Peace Almanac February

February

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February 1. On this day in 1960, four black students from the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University sat down at the lunch counter inside the Woolworth store at 132 South Elm Street in Greensboro, North Carolina. Ezell Blair Jr., David Richmond, Franklin McCain, and Joseph McNeil, students at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College, planned a sit-in at the Woolworth Department Store. These four students later became known as the Greensboro Four for their courage and dedication to ending segregation. The four students attempted to order food at Woolworth’s lunch counter but were denied based on race. Despite the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954, segregation was still ubiquitous in the South. The Greensboro Four stayed at the lunch counter until the restaurant closed, despite being denied service. The young men returned to the Woolworth lunch counter repeatedly and encouraged others to join them. By February 5th, 300 students had joined the sit-in at Woolworth’s. The actions of the four black students inspired other African Americans, especially college students, in Greensboro and across the Jim Crow South to participate in sit-ins and other nonviolent protests. By the end of March, the nonviolent sit-in movement had spread to 55 cities in 13 states, and these events led to the integration of many restaurants across the South. The teachings of Mohandas Gandhi inspired these young men to participate in nonviolent demonstrations, showing that even in a world of violence and repression, nonviolent movements can have a significant impact.

February 2. On this day in 1779, Anthony Benezet refuses to pay taxes to support the Revolutionary War. In order to maintain and fund the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress issued a war tax. Anthony Benezet, an influential Quaker, refused to pay taxes the tax because it funded war. Benezet, along with Moses Brown, Samuel Allinson, and other Quakers, were vehemently opposed to war in all of its forms, despite threats of imprisonment and even execution for refusing to pay the tax.

Also on this day in 1932, the first world disarmament convention opened in Geneva, Switzerland. After World War I, the League of Nations had been assembled in order to maintain world peace, but the United States decided not to join. In Geneva, the League of Nations and the United States attempted to curb the rapid militarism that had taken place throughout Europe. Most members agreed that Germany should have lower levels of armament compared to European countries such as France and England; however, Hitler’s Germany withdrew in 1933 and the talks broke down.

And on this day in 1990, South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk lifted a ban on opposition groups. The African National Congress or ANC became legal and has been the majority governing party in South Africa since 1994 professing to work toward a united, non-racial, and democratic society. The ANC and its most influential member Nelson Mandela were integral in the dissolution of apartheid, and allowing the ANC to participate in government created a more democratic South Africa.

February 3. On this day in 1973, four decades of armed conflict in Vietnam officially ended when a cease-fire agreement signed in Paris the previous month came into effect. Vietnam had endured almost uninterrupted hostility since 1945, when a war for independence from France was launched. A civil war between northern and southern regions of the country began after the country was divided by the Geneva Convention in 1954, with American military “advisors” arriving in 1955. A 2008 study by Harvard Medical School and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington estimated 3.8 million violent war deaths resulted from what the Vietnamese call the American War. About two-thirds of the deaths were civilian. Additional millions died as the United States extended the war into Laos and Cambodia. The wounded were in much higher numbers, and judging by South Vietnamese hospital records, one-third were women and one-quarter children under age 13. U.S. casualties included 58,000 killed and 153,303 wounded, plus 2,489 missing, but higher numbers of veterans would later die through suicide. According to the Pentagon, the United States spent about $168 billion on the Vietnam War (about $1 trillion in 2016 money). That money could have been used to improve education or to fund the recently created Medicare and Medicaid programs. Vietnam did not pose a threat to the United States, but — as the Pentagon Papers revealed — the U.S. government continued the war, year after year, primarily “to save face.”

February 4. On this day in 1913, Rosa Parks was born. Rosa Parks was an African American civil rights activist, who most notably initiated the Montgomery Bus Boycott by refusing to yield her seat to a white man, while riding a bus. Rosa Parks is known as the “First Lady of Civil Rights” and won the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her dedication to equality and ending segregation. Parks was born in Tuskegee, Alabama, and was bullied often as a child by white neighbors; however, she received her high school diploma in 1933, despite the fact that only 7% of African Americans finished high school at the time. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, she confronted both the racism of those around her and the unjust Jim Crow laws enacted by governments. By law, Parks was required to give up her seat, and she was willing to go to jail in order to show her commitment to equality. After a long and difficult boycott, the black people of Montgomery ended segregation on the buses. They did so without using violence or increasing animosity. A leader who came out of that boycott movement and went on to lead many other campaigns was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The same principles and techniques used in Montgomery can be modified and applied to unjust laws and unjust institutions today. We can draw inspiration from Rosa Parks and those who advanced her cause to advance the causes of peace and justice here and now.

February 5. On this day in 1987, Grandmothers for Peace protested at a Nevada nuclear test site. Barbara Wiedner founded Grandmothers for Peace International in 1982 after she learned of 150 nuclear weapons within miles of her house in Sacramento, California. The organization’s stated goal is to end the use and ownership of nuclear weapons through demonstrations and protests. Six U.S. senators, including Leon Panetta and Barbara Boxer, participated in this demonstration, along with actors Martin Sheen, Kris Kristofferson, and Robert Blake. The nonviolent protest at the Nevada nuclear test site brought an abundance of media attention and publicity to what was illegal nuclear weapons testing. Testing nuclear weapons in Nevada violated the law and had inflamed the U.S. relationship with the Soviet Union, encouraging further nuclear weapons development and testing. At the demonstration, the rare mix of politicians, actors, elderly women, and many others sent a message to President Ronald Reagan and the U.S. government that nuclear testing was unacceptable, and that citizens should not be kept in the dark about their government’s actions. Another message was sent to ordinary people along these lines: if a small group of grandmothers can have an impact on public policy when they get organized and active, then so can you. Imagine the impact we could have if we all worked at it together. Belief in nuclear deterrence has crumbled, but the weapons remain, and the need for a stronger movement to abolish them grows with each passing year.

February 6. On this day in 1890, Abdul Ghaffar Khan was born. Abdul Ghaffar Khan, or Bacha Khan, was born in British-controlled India to a wealthy landowning family. Bacha Khan forewent a life of luxury in order to create a nonviolent organization, named the “Red Shirt Movement,” which was dedicated to Indian independence. Khan met Mohandas Gandhi, a champion of nonviolent civil disobedience, and Khan became one of his closest advisors, leading to a friendship that would last until Gandhi’s assassination in 1948. Bacha Khan used nonviolent civil disobedience to gain rights for the Pashtuns in Pakistan, and he was arrested numerous times for his courageous actions. As a Muslim, Khan used his religion as an inspiration to promote a free and peaceful society, where the poorest citizens would be given assistance and allowed to rise economically. Khan knew that nonviolence breeds love and compassion while violent revolt only leads to harsh punishment and hatred; therefore, utilizing nonviolent means, while difficult in some situations, is the most effective method of generating change within a country. The British Empire feared the actions of Gandhi and Bacha Khan, as it showed when over 200 peaceful, unarmed protestors were brutally killed by the British police. The Massacre at Kissa Khani Bazaar showcased the brutality of the British colonists and demonstrated why Bacha Khan fought for independence. In an interview in 1985, Bacha Khan stated, “I am a believer in nonviolence and I say that no peace or tranquility will descend upon the world until nonviolence is practiced, because nonviolence is love and it stirs courage in people.”

February 7. On this day, Thomas More born. Saint Thomas More, an English Catholic philosopher and author, refused to accept the new Anglican Church of England, and he was beheaded for treason in 1535. Thomas More also wrote Utopia, a book depicting a theoretically perfect island that is self-sufficient and operates without problems. More examines ethics throughout the book by discussing the results of virtuous acts. He wrote that each individual receives rewards from God for acting virtuously and punishments for acting maliciously. The people in the Utopian society cooperated and lived peacefully with one another without violence or strife. Although people now view the Utopian society that Thomas More described as an impossible fantasy, it is important to strive for this type of peace. The world is not currently peaceful and without violence; however, it is incredibly important to attempt to create a peaceful, utopian world. The first problem that must be overcome is the act of war in all of its forms. If we can create a world beyond war, a utopian society will not seem outlandish and nations will be able to focus on providing for their citizens as opposed to spending money to build up militaries. Utopian societies should not simply be cast off as an impossibility; instead, they should be used as a collective aim for world governments and individual people. Thomas More wrote Utopia to show problems that existed throughout society. Some have been remedied. Others need to be.

February 8. On this day in 1690, the Schenectady massacre took place. The Schenectady massacre was an attack against an English village of mainly women and children carried out by a collection of French soldiers and Algonquian Indians. The massacre occurred during King William’s War, also known as the Nine Years War, after continuous violent raids of Indian lands by the English. The invaders burned down houses throughout the village and murdered or imprisoned virtually everyone in the community. In total, 60 people were murdered in the middle of the night, including 10 women and 12 children. One survivor, while wounded, rode from Schenectady to Albany to inform others what had happened in the village. Every year in commemoration of the massacre, the mayor of Schenectady rides on horseback from Schenectady to Albany, taking the same route the survivor took. The annual commemoration is an important way for citizens to understand the horrors of war and violence. Innocent men, women, and children were massacred for absolutely no reason. The town of Schenectady was not prepared for an attack, nor were they able to protect themselves from the vengeful French and Algonquians. This massacre could have been avoided if the two sides had never been at war; moreover, this demonstrates that war endangers everybody, not just those fighting on the front lines. Until war is abolished it will continue to kill the innocent.

February 9. On this day in 1904, the Russo-Japanese War began. Throughout the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, Japan, along with many European nations, attempted to illegally colonize parts of Asia. Like European colonial powers, Japan would take over a region and install a temporary colonial government that would exploit the locals and produce goods for the benefit of the colonizing country. Both Russia and Japan demanded that Korea be placed under their country’s respective power, which led to conflict between the two nations on the Korean peninsula. This war was not a struggle for independence by Korea; instead, it was a fight by two outside powers to decide Korea’s fate. Oppressive colonial wars like this one destroyed countries like Korea both politically and physically. Korea would continue to host conflict through the Korean War in the 1950’s. Japan defeated Russia in the Russo-Japanese War and maintained colonial control over the Korean peninsula until 1945 when the United States and the Soviet Union defeated the Japanese. In total, there were an estimated 150,000 dead by the end of the Russo-Japanese war, including 20,000 civilian deaths. This colonial war affected the colonized country of Korea more than the aggressors because it was not fought on Japanese or Russian lands. Colonization continues to happen today throughout the Middle East, and the United States tends to fight proxy wars by providing weapons to aid certain groups. Rather than working to end war, the United States continues to supply weapons for wars throughout the world.

February 10. On this day in 1961, The Voice of Nuclear Disarmament, a pirate radio station, began operating offshore near Great Britain. The station was run by Dr. John Hasted, an atomic scientist at London University, a musician and radio expert during World War II. The announcer, Lynn Wynn Harris, was the wife of Dr. John Hasted. Dr. Hasted partnered with mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell in the Committee for Nuclear Disarmament, a group that followed Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violent civil disobedience. The Voice of Nuclear Disarmament was broadcast on the audio channel of BBC after 11 p.m. throughout 1961-62. It was promoted in London by the antiwar Committee of 100 while urging people to join their rallies. Bertrand Russell resigned as president of the Committee for Nuclear Disarmament to become president of the Committee of 100. The Committee of 100 staged large sit-down demonstrations, the first of which took place on February 18, 1961 outside of the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall, and later in Trafalgar Square and at the Holy Loch Polaris submarine base. These were preceded by the arrest and trial of 32 members of the Committee of 100, whose offices were raided by Special Branch officers, and six leading members were charged with conspiracy under the Official Secrets Act. Ian Dixon, Terry Chandler, Trevor Hatton, Michael Randle, Pat Pottle, and Helen Allegranza were found guilty and imprisoned in February 1962. The Committee then dissolved into 13 regional Committees. The London Committee of 100 was the most active, launching a national magazine, Action for Peace, in April 1963, later The Resistance, 1964.

February 11. On this day in 1990, Nelson Mandela was freed from prison. He went on to play a key role in the official ending of Apartheid in South Africa. With assistance from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Nelson Mandela was arrested on charges of treason, and stayed in prison from 1962-1990; however, he remained the figurehead and practical leader of the antiapartheid movement. Four years after being released from prison, he was elected president of South Africa, allowing him to pass a new constitution, creating equal political rights for blacks and whites. Mandela avoided retribution and pursued truth and reconciliation for his country. He said he believed that love could conquer evil and that everybody must take an active part in resisting oppression and hate. Mandela’s ideas can be summarized in the following quote: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” In order to end war and create a society filled with peace, there must be activists like Nelson Mandela who are willing to devote their whole lives for the cause. This is a good day to celebrate nonviolent action, diplomacy, reconciliation, and restorative justice.

February 12. On this day in 1947, the first peacetime draft card burning in the United States took place. There is a common misconception that opposition to the draft began in the Vietnam War; in reality, many have opposed military conscription since its beginnings in the U.S. Civil War. An estimated 72,000 men objected to the draft during World War II, and after the war, many of the same individuals took a stand and burned their draft cards. World War II was over and there was no new imminent draft, but burning their draft cards was a political statement. Around 500 military veterans of both world wars burned their cards in New York City and Washington, D.C. in order to show that they would not participate or condone continued violence by the U.S. military. Many of these veterans rejected the long history of violent interventions in Native American and other countries around the world since the birth of the United States. The United States has been at war alomst constantly since 1776, and is a nation deeply entwined with violence. But simple acts like burning draft cards have communicated powerfully to the U.S. government that citizens won’t accept a nation constantly in a state of war. The United States is currently at war, and it is imperative that citizens find creative nonviolent means of communicating their disapproval with the actions of their government.

February 13. On this day in 1967, carrying huge photos of Napalmed Vietnamese children, 2,500 members of the group Women Strike for Peace stormed the Pentagon, demanding to see “the generals who send our sons to Vietnam.” Leaders inside the Pentagon originally locked the doors and refused to allow the protestors inside. After continued efforts, they were finally allowed inside, but they were not granted their meeting with the generals they had planned to meet with. Instead, they met with a congressman who provided no answers. The Women Strike for Peace group demanded answers from an administration that wouldn’t provide clarity, so they decided that it was time to take the fight to Washington. This day and others, the U.S. government refused to acknowledge its use of illegal poisonous gases in the war against the Vietnamese. Even with pictures of napalmed Vietnamese children, the Johnson administration continued to place the blame on the North Vietnamese. The United States government lied to its citizens in order to continue its so-called “war against communism,” despite seeing no results and incredibly high casualty rates. The Women Strike for Peace organization realized the futility of war in Vietnam and wanted real answers as to how the conflict would be ended. Lies and deception fueled the Vietnam War. These protestors wanted answers from the generals inside the Pentagon, but the military leaders continued to deny the use of poisonous gases despite overwhelming evidence. Yet the truth came out and is no longer disputed.

February 14. On this day in 1957, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was founded in Atlanta. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference began a few months after the Montgomery bus system was desegregated by the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The SCLC was inspired by Rosa Parks and fueled by individuals like Martin Luther King Jr. who served as an elected officer. The organization’s continued mission is to use nonviolent protest and action in order to secure civil rights and eliminate racism. In addition, the SCLC seeks to spread Christianity as what it believes is a way to create a peaceful environment for all people throughout the United States. The SCLC has struggled using peaceful methods to bring about change in the Untied States, and they have been extremely successful. There is still racism, personal and structural, and the country is not equal, but there have been major advancements in social mobility for African Americans. Peace is not something that will come about in our world without leaders like the SCLC acting in order to create change. Currently, there are chapters and affiliated groups throughout the United States, no longer limited to the South. Individuals can join groups such as the SCLC, which fosters peace through religion and can make a real difference by continuing to act on what is right. Religious organizations such as the SCLC have played an integral role in diminishing segregation and promoting peaceful environments.

February 15. On this day in 1898, a U.S. ship called the U.S.S. Maine blew up in the harbor in Havana, Cuba. U.S. officials and newspapers, some of whom had been openly angling for an excuse to launch a war for years immediately blamed Spain, despite the absence of any evidence. Spain proposed an independent investigation and committed to abiding by the decision of any third-party arbiter. The United States preferred to rush into a war that would in no way have been justified had Spain been guilty. A U.S. investigation over 75 years too late concluded, just as had U.S. Naval Academy professor Philip Alger at the time (in a report suppressed by a war lusting Theodore Roosevelt) that the Maine almost certainly was sunk by an internal and accidental explosion. Remember the Maine and to Hell with Spain was the war cry, still encouraged by dozens of memorials displaying pieces of the ship all over the United States to this day. But to hell with facts, sense, peace, decency, and the people of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam was the reality. In the Philippines, 200,000 to 1,500,000 civilians died from violence and disease. Two hundred and five years after the day the Maine sank, the world protested the threatened U.S.-led assault on Iraq in the largest day of public protest in history. As a result, many nations opposed the war, and the United Nations refused to sanction it. The United States proceeded anyway, in violation of the law. This is a good day to educate the world about war lies and war resistance.

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February 16. On this day in 1941, a pastoral letter read in all Norwegian Church pulpits enjoined the congregants to “stand fast, guided by God’s word…and be faithful to your inner conviction….” For its own part, the Church greeted all of its followers “in the joy of faith and boldness in our Lord and Savior.” The letter sought to rally Norwegians to resist an intended Nazi takeover of the established Lutheran State Church of Norway, following the German invasion of the country on April 9, 1940. The Church also took its own direct actions to thwart Nazi incursions. On Easter Sunday, 1942, a document sent by the Church to all pastors was read aloud to nearly all congregations. Titled “Foundation of the Church,” it called on every pastor to resign as a State Church minister–an action the Church knew would subject them to Nazi persecution and imprisonment. But the strategy worked. When all of the pastors did resign, the people supported them with love, loyalty, and money, forcing Nazi church authorities to abandon plans to remove them from their parishes. With the resignations, however, the State Church was dissolved and a new Nazi church organized. It was not until May 8, 1945, with the surrender of the German army, that the churches in Norway could be restored to their historical form. Still, the pastoral letter read in Norwegian pulpits more than four years before had played its own important role. It had shown again that ordinary people can be expected to find the courage to resist oppression and defend the values they consider central to their humanity.

February 17. On this day in 1993, leaders of the 1989 student protests in China were released. Most were arrested in Beijing where in 1949, on Tiananmen Square, Mao Zedong proclaimed a “People’s Republic” under the current communist regime. The need for true democracy grew for forty years until those in Tiananmen, Chengdu, Shanghai, Nanjing, Xi’an, Changsha, and other regions shocked the world as thousands of students were killed, injured, and/or imprisoned. Despite China’s attempt to block the press, some received international recognition. Fang Lizhi, professor of astrophysics, was granted asylum in the U.S., and taught at the University of Arizona. Wang Dan, a 20-year-old Peking University history major, was jailed twice, exiled in 1998, and became a guest researcher at Oxford, and chairman of the Chinese Constitutional Reform Association. Chai Ling, a 23-year-old psychology student escaped after ten months in hiding, graduated from Harvard Business School, and became chief operating officer in developing internet portals for universities. Wu’er Kaixi, a 21-year-old hunger striker rebuked Premier Li Peng on national television, fled to France, then studied economics at Harvard. Liu Xiaobo, a literary critic who initiated “Charter 08,” a manifesto calling for individual rights, freedom of speech, and multi-party elections, was held in an undisclosed location near Beijing. Han Dongfang, a 27-year-old railway worker who helped set up the Beijing Autonomous Workers’ Federation in 1989, the first independent trade union in communist China, was imprisoned and exiled. Han escaped to Hong Kong, and started the China Labour Bulletin to defend the rights of Chinese workers. The man videotaped blocking a line of tanks has never been identified.

February 18. On this date in 1961, the 88-year-old British philosopher/activist Bertrand Russell led a march of some 4,000 people to London’s Trafalgar Square, where speeches were delivered protesting the arrival from America of Polaris nuclear-armed submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The marchers then proceeded to Britain’s Ministry of Defence, where Russell taped a message of protest to the building doors. A sit-down demonstration followed in the street, which lasted almost three hours. The February event was the first organized by the new anti-nuke activist group, the “Committee of 100,” to which Russell had been elected president. The Committee differed significantly from the U.K.’s established Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, from which Russell had resigned as president. Instead of organizing simple street marches with supporters carrying signs, the Committee’s purpose was to stage forceful and attention-getting direct acts of non-violent civil disobedience. Russell explained his reasons for setting up the Committee in an article in the New Statesman in February 1961. He said in part: “If all those who disapprove of government policy were to join massive demonstrations of civil disobedience they could render government folly impossible and compel the so-called statesmen to acquiesce in measures that would make human survival possible.” The Committee of 100 staged its most effective demonstration on Sept. 17, 1961, when it successfully blocked the pier heads at the Holy Loch Polaris submarine base. Afterwards, however, various factors caused its swift decline, including differences over the group’s ultimate goals, mounting police arrests, and involvement in campaigns based on issues other than nuclear weapons. Russell himself resigned from the Committee in 1963, and the organization was disbanded in October 1968.

February 19. On this day in 1942, during Germany’s World War II occupation of Norway, Norwegian teachers began a successful campaign of nonviolent resistance to a planned Nazi takeover of the country’s education system. The takeover had been decreed by the infamous Nazi collaborator Vidkun Quisling, then the Nazi-appointed Minister-President of Norway. Under terms of the decree, the existing teachers union was to be dissolved and all teachers registered by February 5, 1942 with a new Nazi-led Norwegian Teachers Union. The teachers refused to be cowed, however, and ignored the February 5 deadline. They then followed the lead of an underground anti-Nazi group in Oslo, which sent all of the teachers a short statement they could use to announce their collective refusal to cooperate with the Nazi demand. The teachers were to copy and mail the statement to the Quisling government, with their name and address affixed. By February 19, 1942, most of Norway’s 12,000 teachers had done just that. Quisling’s panicked response was to order Norway’s schools to be closed for a month. That action, however, prompted indignant parents to write some 200,000 letters of protest to the government. The teachers themselves defiantly held classes in private settings, and underground organizations paid lost salaries to families of the more than 1,300 male teachers who were arrested and imprisoned. Conceding the failure of their plans to hijack Norway’s schools, the Fascist rulers released all of the imprisoned teachers in November 1942, and the education system was restored to Norwegian control. The strategy of non-violent mass resistance had succeeded in combating the oppressive designs of a ruthless occupying force.

February 20. On this day in 1839, Congress passed legislation that prohibited dueling in the District of Columbia. The passage of the law was prompted by public outcry over an 1838 duel at the infamous Bladensburg Dueling Grounds in Maryland, just over the D.C. border. In that contest, a popular Congressman from Maine named Jonathan Cilley had been shot to death by another Congressman, William Graves of Kentucky. The proceeding was viewed as especially sordid, not only because three exchanges of fire were required to end it, but because the survivor, Graves, had not been personally affronted by his victim. He had entered the duel as a stand-in to vindicate the reputation of a friend, a New York newspaper editor named James Webb, whom Cilley had called corrupt. For its part, the House of Representatives chose not to censure Graves or two other Congressmen present at the duel, even though dueling was already against the law in D.C. and in most American states and territories. Instead, it presented a bill that would “prohibit the giving or accepting within the District of Columbia, of a challenge to fight a duel, and for the punishment thereof.” After its passage by Congress, the measure assuaged public demand for a ban on dueling, but it did little to actually end the practice. As they had done regularly since 1808, duelists continued to meet at the Bladensburg site in Maryland, mostly in the darkness. Following the Civil War, however, dueling fell out of favor and declined rapidly throughout the U.S. The last of some fifty-plus duels at Bladensburg was fought in 1868.

February 21. On this date in 1965, the African-American Muslim minister and human rights activist Malcolm X was assassinated by gun-fire as he prepared to address the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), a secular group he had founded the year before that sought to reconnect African Americans with their African heritage and help establish their economic independence. In championing human rights for black people, Malcolm X projected various points of view. As a member of the Nation of Islam, he condemned white Americans as “devils” and advocated racial separatism. In contrast to Martin Luther King, he urged black people to advance themselves “by any means necessary.” Before leaving the Nation of Islam, he disparaged the organization for its refusal to aggressively counter police abuse of blacks and to collaborate with local black politicians in advancing black rights. Finally, after taking part in the 1964 Hajj to Mecca, Malcolm came to the view that the true enemy of African Americans was not the white race, but racism itself. He had seen Muslims of “all colors, from blue-eyed blonds to black-skinned Africans,” interacting as equals and concluded that Islam itself was the key to overcoming racial problems. It is commonly assumed that Malcolm was killed by members of the American Nation of Islam (NOI) sect from which he had defected a year before. NOI threats against him had in fact intensified leading up to the assassination, and three NOI members were subsequently convicted of the killing. Yet, two of the three alleged killers have consistently maintained their innocence, and decades of research have cast doubt on the case made against them.

February 22. On this day in 1952, the North Korean Foreign Ministry formally accused The US military of dropping infected insects over North Korea. During the Korean War (1950-53), Chinese and Korean soldiers had been suffering outbreaks of fatal illnesses shockingly determined to be smallpox, cholera, and the plague. Forty-four who had already died had tested positive for meningitis. The US denied any hand in biological warfare, even though many eye-witnesses came forward including an Australian reporter. The worldwide press invited international investigations while the U.S. and its allies continued to call the allegations a hoax. The U.S. proposed an investigation by the International Red Cross to clear any doubt, but the Soviet Union and its allies refused, convinced the U.S. was lying. Finally, the World Peace Council set up an International Scientific Commission for the Facts Concerning Bacterial Warfare in China and Korea with distinguished scientists, including a renowned British biochemist and sinologist. Their study was backed by eyewitnesses, doctors, and four American Korean War prisoners who confirmed the U.S. had sent biological warfare from airfields in American-occupied Okinawa to Korea starting in 1951. The final report, in September of 1952, showed the US was using biological weapons, and the International Association of Democratic Lawyers publicized these results in its “Report on U.S. Crimes in Korea.” The report revealed that the US had taken over earlier Japanese biological experiments brought to light in a trial conducted by the Soviet Union in 1949. At the time, the US called these trials “vicious and unfounded propaganda.” The Japanese, however, were found guilty. And then, so was the U.S.

February 23. On this day in 1836, the Battle of the Alamo began in San Antonio. The fight for Texas started in 1835 when a group of Anglo-American settlers and Tejanos (mixed Mexicans and Indians) captured San Antonio which was under Mexican rule, claiming the land in “Texas” as an independent state. Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was called in, and threatened the army would “take no prisoners.” The American Commander in Chief Sam Houston responded by ordering settlers to leave San Antonio as the less than 200 were vastly outnumbered by an army of 4,000 Mexican troops. The group resisted, taking refuge instead in an abandoned Franciscan monastery built in 1718 known as The Alamo. Two months later, on February 23, 1836, six hundred Mexican troops died in battle as they attacked and killed one hundred and eighty-three settlers. The Mexican army then set the bodies of these settlers on fire outside of the Alamo. General Houston recruited an army of support for those killed in their battle for independence. The phrase “Remember the Alamo” became a rallying call for Texas fighters, and a decade later for U.S. forces in the war that stole a far larger territory from Mexico. Following the massacre at the Alamo, Houston’s military quickly defeated the Mexican army in San Jacinto. In April of 1836, The Peace Treaty of Velasco was signed by General Santa Anna, and the new Republic of Texas declared its independence from Mexico. Texas did not become part of the United States until December of 1845. It was enlarged in the subsequent war.

February 24. On this day in 1933, Japan withdrew from the League of Nations. The League had been founded in 1920 in the hope of maintaining world peace following the Paris Peace Conference that ended World War I. Original members included: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, El Salvador, France, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Italy, Japan, Liberia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Persia, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Siam, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, South Africa, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Yugoslavia. In 1933, the League released a report finding Japan at fault for the fighting in Manchuria, and asked for withdrawal of Japanese troops. Japanese Representative Yosuke Matsuoka refuted the report’s findings with the statement: “… Manchuria belongs to us by right. Read your history. We recovered Manchuria from Russia. We made it what it is today.” He said that Russia and China caused “deep and anxious concern,” and Japan felt “compelled to conclude that Japan and other members of the league entertain different views on the manner to achieve peace in the Far East.” He reiterated that Manchuria was a matter of life and death for Japan. “Japan has been and will always be the mainstay of peace, order and progress in the Far East.” He asked, “Would the American people agree to such control of the Panama Canal Zone; would the British permit it over Egypt?” The US and Russia were invited to respond. Despite implied backing, the U.S., which had trained Japan in imperialism, never joined the League of Nations.

February 25. On this date in 1932, the prominent British suffragette, feminist, lay preacher, and Christian peace activist Maude Royden published a letter in the London Daily Express. Co-signed by two fellow activists, the letter proposed what may have been the most radical peace initiative of the twentieth century. Under its terms, Royden and her two colleagues would lead a volunteer “Peace Army” of British men and women to Shanghai, where they would try to stop the warring of Chinese and Japanese forces by interposing themselves unarmed between them. Fighting between the two sides was again ongoing, after a brief lull following the invasion of Manchuria by Japanese forces in September, 1931. Sometime earlier, Royden had introduced the concept of a “Peace Army” in a sermon to her congregation at a London Congregational church. There she had preached: “Men and women who believe it to be their duty should volunteer to place themselves unarmed between the combatants.” She stressed that her appeal was to men and women alike, and that volunteers should ask the League of Nations to send them unarmed to the scene of conflict. In the end, Royden’s initiative was simply ignored by the League of Nations and lampooned in the press. But, though the Peace Army never mobilized, some 800 men and women volunteered to join its ranks, and a Peace Army council was established that remained active for several years. In addition, Royden’s concept of what she called “shock troops of peace” received academic recognition over time as the blueprint for all subsequent interventions by what are now identified as “unarmed interpositionary peace forces.”

February 26. On this day in 1986, Corazon Aquino assumed power after a nonviolent revolt deposed Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines. Marcos, reelected president of the Philippines in 1969, was barred from a third term, and defiantly declared martial law with control of the military, dissolution of the Congress, and imprisonment of his political opponents. His most prominent critic, Senator Benigno Aquino, spent seven years in jail before developing a heart condition. He had been falsely accused of murder, convicted, and sentenced to death when the United States intervened. As he healed in the U.S., Aquino decided to return to the Philippines to remove Marcos from power. The works and writings of Gandhi inspired him to nonviolence as the best way to subdue Marcos. As Aquino arrived back in the Philippines in 1983, however, he was shot and killed by police. His death inspired hundreds of thousands of supporters who took to the streets demanding “Justice for All Victims of Political Repression and Military Terrorism!” Benigno’s widow Corazon Aquino, organized a rally at Malacanang Palace on the one-month anniversary of Aquino’s assassination. As Marines fired into the crowd, 15,000 peaceful demonstrators continued their march from the palace to the Mendiola Bridge. Hundreds were injured and eleven killed, yet these protests continued until Corazon ran for president. When Marcos claimed to have won, Corazon called for nationwide civil disobedience, and 1.5 million responded with the “Triumph of the People Rally.” Three days later, the United States Congress condemned the election, and voted to cut military support until Marcos resigned. The Philippine Parliament revoked the corrupt election results, and declared Corazon president.

 

February 27. On this day in 1943, the Nazi Gestapo in Berlin began rounding up Jewish men who were married to non-Jewish women, as well as their male children. Totaling about 2,000, the men and boys were held at a local Jewish community center on Rosenstrasse (Rose Street), pending deportation to nearby work camps. Their “mixed” families, however, could not be certain at the time that the men would not face the same fate as thousands of Berlin Jews recently deported to the Auschwitz death camp. So, in growing numbers composed mainly of wives and mothers, family members gathered daily outside the community center to wage the only major public protest by German citizens throughout the war. Wives of the Jewish detainees chanted, “Give us our husbands back.” When Nazi guards aimed machine guns at the crowd, it responded with yells of “Murderer, murderer, murderer….” Fearing that a massacre of hundreds of German women in the middle of Berlin might well cause unrest among broader sections of the German population, Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels ordered the release of the intermarried male Jews. By March 12, all but 25 of the 2,000 detained men had been released–though each was picked up again the following day and deported to a labor camp. Today, the Rosenstrasse community center no longer exists, but a sculpture memorial called theBlock of Women” was erected in a nearby park in 1995. Its inscription reads: “The strength of civil disobedience, the vigor of love, overcomes the violence of dictatorship. Give us our men back. Women were standing here, defeating death. Jewish men were free.”

February 28. On this date in 1989, 5,000 Kazakhs from a wide variety of backgrounds held the first meeting of the Nevada-Semipalatinsk Antinuclear Movement–so named to show solidarity with U.S. protests against nuclear testing at a site in Nevada. By the end of the meeting, the Kazakh organizers had agreed on an action plan for ending nuclear testing in the Soviet Union and established an end goal of abolishing nuclear weapons worldwide. Their entire program was circulated as a petition and quickly received over a million signatures. The antinuclear movement had been initiated only two days before, when a poet and candidate for the Congress of People’s Deputies of the Soviet Union called on concerned citizens to join in a demonstration against nuclear weapons testing at a facility in Semipalatinsk, an administrative region of Soviet Kazakhstan. Although aboveground nuclear testing had been abolished in a U.S./Soviet treaty signed in 1963, underground testing remained permissible and continued at the Semipalatinsk site. On February 12 and 17, 1989, radioactive material had leaked from the facility, putting at risk the lives of residents in highly-populated neighboring areas. Largely as a result of actions taken by the Nevada-Semipalatinsk movement, the Supreme Soviet, on August 1, 1989, called for a moratorium on all nuclear testing by the United States and the Soviet Union. And in August 1991, the President of Kazakhstan officially shut down the Semipalatinsk facility as a site for nuclear testing and opened it to activists for rehabilitation. By these measures, the governments of Kazakhstan and the Soviet Union became the first to close a nuclear test site anywhere on earth.

February 29. On this leap day in 2004, the United States kidnapped and deposed the President of Haiti. This is a good day on which to remember that the claim that democracies don’t go to war with democracies ignores the habit of the U.S. democracy attacking and overthrowing other democracies. U.S. diplomat Luis G. Moreno along with armed members of the U.S. military met the popular Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide at his residence the morning of February 29th. According to Moreno, Aristide’s life had been threatened by Haitian opponents, and he sought refuge. Aristide’s version of that morning conflicted greatly. Aristide claimed that he and his wife had been kidnapped by U.S. forces as part of a coup d’état which secured power for groups backed by the U.S. Aristide was exiled to Africa, and tried contacting many U.S. African-American political figures. Maxine Waters, a congresswoman from California, confirmed that Aristide had stated: “The world must know it was a coup. I was kidnapped. I was forced out. That’s what happened. I did not resign. I did not go willingly. I was forced to go.” Another, Randall Robinson, former head of the TransAfrica social-justice and human-rights advocacy organization, confirmed that “a democratically elected president” had been “abducted” by the United States “in the commission of a [U.S.] induced coup,” adding, “This is a frightening thing to contemplate.” Objections to U.S. actions reported by the Congressional Black Caucus, and Haitian representatives in the U.S. led to the final liberation of President Aristide three years later, and also to the recognition of the crime the United States had committed.

 

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