Peace Almanac April

April

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April 1. On this day in 2018 the United States held its first Edible Book Day. President Donald Trump had established the Day on April 1, 2017 by Executive Order. The International Edible Book Festival was founded in 2000 and has been celebrated in countries including Australia, Brazil, India, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, Russia, and Hong Kong. It has also been celebrated locally in the U.S.: since 2004 in Ohio, in Los Angeles in 2005, in Indianapolis in 2006, and in Florida as part of National Library Week. Trump’s advisors argued that Edible Book Day was a great opportunity to give a lighthearted event a patriotic purpose. It could become the focal point on the calendar for the War on Fake News and for celebrating American Exceptionalism. Trump was especially inspired when he heard that the Perkins Library at Hastings College in Nebraska had celebrated Edible Book Day in 2008 as part of Banned Books Week. Trump’s executive order set out the rules to be followed.

  1. It shall be held annually on April 1.
  2. It shall not be a public holiday but a social media event.
  3. Citizens shall join before or after work, or during sanctioned breaks.
  4. Citizens shall list the texts they choose to eat that day on Twitter.
  5. The NSA shall collate and rank all listed texts for future action.

As Trump said when announcing the National Edible Book Day from the steps of the Library of Congress, “This day is the perfect day for all of those fake news peddlers out there to eat their words and get with the program and Make America Great Again.”

April 2. On this day in 1935, thousands of U.S. students went on strike against war. College students in the mid to late 1930s grew up feeling the horrors of WWI throughout France, Great Britain, and the United States, believing that war benefitted no one, yet fearing another. In 1934, a U.S. protest including 25,000 students was held in remembrance of the day the U.S. entered WWI. In 1935, a “Student Strike Against War Committee” was started in the U.S. attracting an even larger movement of 700 students from Kentucky University joined by 175,000 more across the U.S., and thousands more around the world. Students from 140 campuses from 31 countries left their classes that day feeling: “protest against mass slaughter was more beneficial than an hour of class.” As concerns grew about Germany’s occupations, trouble between Japan and the Soviet Union, Italy and Ethiopia, the pressure built for students to speak out. At KU, Kenneth Born, a member of the debate team, questioned the $300 billion spent on World War I, arguing that “rationalism could bring a better solution.” While he was at the podium, the crowd was exposed to tear gas, yet Born persuaded the students to stay by declaring, “You will face worse than this in war.” Charles Hackler, a law student, described the demonstrations as reminders that “war was not inevitable,” calling the current ROTC parades “war propaganda for capitalists, munitions dealers, and other war profiteers.” As many of these same students were finally coerced into fighting and dying in Europe, Asia, and Africa during WWII, their words have become ever more poignant.

April 3. On this day in 1948, the Marshall Plan went into effect. Following WWII, the United Nations began providing humanitarian help to devastated countries across Europe. The U.S., which had not suffered significant damage, offered financial and military assistance. President Truman then appointed former U.S. Army Chief of Staff George Marshall, known for his diplomacy as Secretary of State. Marshall and his staff came up with the “Marshall Plan,” or the European Recovery Plan, to restore European economies. The Soviet Union was invited but declined fearing U.S. involvement in its financial decisions. Sixteen nations accepted, and enjoyed potent economic recovery between 1948-1952 leading to the North Atlantic Alliance, and later the European Union. Upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for his work, George Marshall shared these words with the world: “There has been considerable comment over the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to a soldier. I am afraid this does not seem as remarkable to me as it quite evidently appears to others. I know a great deal of the horrors and tragedies of war. Today, as chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission, it is my duty to supervise the construction and maintenance of military cemeteries in many countries overseas, particularly in Western Europe. The cost of war in human lives is constantly spread before me, written neatly in many ledgers whose columns are gravestones. I am deeply moved to find some means or method of avoiding another calamity of war. Almost daily I hear from the wives, or mothers, or families of the fallen. The tragedy of the aftermath is almost constantly before me.”

April 4. On this date in 1967, Martin Luther King delivered a speech before 3,000 congregants at the interdenominational Riverside Church in New York City. Entitled “Beyond Vietnam: a Time To Break Silence,” the speech marked a transition in King’s role from civil rights leader to a prophet of the social gospel. In it, he not only laid out a comprehensive program to end the war, but, in the same measured, non-rhetorical tones, plumbed a “far deeper malady within the American spirit” of which the war was a symptom. We must, he insisted, “undergo a radical revolution of values…. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” Following the speech, King was broadly upbraided by the American establishment. The New York Times opined that “the strategy of uniting the peace movement and civil rights could very well be disastrous for both causes,” and similar criticism came from the black press and the NAACP. Yet, despite the put-downs and possible racist retribution, King did not retreat. He set out on a radical course and began planning the Poor People’s Campaign, a project to unite all of America’s dispossessed, regardless of race or nationality, in the common cause of human dignity. He summed up his new attitude in these words: “The cross may mean the death of your popularity.” Even so, “Take up your cross and just bear it. That’s the way I have decided to go. Come what may, it doesn’t matter now.” A year after the speech, precisely to the day, he was assassinated.

April 5. On this day in 1946, General Douglas MacArthur spoke about the ban on war included as Article 9 of Japan’s new Constitution. Article 9 includes language nearly identical to that of the Kellogg-Briand Pact to which many nations are party. “While all provisions of this proposed new constitution are of importance, and lead individually and collectively to the desired end as expressed at Potsdam,” he said, “I desire especially to mention that provision dealing with the renunciation of war. Such renunciation, while in some respects a logical sequence to the destruction of Japan’s war-making potential, goes yet further in its surrender of the sovereign right of resort to arms in the international sphere. Japan thereby proclaims her faith in a society of nations by just, tolerant and effective rules of universal social and political morality and entrusts its national integrity thereto. The cynic may view such action as demonstrating but a childlike faith in a visionary ideal, but the realist will see in it far deeper significance. He will understand that in the evolution of society it became necessary for man to surrender certain rights. . . . The proposal . . . but recognizes one further step in the evolution of mankind. . . . dependent upon a world leadership which does not lack the moral courage to implement the will of the masses who abhor war. . . . I therefore commend Japan’s proposal for the renunciation of war to the thoughtful consideration of all peoples of the world. It points the way — the only way.”

April 6. On this day in 1994, the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi were assassinated. The evidence points to the U.S.-backed and U.S.-trained war-maker Paul Kagame — later president of Rwanda — as the guilty party. This is a good day to remember that while wars cannot prevent genocides, they can cause them. U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said “the genocide in Rwanda was one hundred percent the responsibility of the Americans!” This was because the United States backed an invasion of Rwanda on October 1, 1990, by a Ugandan army led by U.S.-trained killers, and supported their attack on Rwanda for three-and-a-half years. The Rwandan government, in response, did not follow the model of the U.S. internment of Japanese during World War II. Nor did it fabricate the idea of traitors in its midst, as the invading army in fact had 36 active cells in Rwanda. But the Rwandan government did arrest 8,000 people and hold them for a few days to six-months. People fled the invaders, creating a huge refugee crisis, ruined agriculture, wrecked economy, and shattered society. The United States and the West armed the warmakers and applied additional pressure through the World Bank, IMF, and USAID. Among the results was increased hostility between Hutus and Tutsis. Eventually the government would topple. First would come the mass slaughter known as the Rwandan Genocide. And before that would come the murder of two presidents. Killing of civilians in Rwanda has continued ever since, although the killing has been much more heavy in neighboring Congo, where Kagame’s government took the war — with U.S. aid and weapons and troops.

April 7. On this day in 2014 Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa told the U.S. military to leave his country. Correa was concerned by the “very high number” of U.S. military officers meddling in Ecuador’s affairs. All 20 U.S. military employees, with the exception of the U.S. military attaché, were affected. This was the latest step to date in Ecuador’s efforts to regain sole sovereignty from the U.S. in the conduct of its internal security. The first step had been taken in 2008 when Correa had purged his own military whose forces had allegedly been infiltrated and influenced by the CIA. Then in 2009 Ecuador evicted U.S. troops stationed there when it refused to renew an expiring 10-year rent-free lease on a U.S. military base in the city of Manta on Ecuador’s Pacific coast. The U.S. Air Force euphemistically referred to this base as its southern most “Forward Operating Location” purportedly intended to stop drug trafficking from Colombia. Before the closing, Correa did make an offer to keep the base open. “We’ll renew the base on one condition,” he said, “that they let us put a base in Miami – an Ecuadorean base.” Of course, the United States had no interest in that proposal. The hypocrisy of the U.S. position was summed up by Ecuadorean National Assembly Member Maria Augusta Calle whom the New York Times reported as saying “It’s an issue of dignity and sovereignty. How many foreign bases are there in the U.S.?” Of course we know the answer. But on the question of whether U.S. bases in other people’s countries can be closed, Ecuador’s story provides one inspirational answer.

April 8. On this day in 1898, Paul Robeson was born. Paul’s father escaped slavery before settling in Princeton, and graduating from Lincoln University. Despite segregation nationwide, Paul earned an academic scholarship to Rutgers University where he graduated as Valedictorian before moving on to Columbia Law School. Racism impeded his career, so he found another in theatre promoting African-American history and culture. Paul became known for award winning roles in plays such as Othello, Emperor Jones, and All God’s Chillun Got Wings, and for his stunning performance of Old Man River in Showboat. His performances worldwide left audiences craving encores. Robeson studied language, and performed songs about peace and justice in 25 countries. This led to friendships with African leader Jomo Kenyatta, India’s Jawaharlal Nehru, W.E.B. Du Bois, Emma Goldman, James Joyce, and Ernest Hemingway. In 1933, Robeson donated the proceeds from his All God’s Chillun to Jewish refugees. In 1945, he asked President Truman to pass an anti-lynching law, questioned the Cold War, and asked why African Americans should fight for a country with such rampant racism. Paul Robeson was then labeled a Communist by the House Un-American Activities Committee, effectively halting his career. Eighty of his concerts were cancelled, and two attacked while state police looked on. Robeson responded: “I’m going to sing wherever the people want me to sing…and I won’t be frightened by crosses burning in Peekskill or anywhere else.” The U.S. revoked Robeson’s passport for 8 years. Robeson wrote an autobiography Here I Stand before his death, which appears to have followed drugging and electro-shocking at the hands of the CIA.

April 9. On this day in 1947, the first freedom ride, “Journey of Reconciliation,” was sponsored by CORE and FOR. Following WWII, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregation on interstate trains and buses was unconstitutional. As the ruling was ignored throughout the South, the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), and a team of eight African-Americans and eight whites from the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE), including group leaders Bayard Rustin and George House, began boarding buses and sitting together. They boarded both Greyhound and Trailways buses in Washington DC, heading towards Petersburg where the Greyhound then headed for Raleigh, and the Trailways for Durham. The Greyhound driver called the police as they reached Oxford when Rustin refused to move from the front of the bus. The police did nothing as the driver and Rustin argued for 45 minutes. Both buses made it to Chapel Hill the following day, but before leaving for Greensboro on April 13, four riders (two African-American and two white) were forced into the nearby police station, arrested, and assigned a $50 bond each. The incident drew the attention of many in the area including several taxi drivers. One of them struck white rider James Peck in the head as he disembarked to pay the bonds. Martin Watkins, a white disabled war veteran, was beaten by taxi drivers for speaking with an African-American woman at a bus stop. All charges against the white attackers were dropped as the victims were charged with inciting violence. The ground-breaking work of these civil rights defenders eventually led to the Freedom Rides of 1960 and 1961.

April 10. On this date in 1998, the Good Friday Agreement was signed in Northern Ireland, bringing an end to 30 years of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland known as “The Troubles.” The conflict resolved by the agreement stemmed from the mid-1960s, when Protestants in Northern Ireland attained a demographic majority that allowed them to control state institutions in ways that disadvantaged the region’s Roman Catholic minority. In the late ‘60s, an active civil rights movement on behalf of the Catholic population led to bombings, assassinations, and rioting between Catholics, Protestants, and British police and troops that continued into the early 1990s. As late as the beginning of 1998, prospects for peace in Northern Ireland remained poor. The historically Protestant Ulster Unionist Party (advocates of union with Britain) still refused to negotiate with Sinn Fein, the mainly Catholic and Irish-republican political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA); and the IRA itself remained unwilling to lay down its arms. Yet, ongoing multiparty talks, begun in 1996, which involved representatives of Ireland, various political parties of Northern Ireland, and the British government, eventually bore fruit. An agreement was reached that called for an elected Northern Ireland Assembly responsible for most local matters, cross-border cooperation between the governments of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and continued consultation between the British and Irish governments. In May 1998, the agreement was overwhelmingly approved in a jointly held referendum in Ireland and Northern Ireland. And on December 2, 1999, the Republic of Ireland removed its constitutional territorial claims to the whole of the island of Ireland, and the United Kingdom yielded direct rule of Northern Ireland.

April 11. On this day in 1996, the Treaty of Pelindaba was signed in Cairo, Egypt. When implemented, the Treaty would make the entire African continent a nuclear weapons-free zone; it would also round out a series of four such zones covering the whole of the southern hemisphere. Forty-eight African nations signed the treaty, which requires each party to not “conduct research on, develop, manufacture, stockpile or otherwise acquire, possess or have control over any nuclear explosive device by any means anywhere.” The Treaty also bans testing of nuclear explosive devices; requires the dismantling of any such devices already manufactured and the conversion or destruction of any facilities designed to create them; and forbids the dumping of radioactive material in the zone covered by the treaty. In addition, nuclear states are enjoined to not “use or threaten to use” nuclear weapons against any state in a nuclear weapons-free zone. A press release issued by the U.N. Security Council the next day, April 12, 1996, summed up the significance of the Treaty of Pelindaba, which finally came into force some 13 years later, on July 15, 2009, when it was ratified by a required 28th African state. Though the Security Council had hoped to secure the Treaty’s rapid implementation, it recognized that its acceptance in principle by more than 40 African countries, as well as by almost all of the nuclear-weapons states, constituted “an important contribution to…international peace and security.” Its press release concluded: “The Security Council seizes this occasion to encourage such regional efforts…on the international and regional level aimed at achieving the universality of the nuclear non-proliferation regime.”

April 12. On this date in 1935, some 175,000 college students across America engaged in classroom strikes and peaceful demonstrations in which they pledged never to participate in an armed conflict. Student anti-war mobilizations similar to those in 1935 were also held in the U.S. in 1934 and 1936, increasing in numbers from 25,000 in 1934 to 500,000 in 1936. Because many college students viewed the threat of war posed by fascism in Europe as emerging from the chaos produced by World War I, each of the demonstrations was held in April to mark the month the U.S. entered World War I. Believing that only big business and corporate interests had benefited from that war, the students abhorred what they saw as the senseless slaughter of millions and sought to make plain their unwillingness to take part in yet another meaningless war abroad. Interestingly, however, their fervent opposition to war was not based on anti-imperialist or isolationist political views, but primarily on a spiritual pacifism that was either personal or derived from membership in an organization that promoted it. A single anecdote seems to aptly illuminate this. In 1932, Richard Moore, a student at the University of California at Berkeley, had immersed himself in anti-war activities. “My position,” he later explained, “was, one: I don’t believe in killing, and two: I was not willing to submit myself to a higher authority, whether it was God or the United States of America.” Such authenticity may also explain why hundreds of thousands of young men of the time believed that war can be eliminated if all young men simply refuse to fight.

April 13. On this date in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson established the Committee on Public Information (CPI) by executive order. The brainchild of George Creel, a muckraking journalist of the time who was appointed its chairman, the CPI aimed to wage a sustained propaganda campaign to build both domestic and international support for America’s belated entry into World War I just a week before. To carry out its mission, the CPI blended modern advertising techniques with a sophisticated understanding of human psychology. In what came close to outright censorship, it implemented “voluntary guidelines” to control media reports about the war, and flooded cultural channels with pro-war material. The CPI’s Division of News distributed some 6,000 press releases that each week filled more than 20,000 newspaper columns. Its Division of Syndicated Features recruited leading essayists, novelists, and short-story writers to convey the official government line in easily digestible form to twelve million people each month. The Division of Pictorial Publicity plastered powerful posters, in patriotic colors, on billboards across the country. Scholars were recruited to churn out pamphlets such as German War Practices and Conquest and Kultur. And the Division of Films generated movies with titles such as The Kaiser: The Beast of Berlin. With the creation of the CPI, the U.S. became the first modern nation to disseminate propaganda on a very large scale. In doing so, it imparted an important lesson: If even a nominally democratic government, let alone a totalitarian one, is determined to go to war, it may well seek to unify a divided nation behind it through a comprehensive and prolonged campaign of fraudulent propaganda.

April 14. On this date in 1988, Denmark’s parliament passed a resolution insisting that its government inform all foreign warships seeking to enter Danish ports that they must state affirmatively before doing so whether they do or do not carry nuclear weapons. Despite Denmark’s 30-year-old policy barring nuclear weapons anywhere on its territory, including its ports, the policy had been routinely circumvented by Denmark’s acceptance of a stratagem employed by the United States and other NATO allies. Known as NCND, “neither confirming nor denying,” this policy effectively allowed NATO ships to carry nuclear weapons into Danish ports at will. The new, restrictive, resolution, however, presented problems. Before its passage, the American ambassador in Denmark had told Danish politicians that the resolution could well keep all NATO warships from visiting Denmark, thereby ending common exercises at sea and impairing military cooperation. Since more than 60 percent of Danes wanted their country in NATO, the threats were taken seriously by the center-right Danish government. It called for an election on May 10, which resulted in keeping the conservatives in power. On July 2, when an American warship approaching a Danish port refused to divulge the nature of the ship’s armaments, a letter thrown aboard the ship advising it of the new Danish policy was unceremoniously tossed back to shore. On June 8, Denmark reached a new agreement with the U.S. that would again allow NATO ships to enter Danish ports without confirming or denying that they were carrying nuclear weapons. To help placate antinuclear sentiment at home, Denmark simultaneously informed NATO governments of its long prohibition of nuclear weapons on its territory during peacetime.

April 15. On this day in 1967 the largest anti-Vietnam war demonstrations in U.S. history, up to that time, took place in New York, San Francisco, and many other cities across the United States. In New York, the protest began in Central Park and ended at the Headquarters of the United Nations. More than 125,000 people participated, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Harry Belafonte, James Bevel, and Dr. Benjamin Spock. Over 150 draft cards were burned. Another 100,000 marched from Second and Market Street in downtown San Francisco to Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park, where the actor Robert Vaughn as well as Coretta King spoke against America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Both marches were part of the Spring Mobilization to End the Vietnamese War. The Spring Mobilization organizing group first met on November 26, 1966. It was chaired by veteran peace activist A. J. Muste and included David Dellinger, the editor of Liberation; Edward Keating, the publisher of Ramparts; Sidney Peck, of Case Western Reserve University; and Robert Greenblatt, of Cornell University. In January 1967, they named the Reverend James Luther Bevel, a close colleague of Martin Luther King, Jr., as director of the Spring Mobilization. At the end of the New York march, Bevel announced that the next stop would be Washington D.C. On May 20–21, 1967, 700 antiwar activists gathered there for the Spring Mobilization Conference. Their purpose was to evaluate April’s demonstrations and to chart a future course for the antiwar movement. They also created an administrative committee – the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam – to plan future events.

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April 16. On this day in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill ending slavery in Washington, D.C. This is Emancipation Day in Washington, D.C. Ending slavery in Washington, D.C., involved no war. While slavery elsewhere in the United States was ended by creating new laws after killing three-quarters of a million people in numerous large fields, slavery in Washington, D.C., was ended the way it was ended in much of the rest of the world, namely by skipping ahead and simply creating new laws. The law that ended slavery in D.C. used compensated emancipation. It didn’t compensate the people who had been enslaved, but rather the people who had enslaved them. Slavery and serfdom were global and were largely ended within a century, far more often through compensated emancipation than with war, including in colonies of Britain, Denmark, France, and the Netherlands, and in most of South America and the Caribbean. In retrospect it certainly looks advantageous to end injustices without mass killing and destruction, which beyond its immediate evil also tends to fail to completely end an injustice, and tends to breed long-lasting resentment and violence. On June 20, 2013, the Atlantic Magazine published an article called “No, Lincoln Could Not Have ‘Bought the Slaves’.” Why not? Well, the slave owners didn’t want to sell. That’s perfectly true. They didn’t, not at all. But The Atlantic focuses on another argument, namely that it would have just been too expensive, costing as much as $3 billion (in 1860s money). Yet, if you read closely, the author admits that the war cost more than twice that amount.

April 17. On this day in 1965, the first march on Washington against the war on Vietnam was held. The Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) initiated the march drawing 15,000-25,000 students from across the nation, the Women’s Strike for Peace, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Bob Moses of the Mississippi Freedom Summer, and singers Joan Baez and Phil Ochs. The questions posed then by SDS president Paul Potter are still relevant today: “What kind of system is it that justifies the United States or any country seizing the destinies of the Vietnamese people and using them callously for its own purpose? What kind of system is it that disenfranchises people in the South, leaves millions upon millions of people throughout the country impoverished and excluded from the mainstream and promise of American society, that creates faceless and terrible bureaucracies and makes those the place where people spend their lives and do their work, that consistently puts material values before human values-and still persists in calling itself free and still persists in finding itself fit to police the world? What place is there for ordinary men in that system and how are they to control it… We must name that system. We must name it, describe it, analyze it, understand it and change it. For it is only when that system is changed and brought under control that there can be any hope for stopping the forces that create a war in Vietnam today or a murder in the South tomorrow or all the incalculable, innumerable more subtle atrocities that are worked on people all over—all the time.”

April 18. On this day in 1997, the “Choose Life” plowshares action took place at Bofors weapons factory in Karlskoga, Sweden. The name “plowshares” refers to the text of prophet Isaiah who said that weapons shall be beaten into plowshares. Ploughshares actions became known in the early 1980s when several activists damaged nuclear warhead nose cones. Bofors was an exporter of weapons to Indonesia. As recounted by activist Art Laffin, two Swedish peace activists, Cecelia Redner, a priest in the church of Sweden, and Marja Fischer, a student, entered the Bofors Arms factory in Kariskoga, Sweden, planted an apple tree and attempted to disarm a naval canon being exported to Indonesia. Cecilia was charged with attempt to commit malicious damage and Marija with assisting. Both were also charged with violating a law which protects facilities “important to society.” Both women were convicted on February 25, 1998. They argued, over repeated interruptions by the judge, that, in Redner’s words, “When my country is arming a dictator I am not allowed to be passive and obedient, since it would make me guilty to the crime of genocide in East Timor. I know what is going on and I cannot only blame the Indonesian dictatorship or my own government. Our plowshares action was a way for us to take responsibility and act in solidarity with the people of East Timor.” Fischer added, “We tried to prevent a crime, and that is an obligation according to our law.” Redner was sentenced to fines and 23 years of correctional education. Fischer was sentenced to fines and two years suspended sentence. No jail sentence was imposed.

April 19. On this day in 1775, the U.S. revolution turned violent with battles at Lexington and Concord. This turn followed the growing use of nonviolent techniques often associated with later eras, including major protests, boycotts, the promotion of local and independent manufacturing, the development of committees of correspondence, and the takeover of local power in much of rural Massachusetts. The violent war for independence from Britain was driven primarily by the very wealthiest white male landowners in the colonies. While the result included what was for the time a groundbreaking Constitution and Bill of Rights, the revolution was part of a larger war between the French and the British, could not have been won without the French, transferred power from one elite to another, constituted no populist act of equalizing, saw rebellions by poor farmers and enslaved people as frequently after as before, and saw people escape slavery to support the British side. One motivation for the war was the maintenance of slavery, following the growth of a British abolition movement and the British court ruling that freed a man named James Sommerset. Patrick Henry’s “give me liberty or give me death” was not just written decades after Henry died, but he owned people as slaves and was at no risk of becoming one. A motivation for the war was the desire to expand westward, slaughtering and robbing the native peoples. Like many U.S. wars since, the first one was a war of expansion. The pretense that the war was inevitable or desirable is aided by ignoring the fact that Canada, Australia, India, and other places did not need wars.

April 20. On this date in 1999, two students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, went on a shooting spree, killing 13 people and wounding more than 20 others before turning their guns on themselves and committing suicide. At the time, this was the worst high school shooting in U.S. history and prompted a national debate on gun control, school safety, and the forces that drove the two gunmen, Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17. Addressing the gun-control issue, the National Rifle Association waged an ad campaign that seemed to accept as reasonable the extension of instant background checks already required at gun stores and pawn shops to gun shows, where the killers’ weapons had been fraudulently purchased by a friend. Behind the scenes, however, the NRA waged a $1.5-million lobbying effort that succeeded in killing a bill with precisely such a requirement then pending in Congress. Efforts were also made to beef up school safety through the use of security cameras, metal detectors and additional security guards, but proved ineffective in eliminating violence. Among many attempts to understand the psychopathology of the killers, Michael Moore’s documentary film Bowling for Columbine hinted strongly at a cultural connection between the actions of the killers and America’s penchant for war—depicted both by war scenes and the nearby presence of Lockheed Martin, a major weapons manufacturer. One reviewer of Moore’s film suggests that these depictions, and another that illustrates the effects of poverty in breaking down family cohesion, point clearly to both the underlying sources of terrorism in U.S. society and the only way it can be effectively eradicated.

April 21. On this date in 1989, some 100,000 Chinese university students gathered at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to commemorate the death of Hu Yaobang, the deposed reform-minded leader of the Chinese Communist Party, and to voice their discontent with China’s autocratic government. The following day, at an official memorial service held for Hu in Tiananmen’s Great Hall of the People, the government turned down the students’ demand to meet with Premier Li Peng. That led to a student boycott of Chinese universities, widespread calls for democratic reforms, and, in spite of government warnings, a student march to Tiananmen Square. Over the following weeks, workers, intellectuals, and civil servants joined the student demonstrations, and by mid-May hundreds of thousands of protesters thronged the streets of Beijing. On May 20, the government declared martial law in the city, calling in troops and tanks to disperse the crowds. On June 3, the troops, under orders to forcibly clear Tiananmen Square and Beijing’s streets, gunned down hundreds of demonstrators and arrested thousands. However, the protesters’ peaceful demand for democratic reforms in the face of brutal repression evoked both sympathy and outrage from the international community. Their courage was in fact made legendary by media proliferation on June 5th of a now iconic photograph that shows a lone white-shirted man, dubbed “Tank Man,” standing in steadfast defiance in front of a column of crowd-dispersing military tanks. Three weeks later, the United States and other countries imposed economic sanctions on China. Though the sanctions did set back the country’s economy, international trade was resumed in late 1990, due partly to China’s release of several hundred imprisoned dissidents.

April 22. This is Earth Day, and also the birthday of Immanuel Kant. J. Sterling Morton, a journalist from Nebraska who advocated for the planting of trees across the state’s prairies in 1872, designating April 10 as the first “Arbor Day.” Arbor Day became a legal holiday ten years later, and was moved to April 22 in honor of Morton’s birthday. The day was celebrated nationally as the “logging era” brought on by U.S. expansion between 1890 and 1930 cleared forests. By 1970, a growing grassroots movement to protect the environment from pollution was backed by Wisconsin Governor Gaylord Nelson and San Francisco activist John McConnell. The first “Earth Day” march took place on the Spring Equinox that year, March 21, 1970. Earth Day events continue to be held in the U.S. on both March 21st and April 22nd. Immanuel Kant, the German scientist and philosopher, was also born on April 22, in 1724. Kant made several important scientific discoveries, yet is most known for his contributions to philosophy. His philosophy centered on how we autonomously construct our own worlds. According to Kant people’s actions should be held to moral laws. Kant’s conclusion about what is truly necessary for each of us to experience a better world is to strive for the highest good for all. These thoughts are aligned with those who support preservation of the Earth, as well as those who work for peace. In Kant’s words, “For peace to reign on Earth, humans must evolve into new beings who have learned to see the whole first.”

April 23. On this day in 1968, students at Columbia University seized buildings to protest war research & the razing of buildings in Harlem for a new gym. Universities across the United States were challenged by students questioning the role of education in a culture promoting the horrors of war, an unending draft, rampant racism and sexism. A student’s discovery of papers showing Columbia’s involvement with the Defense Department’s Institute for Defense Analysis which did research for the war in Vietnam, along with its ties to the ROTC, led to the protest by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). They were joined by many, including the Student Afro-American Society (SOS) who also objected to a segregated gym being built by Columbia in Morningside Park displacing hundreds of African Americans who lived below in Harlem. The reactive policing led to a faculty-student strike that shut Columbia down for the remainder of the semester. While the protests at Columbia led to the beatings and arrests of 1,100 students, more than 100 other campus demonstrations were taking place across the U.S. in 1968. This was the year students saw the assassinations of both Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, and several thousand anti-war protestors being beaten, gassed, and imprisoned by police at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. In the end, their protests inspired much needed change. Classified war research was no longer conducted at Columbia, the ROTC left campus along with military and CIA recruiters, the gym idea was abandoned, a feminist movement and ethnic studies were introduced. And finally, the war on Vietnam, as well as the draft, came to an end.

April 24. On this date in 1915, several hundred Armenian intellectuals were rounded up, arrested, and exiled from the Turkish capital city Constantinople (now Istanbul) to the region of Ankara, where most were eventually murdered. Led by a group of reformers known as the “Young Turks,” who had come to power in 1908, the Muslim government of the Ottoman Empire considered Christian non-Turks a threat to the empire’s security. According to most historians, it therefore set out to “Turkify,” or ethnically cleanse, the caliphate by systematically expelling or killing off its Christian Armenian population. In 1914, the Turks entered World War I on the side of Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and declared holy war on all unallied Christians. When Armenians organized volunteer battalions to help the Russian army fight the Turks in the Caucasus region, the Young Turks pushed for the mass removal of Armenian civilians from war zones along the Eastern Front. Ordinary Armenians were sent on death marches without food or water, and tens of thousands more were massacred by killing squads. By 1922, less than 400,000 of an original two-million Armenians remained in the Ottoman Empire. Since its surrender in World War I, the Turkish government has vehemently claimed that it did not commit genocide against the Armenians, but necessary acts of war against people it viewed as an enemy force. In 2010, however, a U.S. Congressional panel finally recognized the mass killing as genocide. The action helped refocus attention on how easily distrust or fear of the Other, in either internal or international conflicts, can escalate to hateful retribution that exceeds all moral boundaries.

April 25. On this day in 1974 the Carnation Revolution overthrew the government of Portugal, an authoritarian dictatorship that had been in place since 1933 – the longest surviving authoritarian regime in Western Europe. What started as a military coup, organized by the Armed Forces Movement (a group of military officers who opposed the regime), quickly became a bloodless popular uprising as people ignored the call to stay in their homes. The Carnation Revolution gets it name from the red carnations – they were in season – put into the muzzles of the soldiers’ rifles by the people who joined them on the streets. The coup was provoked by the regime’s insistence on keeping its colonies, where they had been fighting insurgents since 1961. These wars were popular neither with the people nor with many within the military. The young were emigrating to avoid conscription. 40% of the Portugal’s budget was consumed by wars in Africa. Very quickly after the coup independence was granted to the former Portuguese colonies of Guinea Bisau, Cape Verde, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, Angola, and East Timor. The United States played an ambiguous role in the Carnation Revolution. Henry Kissinger was strongly against supporting it, in spite of the strong recommendation from the U.S. ambassador. He insisted it was a communist insurgency. It was only after a visit to Portugal by Teddy Kennedy and his strong recommendation to support the revolution that the U.S. decided to do so. In Portugal, to celebrate the event, April 25 is now a national holiday, known as Freedom Day. The Carnation Revolution demonstrates that you don’t have to use violence and aggression to achieve peace.

April 26. On this date in 1986, the world’s worst nuclear accident happened at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant near Pripyat, Ukraine, in the Soviet Union. The accident occurred during a test to see how the plant would operate if it lost power. Plant operators made several mistakes during the procedure, creating an unstable environment in the No. 4 reactor which resulted in a fire and three explosions that blew off the reactor’s 1,000-ton steel top. As the reactor melted down, flames shot 1,000 feet into the sky for two days, spouting radioactive material that spread over the western Soviet Union and Europe. As many as 70,000 residents in the area suffered severe radiation poisoning, from which thousands died, as did an estimated 4,000 clean-up workers at the Chernobyl site. Additional consequences included the forced permanent relocation of 150,000 residents in an 18-mile radius around Chernobyl, a dramatic increase in birth defects in the area, and a tenfold higher incidence of thyroid cancer throughout Ukraine. Since the Chernobyl disaster, experts have expressed widely contrasting views on the viability of nuclear power as an energy source. For instance, The New York Times reported immediately following the March 2011 nuclear disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant that “the Japanese have already taken precautions that should prevent the accident from becoming another Chernobyl, even if additional radiation is released.” On the other hand, Helen Caldicott, founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility, argued in an April 2011 Times op-ed that “there is no such thing as a safe dose of radiation” and that, therefore, nuclear power should not be used.

April 27. On this date in 1973, the British government completed the forced expulsion of the entire indigenous population of Diego Garcia and other islands of the Chagos Archipelago in the central Indian Ocean. Beginning in 1967, the three- to four-thousand native islanders, known as “Chagossians,” were transported in squalid ship cargo holds to Mauritius, a former self-governing British colony in the Indian Ocean located some 1,000 miles away off the southeast coast of Africa. The expulsions had been stipulated in a 1966 agreement under which the United Kingdom leased the islands, known officially as the British Indian Ocean Territory, to the U.S. for use as a geopolitically strategic military base. In return, the British received cost breaks on U.S. supplies for its submarine-launched Polaris ICBM system. Though the agreement proved advantageous to both countries, the deported Chagos Islanders in Mauritius struggled mightily to survive. They were awarded a distributed monetary compensation of 650,000 British pounds in 1977, but a prospective right of return to Diego Garcia remained buried under petitions and lawsuits. Finally, in November 2016, the British government issued a crushing edict. Citing “feasibility, defense and security interests, and cost to the British taxpayer,” the government declared that the locals evicted from their homes nearly a half-century before could not be allowed to return. Instead, it extended by an additional 20 years the U.S. lease of its Indian Ocean territory for use as a military base, and promised the deported Chagossians another 40-million pounds in compensation. The U.K. Chagos Support Association, for its part, labeled the British ruling a “senseless and heartless decision that shames the nation.”

April 28. On this date in 1915, the International Congress of Women, consisting of some 1,200 delegates from 12 countries, convened in the Hague, Netherlands, to develop strategies to help end the war then raging in Europe and to institute a program for preventing future wars by studying and proposing ways to eliminate their causes. To advance their first goal, convention delegates issued resolutions and sent representatives to most of the belligerent nations in World War I, believing that, as women, their peaceful action would have a positive moral effect. But, for the ongoing work of studying and eliminating the causes of war, they created a new organization called the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). The group’s first international president, Jane Addams, was personally received by President Woodrow Wilson in Washington, who based nine of his famous Fourteen Points for negotiating an end to World War I on ideas promulgated by WILPF. Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, the League functions today at the international, national, and local levels, and with national sections worldwide, to organize meetings and conferences that study and address vital issues of the day. Among them, on the domestic side, are full rights for women and racial and economic justice. At the global level, the organization works to advance peace and freedom, dispatch missions to countries in conflict, and, with international bodies and governments, to bring about peaceful resolution of conflicts. For their efforts in these activities, two of the League’s leaders have won the Nobel Peace Prize: Jane Addams in 1931 and, in 1946, WILPF’s first International Secretary, Emily Greene Balch.

April 29. On this date in 1975, as South Vietnam was about to fall to Communist forces, more than 1,000 Americans and 5,000 Vietnamese were evacuated by helicopter from the capital city, Saigon, onto U.S. ships in the South China Sea. The use of helicopters had been dictated by the heavy bombing of Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut airport earlier in the day. Though massive in scope, the operation was in fact overshadowed by the impromptu flight of another 65,000 South Vietnamese who, in fishing boats, barges, homemade rafts, and sampans, hoped to make it to the 40 U.S. warships beckoning on the horizon. The evacuations followed by more than two years a peace agreement signed in January 1973 by representatives of the U.S., South Vietnam, the Vietcong, and North Vietnam. It called for a cease-fire throughout Vietnam, the withdrawal of U.S. forces, the release of prisoners of war, and the unification of North and South Vietnam by peaceful means. Though all U.S. troops had left Vietnam by March 1973, some 7,000 Department of Defense civilian employees were kept behind to aid South Vietnamese forces in repelling violations of the cease-fire by the North Vietnamese and Vietcong that soon escalated again to full-scale war. When the war ended with Saigon’s fall on April 30, 1975, North Vietnamese Colonel Bui Tin remarked to the remaining South Vietnamese: “You have nothing to fear. Between Vietnamese there are no victors and no vanquished. Only the Americans have been defeated.” It was at the cost, however, of 58,000 American dead and the lives of as many as four million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians.

April 30. On this day in 1977, 1,415 people were arrested in a landmark protest of a nuclear power plant then under construction in Seabrook, New Hampshire. In triggering one of the largest mass arrests in U.S. history, the standoff at Seabrook helped spark a national backlash against nuclear power and played a significant role in curbing ambitions of the U.S. nuclear industry and federal policy makers to build hundreds of reactors across the country. Initially planned for two reactors to come online by 1981 at a cost of less than $1 billion, the Seabrook installation was ultimately reduced to a single reactor that cost $6.2 billion and didn’t come commercially online until 1990. Over the years, the Seabrook plant has maintained an outstanding safety record. It has also played an important role in helping the state of Massachusetts comply with mandated cuts in carbon emissions. Nevertheless, anti-nuclear-power advocates cite a number of reasons to continue the trend of shutting down nuclear reactors, rather than building more. These include extremely high construction and maintenance costs; the increasing appeal of alternative clean renewable energy sources; the catastrophic consequences of an accidental reactor melt-down; the need to ensure workable evacuation strategies; and, perhaps most importantly, the continuing problem of safe disposal of nuclear waste. Such concerns, brought to public awareness in part as a legacy of the Seabrook protest, have greatly diminished the role of nuclear power plants in U.S. energy production. By 2015, a peak number of 112 reactors in the U.S. in the 1990s had been cut to 99. Seven more were slated for shut-down in the following decade.

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