wherever the veterans group went it was met not with reproach, but with forgiveness by the Vietnamese, who lost 4 million people in the war, an overwhelming number of them civilians. She said the Vietnamese people advised Americans, “You need to forgive yourselves, and you need to work so it doesn’t happen again.”