Peace Almanac May



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. Also on this day in 1968, Poor People’s Campaign March on Washington, DC.

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 day in 2002, over 100,000 Israelis demonstrated against occupation and for a Palestinian state.

May 6. On this day in 1944, Gandhi was released from his last imprisonment.

May 7. On this day in 1915, the Lusitania was sunk by a German submarine. Germany had publicly advertised in New York prior to the ship’s departure that it would be subject to attack. The ship was known to be carrying troops and weapons to be used against Germany in World War I. When President Woodrow Wilson used the sinking of the Lusitania as grounds for U.S. entry into the war, his Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan resigned in protest. For nearly a century, the U.S. media and history books claimed not to know whether the Lusitania had been carrying weapons, until the wreck of the ship was found and explored. This is a good day to educate the world about war lies.

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 — March 8. or is it 8 May? Also on this day in 1983, La Ragnatela (Spider’s Web) Women’s Peace Camp created at Comiso, Sicily, Italy, the first overseas site for U.S. cruise missiles.

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 day in 1623, English colonists held peace talks with Powhatan leaders and poisoned the wine, killing 200 of them.

May 13. On this day in 1846, the U.S. Congress declared war on Mexico. Also on this day in 1968, a strike by students and workers led to a general strike by 10 million in Paris, France.

May 14. Also on this day in1941,  first groups of WWII conscientious objectors (COs) ordered to report to camp at Patapsco, Maryland.

May 15. This is Nakba Day, marking the 1948 expelling of 700,000 Palestinians from their homes, and the destruction of hundreds of towns during the creation of the state of Israel.It is also International Conscientious Objectors’ Day.

Also on this day in 1994, a stone commemorating conscientious objectors worldwide was unveiled in Tavistock Square, London.

Also on this day in 1970, the Jackson State Massacre occurred in the United States.

May 16. This is Protest the Armed Forces Day.

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. Also on this day in 1932, U.S. Congressman Claude Fuller introduces a resolution requiring all Civil Service employees to “sing, write or recite the words to the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’” by memory.

May 20. Also on this day in 1968,  Arlington Street Unitarian-Universalist Church in Boston offers sanctuary to Robert Talmanson and William Chase, both wanted for acts of disobedience to military duty.

May 21. Also on this day in 1971,  Members of American Indian Movement (AIM) occupy Naval Air Station near Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

May 22. On this day in 1838, began the trail of tears that killed thousands of Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, and Chickasaw.

May 23. Also on this day in 1838,  General Winfield Scott ordered the forced removal of the Cherokee Indians from the East to the “Indian Nation” (what is now Oklahoma). Approximately one forth of the 10,000 died on this cruel march called “The Trail of Tears”.

May 24. This is International Women’s Day for Disarmament.

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.

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 day in 1637, in the Mystic Massacre, English colonists launched a night attack on a large Pequot village burning and killing all 600 to 700 residents.

May 27. Also on this day in 1992,  National plan of Reforestation for Peace begins, El Salvador.

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 1962, a chaplain from Michigan joined some ladies from Arlington, VA to decorate graves in Fredericksburg. On July 4, 1964, 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.


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