October 1. On this day in 1990, the United States backed an invasion of Rwanda by a Ugandan army led by U.S.-trained killers. The U.S. supported their attack on Rwanda for three-and-a-half years. This is a good day to remember that while wars cannot prevent genocides, they can cause them. When you oppose war these days you’ll very quickly hear two words: “Hitler” and “Rwanda.” Because Rwanda faced a crisis in need of police, the argument goes, Libya or Syria or Iraq must be bombed. But Rwanda faced a crisis created by militarism, not a crisis in need of militarism. U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali maintained that “the genocide in Rwanda was one hundred percent the responsibility of the Americans!” Why? Well, the United States backed an invasion of Rwanda on October 1, 1990. Africa Watch (later called Human Rights Watch/Africa) exaggerated and denounced human rights violations by Rwanda, not the war. People not killed fled the invaders, creating a refugee crisis, ruined agriculture, and wrecked economy. The U.S. and the West armed the warmakers and applied additional pressure through the World Bank, IMF, and USAID. Hostility increased between Hutus and Tutsis. In April 1994, the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi were killed, almost certainly by U.S.-backed war-maker and Rwandan president-to-be Paul Kagame. The chaotic and not simply one-sided genocide followed that killing. At that point, peaceworkers, aid, diplomacy, apology, or legal prosecutions might have helped. Bombs would not have. The U.S. sat back until Kagame seized power. He would take the war into Congo, where 6 million would die.
October 2. On this date each year the UN International Day of Non-Violence is observed throughout the world. Established in 2007 by resolution of the UN General Assembly, the Day of Non-Violence was deliberately tied to the birth date of Mahatma Gandhi, the great exponent of non-violent civil disobedience who led India to its independence from British rule in 1947. Gandhi considered non-violence “the greatest force at the disposal of mankind…mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.” It is important to note that his conception of that force was broader than his own use of it to help win the independence of his country. Gandhi also recognized that non-violence is critical to building good relationships between people of different religions and ethnicities, expanding women’s rights, and reducing poverty. Since his death in 1948, many groups around the world, such as anti-war and civil-rights campaigners in the U.S., have successfully used non-violent strategies to advance political or social change. The actions taken have included protests and persuasion, including marches and vigils; non-cooperation with a governing authority; and nonviolent interventions, such as sit-ins and blockades, to impede unjust actions. In its resolution creating the Day of Non-Violence, the UN reaffirmed both the universal relevance of the principle of non-violence and its efficacy in securing a culture of peace, tolerance, and understanding. To help advance that cause on the Day of Non-Violence, individuals, governments, and non-government organizations around the world offer lectures, press conferences, and other presentations aimed at educating the public on how non-violent strategies can be used to promote peace both within and between nations.
October 3. On this date in 1967, more than 1,500 men across the United States returned their draft cards to the U.S. government in the country’s first “turn-in” demonstration against the Vietnam War. The protest was organized by an activist anti-draft group called “The Resistance,” which, along with other anti-war activist groups, would stage a few additional “turn-ins” before petering out. However, another form of draft-card protest had arisen in 1964 that was to prove more durable and consequential. This was the burning of draft cards, predominantly in demonstrations organized by university students. By this act of defiance, students sought to assert their right to get on with their own lives after graduation, rather than be forced to put them at risk in what many deemed an outrageously immoral war. The act reflected both courage and conviction, as the U.S. Congress had passed a law in August 1965, later upheld by the Supreme Court, which made destruction of draft cards a crime. In reality, however, few men were convicted of the crime, as draft-card burnings came to be widely regarded not as acts of draft evasion, but of war resistance. In that context, recurrent images of the burnings in print and on television helped turn public opinion against the war by illustrating the degree to which it was alienating traditional loyalties. The burnings also played a role in disrupting the ability of the U.S. Selective Service System to maintain the levels of fresh manpower needed to effectively run the U.S. war machine in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. In that way, too, they helped bring an unjust war to an end.
October 4. On this date each year, the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi is observed by Roman Catholics around the world. Born in 1181, Francis is one of the great figures of the Roman Catholic Church, the founder of its largest religious order, and a recognized saint just two years after his death in 1226. Yet, it is posterity’s understanding of Francis the man—based both on fact and the embellishments of legend—that continues to inspire millions of people of various faiths, or none, to follow his lead in valuing and seeking to uplift the lives of other people and animals. Francis himself led a life of radical devotion to poor people and the sick. But, because he found his inspiration in nature, the flesh, and simple things, he was also deeply empathetic and capable of relating with equal ease to children, tax collectors, foreigners, and Pharisees. In his lifetime, Francis inspired those who sought a life of meaning and service. His meaning for us today, however, is not as an icon, but in showing the way to openness, reverence for nature, love of animals, and respect and peaceful relations with all other people. The universal significance of Francis’s respect for life is highlighted by the fact that UNESCO, a United Nations agency committed to building peace through international cooperation in Education, the Sciences, and Culture, designated the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi a world heritage site. The secular UN institution found a kindred spirit in Francis, and seeks with him to build world peace from its necessary foundation in the hearts of men and women.
October 5. On this date in 1923, the American peace activist Philip Berrigan was born in Two Harbors, Minnesota. In October 1967, Berrigan, then a Roman Catholic priest, joined with three other men in the first of two memorable acts of civil disobedience against the Vietnam War. The “Baltimore Four,” as the group was called, symbolically poured their own and poultry blood on Selective Service records filed at the Baltimore Customs House. Seven months later, Berrigan teamed up with eight other men and women, including his brother Daniel, himself a priest and anti-war activist, to hand-carry hundreds of 1-A draft files in wire baskets from the Catonsville, Maryland draft board to its parking lot. There, the so-called “Catonsville Nine” set the files afire, using, again symbolically, home-made napalm. This act propelled both Berrigan brothers to fame and stirred debate about the war in households across the nation. For his part, Philip Berrigan denounced all war as “a curse against God, the human family, and the earth itself.” For his many acts of nonviolent resistance to war, he paid the price, over his lifetime, of eleven years in jail. Those lost years, however, granted him a meaningful insight, which he spelled out in his 1996 autobiography, Fighting the Lamb’s War: “I see little difference between the world inside prison gates and the world outside,” Berrigan wrote. “A million-million prison walls can’t protect us, because the real dangers — militarism, greed, economic inequality, fascism, police brutality — lie outside, not inside, prison walls.” This heroic champion of a world beyond war died on December 6, 2002, at the age of 79.
October 6. On this date in 1683, thirteen mostly Quaker families from the Rhineland region of western Germany arrived in Philadelphia harbor after a 75-day transatlantic trip aboard the 500-ton schooner Concord. The families had suffered religious persecution in their homeland following the upheavals of the Reformation, and, based on reports, believed that the new colony of Pennsylvania would offer them both the farmland and religious freedom they sought. Its governor, William Penn, adhered to the Quaker tenets of freedom of conscience and pacifism, and had drafted a charter of liberties that guaranteed freedom of religion. The emigration of the German families had been organized by Penn’s friend Francis Pastorius, a German agent for a land-purchasing company in Frankfurt. In August 1683, Pastorius had negotiated with Penn the purchase of a tract of land northwest of Philadelphia. After the emigrants’ arrived in October, he helped them establish there what was to be known as the “Germantown” settlement. The settlement thrived, as its inhabitants built textile mills along the streams and grew flowers and vegetables in their three-acre plots. Pastorius later served as town mayor, establishing a school system and writing the first resolution in the United States against chattel slavery. Though the resolution was not followed by concrete actions, it deeply embedded in the Germantown community the notion that slavery belies Christian belief. Nearly two centuries later, slavery was officially ended in United States. Yet, evidence continues to suggest that the depravity on which it was based can never be fully erased until the Quaker principle that all actions must be tied to moral conscience is universally accepted.
October 7. On this date in 2001, the United States attacked Afghanistan and began one of the longest wars in U.S. history. Children born after it began fought on the U.S. side and died on the Afghan side. This is a good day to remember that wars are more easily prevented than ended. This one surely could have been prevented. After the 9/11 attacks, the United States demanded that the Taliban surrender suspected mastermind Osama Bin Laden. Consistent with Afghan tradition, the Taliban asked for evidence. The U.S. responded with an ultimatum. The Taliban dropped the request for evidence and suggested negotiating Bin Laden’s extradition for trial in another country, perhaps one that might even decide to send him on to the U.S. The U.S. responded to that by beginning a bombing campaign and invading a country that had not attacked it, killing the first of the hundreds of thousands of civilians who would die in the 9/11 revenge wars. Considering the worldwide outpouring of sympathy after 9/11, the United States might have gained UN approval for some kind of military action, even though there was in actuality no lawful justification for it. The U.S. did not bother to try. The U.S. eventually drew in the UN and even NATO, but maintained its unilateral intervention force, quaintly named “Operation Enduring Freedom.” Eventually, the U.S. was left virtually alone to continue the effort to prop up the warlords it had chosen over other warlords in an ongoing war that had lost any semblance of meaning or justification. It is indeed a good day to remember that wars are more easily prevented than ended.
October 8. On this date in 1917, the English poet Wilfred Owen mailed his mother the earliest surviving draft of one of the best-known war poems in the English language. Given a Latin title that translates to “Sweet and Fitting It Is,” the poem satirically contrasts Owen’s own bleak and horrific experience as a soldier in World War I with the nobility of war envisioned in an ode written by the Roman poet Horace. In translation, the first line of Horace’s poem reads: “Sweet and fitting it is to die for one’s country.” Owen’s deflation of such pretense is already presaged in a message he sent his mother with an early draft of his own poem: “Here is a gas poem,” he noted sardonically. In the poem, in which Horace is referenced as “my friend,” Owen evokes the horrors of gas warfare as it is exemplified in the case of one soldier who can’t get his mask on in time. He writes:
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Horace’s sentiment is a lie, because the reality of battle indicates that, for the soldier, the act of dying for his country is anything but “sweet and fitting.” But, one might also ask, What about war itself? Can the killing and maiming of masses of people ever be characterized as noble?
October 9. On this date in 1944, proposals for a postwar organization to succeed the League of Nations were submitted to all of the world’s countries for study and discussion. The proposals were the product of representatives from China, Great Britain, the USSR and the United States, who had convened seven weeks earlier at Dumbarton Oaks, a private mansion in Washington, D.C. Their mission was to create a blueprint for the organization of a new international body, to be known as the United Nations, which could gain broad acceptance and also effectively maintain international peace and security. To that end, the proposal stipulated that member states place armed forces at the disposal of a planned Security Council, which would take collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace or acts of military aggression. This mechanism remained a critical feature of the resulting United Nations, founded in October 1945, but its record of effectiveness in preventing or ending war has been disappointing. A major problem has been the veto power of the five permanent members of the Security Council—the U.S., Russia, Britain, China, and France—which enables them to reject any resolution that threatens their own strategic interests. In effect, the UN has been limited in its efforts to keep the peace by a mechanism that gives precedence to the interests of power rather than those of humanity and justice. It is likely that war will only be ended when the great nations of the world finally agree to its total abolition and institutional structures are established by which that agreement can be systematically upheld.
October 10. On this date in 1990, a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl testified before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus that, in her duties as a volunteer at Kuwait’s al-Adan hospital, she had seen Iraqi troops rip scores of babies out of incubators, leaving them “to die on the cold floor.” The girl’s account was a bombshell. It was repeated many times by President George H.W. Bush to help gain public support for a massive U.S.-led air offensive planned for January 1991 to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. Later, however, it was revealed that the young Congressional witness was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the U.S. Her testimony was the contrived product of a U.S. PR firm whose research in behalf of the Kuwaiti government had revealed that charging “the enemy” with atrocities was the best way to gain public support for a war that was proving a hard sell. After Iraqi forces had been driven out of Kuwait, an ABC-network investigation there determined that premature babies did in fact die during the occupation. The cause, however, was that many Kuwaiti doctors and nurses had fled their posts–not that Iraqi troops had ripped Kuwaiti babies from their incubators and left them to die on the hospital floor. In spite of these revelations, polls have shown that many Americans consider the 1991 assault on Iraqi occupation forces a “good war.” At the same time, they view the 2003 invasion of Iraq unfavorably, because the alleged rationale for it, “weapons of mass destruction,” proved to be a lie. In fact, both conflicts prove again that all war is a lie.
The second Monday in October is Columbus Day, the day the native peoples of the Americas discovered European genocide. This is a good day on which to study history.
October 11. On this date in 1884, Eleanor Roosevelt was born. As a trailblazing First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945, and until her death in 1962, she invested her authority and energies in the cause of promoting social justice and civil and human rights. In 1946, President Harry Truman appointed Eleanor Roosevelt as the first U.S. delegate to the United Nations, where she served as the first chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights. In that position, she was instrumental in formulating and overseeing the drafting of the UN’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document to which she herself and experts in various academic fields contributed. Two key ethical considerations underscore the document’s main tenets: the inherent dignity of every human being, and nondiscrimination. To uphold these principles, the Declaration comprises 30 articles that contain a comprehensive listing of related civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. Though the document is not binding, many informed thinkers see this apparent weakness as a plus. It allows the Declaration to serve as a springboard for the development of new legislative initiatives in international human rights law, and helps promote nearly universal acceptance of the concept of human rights. Eleanor Roosevelt worked to the end of her life to gain acceptance and implementation of the rights set forth in the Declaration, and it now constitutes her enduring legacy. Her contributions to its shaping are reflected in the constitutions of scores of nations and an evolving body of international law. For her work, President Truman in 1952 proclaimed Eleanor Roosevelt “First Lady of the World.”
October 12. On this date in 1921, the League of Nations achieved its first major peaceful settlement, of the Upper Silesia dispute. This was a banner day for intelligence overcoming brute force. The sanity of civility reigned at least momentarily. An organization created to build bridges of peaceful integrity made its first successful entry on to the world stage The League of Nations was an intergovernmental organization that was founded as a result of the Paris Peace Conference. The League was initially established as a worldwide peace-keeping organization. The League’s primary goals included prevention of war through collective security and disarmament, and settling international disputes through negotiation and arbitration. Created on January 10, 1920 and headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, its first action was to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, officially ending World War I, in 1919. Although the debate goes on as to the effectiveness of the League, it certainly had many small success in the 1920’s, and stopped conflicts, saving lives and creating the groundwork for what would eventually follow in 1945, the United Nations. As to the Silesia Dispute it arose after the First World War and was a land battle between Poland and Germany. When no compromise seemed to work, the decision was handed over to the fledgling League of Nations. The League’s decision was accepted by both parties in October of 1921. The decision and its acceptance placed sanity above brutality and held out hope that some day nations could rely on discourse and understanding as opposed to violence and destruction.
October 13. On this date in 1812, troops from the New York state militia refused to cross the Niagara River into Canada to reinforce militia and regular army troops in a fight against the British known as the Battle of Queenston Heights. Four months into the War of 1812, the battle was fought to achieve one of three planned U.S. invasions of Canada intended to set the groundwork for capturing Montreal and Quebec. Goals of the war included ending sanctions on U.S. trade with France and ending impressments into the British Navy of seamen on U.S. vessels, but also the conquest of Canada and its addition to the United States. The Battle of Queenston Heights started well for the Americans. Advance troops crossed the Niagara River from the New York village of Lewiston and established themselves on a steep escarpment above the town of Queenston. At first the troops successfully defended their position, but, in time, they could no longer hold off the British and their Indian allies without reinforcements. Yet, few in the New York militia, the main body of reinforcement troops in Lewiston, were willing to cross the river and come to their aid. Instead, they cited clauses in the Constitution they believed required them only to defend their state, not to help the United States invade another country. Without support, the remaining advance troops on the Queenston Heights were soon surrounded by the British, who forced their surrender. It was an outcome perhaps emblematic of all war. At the cost of many lives, it failed to settle disputes that might well have been resolved through diplomacy.
October 14. On this date in 1644, William Penn was born in London, England. Although the son of a distinguished Anglican British navy admiral, Penn became a Quaker at the age of 22, adopting moral tenets that included tolerance of all religions and ethnicities and a refusal to bear arms. In 1681, King Charles II of England settled a large loan from Penn’s deceased father by granting William a sprawling territory west and south of New Jersey, to be named Pennsylvania. Becoming its colonial governor in 1683, Penn implemented a democratic system that offered full freedom of religion, attracting Quakers and European immigrants of every dissident sect. From 1683 to 1755, in stark contrast to other British colonies, Pennsylvania’s settlers avoided hostilities and maintained friendly relations with the native nations by not taking their land without fair compensation and not plying them with alcohol. Religious and ethnic tolerance were in fact so broadly associated with the colony that even the Native Tuscaroras of North Carolina were moved to send messengers there asking permission to establish a settlement. Pennsylvania’s avoidance of war also meant that all the money that might have been spent on militias, forts, and armaments was available instead to develop the colony and build the city of Philadelphia, which by 1776 surpassed Boston and New York in size. While the superpowers of the day were battling for control of the continent, Pennsylvania prospered more rapidly than any of its neighbors who believed war was needed for growth. In its place, they were reaping the fruits of tolerance and peace planted by William Penn almost a century before.
October 15. On this date in 1969, an estimated two-million Americans participated in a nation-wide protest against the Vietnam War. Organized around a planned one-day nationwide work stoppage, and identified as the “Peace Moratorium,” the action is believed to be the largest demonstration in U.S. history. By late 1969, public opposition to the war was rapidly growing. Millions of Vietnamese and some 45,000 U.S. military members had already been killed. And, though then-President Nixon had campaigned on a promised plan to end the war, and had already begun a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops, a half-million remained deployed in Vietnam in a war many deemed pointless or immoral. In staging the Moratorium, large numbers of middle-class and middle-aged Americans throughout the country for the first time joined college students and young people in expressing opposition to the war in seminars, religious services, rallies, and meetings. Though small groups of war supporters also expressed their views, the Moratorium was most significant in spotlighting the defection from government war policy by millions of Americans the President had perceived as a compliant “Silent Majority.” In this way, the protest played a significant role in keeping the administration on course toward what proved a prolonged extrication from the war. Following three more years of death and destruction, the U.S. ended its active military engagement in all of Southeast Asia by signing the Paris Peace Accords in January 1973. Fighting among the Vietnamese themselves, however, continued until April 1975. Saigon then fell to North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops, and the country was unified under the Communist government in Hanoi as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
October 16. This date in 1934 marks the beginnings of the Peace Pledge Union, the oldest secular pacifist organization in Great Britain. Its creation was sparked by a letter in the Manchester Guardian written by a well-known pacifist, Anglican priest, and World War I army chaplain named Dick Sheppard. The letter invited all men of fighting age to send Sheppard a postcard stating their commitment to “renounce war and never again to support another.” Within two days, 2,500 men responded, and, over the next few months, a new anti-war organization with 100,000 members took shape. It became known as “The Peace Pledge Union,” because all of its members took the following pledge: “War is a crime against humanity. I renounce war, and am therefore determined not to support any kind of war. I am also determined to work for the removal of all causes of war.” Since its inception, the Peace Pledge Union has worked independently, or with other peace and human rights organizations, to oppose war and the militarism that breeds it. In addition to nonviolent anti-war actions, the Union pursues educational campaigns in workplaces, universities, and local communities. Their purpose is to challenge government systems, practices, and policies designed to convince the public that the use of armed force can effectively serve humanitarian ends and contribute to national security. In rebuttal, The Peace Pledge Union makes the case that lasting security can only be achieved when human rights are promoted by example, not by force; when diplomacy is based on compromise; and when budgets are reallocated for tackling the root causes of war and long-term peace-building.
October 17. On this date in 1905, Czar Nicholas II of Russia, under pressure from fearful nobles and upper-class advisers, issued an “October Manifesto” that promised substantive reforms in response to a nonviolent nationwide strike of some 1.7-million workers from all industries and professions. The strike had originated in December 1904, when ironworkers in St. Petersburg circulated a petition that called for shorter working days, higher wages, universal suffrage, and an elected government assembly. That action soon sparked a general workers strike throughout the Russian capital that drew 135,000 petition signatures. On January 9, 1905, a group of workers, accompanied by as many as 100,000 marchers still loyal to the Czar, sought to deliver the petition to his Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. Instead, they were met by gunfire from panicked palace guards, and several hundred were killed. In conciliation, Nicholas II announced his acceptance of a new national advisory council. But his gesture failed, in large part because factory workers would be excluded from membership. That set the stage for “The Great October Strike,” which crippled the country. Though it was effectively cut short by the Czar’s October Manifesto, which promised an elected general assembly and better working conditions, many laborers, liberals, peasants, and minority groups remained deeply dissatisfied. In coming years, political change in Russia would no longer be marked by nonviolence. It would lead, instead, to the Russian Revolution of 1917, which dismantled the Czarist autocracy and put the tyrannical Bolsheviks in power. After a two-year civil war, it would end with the dictatorship of the Communist Party and the murder of the Czar and his family.
October 18. On this date in 1907, a second set of Hague Conventions addressing the conduct of war was signed at an international peace conference held at The Hague in the Netherlands. Following on an earlier set of international treaties and declarations negotiated at The Hague in 1899, the 1907 Hague Conventions are among the first formal statements relating to war and war crimes in secular international law. A major effort in both conferences was the creation of an international court for compulsory binding arbitration of international disputes—a function considered necessary to replace the institution of war. Those efforts failed, however, though a voluntary forum for arbitration was established. At the Second Hague Conference, a British effort to secure limits on armaments failed, but limits on naval warfare were advanced. Overall, the 1907 Hague Conventions added little to those of 1899, but the meeting of major world powers helped inspire later 20th-century attempts at international cooperation. Of these, the most significant was the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, in which 62 signatory states promised not to use war to resolve “disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin….” The Pact’s intent to permanently abolish war remains critical, not only because war is deadly, but because a society willing to use war for gain must continually prepare to come out ahead. That imperative fosters a militaristic mindset that turns moral priorities upside-down. Instead of spending to meet basic human needs and help heal the natural environment, the society invests at far greater expense in developing and testing more effective weaponry, which itself does major damage to the environment.
October 19. On this date in 1960, Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested with 51 student demonstrators during an anti-segregation sit-in at “The Magnolia Room,” a chic tea room in Rich’s Department Store in Atlanta, Georgia. The sit-in was one of many in Atlanta that had been inspired by the black-college Atlanta Student Movement, but the elegant Magnolia Room helped showcase the integration cause. It was an Atlanta institution, but also part of the South’s Jim Crow culture. African Americans could shop at Rich’s, but they couldn’t try on clothing or take a table in the Magnolia Room. When the demonstrators did just that, they were charged with violating an existing statute that required all persons to leave private property when asked. Those arrested were all released on bond or had their charges dismissed, except for Martin Luther King. He faced a four-month sentence in a Georgia public work camp for driving in the state in violation of an “anti-trespass” law specifically enacted to curb lunch-counter sit-ins. An intervention by presidential candidate John Kennedy led quickly to King’s release, but it would take almost another year of sit-ins and Ku Klux Klan counter-protests throughout Atlanta before business losses forced the city to integrate. Full racial equality in the United States had still to be achieved even a half-century later. But, commenting during a commemoration of the Atlanta Student Movement, Lonnie King, co-founder of the movement and himself a Magnolia Room demonstrator, expressed optimism. He continued to find hope for reaching racial equality in the campus roots of the student movement. “Education,” he asserted, “has always been the artery for advancement, certainly in the South.”
October 20. On this day in 1917, Alice Paul began a seven-month jail sentence for nonviolently protesting for suffrage. Born in 1885 in a Quaker village, Paul entered Swarthmore in 1901. She went on to the University of Pennsylvania studying economics, political science, and sociology. A trip to England confirmed her belief that the suffrage movement both at home and abroad was the most significant social injustice going unaddressed. While earning three more degrees in law, Paul devoted her life to ensuring that women were allowed a voice and treated as equal citizens. Her first organized march in Washington, DC, took place on the eve of Woodrow Wilson’s 1913 inauguration. The suffrage movement was initially ignored, yet led to four years of nonviolent lobbying, petitioning, campaigning, and broadening marches. As WWI loomed, Paul demanded that before supposedly spreading democracy abroad, the U.S. government should address it at home. She and a dozen followers, the “Silent Sentinels,” began to picket at the White House Gates in January of 1917. The women were periodically attacked by men, especially war supporters, finally arrested, and imprisoned. Although the war was capturing headlines, some word of the severe treatment shown to the suffrage movement drew increasing support to their cause. Many who had gone on hunger strikes in prison were being force fed under brutal conditions; and Paul had been confined to a prison psychiatric ward. Wilson finally agreed to support women’s suffrage, and all charges were dropped. Paul continued to fight for the Civil Rights Act, and then the Equal Rights Amendment, setting precedents throughout her life by peaceful protest.
October 21. On this date in 1837, the U.S. Army turned the tide in its wars with the Seminole Indians by resorting to duplicity. The event stemmed from the resistance of the Seminoles to the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which gave the U.S. government authority to open land to white settlers by removing five Indian tribes east of the Mississippi to the Indian Territory in Arkansas and Oklahoma. When the Seminoles resisted, the U.S. Army went to war to try to remove them forcibly. However, in a climactic battle in December 1835, only 250 Seminole fighters, led by the renowned warrior Osceola, soundly defeated a column of 750 U.S. soldiers. That defeat and Osceola’s continuing successes prompted one of the most disgraceful acts in U.S. military history. In October 1837, U.S. troops captured Osceola and 81 of his followers, and, promising peace talks, led them under a white flag of truce to a fort near St. Augustine. On arriving there, however, Osceola was carted off to prison. Without its leader, most of the Seminole Nation had been relocated to the Western Indian Territory before the war ended in 1842. It was not until 1934, with the introduction of the Indian Reorganization Act, that the U.S. government finally stepped back from reflexively serving the interests of white usurpers of Indian land. The Reorganization Act, which remains in effect, contains provisions that, on their face, can help Native Americans build a more secure life while maintaining their tribal traditions. It is still to be seen, however, whether the government will provide the support needed to help make that vision a reality.
October 22. On this date in 1962, President John Kennedy announced in a television address to the U.S. people that the U.S. government had confirmed the presence of Soviet nuclear missile bases in Cuba. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev had given the go-ahead to install nuclear missiles in Cuba in the summer of 1962, both to protect a strategic ally from a possible U.S. invasion and to counterbalance U.S. superiority in long- and medium-range nuclear weapons based in Europe. With confirmation of the missile bases, Kennedy had demanded that the Soviets dismantle them and ship all their offensive weapons in Cuba back home. He had also ordered a naval blockade around Cuba to prevent the delivery of any additional offensive military equipment. On October 26, the U.S. took the further step of raising its military force preparedness to a level capable of supporting all-out nuclear war. Fortunately, a peaceful resolution was soon achieved–largely because efforts to find a way out were centered directly in the White House and Kremlin. Attorney General Robert Kennedy urged the President to respond to two letters the Soviet Premier had already sent to the White House. The first offered to remove the missile bases in exchange for a promise by U.S. leaders not to invade Cuba. The second offered to do the same if the U.S. also agreed to remove its missile installations in Turkey. Officially, the U.S. accepted the terms of the first message and simply ignored the second one. Privately, however, Kennedy agreed to later withdraw U.S. missile bases from Turkey, a decision that effectively ended the Cuban Missile Crisis on October 28.
October 23. On this date in 2001, a major step was taken to resolve one of the most intractable sectarian conflicts in modern history. Starting in 1968, predominantly Roman Catholic nationalists and mainly Protestant unionists in Northern Ireland engaged in more than thirty years of unrelenting armed violence known as “The Troubles.” The nationalists wanted the British province to become part of the Republic of Ireland, while the unionists wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom. In 1998, the Good Friday Agreement provided a framework for a political settlement based on a power-sharing arrangement between factions aligned with the two sides. The accord included a program of “devolution”—a transfer of police, judicial, and other powers from London to Belfast—and a stipulation that paramilitary groups aligned with both sides immediately begin a process of verifiable total disarmament. At first, the heavily armed Irish Republican Army (IRA) was unwilling to divest itself of assets that advantaged the nationalist cause. But, at the urging of its political branch, Sinn Fein, and recognizing the futility of its intransigence, the organization announced on October 23, 2001 that it would start an irreversible decommissioning of all armaments in its possession. It was not until September 2005 that the IRA had confiscated the last of its weapons, and, from 2002 to 2007, continuing political turmoil forced London to reimpose direct rule on Northern Ireland. Yet, by 2010 the multiple political factions in Northern Ireland were governing peacefully together. Undoubtedly, an important factor in that outcome was the IRA’s decision to renounce its efforts to advance the cause of a unified Irish Republic through violence.
October 24. On this date, United Nations Day is annually observed around the world, marking the official anniversary of the UN’s founding in 1945. The Day provides an occasion to celebrate the UN’s support of international peace, human rights, economic development, and democracy. We can also applaud its many accomplishments, which include saving the lives of millions of children, protecting the earth’s ozone layer, helping eradicate smallpox, and setting the stage for the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. At the same time, however, many UN observers have pointed out that the current UN operating structure, composed mainly of representatives of each state’s executive branch, is unequipped to respond meaningfully to problems that pose an immediate challenge to people around the world. They are therefore calling for the creation of an independent UN parliamentary assembly, composed mostly of representatives from existing national or regional assemblies. The new body would help meet such developing challenges as climate change, food insecurity, and terrorism, while also facilitating political and economic cooperation and the promotion of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. As of August 2015, an international appeal for the establishment of a UN parliamentary assembly had been signed by 1,400 sitting and former members of parliament from over 100 countries. Through such an assembly, representatives accountable to their constituents, as well as some outside of government, would provide oversight of international decision-making; serve as a link between the world’s citizens, civil society, and the UN; and give greater voice to minorities, youth, and indigenous peoples. The result would be a more inclusive UN, with enhanced capacity to meet global challenges.
October 25. On this date in 1983, a force of 2,000 U.S. marines invaded Grenada, a small Caribbean island nation north of Venezuela with a population of fewer than 100,000. In publicly defending the action, President Ronald Reagan cited the threat posed by Grenada’s new Marxist regime to the safety of nearly a thousand U.S. nationals living on the island–many of them students at its medical school. Until less than a week before, Grenada had been ruled by the leftist Maurice Bishop, who had seized power in 1979 and begun to develop close relations with Cuba. On October 19, however, another Marxist, Bernard Coard, ordered Bishop’s assassination and took control of the government. When the invading marines faced unexpected opposition from Grenadian armed forces and Cuban military engineers, Reagan ordered in some 4,000 additional U.S. troops. In little more than a week, the Coard government was overthrown and replaced by one more acceptable to the United States. For many Americans, however, that outcome could not justify the cost in dollars and lives of another U.S. war to achieve a political goal. Some also knew that, two days before the invasion, the U.S. State Department had been already aware that the medical students in Granada were not in danger. The parents of 500 of the students had in fact telegrammed President Reagan not to attack, after learning that their children were free to leave Granada whenever they wanted. Yet, like U.S. governments before and since, the Reagan administration chose war. When the war was over, Reagan took credit for the first supposed “rollback” of communist influence since the beginning of the Cold War.
October 26. On this date in 1905, Norway won its independence from Sweden without resort to war. Since 1814, Norway had been forced into a “personal union” with Sweden, the result of a victorious Swedish invasion. This meant that the country was subject to the authority of Sweden’s king, but kept its own constitution and legal status as an independent state. Over succeeding decades, however, Norwegian and Swedish interests grew ever more divergent, especially as they involved foreign trade and Norway’s more liberal domestic policies. A strong nationalist sentiment developed, and, in 1905, a nation-wide independence referendum was supported by more than 99% of Norwegians. On June 7, 1905, the Norwegian parliament declared Norway’s union with Sweden dissolved, triggering widespread fear that war between the two countries would again break out. Instead, however, Norwegian and Swedish delegates met on August 31 to negotiate mutually acceptable terms of separation. Though prominent right-wing Swedish politicians favored a hard-line approach, the Swedish king strongly resisted risking another war with Norway. A major reason was that results of the Norwegian referendum had convinced the major European powers that Norway’s independence movement was for real. That caused the king to fear that Sweden could be isolated by suppressing it. In addition, neither country wanted to aggravate ill will in the other. On October 26, 1905, the Swedish king renounced his and any of his descendants’ claims to the Norwegian throne. Though Norway remained a parliamentary monarchy by appointing a Danish prince to fill the vacancy, it thus became, through a bloodless people’s movement, a fully sovereign nation for the first time since the 14th century.
October 27. On this date in 1941, six weeks before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt gave a nationwide “Navy Day” radio speech in which he falsely claimed that German submarines had without provocation launched torpedoes at peaceful U.S. warships in the western Atlantic. In reality, the U.S. ships had been helping British planes track the submarines, thereby flouting international law. For reasons of both personal and national self-interest, the President’s true motive in leveling his claims was to incite public hostility toward Germany that would compel Hitler to declare war on the U.S. Roosevelt himself was reluctant to declare war on Germany, as the U.S. public seemingly had no appetite for it. The President, however, had an ace up his sleeve. The U.S. could go to war with Germany’s ally, Japan, and thereby establish a basis for also entering the war in Europe. The trick would be to force Japan to initiate a war the U.S. public could not ignore. So, beginning in October 1940, the U.S. took actions that included keeping the U.S. naval fleet in Hawaii, insisting that the Dutch refuse to take Japanese oil, and joining Great Britain in embargoing all trade with Japan. Inevitably, in little over a year, on December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was bombed. Like all wars, World War II was based on lies. Yet, decades later, it became known as “The Good War” — in which the good will of the U.S. prevailed over the perfidy of the Axis powers. That myth has dominated the U.S. public mind ever since and is reinforced each December 7 in celebrations across the country.
October 28. This date in 1466 marks the birth of Desiderius Erasmus, a Dutch Christian humanist widely considered the greatest scholar of the northern Renaissance. In 1517, Erasmus wrote a book about the evils of war that continues to have relevance today. Entitled The Complaint of Peace, the book speaks in the first-person voice of “Peace,” a character personified as a woman. Peace makes the case that, although she offers “the source of all human blessings,” she is scorned by people who “go in quest of evils infinite in number.” Groups as diverse as princes, academics, religious leaders, and even ordinary folks seem blind to the harm war can bring on them. Powerful people have created a climate in which speaking up for Christian forgiveness is considered treasonous, while promoting war demonstrates loyalty to the nation and devotion to its happiness. People must ignore the vengeful God of the Old Testament, Peace declares, and favor the peaceful God of Jesus. It is that God who rightly discerns the causes of war in the pursuit of power, glory, and revenge, and the basis of peace in love and forgiveness. “Peace” ultimately proposes that kings submit their grievances to wise and impartial arbiters. Even if either side considers their judgment unfair, it will be spared the much greater suffering resulting from war. It should be kept in mind that wars fought in Erasmus’s time tended to maim and kill only those who fought in them. His denunciations of war therefore carry even greater weight in our modern nuclear age, when any war may run the risk of ending life on our planet.
October 29. On this date in 1983, over 1,000 British women cut down sections of the fence surrounding the Greenham Common airfield outside Newbury, England. Dressed up as witches, complete with “black cardigans” (code for bolt cutters), the women staged a “Halloween Party” protest against a NATO plan to transform the airfield into a military base housing 96 Tomahawk ground-launched nuclear cruise missiles. The missiles themselves were scheduled to arrive the following month. By cutting down sections of the airfield fence, the women meant to symbolize their need to breach the “Berlin Wall” that kept them from expressing their concerns about nuclear weapons to the military authorities and crew inside the base. The “Halloween Party,” however, was only one of a series of anti-nuclear protests waged by British women at Greenham Common. They had begun their movement in August 1981, when a group of 44 women walked 100 miles to Greenham from Cardiff City Hall in Wales. On arriving, four of them chained themselves to the outside of the airfield fence. After the U.S. base commander received their letter opposing the planned missile deployment, he invited the women to set up camp outside the base. They willingly did so, in fluctuating numbers, for the next 12 years, staging protest events that drew up to 70,000 supporters. Following the first U.S.-Soviet disarmament treaties signed in 1987, the women gradually began to leave the base. Their campaign there formally ended in 1993, following removal of the last missiles from Greenham in 1991, and a two-year continuing protest against other nuclear weapons sites. The Greenham base itself was disbanded in the year 2000.
October 30. On this date in 1943, the so-called Four Power Declaration was signed by the United States, United Kingdom, Soviet Union, and China at a conference in Moscow. The Declaration formally established the four-power framework that would later influence the international order of the postwar world. It committed the four allied nations in World War II to continue hostilities against the Axis powers until all enemy forces had accepted unconditional surrender. The Declaration also advocated the earliest possible establishment of an international organization of peace-loving states that would work together as equals to maintain global peace and security. Although this vision inspired the founding of the United Nations two years later, the Four Power Declaration also demonstrated how concerns over national self-interest can impede international cooperation and undermine efforts to resolve conflicts without war. For example, U.S. President Roosevelt told British Prime Minister Churchill privately that the Declaration would “in no way prejudice final decisions as to world order.” The Declaration also omitted any discussion of a permanent postwar international peacekeeping force, much less a nonviolent unarmed peacekeeping mission. And the United Nations was carefully created with special powers, including the veto, for a few nations only. The Four Power Declaration represented a hopeful departure from the realties of a horrific war by advancing the vision of an international community governed by mutual respect and cooperation. But it also revealed how far the mindset of world powers still needed to evolve to bring about such a community and a world beyond war.
October 31. On this date in 2014, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon established a high-level independent panel to produce a report assessing the state of UN peace operations and recommending changes needed to help meet the emerging needs of the world’s populations. In June 2015, the 16-member panel submitted its report to the Secretary-General, who, following careful study, transmitted it to the General Assembly and Security Council for consideration and adoption. Broadly speaking, the document offers recommendations on how peace operations can “better support the [UN’s] work to prevent conflict, achieve durable political settlements, protect civilians, and sustain peace.” In a section headed “Essential Shifts for Peace Operations,” the report states that “The task of the United Nations and other international actors is to focus international attention, leverage and resources on supporting national actors to make the courageous choices required to restore peace, address underlying conflict drivers, and meet the legitimate interest of the wide population, not just a small elite.” Related text warns, however, that this task can only be successfully pursued if it is recognized that lasting peace cannot be achieved or sustained by military and technical engagements. Instead, the “primacy of politics“ must be the hallmark of all approaches to resolving conflict, conducting mediation, monitoring ceasefires, assisting implementation of peace accords, managing violent conflicts, and pursuing longer-term efforts at sustaining peace. If rigorously observed in the real world, the recommendations offered in the 2015 UN report on Peace Operations might well nudge the world’s nations a little closer to accepting international mediation, in place of armed force, as the new norm for resolving conflict.
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.