January 1. This is New Year’s Day and the World Day of Peace. Today begins yet another run through of the Gregorian calendar, introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 and today the most widely used civil calendar on earth. Today begins the month of January, named either for Janus, the two-faced god of gates and transitions, or for Juno, the Queen of the gods, daughter of Saturn, and both wife and sister of Jupiter. Juno is a warlike version of the Greek goddess Hera. In 1967 the Catholic Church declared January 1st to be a World Day of Peace. Many non-Catholics also take the occasion to celebrate, advocate, educate, and agitate for peace. In the wider tradition of New Year’s resolutions, popes have often used the World Day of Peace to make speeches and publish statements in support of moving the world toward peace, and advocating for a variety of other just causes. The World Day of Peace on January 1st should not be confused with the International Day of Peace, established by the United Nations in 1982 and marked each year on September 21st. The latter has become better known, perhaps because not initiated by a single religion, although the word “International” in its name constituted a weakness for those who believe nations are an impediment to peace. The World Day of Peace is also not the same as Peace Sunday which comes in England and Wales on the Sunday that falls between January 14th and 20th. Wherever and whoever we are in the world, we can choose to resolve today to work for peace.
January 2. On this day in 1905, the Conference of Industrial Unionists in Chicago formed the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), known as The Wobblies, an all-inclusive effort to form one big labor union with every worker in the world in it. The Wobblies rallied for workers’ rights, civil rights, social justice, and peace. Their vision is memorialized in the songs they produced and sang. One was called Christians at War and included these words: “Onward, Christian soldiers! Duty’s way is plain; Slay your Christian neighbors, or by them be slain. Pulpiteers are spouting effervescent swill, God above is calling you to rob, and rape, and kill. All your acts are sanctified by the Lamb on high; If you love the Holy Ghost, go murder, pray, and die. Onward, Christian soldiers! Rip and tear and smite! Let the gentle Jesus bless your dynamite. Splinter skulls with shrapnel, fertilize the sod; folks who do not speak your tongue deserve the curse of God. Smash the doors of every home, pretty maidens seize; use your might and sacred right to treat them as you please. Onward, Christian soldiers! Blighting all you meet; Trample human freedom under pious feet. Praise the Lord whose dollar sign dupes his favorite race! Make the foreign trash respect your bullion brand of grace. Trust in mock salvation, serve as tyrants’ tools; History will say of you: ‘That pack of god-damned fools!'” In more than a century since this song was written, comprehension of satire has faded a bit, and of course no Christians participate in wars anymore either.
January 3. On this day in 1967, Jack Ruby, the convicted killer of President John F. Kennedy’s alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, died in a Texas prison. Ruby was convicted of killing Oswald two days after Kennedy’s shooting while Oswald was in police custody. Ruby was sentenced to death; yet his conviction was appealed, and he was granted a new trial even though the shooting had taken place in front of police officers and reporters taking photographs. As the date for Ruby’s new trial was being set, he reportedly died from a pulmonary embolism due to undiagnosed lung cancer. According to records never released by the National Archives until November 2017, Jack Ruby had told an FBI informant to “watch the fireworks” on the day President John F. Kennedy was killed, and was in the area where the assassination took place. Ruby denied this during his trial, maintaining that he was acting out of patriotism when he killed Oswald. The official Warren Commission report of 1964 concluded that neither Oswald nor Ruby were part of a larger conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy. Despite its seemingly firm conclusions, the report failed to silence doubts surrounding the event. In 1978, the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded in a preliminary report that Kennedy was “probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy” that may have involved multiple shooters and organized crime. The committee’s findings, as the Warren Commission’s, continue to be widely disputed. The youngest U.S. president’s ideas made him the most popular and most missed: “Step back from the shadow of war and seek out the way of peace,” he said.
January 4. On this day in 1948, the nation of Burma (also known as Myanmar) freed itself of British colonialism and became an independent republic. The British had fought three wars against Burma in the 19th century, the third of which in 1886 made Burma a province of British India. Rangoon (Yangon) became the capital and a busy port between Calcutta and Singapore. Many Indians and Chinese arrived with the British, and massive cultural changes resulted in struggles, rioting, and protests. British rule, and refusal to remove shoes when entering pagodas, led Buddhist monks to resist. Rangoon University produced radicals, and a young law student, Aung San, started both the “Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League” (AFPFL), and the “People’s Revolutionary Party” (PRP). It was San, among others, who managed to negotiate Burma’s independence from Britain in 1947 and to establish an agreement with ethnic nationalities for a unified Burma. San was assassinated before independence came. San’s youngest daughter Aung San Suu Kyi continued his work toward democracy. In 1962, the Burmese military took over the government. It also killed over 100 students engaged in a peaceful protest at Rangoon University. In 1976, 100 students were arrested after a simple sit-in. Suu Kyi was put under house arrest, yet received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Although the military remains a strong force in Myanmar, Suu Kyi was elected State Counsellor (or prime minister) in 2016, backed by the Burmese National League for Democracy. Suu Kyi has been criticized around the world for overseeing or allowing the Burmese military to slaughter hundreds of men, women, and children of the Rohingya ethnic group.
January 5. On this day in 1968, Antonin Novotny, the Stalinist ruler of Czechoslovakia, was succeeded as first secretary by Alexander Dubcek, who believed socialism could be achieved. Dubcek supported communism, yet introduced freedom of speech in reforms backing unions, and civil rights. This period is known as the “Prague Spring.” The Soviet Union then invaded Czechoslovakia; liberal leaders were taken to Moscow, and were replaced with Soviet officials. Dubcek’s reforms were repealed, and Gustav Husak who replaced him re-established an authoritarian Communist regime. This brought massive protests throughout the country. Radio stations, newspapers, and books published during this time, such as The Garden Party and The Memorandum by Vaclav Havel were banned, and Havel was imprisoned for nearly four years. Thousands of students conducted a peaceful four-day sit-in at high schools and colleges across the country, with factories sending them food in solidarity. Some brutal and horrific events then took place. In January 1969, Jan Palach a college student set himself on fire in Wenceslas Square to protest the occupation and the removal of civil liberties. His death became synonymous with the Prague Spring, and his funeral became another protest demonstration. A second student, Jan Zajíc carried out the same act in the square, while a third, Evžen Plocek, died in Jihlava. As Communist governments were being ousted across Eastern Europe, Prague’s protests continued until December 1989 when Husak’s government finally conceded. Dubcek was again named chairman of the Parliament, and Vaclav Havel became president of Czechoslovakia. Bringing communism to an end in Czechoslovakia, or the Prague “Summer,” took more than twenty years of protest.
January 6. On this day in 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made a speech that introduced the term “Four Freedoms,” which he said included freedom of speech and expression; freedom of religion; freedom from fear; and freedom from want. His speech was aimed at freedom for citizens of every country, yet citizens of the United States and of much of the world are still struggling in each of the four areas. Here are some of the words President Roosevelt said that day: “In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want — which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear — which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor– anywhere in the world… . To that high concept there can be no end save victory.” Today the U.S. government frequently restricts First Amendment rights. Polls find majorities abroad view the U.S. as the greatest threat to peace. And the U.S. leads all wealthy nations in poverty. The Four Freedoms remain to be strived for.
January 7. On this day in 1932, U.S. Secretary of State Henry Stimson delivered the Stimson Doctrine. The United States had been called upon by the League of Nations to take a stand on the recent Japanese attacks on China. Stimson, with the approval of President Herbert Hoover, declared in what was also called the Hoover-Stimson doctrine, U.S. opposition to the current fighting in Manchuria. The Doctrine stated, first, that the United States would not recognize any treaty that compromised the sovereignty or integrity of China; and second, that it would not recognize any territorial changes achieved through force of arms. The statement was based on the outlawing of war through the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact which eventually ended the acceptability and recognition of conquest almost worldwide. The United States suffered during the aftermath of WWI as its citizens struggled with a Wall Street-created depression, numerous bank failures, massive unemployment, and massive resentment of the war. The U.S. was unlikely to enter a new war soon and had refused to support the League of Nations. The Stimson Doctrine has since been described as ineffective, due to the invasion of Shanghai by the Japanese three weeks later, and the subsequent wars across Europe involving other countries that disregarded the rule of law. Some historians believe the doctrine was self-serving, and meant to simply keep trade open during the Great Depression while remaining neutral. On the other hand, there are historians and legal theorists who recognize that the injection of morality into global politics made the Stimpson Doctrine instrumental in shaping a new international view of war and its consequences.
January 8. On this day, A.J. Muste (1885 – 1967), a Dutch-born American, began his life. A.J. Muste was one of the leading nonviolent social activists of his time. Starting out as a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church, he became a socialist and labor union activist, and was one of the founders and the first director of Brookwood Labor College of New York. In 1936, he committed himself to pacifism and focused his energy on war resistance, civil rights, civil liberties, and disarmament. He worked with a wide array of organizations, including the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and War Resisters League, and served as editor of Liberation magazine. He continued his work for peace during the U.S. war in Vietnam; shortly before his death, he traveled to North Vietnam with a delegation of clergy and met with Communist leader Ho Chi Minh. A.J. Muste was widely respected and admired in the movement for social justice for his ability to relate to people of all ages and backgrounds, to listen to and reflect on all points of view, and to bridge distances among divergent political sectors. The A.J. Muste Memorial Institute was organized in 1974 to keep A.J.’s legacy alive through ongoing support of the nonviolent movement for social change. The Institute publishes pamphlets and books on nonviolence, provides grants and sponsorships to grassroots groups throughout the U.S. and the world, at its New York City “Peace Pentagon.” In Muste’s words: “There is no way to peace; peace is the way.”
January 9. On this day in 1918, the U.S. fought its last battle with Native Americans at the Battle of Bear Valley. The Yaqui Indians were driven north by their long war with Mexico, and crossed the border near a military base in Arizona. Yaquis would sometimes work in U.S. citrus groves, buy weapons with their wages, and take them back into Mexico. On that fateful day, the army found a small group. Fighting ensued until one Yaqui started waving his arms in surrender. Ten Yaquis were captured, and told to line up with their hands over their heads. The chief stood tall, but kept his hands at his waist. As his hands were forcibly raised, it was apparent he was simply trying hold his stomach together. He had suffered from an explosion caused by a bullet igniting cartridges wrapped around his waist, and he died the following day. Another of the captured was an eleven-year-old boy whose rifle was as long as he was tall. This brave group had enabled a larger one to escape. Those captured were then taken on horseback to Tucson for a federal trial. They managed to impress the soldiers during the trip with their courage and strength. At the trial, the judge dismissed all charges for the eleven-year-old, and sentenced the other eight to a mere 30 days in prison. Colonel Harold B. Wharfield wrote: “the sentence was preferable to the Yaquis who otherwise would be deported to Mexico and face possible execution as rebels.”
January 10. On this day in 1920 the League of Nations was founded. It was the first international organization established to maintain world peace. It was not a new idea. Discussions following the Napoleonic wars led eventually to the Geneva and Hague Conventions. In 1906, Nobel Prize laureate Theodore Roosevelt called for a “League of Peace.” Then, at the end of WWI, the British, the French and the U.S. prepared concrete proposals. These led to the negotiation and acceptance of a “Covenant of the League of Nations” at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. The Covenant, which focused on collective security, disarmament, and settling international disputes through negotiation and arbitration, was then included in the Treaty of Versailles. The League was governed by a General Assembly and an Executive Council (open only to major powers). With the onset of WWII, it was clear the League had failed. Why? Governance: Resolutions required a unanimous vote of the Executive Council. This gave Council members an effective veto. Membership: Many nations never joined. There were 42 founding members and 58 at its peak. Many viewed it as a “League of Victors.” Germany was not permitted to join. Communist regimes were not welcomed. And ironically, the United States never joined. President Woodrow Wilson, a key proponent, could not get it through the Senate. The inability to enforce decisions: The League depended on the victors of WWI to enforce its resolutions. They were reluctant to do so. Conflicting objectives: The need for armed enforcement conflicted with efforts at disarmament. In 1946, after only 26 years, the League of Nations was replaced by the United Nations.
January 11. On this day in 2002, Guantanamo Bay Prison Camp began operating in Cuba. Originally intended to be an “island outside the law” where terrorism suspects could be detained without process and interrogated without restraint, the prison and military commissions at Guantánamo Bay are catastrophic failures. Guantánamo has become a symbol of injustice, abuse, and disregard for the law. Since the prison camp opened, almost 800 men have passed through its cells. In addition to unlawful detention, many have been subjected to torture and other brutal treatment. Most have been held without charge or trial. Many prisoners have been held for years after having been cleared for release by the U.S. military, stuck in a quagmire into which no arm of government has been willing to reach to end the violation of their rights. Guantánamo has been a blight on the reputation and security of the United States and a recruiting tool for groups like ISIS that have dressed their own prisoners in GITMO orange. The U.S. president and his agencies for years have had but not used the power to end indefinite detention and close Guantánamo. Closing Guantánamo the right way requires ending indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial; transferring detainees who have been cleared for transfer; and trying detainees for whom there is evidence of wrongdoing in federal criminal courts in the United States. U.S. federal courts routinely handle high-profile terrorism cases. If a prosecutor cannot put together a case against a prisoner, there is no reason that person should continue to be imprisoned, whether in Guantánamo or the United States.
January 12. On this day in 1970 Biafra, the breakaway region in southeastern Nigeria, surrendered to the Federal Army, thus ending the Nigerian Civil War. Nigeria, a former British colony, gained independence in 1960. This bloody and divisive war was a result of an independence designed primarily for the interests of the colonial power. Nigeria was a disparate collection of independent states. During the colonial period it was administered as two regions, Northern and Southern. In 1914, for administrative convenience and more effective control over resources, North and South were amalgamated. Nigeria has three predominant groups: the Igbo in the southeast; the Hausa-Fulani in the north; and the Yoruba in the southwest. At independence, the Prime Minister was from the north, the most populous region. Regional differences made achieving national unity difficult. Tensions mounted during the 1964 elections. Amid widespread allegations of fraud, the incumbent was re-elected. In 1966, junior officers attempted a coup. Aguiyi-Ironsi, head of the Nigerian Army and an Igbo, suppressed it and became head of state. Six months later, northern officers staged a counter-coup. Yakubu Gowon, a northerner, became head of state. This led to pogroms in the north. Up to 100,000 Igbo were killed and a million fled. On May 30, 1967, the Igbo, declared the Southeast Region the Independent Republic of Biafra. The Military Government went to war to reunify the country. Their first objective was to capture Port Harcourt and control of the oil fields. Blockades followed, which led to severe famine and the starvation of up to 2 million Biafran civilians. Fifty years later, the war and its consequences remain the focus of fierce debate.
January 13. On this day in 1991, Soviet Special Forces attacked a Lithuanian television and radio tower, killing 14 and wounding over 500 as tanks drove through crowds of unarmed civilians guarding the tower in defense of Lithuanian broadcasting independence. The Supreme Council of Lithuania issued an immediate appeal to the world to recognize that the Soviet Union had attacked their sovereign state, and that Lithuanians intended to maintain their independence under any circumstances. Lithuania had declared its independence in 1990. The Lithuanian Parliament quickly passed a law providing for the organization of a government in exile in the event that the Council should be disabled by Soviet military intervention. Russia’s leader, Boris Yeltsin, responded with denial of his hand in the attacks, and appealed to Russian soldiers stating this was an illegal act, and inviting them to think about their own families left at home. Despite his and Mikhail Gorbachev’s denial of any involvement, Soviet attacks and killings continued. A crowd of Lithuanians tried to protect the TV and radio tower. Soviet tanks advanced and fired on the crowd. Soviet troops took over and switched off the live TV broadcast. But a smaller TV station began broadcasting in multiple languages to let the world know. A huge crowd gathered to protect the Supreme Council building, and the Soviet troops retreated. International outrage followed. In February, Lithuanians voted overwhelmingly for independence. As Lithuania gained its independence, it became apparent that military invasions were unprepared for a world of increasing freedom of communication.
January 14. On this day in 1892 Martin Niemöller was born. He died in 1984. This prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken foe of Adolf Hitler spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps, despite his ardent nationalism. Niemöller is perhaps best remembered for the quotation: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.” Niemöller was discharged from the German Navy after World War I. He decided to follow in his father’s footsteps by entering a seminary. Niemöller became known as a charismatic preacher. Despite warnings from the police, he continued to preach against the state’s attempts to interfere with churches and what he viewed as the neo-paganism encouraged by the Nazis. As a consequence, Niemöller was repeatedly arrested and put in solitary confinement between 1934 and 1937. Niemöller became a popular figure abroad. He delivered the opening address at the 1946 meeting of the Federal Council of Churches in the United States and traveled widely speaking about the German experience under Nazism. By the mid-1950s, Niemöller worked with a number of international groups, including the World Council of Churches, for international peace. Niemöller’s German nationalism never wavered as he railed against the division of Germany, stating that he preferred unification even if it were under Communism.
January 15. On this day in 1929, Martin Luther King, Jr. was born. His life ended abruptly and tragically on April 4th, 1968, when he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. The only non-president to have a U.S. national holiday dedicated in his honor, and the only non-president memorialized with a major monument in Washington, D.C., Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Nobel Peace Prize lecture, and “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” are among the most revered orations and writings in the English language. Drawing inspiration from both his Christian faith and the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. King led a movement in the late 1950s and 1960s to achieve legal equality for African Americans in the United States. During the fewer than 13 years of his leadership of the modern American Civil Rights Movement, from December, 1955 until April 4, 1968, Americans achieved more genuine progress toward racial equality in America than the previous 350 years had produced. Dr. King is widely regarded as one of the greatest nonviolent leaders in world history. While others were advocating for freedom by “any means necessary,” Martin Luther King, Jr. used the power of words and acts of nonviolent resistance, such as protests, grassroots organizing, and civil disobedience to achieve seemingly impossible goals. He went on to lead similar campaigns against poverty, and international conflict, always maintaining fidelity to his principles of nonviolence. His opposition to the war on Vietnam, and advocacy for moving beyond racism, militarism, and extreme materialism continues to inspire peace and justice activists seeking a broader coalition for a better world.
January 16. On this day in 1968, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin founded the Youth International Party (the Yippies), just one day before President Lyndon Baines Johnson gave his State of the Union Address asserting that the U.S. was winning the war in Vietnam. The Yippies were a part of the widespread anti-war movement of the 1960s-70s which grew out of the civil rights movement. Both Hoffman and Rubin were part of the anti-war March on the Pentagon in October 1967, which Jerry Rubin called the “linchpin for Yippie politics.” Hoffman and Rubin used a “Yippie style” in their anti-war and anti-capitalist work, joined by musicians like Country Joe and the Fish, and poets/writers like Allen Ginsberg who quoted Hoffman’s feelings about the turbulent times: “[Hoffman] said that politics had become theater and magic, basically, that it was the manipulation of imagery through the mass media that was confusing and hypnotizing the people in the United States, making them accept a war which they really didn’t believe in.” The Yippies’ numerous demonstrations and protests included one at the Democratic National Convention in 1968 where they were joined by the Black Panthers, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (the MOBE). Their theatrical Festival of Life in Lincoln Park, including the nomination of a pig named Pigasus as their presidential nominee, led to the arrest and trial of Hoffman, Rubin, and members of the other groups. The Yippies’ supporters continued their political protests, and opened a Yippie Museum in New York City.
January 17. On this day in 1893, U.S. profiteers, businessmen, and Marines overthrew the kingdom of Hawaii in Oahu, beginning a long string of violent and disastrous government overthrows around the world. The Queen of Hawaii, Lili‘uokalani, responded with the following statement to President Benjamin Harrison: “I Lili’uokalani, By the grace of God, and under the Constitution of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Queen, do hereby solemnly protest against any and all acts done against myself and the constitutional Government of the Hawaiian Kingdom by certain persons claiming to have established a Provisional Government of and for this Kingdom… to avoid any collision of armed forces, and perhaps the loss of life, I do this under protest, and impelled by said force yield my authority until such time as the Government of the United States shall, upon facts being presented to it, undo the action of its representative and reinstate me in the authority which I claim as the constitutional sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands.” James H. Blount was named Special Commissioner, sent to investigate, and to report his findings on the takeover. Blount concluded that the United States was directly responsible for the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian government, and that U.S. government actions had violated international laws as well as Hawaiian territorial sovereignty. One hundred years later, on this day in 1993, Hawaii held a major demonstration against U.S. occupation. The U.S. then issued an apology, acknowledging that Hawaiians “never freely relinquished their claims… to their inherent sovereignty.” Native Hawaiians continue to advocate for Hawaii’s liberation from the United States, and from the U.S. military.
January 18. On this day, in 2001, two members of the direct action group, Trident Ploughshares, were acquitted after being charged with harming the British HMS Vengeance which carried a quarter of Britain’s nuclear arsenal. Sylvia Boyes, 57, of West Yorkshire, and River, formerly Keith Wright, 45, of Manchester, admitted to attacking the HMS Vengeance with hammers and axes at a dock in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, in November of 1999. The two denied any wrongdoing, however, claiming their actions were justified because nuclear weapons were illegal under international law. Further arguments surrounding politicians being trusted with a nuclear arsenal led to the concession by the court that civilians were feeling frustrated and obligated to act. A spokeswoman for Trident Ploughshares added: “At last a precedent has been set for English people to follow their conscience and declare Trident illegal.” Earlier actions in Britain leading up to the Trident Ploughshares acquittals included charges filed in 1996 when a jury at Liverpool Crown Court acquitted two women charged with causing significant damage to a Hawk fighter jet at a British Aerospace factory. In 1999, a sheriff in Greenock, Strathclyde, found three women charged with damaging Trident submarine computer equipment at a naval establishment on Loch Goil not guilty. And in 2000, two women accused of spray painting anti-war slogans on a nuclear submarine were acquitted in Manchester, although the prosecution later pushed for a retrial. The lack of commitment by governments on steps toward international peace has left civilians worldwide fearing nuclear war, and with little faith in their own governments to reduce the danger.
January 19. On this day in 1920, in the face of egregious civil liberties abuses, a small group took a stand, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was born. Following World War I, there was fear that the Communist Revolution in Russia would spread to the United States. As is often the case when fear outweighs rational debate, civil liberties paid the price. In November 1919 and January 1920, in what notoriously became known as the “Palmer Raids,” Attorney General Mitchell Palmer began rounding up and deporting so-called “radicals.” Thousands of people were arrested without warrants and without regard to constitutional protections against unlawful search and seizure, were brutally treated, and held in horrible conditions. The ACLU defended them, and has evolved over the years from this small group into the nation’s premier defender of the rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. They defended teachers in the Scopes case in 1925, fought the internment of Japanese Americans in 1942, joined the NAACP in 1954 in the legal battle for equal education in Brown v. Board of Education, and defended students arrested for protesting the draft and the Vietnam war. They continue to fight for reproductive rights, free speech, equality, privacy and net neutrality, and are leading the fight to end torture and to demand full accountability for those who condone it. For almost 100 years, the ACLU has worked to defend and preserve individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitutional laws of the United States. The ACLU has participated in more Supreme Court cases than any other organization, and is the largest public interest law firm.
January 20. On this day in 1987, humanitarian and peace activist Terry Waite, special envoy for the Archbishop of Canterbury, was taken hostage in Lebanon. He was there to negotiate the release of western hostages. Waite had an impressive track record. In 1980 he successfully negotiated the release of hostages in Iran. In 1984 he successfully negotiated the release of hostages in Libya. In 1987 he was less successful. While negotiating, he himself was taken hostage. On November 18, 1991, just under five years later, he and others were released. Waite had suffered greatly and was welcomed home as a hero. However, his actions in Lebanon may not have been what they seemed. It later surfaced that before he went to Lebanon he met with U.S. Lt. Colonel Oliver North. North wanted to fund the Contras in Nicaragua. The U.S. Congress had forbidden it. Iran wanted weapons but was subject to an arms embargo. North arranged for arms to go to Iran in exchange for money sent to the Contras. But North needed cover. And the Iranians needed insurance. Hostages would be held until the arms were delivered. Terry Waite would be presented as the man who negotiated their release. Nobody would see the arms deal hidden in the background. Whether Terry Waite knew he was being played is uncertain. However, North certainly knew. An investigative journalist reported that a National Security Council official admitted that North “ran Terry Waite like an agent.” This cautionary tale underlines the need, even for those with the best credentials and the best of intentions, to guard against witting or unwitting cooption.
January 21. On this day in 1977, U.S. President Jimmy Carter, on his first day as president, pardoned all Vietnam-era draft dodgers. The U.S. had accused 209,517 men of violating draft laws, while another 360,000 were never formally charged. The five previous presidents had overseen what the Vietnamese call the American War, and the United States calls the Vietnam War. Two of those presidents had been elected on promises to end the war, promises they had not kept. Carter had promised to grant an unconditional pardon to men who had evaded the draft by fleeing the country or by failing to register. He quickly kept that promise. Carter did not extend the pardon to those who had been members of the U.S. military and deserted, nor to anyone alleged to have engaged in violence as a protester. About 90 percent of those who left the United States to avoid the draft went to Canada, as did many deserters. The Canadian government allowed this, as it had earlier allowed people to flee slavery by crossing its border. Approximately 50,000 draft dodgers settled permanently in Canada. While the draft ended in 1973, in 1980 President Carter reinstated the requirement that every 18-year-old male register for any future draft. Today some view the lack of this requirement for females, freeing them from the threat of being forced to go to war, as discrimination . . . against women, while others view the requirement for males as a vestige of barbarism. While there has been no draft to flee, thousands have deserted the U.S. military in the 21st century.
January 22. On this day in 2006, Evo Morales was inaugurated as President of Bolivia. He was Bolivia’s first indigenous president. As a young coca farmer, Morales had been active in protests against the war on drugs and supported indigenous rights to farm and continue the traditional High Andes use of the coca leaf. In 1978 he joined and then rose to prominence in the rural laborers union. In 1989 he spoke at an event commemorating the massacre of 11 coca farmers by agents of the Rural Area Mobile Patrol Unit. The following day agents beat Morales up, leaving him in the mountains to die. But he was rescued and lived. This was a turning point for Morales. He began to consider forming a militia and launching a guerrilla war against the government. In the end, however, he chose non-violence. He began by developing a political wing of the union. By 1995 he was head of the Movement for Socialism party (MAS) and was elected to Congress. By 2006 he was President of Bolivia. His administration focused on implementing policies for the reduction of poverty and illiteracy, for the preservation of the environment, for indigenising the government (Bolivia has a majority indigenous population), and for combating the influence of the United States and multinational corporations. On April 28, 2008, he addressed the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and proposed 10 Commandments to save the Planet. His second commandment stated: “Denounce and PUT AN END to war, which only brings profits for empires, transnationals, and a few families, but not for peoples. . . .”
January 23. On this date in 1974, Egypt and Israel began a disengagement of forces that effectively ended armed conflict between the two countries in the Yom Kippur War. The war had begun the previous October 6, on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, when Egyptian and Syrian forces launched a coordinated attack on Israel in hopes of winning back territory they had lost in the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. The disengagement of Israeli and Egyptian forces had been mandated by the Sinai Separation of Forces Agreement signed by the two countries five days before, on January 18, 1974, under the auspices of the U.N.-sponsored Geneva Conference of 1973. It called for Israel to withdraw from areas west of the Suez Canal that it had occupied since a cease-fire in October 1973, and to also pull back several miles on the Sinai front east of the canal so that a UN-controlled buffer zone could be established between the hostile forces. The settlement nevertheless left Israel in control of the rest of the Sinai Peninsula, and a full peace was yet to be achieved. A November 1977 visit to Jerusalem by Egypt’s President Anwar el-Sadat led to serious negotiations the following year at Camp David in the U.S. There, with critical help from President Jimmy Carter, Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin reached an agreement under which the entire Sinai would be returned to Egypt and diplomatic relations between the two countries established. The agreement was signed on March 26, 1979, and on April 25, 1982, Israel returned the last occupied portion of the Sinai to Egypt.
January 24. On this day in 1961, two hydrogen bombs fell on North Carolina when a B-52G jet with a crew of eight exploded midair. The plane was part of the Strategic Air Command fleet established during the cold war against the Soviet Union. One of a dozen, the jet was part of a routine flight over the Atlantic Coast when it suddenly lost fuel pressure. The crew tried to land at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, North Carolina, before the explosion led to five leaving the plane by parachute, four of whom survived, and two others died in the plane. Two MK39 thermonuclear bombs were released by the explosion, each 500 times more powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. Initial reports by the military asserted that the bombs had been recovered, were unarmed, and the area safe. In fact, one bomb descended by parachute and was recovered with a single switch out of four or six required having prevented detonation. The other bomb had fortunately failed to fully arm, but it descended with no parachute and partially broke apart on impact. Most of it remains to this day deep below ground in the swamp where it landed. Just two months later, another B-52G jet crashed near Denton, North Carolina. Two of its eight crew members survived. The fire was visible for 50 miles. Windows were blown out of buildings for 10 miles around. The military said the plane had contained no nuclear bombs, but of course it had also said that about the plane over Goldsboro.
January 25. On this date in 1995, an aide handed Russian president Boris Yeltsin a briefcase. In it, an electronic data screen indicated that a missile launched just four minutes earlier in the vicinity of the Norwegian Sea seemed to be headed toward Moscow. Additional data suggested that the missile was an intermediate-range weapon deployed by NATO forces across western Europe and that its flight path was consistent with launch from an American submarine. It was Yeltsin’s responsibility to decide within less than six minutes whether to trigger an immediate retaliatory launch of Russian nuclear-tipped missiles capable of striking targets around the world. All he would need to do was press a series of buttons below the data screen. Fortunately, however, based on hot-line input from the Russian General Staff, which had its own “nuclear football,” it quickly became apparent that the trajectory of the detected missile would not take it into Russian territory. There was no threat. What had actually been launched was a weather rocket from Norway designed to study the aurora borealis. Norway had notified countries in advance of the mission, but, in the case of Russia, the information had not reached the right officials. That failure still serves as one of many reminders in recent history of how easily miscommunication, human error, or mechanical malfunction could lead to an unintended nuclear calamity. The best solution to the problem would of course be the total abolition of nuclear weapons. In the meantime, removing nuclear arsenals from a state of hair-trigger alert, as advocated by many scientists and peace activists, would seem to be a rational intermediate step.
January 26. On this date in 1992 Russian President Boris Yeltsin announced his country’s intention to stop targeting nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles on cities of the U.S. and its allies. The statement preceded Yeltsin’s first trip as President to the U.S., where he was to meet at Camp David with President George H. W. Bush. In a press conference held there on February 1, the two leaders proclaimed that their countries had entered a new era of “friendship and partnership.” Yet, in answering a reporter’s question about Yeltsin’s de-targeting announcement, President Bush declined to commit the U.S. to a reciprocal policy. Instead, he said only that Secretary of State James Baker would travel to Moscow within the month to lay the basis for further arms talks. Reflecting the proclaimed new era of U.S./Russia friendship, the resulting talks quickly proved fruitful. On January 3, 1993, Bush and Yeltsin signed a second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START II), which banned the use of multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs)–each carrying its own warhead–on intercontinental ballistic missiles. The treaty was ultimately ratified by both the U.S. (in 1996) and Russia (in 2000), but an accelerating backslide in U.S./Russia relations prevented it from ever going into force. U.S.-led NATO bombing of Russia’s Serbian allies in Kosovo in 1999 had soured Russia’s trust in American goodwill, and when the U.S. pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, Russia responded by withdrawing from START II. An historic chance to pursue comprehensive nuclear disarmament was thereby wasted, and, today, both countries continue to target nuclear weapons on each other’s major population centers.
January 27. On this day in 1945, the largest German Nazi death camp was liberated by the Soviet Red Army leading to the remembrance of this day as the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. The Greek word, Holocaust, or “sacrifice by fire,” remains as the word most associated with the interment of hundreds of thousands in death camps to be mass murdered in gas chambers. When Nazis took power in Germany in 1933, over nine million Jews lived in countries that would be occupied or invaded by the German Nazis during World War II. By 1945, nearly 6 million Jews and 3 million other people had been killed as part of the “Final Solution” of the Nazi policy. Although Jews were seen as inferior, and the largest threat to Germany, they were not the only victims of Nazi racism. Nearly 200,000 Roma (Gypsies), 200,000 mentally or physically disabled Germans, Soviet prisoners of war, and hundreds of thousands of others were also tortured and killed for twelve years. The Nazi’s plan for years was to expel the Jews, not to kill them. The United States and western allies for years refused to accept more Jewish refugees. The horrendous treatment of Jews by the Nazis was never part of Western propaganda for the war until after the war had ended. The war killed several times as many people as were killed in the camps, and involved no diplomatic or military efforts to stop the Nazis’ horrors. Germany surrendered to the Allies in May of 1945, liberating those still in the camps.
January 28. On this day in 1970, the Winter Festival for Peace was held at Madison Square Garden in New York City to raise funds for anti-war political candidates. It was the first musical event produced with the sole intention of raising funds for anti-war purposes. The Winter Festival of Peace was produced by Peter Yarrow of Peter Paul and Mary; Phil Friedmann, who had worked on the Presidential nomination campaign for Senator Eugene McCarthy; and Sid Bernstein, the legendary music promoter who first brought the Beatles to the United States. Some of the world’s best known rock, jazz, blues and folk artists performed, including Blood Sweat and Tears, Peter Paul and Mary, Jimi Hendrix, Richie Havens, Harry Belefonte, Voices of East Harlem, the Rascals, Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Judy Collins and the cast of Hair. Peter Yarrow and Phil Friedmann were able to convince the performers to donate their time and performances. This was a significant achievement when compared to Woodstock, held only a few months earlier, where many of the same performers insisted on being paid. The success of the Winter Peace Festival led Yarrow, Friedmann, and Bernstein to produce the Summer Peace Festival at Shea Stadium in New York. It was held on August 6, 1970 to mark the 25th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the first use of an atomic weapon. By demonstrating that musical events could be used to raise awareness, engagement and funds, the Festivals for Peace became the model for many of the successful benefit concerts that followed, such as The Concert for Bangladesh, Farm Aid and Live Aid.
January 29. On this day in 2014, 31 Latin American and Caribbean nations declared a zone of peace. Their declaration made Latin America and the Caribbean a zone of peace based on respect for the principles and rules of international law, including the U.N. Charter and other treaties. They declared their “permanent commitment to solve disputes through peaceful means with the aim of uprooting forever threat or use of force in our region.” They committed their nations “not to intervene, directly or indirectly, in the internal affairs of any other State and observe the principles of national sovereignty, equal rights and self-determination of peoples.” They declared the “commitment of the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean to foster cooperation and friendly relations among themselves and with other nations irrespective of differences in their political, economic, and social systems or development levels, to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors.” They committed their nations to “fully respect … the inalienable right of every State to choose its political, economic, social, and cultural system, as an essential condition to ensure peaceful coexistence among nations.” They dedicated themselves to “the promotion in the region of a culture of peace based, inter alia, on the principles of the United Nations Declaration on a Culture of Peace.” They also affirmed their nations’ “commitment … to continue promoting nuclear disarmament as a priority objective and to contribute with general and complete disarmament, to foster the strengthening of confidence among nations.”
January 30. On this day in 1948, Mohandas Gandhi, leader of the Indian Independence Movement against British rule, was killed. His success in using a philosophy of passive resistance led to his being considered the “Father of his Nation,” as well as widely being considered a father of nonviolent activism. Mohandas was also called “Mahatma,” or “the great-souled one.” The “School Day of Non-Violence and Peace” (DENIP) was founded in Spain in his memory on this day in 1964. Also known as the World or International Day of Non-Violence and Peace, it is a pioneering, non-state, non-governmental, non-official, independent, free and voluntary initiative of Non-Violent and Pacifying Education, which is practiced in schools all over the world and in which teachers and students of all levels and from all countries are invited to take part. DENIP advocates a permanent education in and for harmony, tolerance, solidarity, respect for human rights, non-violence and peace. In countries with a Southern Hemisphere calendar, the holiday can be observed on March 30. Its basic message is “Universal Love, Non-Violence and Peace. Universal Love is better than violence, and Peace is better than war.” The message of teaching this education in values should be one of experience and it can be freely applied in each center of education according to its own teaching style. Friends of DENIP are those persons who, by accepting the individual and social supremacy of universal love, non-violence, tolerance, solidarity, respect for human rights and peace above their opposites, advocate for the diffusion of the principles that inspired the day.
January 31. On this day in 2003, U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair met in the White House. President Bush proposed various crackpot schemes for starting a war on Iraq, including painting a plane with United Nations markings and trying to get it shot at. Bush said to Blair: “The US was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in UN colours. If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach.” Bush told Blair that it was “also possible that a defector could be brought out who would give a public presentation about Saddam’s WMD, and there was also a small possibility that Saddam would be assassinated.” Blair had committed the UK to taking part in Bush’s war on Iraq, but he was still pushing Bush to try to get the United Nations to authorize it. “A second Security Council Resolution,” Blair told Bush, “would provide an insurance policy against the unexpected and international cover.” Bush assured Blair that “the US would put its full weight behind efforts to get another resolution and would ‘twist arms’ and ‘even threaten’.” But Bush said that if he failed, “military action would follow anyway.” Blair promised Bush he was “solidly with the President and ready to do whatever it took to disarm Saddam.” In one of his dumber predictions, Blair said he “thought it unlikely that there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups” in Iraq. Then Bush and Blair held a press conference at which they claimed to be doing everything they could to avoid a war.
This Peace Almanac lets you know important steps, progress, and setbacks in the movement for peace that have taken place on each day of the year.
This Peace Almanac should remain good for every year until all war is abolished and sustainable peace established. Profits from sales of the print and PDF versions fund the work of World BEYOND War.
Text produced and edited by David Swanson.
Audio recorded by Tim Pluta.
Items written by Robert Anschuetz, David Swanson, Alan Knight, Marilyn Olenick, Eleanor Millard, Erin McElfresh, Alexander Shaia, John Wilkinson, William Geimer, Peter Goldsmith, Gar Smith, Thierry Blanc, and Tom Schott.
Ideas for topics submitted by David Swanson, Robert Anschuetz, Alan Knight, Marilyn Olenick, Eleanor Millard, Darlene Coffman, David McReynolds, Richard Kane, Phil Runkel, Jill Greer, Jim Gould, Bob Stuart, Alaina Huxtable, Thierry Blanc.
Music used by permission from “The End of War,” by Eric Colville.
Audio music and mixing by Sergio Diaz.
Graphics by Parisa Saremi.
World BEYOND War is a global nonviolent movement to end war and establish a just and sustainable peace. We aim to create awareness of popular support for ending war and to further develop that support. We work to advance the idea of not just preventing any particular war but abolishing the entire institution. We strive to replace a culture of war with one of peace in which nonviolent means of conflict resolution take the place of bloodshed.