May 1. May Day is a traditional day to celebrate rebirth in the Northern hemisphere, and — since the 1886 Haymarket incident in Chicago — a day in much of the world to celebrate labor rights and organizing.
Also on this day in 1954 the inhabitants of what was once paradise woke up to two suns and endless radiation sickness for themselves and descendants because the U.S. government tested a hydrogen bomb.
Also on this day in 1971 massive demonstrations were held against the American War on Vietnam. Also on this day in 2003 President George W. Bush ludicrously declared “mission accomplished!” standing in a flight suit on an aircraft carrier in San Diego Harbor as the destruction of Iraq got underway.
Also on that same day in 2003 the U.S. Navy finally gave in to public protest and stopped bombing the island of Vieques.
Also on this day in 2005, the Sunday Times of London published the Downing Street Minutes which revealed the content of a July 23, 2002, meeting of the cabinet of the British government at 10 Downing Street. They revealed U.S. plans to go to war against Iraq and to lie about the reasons why. This is a good day to educate the world about war lies.
May 2. On this date in 1968, marchers were scheduled to arrive in Washington D.C. to inaugurate the Poor People’s Campaign, the last civil-rights movement envisioned by Martin Luther King Jr. in his pursuit of non-violent social reform in America. King himself didn’t live to see the Campaign take shape; he had been assassinated less than a month before. Nevertheless, his Southern Christian Leadership Conference, with new leaders and a broader agenda than any King himself had ever pursued, launched the movement he sought with only a two-week delay. From May 15 to June 24, 1968, some 2,700 poor people and anti-poverty activists, representing African-American, Asian-American, and Hispanic and Native Americans from all over the country, occupied Washington’s National Mall in a tent encampment known as Resurrection City. Their role was to demonstrate support for five core Campaign demands. These included federal guarantees of a meaningful job at a living wage for every employable citizen, and a secure income for people unable to find jobs or to work at all. No legislation based on these demands was ever enacted, but the six weeks of demonstrations at Resurrection City were not without success. In addition to drawing public attention to the problems poor people face, the demonstrators had the time over six weeks to share their personal experience of poverty with demonstrators in other ethnic groups. Those exchanges helped bring the previously independent and narrowly focused groups together as a single broad-based activist force. In recent years this organizational model has been adopted by Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, the 2017 Women’s March, and the revived Poor People’s Campaign of 2018.
May 3. On this day in 1919, Pete Seeger was born in New York City. Pete’s father taught music at the University of California, Berkeley while his mother taught violin at the Juilliard School. Pete’s brother, Mike, became a member of the New Lost City Ramblers, and his sister, Peggy, a folk musician performing with Ewan McColl. Pete preferred political activism expressed through folk music. By 1940, Pete’s song writing and performing skills led him to join the pro-labor, anti-war activist group The Almanac Singers with Woodie Guthrie. Pete wrote an unusual song entitled “Dear Mr. President,” addressing the need to stop Hitler, which became the title track of an Almanac Singers Album. Subsequently, he served during WWII, returning to revive American folk music by joining The Weavers, who inspired the Kingston Trio, the Limelighters, the Clancy Brothers, and the overall popularity of the folk scene throughout the 1950s-60s. The Weavers were eventually blacklisted by Congress, and Pete was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Pete refused to answer to these charges, citing First Amendment rights: “I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.” Pete was then convicted of contempt which, a year later, was overturned. Pete continued to keep activism alive by writing songs such as “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” and “If I had a Hammer.”
May 4. On this day in 1970 the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd of Kent State University protestors wounding nine and killing four. President Richard Nixon had been elected largely on his promise to end the Vietnam War. On April 30th, he announce that he was expanding the war to Cambodia. Protests erupted at numerous colleges. At Kent State there was a large anti-war rally followed by rioting in town. The Ohio National Guard was ordered to Kent. Before they could arrive, the students burned the ROTC building. On May 4th 2,000 students rallied on campus. Seventy-seven guard members using tear gas and bayonets forced them off the commons and over a hill. One student, Terry Norman, also had a gas mask and was armed with a 38 revolver. He was supposedly photographing the oncoming guard troops. But several students noticed he was mostly taking pictures of protesters. After a scuffle, he was chased. Pistol shots were heard. As Terry ran to another group of guardsmen at the charred ROTC, his chaser called out, “Stop him. He has a gun”. Terry handed his gun to the campus police detective who’d hired him. Members of the WKYC TV crew heard the detective say, “My God. It’s been fired four times!” Meanwhile the troops who had gained the top of the hill had heard pistol shots. Thinking they were being fired upon, they fired a volley into the crowd. The four resulting student deaths sparked massive protests that closed 450 colleges across the US. The Kent Shootings were a prime catalyst for ending the Vietnam War.
May 5. On this date in 1494, Christopher Columbus, on his second voyage to the Americas, landed on the West Indies island of Jamaica. At the time, the island was populated by the Arawaks, a simple and peaceful Indian people, numbering some 60,000, who subsisted on small-scale farming and fishing. Columbus himself saw the island as mainly a place to hold supplies and produce crops and livestock while he and his men searched for new lands for Spain in the Americas. Nevertheless, the site also attracted Spanish settlers, and in 1509 it was formally colonized under a Spanish governor. This spelled disaster for the Arawaks. Forced into the strenuous labor needed to build a new Spanish capital, and exposed to European diseases they couldn’t resist, they were to be made extinct within fifty years. As the Arawak population began to deteriorate, the Spanish imported slaves from West Africa to maintain their intensive slave labor force. Then, in the mid-17th century, the English attacked, lured by reports of Jamaica’s valuable natural resources. The Spanish quickly surrendered, and, after first freeing their slaves, known as the “Maroons,” fled to Cuba. The Maroons then entered into years of conflict with the English colonists, before they were fully liberated by the British Emancipation Act of 1833. In 1865, following an uprising by the neglected poor among the English colonists, Jamaica became a British Crown Colony and took significant social, constitutional and economic steps toward sovereignty. The island was granted its independence from Britain on August 6, 1962, and is now governed as a democratic parliamentary constitutional monarchy.
May 6. On this date in 1944, Mahatma Gandhi, 73 years of age, in failing health, and in need of surgery, was released from his seventh and final imprisonment for actions taken as leader of a non-violent campaign for India’s independence from British rule. He had been arrested on August 9, 1942, following approval by his Indian National Congress Party of the “Quit India” resolution, which launched a Satyagraha civil-disobedience campaign in support of its demand for immediate independence. When Gandhi’s arrest instead sparked a violent reaction among his followers, it drove the British Raj to tighten its already strict control and to try to tarnish Gandhi with fabricated political smears. On his release from detention nearly two years later, Gandhi himself was confronted with growing Muslim sentiment for partitioning the subcontinent into Muslim and Hindu zones, an idea he vehemently opposed. Other political conflicts ensued. But in the end, both the outcome and terms of India’s struggle for independence were determined by the British themselves. Finally accepting the inexorability of Indian claims, they voluntarily granted India its independence by an act of Parliament on June 15, 1947. Contrary to Gandhi’s hopes for a united, religiously plural India, the Indian Independence Act divided the subcontinent into two dominions, India and Pakistan, and called for each to be granted official independence by August 15. Gandhi’s grander vision was recognized decades later, however, when he was included in TIME’s “Person of the Century” issue. Commenting on his combined work and spirit, the magazine noted that it had “awakened the 20th century to ideas that serve as a moral beacon for all epochs.”
May 7. On this date in 1915, Germany sank the Lusitania — a horrible act of mass-murder. The Lusitania had been loaded up with weapons and troops for the British — another horrible act of mass-murder. Most damaging, however, were the lies told about it all. Germany had published warnings in New York newspapers and newspapers around the United States. These warnings had been printed right next to ads for sailing on the Lusitania and had been signed by the German embassy. Newspapers had written articles about the warnings. The Cunard company had been asked about the warnings. The former captain of the Lusitania had already quit — reportedly due to the stress of sailing through what Germany had publicly declared a war zone. Meanwhile Winston Churchill is quoted as having said “It is most important to attract neutral shipping to our shores in the hope especially of embroiling the United States with Germany.” It was under his command that the usual British military protection was not provided to the Lusitania, despite Cunard having stated that it was counting on that protection. U.S. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan resigned over the U.S. failure to remain neutral. That the Lusitania was carrying weapons and troops to aid the British in the war against Germany was asserted by Germany and by other observers, and was true. Yet the U.S. government said then, and U.S. text books say now, that the innocent Lusitania was attacked without warning, an action alleged to justify entering a war. Two years later, the United States officially joined in the madness of World War I.
Mothers Day is celebrated on different dates around the world. In many places it is the second Sunday in May. This is a good day to read the Mother’s Day Proclamation and rededicate the day to peace.
May 8. On this date in 1945, which also ended World War II in Europe, Oskar Schindler urged Jews he had saved from Nazi death camps not to pursue revenge against ordinary Germans. Schindler was personally not a model of propriety or moral principle. Following the Nazis into Poland in September 1939, he was quick to make friends with Gestapo bigwigs, bribing them with women, money and booze. With their help, he acquired an enamelware factory in Krakow that he could run with cheap Jewish labor. In time, however, Schindler began to sympathize with the Jews and find repugnant the Nazi brutality against them. In the summer of 1944, as depicted in the 1993 movie Schindler’s List, he saved 1,200 of his Jewish employees from near-certain death in the gas chambers of Poland by relocating them at great personal risk to a factory branch in the Sudetenland of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. When he spoke to them following their liberation on the first V-E Day, he urged emphatically: “Avoid every act of revenge and terrorism.” Schindler’s actions and words continue to encourage hope for a better world. If, flawed as he was, he could nevertheless find the compassion and courage to right great wrongs, it suggests that capacity resides in all of us. Today, we again need the virtues Schindler displayed to combat a system of predatory corporate interests backed by national killing machines that serves the interests of only a venal few. The world could then work together to meet the real needs of ordinary people, making possible our survival as a species and the realization of our true human potential.
May 9. On this date in 1944, the autocratic president of El Salvador, General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez, resigned his office, following a non-violent student-organized national strike begun in the first week of May that crippled most of El Salvador’s economy and civil society. After coming to power in the early 1930s as the result of a coup, Martinez had created a secret police force and gone on to outlaw the Communist Party, ban peasant organizations, censor the press, imprison perceived subversives, target labor activists, and assume direct control over universities. In April of 1944, university students and faculty began organizing against the regime, staging a peaceful nationwide work strike that, by the first week in May, included workers and professionals from all walks of life. On May 5, the strikers’ negotiating committee demanded that the president step down immediately. Instead, Martinez took to the radio, urging citizens to return to work. This led to expanded public protest and more aggressive police action that killed a student demonstrator. Following the youth’s funeral, thousands of protesters demonstrated in a square near the National Palace and then rushed into the palace itself, only to find it abandoned. With his options narrowing drastically, the president met with the negotiating committee on May 8 and finally agreed to resign–an action officially accepted the next day. Martinez was replaced as president by a more moderate official, General Andres Ignacio Menendez, who ordered amnesty for political prisoners, declared freedom of the press, and began planning for general elections. The push to democracy proved short-lived, however. Just five months later, Menendez himself was overthrown by a coup.
May 10. On this day in 1984, the International Court of Justice in the Hague, Netherlands, unanimously granted Nicaragua’s request for a preliminary restraining order that required the United States to immediately halt its underwater mining of Nicaraguan ports that had damaged at least eight ships from various nations in the preceding three months. The U.S. accepted the decision without objection, indicating that it had already ended the operations in late March and would not resume them. The mining had been carried out by a combination of U.S.-financed guerrillas fighting the leftist Sandinista government, and highly trained Latin American employees of the CIA. According to U.S. officials, the operations were part of a CIA effort to redirect the strategy of the guerrillas, known as the “Contras,” from failed attempts to seize territory in the country to hit-and-run economic sabotage. The handmade acoustic devices used for the mining effectively helped meet that goal by discouraging outgoing and incoming shipments of goods. Nicaraguan coffee and other exports collected on piers, and supplies of imported oil dwindled. At the same time, the CIA began to assume a more direct role in training and guiding the anti-Sandinista rebels, and administration officials acknowledged an interest in making the Sandinista government more “democratic” and less tied to Cuba and the Soviet Union. For its part, the International Court added to its ruling on U.S. mining a statement affirming that Nicaragua’s political independence “should be fully respected and…not be jeopardized by any military or paramilitary activities.” This provision, however, did not receive unanimous support. Though adopted by a 14 to 1 margin, U.S. judge Stephen Schwebel voted “Nay.”
May 11. On this day in 1999, the largest international peace conference in history got underway in the Hague, Netherlands. The conference marked the centennial of the first international peace conference, held in The Hague in May 1899, which had begun the process of interaction between civil society and governments aimed at preventing war and controlling its excesses. The 1999 Hague Appeal for Peace Conference, held over five days, was attended by more than 9,000 activists, government representatives, and community leaders from over 100 countries. The event was especially significant, because, unlike subsequent UN global summits, it was organized entirely not by governments, but by members of civil society, who showed themselves ready to push for a world beyond war even if their governments were not. Attendees, including notables such as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Queen Noor of Jordan, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, took part in over 400 panels, workshops, and roundtables, discussing and debating mechanisms for abolishing war and creating a culture of peace. The result was an action plan of 50 detailed programs that set a decades-long international agenda for conflict prevention, human rights, peacekeeping, disarmament, and dealing with the root causes of war. The conference also successfully redefined peace to mean not only the absence of conflict between and within states, but the absence of economic and social injustice. That conceptual broadening has since made it possible to bring together environmentalists, human rights advocates, developers, and others who have traditionally not thought of themselves as “peace activists” to work toward a sustainable culture of peace.
May 12. On this date in 1623, English colonists in Virginia held so-called peace talks with the Powhatan Indians, but deliberately poisoned the wine they provided, killing 200 of the Powhatans before shooting and scalping 50 others. From 1607, when Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America, was founded on the banks of the James River in Virginia, the colonists had been in and out of war with a regional alliance of tribes called the Powhatan Confederation, led by its supreme chief, Powhatan. A major issue was the settlers’ expansionist incursions on Indian lands. Nevertheless, when Powhatan’s daughter Pocahontas married the prominent English colonist and tobacco farmer John Rolfe in 1614, Powhatan reluctantly agreed to an unlimited truce with the colonists. Pocahontas had in fact contributed significantly to the early survival of the Jamestown settlement, famously saving English captain John Smith from execution in 1607 and, after her forced conversion to Christianity in 1613, serving successfully as a missionary among the natives. With her untimely death in March 1617, prospects for continued peace slowly faded. After Powhatan himself died in 1618, his youngest brother took command and, in March 1622, led an all-out attack in which colonist settlements and plantations were burned and a third of their inhabitants, approximately 350, were shot or hacked to death. It was this “Powhatan Uprising” that led to the spurious “peace parley” in May, 1623, where the colonists aimed for nothing more than sinister vengeance. The Uprising had left the Jamestown settlement in total disarray, and in 1624 Virginia was made a royal colony. It would remain so until the American revolution.
May 13. On this date in 1846, the U.S. Congress voted to approve President James K. Polk’s request to declare war on Mexico. The war was precipitated by border disputes involving Texas, which in 1836 had won its own independence from Mexico as a sovereign republic but had become a U.S. state following Congressional passage of a U.S./Texas Treaty of Annexation signed in March 1945 by Polk’s predecessor, John Tyler. As a U.S. state, Texas claimed the Rio Grande as its southern boundary, while Mexico claimed as the legal boundary the Nueces River to the northeast. In July 1845, President Polk ordered troops into the disputed lands between the two rivers. When efforts to negotiate a settlement failed, the U.S. army advanced to the mouth of the Rio Grande. The Mexicans responded in April 1846 by sending their own troops across the Rio Grande. On May 11, Polk asked Congress to declare war on Mexico, charging that Mexican forces had “invaded our territory and shed the blood of our fellow-citizens on our own soil.” The President’s request was overwhelmingly approved by Congress two days later, but it also evoked both moral and intellectual reproof from leading figures in American politics and culture. Despite this, the conflict was ultimately settled on terms that favored not justice, but superior power. The peace treaty ending the war in February 1848 made the Rio Grande the southern boundary of Texas, and ceded California and New Mexico to the United States. In return, the U.S. would pay Mexico the sum of $15 million and agree to settle all claims of U.S. citizens against Mexico.
May 14. On this date in 1941, when World War II already raged in Europe, a first wave of U.S. conscientious objectors reported to a work camp in the Patapsco State Forest in Maryland, ready to provide meaningful alternative service to their country. For many of the objectors, the opportunity to pursue that alternative had resulted from society’s broader understanding of how religion can shape belief. Previously, almost all draft-eligible American males had qualified for conscientious-objector status through their membership in historic “peace churches,” such as the Quakers and Mennonites. The 1940 Selective Training and Service Act, however, had extended eligibility for that status to persons who had derived beliefs from any religious background that caused them to oppose all forms of military service. If drafted, such persons could now be assigned to “work of national importance under civilian direction.” The Patapsco camp was the first of an eventual 152 camps in the U.S. and Puerto Rico that, under a program called Civilian Public Service, greatly expanded the availability of such work. The Service provided work assignments for some 20,000 conscientious objectors from 1941 to ’47, largely in the areas of forestry, soil conservation, fire fighting, and agriculture. The program’s unique organization also helped neutralize the public’s anti-objector prejudice by appealing to its historic support for private over public initiatives. The camps were set up and operated by committees of the Mennonite, Brethren, and Quaker churches, and the entire program cost the government and taxpayers nothing. Draftees served without wages and their church congregations and families were entirely responsible for meeting their incidental needs.
May 15. On this day in 1998, Palestine held its first Nakba Day, the day of catastrophe. The day was established by Yasser Arafat, President of the Palestinian National Authority, to commemorate the displacement of Palestinians during the first Arab-Israeli War (1947 – 49). Nakba Day falls the day after Israeli Independence Day. By May 14, 1948, the day Israel declared independence, approximately 250,000 Palestinians had already fled or been expelled from what became Israel. From May 15, 1948 onwards, expulsion of Palestinians became a regular practice. Altogether, more than 750,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes, approximately 80 percent of the Palestinian Arab population. Many of those with means fled into the Palestinian diaspora before they were expelled. Of those without means, many settled in refugee camps in neighboring states. The reasons for the exodus were many and included the destruction of Arab villages (between 400 and 600 Palestinian villages were sacked and urban Palestine was devastated); Jewish military advances and the fear of another massacre by Zionist militias following the Deir Yassin massacre; direct expulsion orders by Israeli authorities; the collapse of Palestinian leadership; and an unwillingness to live under Jewish control. Later, a series of laws passed by the first Israeli government prevented Palestinians from returning to their homes or claiming their property. To this day many Palestinians and their descendants remain refugees. Their status as refugees, as well as whether Israel will grant them their claimed right to return to their homes or be compensated, are key issues in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some historians have described the expulsion of the Palestinians as ethnic cleansing.
May 16. On this date in 1960, a crucial diplomatic summit in Paris between U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, which both sides had hoped might result in improved bilateral relations, instead broke up in anger. Fifteen days earlier, Soviet surface-to-air missiles had for the first time shot down a U.S. high-atmosphere U-2 spy plane over Soviet territory as it took detailed photos of military installations on the ground. After twenty-two previous U-2 flights, Khrushchev finally had hard evidence of a program the U.S. had previously denied. When Eisenhower refused his demand to ban all future spy-plane flights, Khrushchev angrily left the meeting, effectively ending the summit. The spy plane over-flights were the brainchild of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Since 1953, the agency had been headed by Allen Dulles, who, in an atmosphere of intense anti-communism and xenophobia, had spawned a morally bankrupt secret government. Its many transgressions are traced by David Talbot in his eye-opening 2015 book The Devil’s Chessboard…. It was the CIA, Talbot notes, which introduced “regime change” and the undermining and assassination of foreign leaders as tools of American foreign policy. Talbot also strongly suggests that the CIA set up the Cuban Bay of Pigs invasion for failure in order to force the hand of the young President Kennedy into bombing the island and sending in the Marines. Such skullduggery and betrayal, if true, clearly demonstrate how the fanaticism of the Cold War distorted American politics, undermined the country’s democratic principles, and fostered a dark state willing to turn its physical and moral violence inward onto those who resist it.
May 17. On this day in 1968, nine people burned draft files in Catonsville, Maryland. Father Daniel and Father Philip Berrigan along with Catholic civil rights activists David Darst, John Hogan, Tom Lewis, Marjorie Bradford Melville, Thomas Melville, George Mische, and Mary Moylan were arrested for removing hundreds of draft records from the Selective Service offices in Catonsville, MD, and destroying them with homemade napalm in protest of the draft and the ongoing Vietnam War. Their subsequent imprisonment angered many as newspapers shared the story. In the words of Father Daniel, “Our apologies, dear friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children…we could not, so help us God do otherwise.” As the trial began in Baltimore, “the Nine” were supported by groups from across the country aligned in opposition to the draft. The anti-war movement drew even more support from clergy, Students for a Democratic Society, Cornell students, and the Baltimore Welfare Workers Union. Thousands marched through the streets of Baltimore calling for release of the Nine, and an end to the “Selective Slavery” imposed by the draft to back the growing imperialism evident not only in Vietnam, but in South America, Africa, and around the world. The Nine made it clear during their trial that citizens have no choice but civil disobedience when moral, religious, and patriotic principles are incompatible. The Nine never denied their actions, but focused on their intent. This intent continues to inspire those who oppose the sentencing of America’s youth to endless wars despite the guilty verdicts, convictions, and sentencing imposed on The Nine objectors.
May 18. On this day in 1899 the Hague Peace Conference opened. This conference was proposed by Russia “on behalf of disarmament and the permanent peace of the world.” Twenty-six nations, including the US, met to discuss alternatives to war. The delegates were divided into three commissions to present ideas. The first commission unanimously agreed that “the limitation of the military charges which so oppress the world is greatly to be desired.” The second commission proposed revisions to both the Declaration of Brussels concerning the rules of war, and to the Geneva Convention to extend protections provided by the Red Cross. The third commission called for arbitration to settle international conflicts peacefully, leading to the International Court of Arbitration. Seventy-two judges were chosen as unbiased arbitrators to oversee rules and procedures to formulate the code of law. By May 18, 1901, the court was established as “the most important step forward, of a worldwide humanitarian character, that has ever been taken by the joint powers, as it must ultimately banish war, and further, being of opinion that the cause of peace will greatly benefit by the erection of a court house and library for the permanent Court of Arbitration…” Within seven years, 135 arbitration treaties were signed with 12 involving the US. Nations agreed to submit their differences to the Hague Tribunal when they did not infringe upon “the independence, the honor, the vital interests, or the exercise of sovereignty of the contracting countries, and provided it has been impossible to obtain an amicable solution by means of direct diplomatic negotiations or by any other method of conciliation.”
May 19. On this date in 1967, the Soviet Union ratified an agreement that prohibited deployment of nuclear weapons in orbit around the earth. The agreement also banned nations from using the moon, other planets, or any other “celestial bodies” as military outposts or bases. Before Soviet ratification, the “Outer Space Treaty,” as the agreement was called when it entered into force in October 1967, had already been signed and/or ratified by the United States, Great Britain, and dozens of other nations. It represented an international response, led by the United Nations, to a widespread fear that the U.S. and Soviet Union could well make space the next frontier for nuclear weapons. The Soviets themselves had initially held out on agreeing to a ban on nuclear weapons in space, insisting they could accept such an agreement only if the U.S. first eliminated foreign bases at which it had already stationed short-range and medium-range missiles — a demand the U.S. rejected. The Soviets dropped the requirement, however, after signing onto the U.S./Soviet Limited Test Ban Treaty in August 1963, which prohibited nuclear testing everywhere except underground. In the decades that followed, the U.S. military nonetheless pursued the use of space for war-making and resisted initiatives by Russia and other nations to ban all weaponization of space and use of nuclear power in space. The use of satellites in targeting missiles, and the continued development of space weapons is part of what the U.S. military refers to as the goal of “full spectrum dominance” — a concept that still includes what President Ronald Reagan referred to as Star Wars or Missile Defense.
May 20. On this date in 1968, Boston’s highly progressive Arlington Street Unitarian Church was one of the first houses of worship to grant sanctuary to Vietnam War resisters. Of the two taking sanctuary, William Chase, a soldier absent without leave, surrendered to army authorities after nine days, having received assurances regarding his status as a conscientious objector. But Robert Talmanson, a draftee who had failed to successfully challenge his induction into the military, was seized from the church’s pulpit by U.S. marshals and escorted through protestors outside with the assistance of Boston police. In granting its sanctuary, the Arlington Street Church had taken its lead from Yale University Chaplain William Sloane Coffin, who urged reviving the ancient tradition as a way to effectively symbolize religious resistance to the unjust war in Vietnam. Coffin had made the appeal during an anti-war demonstration at the church the previous October. In it, 60 men burned their draft cards in the church chancel, and another 280 handed their draft cards to four clergymen, including Coffin and Arlington Street’s minister Dr. Jack Mendelsohn, all of whom themselves risked possible penalties by collaborating with the war resisters. On the following Sunday, Dr. Mendelsohn delivered words targeted directly at his congregation that summed up the event’s significance: “When…there are those,” he said, “who, having exhausted without effect every lawful means of opposing the monstrous crimes being committed in their name by their government…and choose instead the Gethsemene of civil disobedience, how is the church to respond? You know how [the church] answered last Monday. But the continuing answer, the one that really counts, is yours.”
May 21. On this date in 1971, members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) occupied an abandoned U.S. naval air station in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The occupation followed a similar takeover five days before by AIM members and other Indian organizations and tribes of a soon-to-close naval air station near Minneapolis, where they planned to establish an all-Indian school and cultural center. The action was justified on the basis of Article 6 of the Sioux Treaty of 1868, by which property that originally belonged to the Indians was to revert to them if and when the government abandoned it. However, because the May 21 takeover of the abandoned Milwaukee station had disrupted associated naval operations, the occupiers of the Minneapolis facility were arrested, putting an end to their plans. AIM was founded in 1968 to pursue five primary Native American goals: economic independence, revitalization of traditional culture, protection of legal rights, autonomy over tribal areas, and restoration of tribal lands that were illegally seized. In pursuit of these goals, the organization has been involved in a number of memorable protests. They include the occupation of Alcatraz Island from 1969 to 1971; the 1972 march on Washington to protest U.S. violations of treaties; and the 1973 takeover of a site at Wounded Knee to protest the government’s Indian policies. Today, the organization, based nationwide, continues to pursue its founding goals. On its website, AIM asserts that Native American culture is worthy “of pride and defense” and urges all Native Americans to “stay strong spiritually, and to always remember that the movement is greater than the accomplishments or faults of its leaders.”
May 22. On this day in 1998 voters in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland approved the Northern Ireland Peace Accord, also know as the Good Friday Agreement, ending nearly 30 years of conflict between the Nationalists and Unionists in Northern Ireland. The Accord, agreed in Belfast on Good Friday, 10 April 1998, has two parts, a multi-party agreement among most of Northern Ireland’s political parties (the DUP, the Democratic Unionist Party, was the only party not to agree) and an international agreement between the governments of Britain and the Republic of Ireland. The accord created a number of institutions that linked Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as well as the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. These included the Northern Ireland Assembly, cross-border institutions with the Irish Republic, and a body linking devolved assemblies across the UK (Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) with parliaments in the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic. Also central to the accord were agreements on sovereignty, civil and cultural rights, the decommissioning of weapons, demilitarization, justice and policing. Gerry Adams, President of the Northern Irish Nationalist organization Sinn Fein, expressed the hope that the historical gap in trust between the Nationalists and Unionists would “be bridged on the basis of equality. We are here reaching out the hand of friendship.” Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble responded that he saw “a great opportunity . . . to start a healing process.” Bertie Ahern, leader of the Republic of Ireland, added that he hoped a line could now be drawn under the “bloody past”. The Accord came into force on 2 December 1999.
May 23. On this day in 1838 began the final removal of Native Americans from their ancestral lands in the Southeast of North America to lands west of the Mississippi River that were designated as Indian Territory. By the 1820s, European settlers in the Southeast were demanding more land. They began settling illegally on Indian lands and pressuring the federal government to remove Indians from the Southeast. In 1830, President Andrew Jackson was able to have the Indian Removal Act passed by Congress. This Act authorized the federal government to extinguish the title to lands in the Southeast belonging to Indians. Forced relocations, although vehemently opposed by some, including U.S. Congressman Davy Crockett of Tennessee, quickly followed. The Act affected the Native Americans known as the Five Civilized Tribes: the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole. The Choctaw were the first to be removed, beginning in 1831. The removal of the Seminoles, in spite of their resistance, began in 1832. In 1834 the Creek were removed. And in 1837 it was the Chickasaw. By 1837, with the relocation of these four tribes, 46,000 Indians had been removed from their homelands, opening 25 million acres for European settlement. In 1838 only the Cherokee were left. Their forced relocation was carried out by State and local militias, who rounded the Cherokee up and corralled them in large and cramped camps. Exposure to the elements, quickly spreading communicable diseases, harassment by local frontiersmen, and insufficient rations killed up to 8,000 of the more than 16,000 Cherokee who began the march. The 1838 forced relocation of the Cherokee became known as the Trail of Tears.
May 24. On this date annually, the International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament (IWDPD) is celebrated around the world. Instituted in Europe in the early 1980s, the IWDPD recognizes the historic and current efforts of women in international peace-building and disarmament projects. According to an IWDPD pronouncement on the web, the women activists it honors refuse violence as a solution to the world’s challenges and work instead for a just and peaceful world that meets human–not military–needs. Women’s activism for peace has a long history, dating back to before 1915, when some 1,200 women from both warring and neutral countries demonstrated against World War I in The Hague, Netherlands. During the Cold War, women activist groups around the world organized conferences, education campaigns, seminars, and demonstrations aimed at ending arms stockpiling, prohibiting the use of chemical and biological weapons, and preventing possible use of nuclear weapons. As the twentieth century neared its end, the women’s peace movement significantly extended its agenda. Driven by the perceptions that various forms of domestic violence, including violence against women, can be linked to violence experienced in war, and that domestic peace is linked to cultural respect for women, activist groups within the movement began pursuing the dual goals of disarmament and women’s rights. In October 2000, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution on women, peace and security that specifically mentions the need to incorporate gender perspectives in all areas of peace support, including disarmament, demobilization, and rehabilitation. That document still serves as an historic turning point in acknowledging women’s direct contributions to the cause of peace.
May 25. On this day in 1932, the Bonus Army of World War I veterans demonstrated in Washington, D.C., and were assaulted with tear gas by Douglas MacArthur. WWI veterans were promised a bonus by Congress with the stipulation that they would have to wait for their payments until 1945. By 1932, the Depression had left many veterans unemployed and homeless. About 15,000 organized as the “Bonus Expeditionary Force,” marched to Washington, and demanded their payments. They put together shelters for their families, and camped across the river from the Capitol as they waited for a response from Congress. Fears from local residents led to each of the veterans being required to provide copies of their honorable discharges. The head of the BEF, Walter Waters, then said: “We’re here for the duration and we’re not going to starve. We’re going to keep ourselves a simon-pure veteran’s organization. If the Bonus is paid it will relieve to a large extent the deplorable economic condition.” On June 17th, the bonus was voted down, and veterans began a silent “Death March” on the Capitol until Congress adjourned July 17th. On July 28, the Atty. General ordered their evacuation from government property by police who arrived and killed two marchers. President Hoover then ordered the army to clear the rest out. When General Douglas MacArthur along with Major Dwight D. Eisenhower sent a cavalry led by Major George Patton along with six tanks, the veterans assumed they were being supported. Instead, they were sprayed with tear gas, their camps set on fire, and two babies died as area hospitals filled with veterans.
May 26. On this date in 1637, English colonists launched a night attack on a large Pequot village at Mystic, Connecticut, burning and killing all 600 to 700 of its residents. Originally part of the Puritan settlement in Massachusetts Bay, English colonists had spread into Connecticut and come into increasing conflict with the Pequot. To strike fear into the Indians, Massachusetts Bay Governor John Endicott organized a large military force in the spring of 1637. The Pequot, however, defied the mobilization, instead sending 200 of their warriors to attack a colonial settlement, killing six men and three women. In retaliation, the colonists attacked the Pequot village at Mystic in what is now called the Mystic Massacre. Colonial Captain John Mason, leading a militia backed by nearly 300 Mohegan, Narragansett, and Niantic warriors, gave the order to set the village on fire and block off the only two exits from the palisade surrounding it. The trapped Pequot who tried climbing over the palisade were shot, and any who succeeded were killed by the Narragansett fighters. Was this genocide, as several historians have claimed? The colonial captain, John Underhill, who led a 20-man militia during the attack, had no trouble justifying the killing of women, children, the elderly, and infirm. He pointed to Scripture, which “declareth women and children must perish with their parents…. We had sufficient light from the Word of God for our proceedings.” Following two additional assaults on Pequot villages in June and July 1637, the Pequot War came to an end and most surviving Indians were sold into slavery.
May 27. On this date in 1907, the brilliant nature writer and pioneering American environmentalist Rachel Carson was born in Silver Spring, Maryland. In 1962, Carson sparked widespread debate with the publication of Silent Spring, her landmark book about the dangers posed to natural systems by the misuse of chemical pesticides such as DDT. Carson may also be remembered for her wider moral critique of U.S. society. She was in fact part of a large revolt among scientists and leftist thinkers of the 1950s and ’60s that arose initially from concerns over the effects of radiation from aboveground nuclear tests. In 1963, the year before her death from breast cancer, Carson identified herself for the first time as an “ecologist” in a speech before some 1,500 physicians in California. In defiance of a prevailing social ethos based on greed, domination, and a reckless faith in science unconstrained by moral principle, she argued passionately that all humans are in fact part of a cohesive network of natural interconnections and interdependencies that they threaten only at their peril. Today, as evidenced by climate chaos, nuclear threats, and calls for more “usable” nuclear weapons, the people of the world are still imperiled — though perhaps more dangerously — by the social ethos Carson sought to transform. Now, more than ever, it is time for environmental groups to join the efforts of arms-control and anti-war organizations constructively working for peace. Given their millions of committed members, such groups could effectively build the case that nuclear weapons and war are paramount threats to the interconnected global environment.
May 28. On this day in 1961, Amnesty International was founded. In an article from The Observer, “The Forgotten Prisoners,” British lawyer Peter Benenson proposed that a human rights organization was needed to enforce the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Benenson wrote of his concerns about increased violations of Article 18: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion… and Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression: this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers…” The Dutch began working with Benenson in defense of civil rights in 1962, and by 1968 Amnesty International in the Netherlands was born. Their campaigning to end torture, abolish the death penalty, stop political murders, and end imprisonments based on race, religion, or sex led to an Amnesty International Section in many countries supported by over seven million people from around the world. Their thorough research, investigation, and documentation resulted in archives stored at the International Institute of Social History including tapes of interviews and propaganda materials from case histories denying civil rights. The International Secretariat contains files on human rights violations such as prisoners of conscience being sentenced by countries using unlawful imprisonment to suit their agendas. Amnesty International has been criticized for its refusal to oppose war, even while opposing numerous atrocities created by wars, as well as for helping to initiate Western wars by supporting dubious allegations of atrocities used as propaganda.
May 29. On this day in 1968, the Poor Peoples Campaign began. At a Southern Christian Leadership Conference in December 1967, Martin Luther King proposed a campaign to eradicate inequality and poverty in America. His vision was that the poor might organize and meet with government officials in Washington to address the ongoing war, lack of jobs, fair minimum wage, education, and a voice for the growing number of impoverished adults and children. The campaign was supported by many diverse groups including American Indians, Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and increasingly poor white communities. As the campaign began drawing national attention, King was murdered on April 4, 1968. The Rev. Ralph Abernathy took King’s place as the leader of the SCLC, continued the campaign, and arrived in Washington with hundreds of demonstrators on Mother’s Day, May 12, 1968. Coretta Scott King also arrived accompanied by thousands of women calling for an economic bill of rights, and vowing to make daily pilgrimages to federal agencies to discuss the issues of inequality and injustice. By the end of that week, despite intense rain turning the Mall to mud, the group numbered 5,000 setting up tents with campsites they named “Resurrection City.” Robert Kennedy’s wife was one of the Mother’s Day arrivals, and along with the rest of the world, watched in disbelief as her husband was murdered on June 5. Kennedy’s funeral procession was routed past Resurrection City on its way to Arlington National Cemetery. The Department of the Interior then forced the closure of Resurrection City citing an expiration of the permit issued for the campaign’s use of park land.
May 30. On this day in 1868, Memorial Day was first observed when two women in Columbus, MS, placed flowers on both Confederate and Union graves. This story about women recognizing lives sacrificed on each side due to the Civil War by visiting gravesites with flowers in their hands actually took place two years earlier, on April 25, 1866. According to the Center for Civil War Research, there were countless wives, mothers, and daughters spending time in graveyards. In April of 1862, a chaplain from Michigan joined some ladies from Arlington, VA to decorate graves in Fredericksburg. On July 4, 1864, a woman visiting her father’s grave joined by many who had lost fathers, husbands, and sons left wreaths at every grave in Boalsburg, PA. In the spring of 1865, a surgeon, who would become Surgeon General of the National Guard in Wisconsin, witnessed women placing flowers on graves near Knoxville, TN as he passed by on a train. “Daughters of the Southland” were doing the same on April 26, 1865 in Jackson, MS, along with women in Kingston, GA, and Charleston, SC. In 1866, the women of Columbus, MS felt a day should be devoted to remembering, leading to the poem “The Blue and the Gray” by Francis Miles Finch. A wife and daughter of a deceased Colonel from Columbus, GA, and another grieving group from Memphis, TN made similar appeals to their communities, as did others from Carbondale, IL, and both Petersburg and Richmond, VA. Regardless of who was the first to conceive of a day to remember veterans, it was finally acknowledged by the US government.
May 31. On this day in 1902, the Treaty of Vereeniging ended the Boer War. During the Napoleonic wars, the British had taken control of the Dutch Cape Colony at the tip of South Africa. The Boers (Dutch for farmers) inhabiting this coastal area since the 1600s moved north into African Tribal territory (The Great Trek) leading to the establishment of both the Transvaal and Orange Free State republics. Their subsequent discovery of diamonds and gold in these areas soon led to another British invasion. As the British took over their cities in 1900, the Boars launched a fierce guerilla war against them. British forces responded by bringing in enough troops to defeat the guerillas, destroy their lands, and imprison their wives and children in concentration camps where over 20,000 suffered torturous deaths due to starvation and disease. By 1902, the Boers agreed to the Treaty of Vereeniging accepting British rule in exchange for the release of Boer forces and their families, along with the promise of independent rule. By 1910, the British established the Union of South Africa, ruling over the Cape of Good Hope, Natal, Transvaal and the Orange State as colonies of the United Kingdom. As tension spread across Europe, American President Theodore Roosevelt called for a conference which led to law-making treaties, and to international courts forbidding imperialist takeovers. This call to action earned President Roosevelt a Nobel Peace Prize, and led to the slowing of British colonialism in Africa. The Boers regained independent control of their republics as international concern and the demand for accountability changed the world’s perspective on “rules” of war.
This Peace Almanac lets you know important steps, progress, and setbacks in the movement for peace that have taken place on each day of the year.
This Peace Almanac should remain good for every year until all war is abolished and sustainable peace established. Profits from sales of the print and PDF versions fund the work of World BEYOND War.
Text produced and edited by David Swanson.
Audio recorded by Tim Pluta.
Items written by Robert Anschuetz, David Swanson, Alan Knight, Marilyn Olenick, Eleanor Millard, Erin McElfresh, Alexander Shaia, John Wilkinson, William Geimer, Peter Goldsmith, Gar Smith, Thierry Blanc, and Tom Schott.
Ideas for topics submitted by David Swanson, Robert Anschuetz, Alan Knight, Marilyn Olenick, Eleanor Millard, Darlene Coffman, David McReynolds, Richard Kane, Phil Runkel, Jill Greer, Jim Gould, Bob Stuart, Alaina Huxtable, Thierry Blanc.
Music used by permission from “The End of War,” by Eric Colville.
Audio music and mixing by Sergio Diaz.
Graphics by Parisa Saremi.
World BEYOND War is a global nonviolent movement to end war and establish a just and sustainable peace. We aim to create awareness of popular support for ending war and to further develop that support. We work to advance the idea of not just preventing any particular war but abolishing the entire institution. We strive to replace a culture of war with one of peace in which nonviolent means of conflict resolution take the place of bloodshed.