Dorothy and I are pleased and delighted to be here for this occasion. And on behalf of our families and ancestral families, on behalf of our sons and grandchildren, on behalf of the struggle of people everywhere for that other world that is possible, that other society that is possible, we accept with deep appreciation this award from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. I am profoundly moved this evening for this opportunity, and in so many different ways you have encouraged my own spirit. The things that we’ve heard this evening are just wonderful, marvelous. The way in which this Foundation and David Krieger and the Board have sought to push the matter of peace, the end of war, the end of nuclear weapons, is for me a great shot of encouragement and adrenaline to keep on keeping on.
I have friends in this audience and I’m delighted to see them, as well. To walk in and see Stanley Sheinbaum here, one of my own personal heroes, a man with whom I’ve been related in a great variety of ways over the last 35 or 40 years, and who remains a stalwart figure in the tradition of what Joshua Heschel spoke of as God’s pathos, God’s passion. He is a wonderful illustration of that.
I looked over the invitation for this evening fairly carefully at home for several days. I noticed you have Glenn Paige and me joining a distinguished group of people, and I want to express my own humility to be on this list of people. I appreciate all that Glenn Paige has done, he belongs in that category, and his “nonkilling” notion, politics, are a tremendous idea, an idea whose time has come, and I want to especially applaud that we can have another kind of society.
I decided, in fact, I wanted to address quite briefly from the perspective of one on your Advisory Council, Harrison Ford, who is, in addition to his fame and celebrity and acting, an environmentalist who has worked in many different parts of the world as well as in the United States. This past January, I was taking a trip somewhere on Southwest Airlines. As I often do, I picked up their monthly magazine called The Spirit, and in that issue, January’s issue, there was this conversation between Bill Ford, of the Ford Company, and Harrison Ford—a conversation around the issues of the environmental movement and struggle. They have both participated in this cause around the world and know each other from that participation. It’s a very interesting piece, but towards the end of the piece, Harrison Ford, after talking with Bill Ford about environmental issues and the movement and the struggle, said something like this, and I’m not going to quote it exactly, but I’m going to give you the gist of what he said. He said what he sees now, after the years he’s given to it, is the failure of the environmental movement. He suggested something that I think is a point of strategy that has interested me ever since. He said the movement has failed because we have worked over the years from issue to issue and from species to species. That made a vivid picture in my mind, as I followed that movement across these decades. Then he said, concluding his critique of his own work and of a great movement, that what we need is a movement like the civil rights movement of a few years ago. So that’s going to frame the structure of what I’m going to say this evening.
In many ways, we who are the advocates of peace, we who want peace, have obviously failed in our own country and in the world. One could say this about the civil rights movement. One could say this about the anti-poverty movement. One could say this about the living-wage movement of which I’ve been a part for some now 25 years. I suspect many of the critical issues that you and I have worked for, and believe in, and imagine, have over the last 30 years, maybe more, simply not taken off in the mind of the people, the mind of the nation. We know our work remains in many different ways and forms. We can’t afford to have the peace movement fail. And in the first instance, across these last 30 years, we 300 million, plus a few, of this land are now participants in this nation that—as David has said here, which I have rarely heard anyone say—because of its military power and its financial power, has become, as Martin King said, the genitor of violence around the world. I’ve said it like this in the past: We in the United States have intentionally or unintentionally become the number one enemy of peace and justice in the world today. We’ve become the number one military, bar none, today or in the past, with 800 military installations in 130 countries, with naval fleets and with air fleets, and with military people on the ground, with massive technology, even with nuclear weapons for our use.
The nation has become a military security nation in many different ways, whether we have liked it or not, or whether we ourselves are or have been victims of it. But a major way in which we’ve failed is that we’re in a society now where there’s tremendous confusion and animosity, a lack of civil conversation and discussion, the unwillingness to put on the table the issues that we feel deeply about and the issues that are hurting and paining millions of our fellow citizens around the country. In all complexions and in all parts of the country, our own visions for our own land are being smashed steadily by a media that talks and talks and talks and talks, but very rarely about real human beings, very rarely about our country, very rarely about this magnificent 300 million people that we represent. On almost every issue in the present electoral scheme, there is little common sense being put on the table. There is very little wisdom from our own past as a nation, and the wisdom of the human race is nowhere to be found to any extent in most of the elections and the campaigns. And I’m sure there are a few instances where that’s not the case, but in most of the ones we hear about and read about, that wisdom from our own ancestry of the human race is simply not there.
Take this matter of nuclear weapons. This issue is a very personal issue with me. In August 1945, I was preparing for my senior year in high school in Massillon, Ohio, when the bomb was dropped on the 6th on Hiroshima, and then on Nagasaki on August 9th. For quite a number of years now I’ve tried to observe those two days in some ways of contemplation and peace. Within a few days after the 9th of August, the National Forensic League of the country sent out urgent letters to high schools across the country, saying the topic that had been designated for 1945-46 had been changed. It would now be “Does the atomic bomb make mass armies obsolete?”
So for the next nine months, my colleagues and I at Washington High School studied and explored and read about this question about which there was very little written. It was three months after that topic was chosen that the director of the Manhattan Project wrote a book called The Manhattan Project. No one knew very much about this at all. So, I learned in my reading that the soldiers of World War II in 1945 went into Japan to occupy Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They were told that the radiation was beneath the levels that would affect them. And when they began to report their sickness, they were told that whatever it was was not connected to the bomb. It took 30 years before the Army and the Navy and the U.S. Government admitted that the impact of those weapons upon those men had indeed produced the things the men and their wives and their families were reporting across the decades.
The weapons must be abolished. Not just nuclear weapons, but also every form of mass destruction weapons must be abolished.
I ask us the question, “What kind of people are we that we do not rise up with indignation?” That our own land, in spite of the lofty ideals and history that is extraordinary, will be using its energy and resources, as it has been said already this evening, for trying to get the human race to commit suicide, trying to reduce and discontinue this extraordinary species of life that you and I and billions of others represent.
I want to go to the second point here, namely, that we have not persuaded the American people that there is a quality of life that they’re missing, and that the leadership of many different governmental levels is refusing to allow us to have or to reach.
And that comes then to the concluding point that I wanted to make, namely, that in all the good work we are doing, somehow, we must help to ignite the non-violent struggle in the 21st century in our country, in the United States, that will help us on the one side not only to continue to dismantle those elements of our history and of our life today that we know are wrong, unjustified, impractical. At the same moment then, we lift up the highest values that we can achieve, namely equality, liberty and justice for every boy and every man and every girl and every woman in every part of our land, access to life, access to the opportunity for life, access to make themselves what God decrees their life is about, access to the resources that we have in the 21st century that can make life, human life, beyond our imagination, even maybe beyond the graphs of past history and the like.
For a non-violent struggle, what we do must sow the seeds. Nonkilling is critically important. I like Professor Paige’s use of the words “a science of non-killing.” I love it.
May I suggest to you the things about Gandhi and non-violence that are critical? Because Gandhi again and again insisted, “I am experimenting with, I am offering the evidence and the facts and the history of, a science of non-violence that allows human beings to create the sort of nation, and world, and community that they want. Non-violence is a science of social change. I will not say much beyond that, but I do want to insist upon this, something that Glenn has said, and also that David has said, namely: “Why is it that we are not at the place where we’d hope to be in this 21st century, where many of our ancestors wished us to be?” Part of the reality is that we have deceived ourselves, not only with these myths of violence and killing and nuclear deterrence. But most of all, we think that human life allows us to take a short cut, that we can create good out of wrong or evil, that we can create human affections that will hold us together in unity out of thinking and practicing the very opposite of human affections, namely hatred and despising or, very specifically, in some of our own systems, out of racism, sexism, violence, and economic greed, all of which denigrate human beings of infinite worth in the journey of life.
There’s a beautiful story, in the 19th chapter of the Book of Luke in the Christian Bible, of Jesus looking down across Jerusalem and weeping and saying, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, would that even today you knew the things that make for peace, but they are hidden from your eyes.” We today in our country, our leadership, our Pentagon, and the rest, do not know the things that make for peace. As A.J. Muste said at one point, “Peace is the way to peace,” the things that make for peace. We have great need for socio-political and economic change in the United States. Somehow we must persuade ourselves that the arena of social change, the arena of hope for the nations, is not in the troubled places around the world where we have our hands and our resources, but in Santa Barbara, in Chicago, in Waycross, Georgia, in Florida—here in our own country. The movement of which I was a part—which represents for me, indeed, an exhilarating time of life—did make the impact because King and Rosa Parks and Fanny Lou Hamer, and a whole host of people whose names are long forgotten, were convinced, like Gandhi, that, in a very real way, you cannot resist indignities in life with new indignities. Gandhi in South Africa invented the term “non-violence” for the first time, around 1906 or 1908. The reason he invented this was because he was organizing Muslims and Hindus for resisting the very racist and colonialist sort of laws that were being imposed upon his fellow countrymen in South Africa. He said, after great conversations and great contemplation, “I cannot resist this; I cannot move to change this by imitating it; I cannot challenge the government with the government’s theory and the government’s practice, that will only compound our difficulty.” It was there in that cauldron that he coined the term “non-violence” not as a negative, but as he says in his own writings, a positive. That love, the paramount force of life and of the universe, must be the context by which we resist the wrong that we feel and know. The reason that the Movement had the energy it did in those days was because we sought to insist that what we human beings are about anyway are not the things that are the agenda of the powers. They were about our families, sustaining love, encouraging life, healing love. We’re about the business of organizing our neighborhoods, our congregations, our schools, hoping to nurture life, not destroy it. The agenda of others who want power and domination are not where we see ourselves, and Gandhi insisted that the vast multitude of people of India and around the world were of the same mind.
Harrison Ford was right. The movement for which in part you celebrate my life and work this evening was a 20-year period of intensive strategizing and action and work of civil disobedience and, yes, of martyrdom for some, of injury for others; a 20-year period when, in each of those years from 1953-1973, there were literally thousands of actions across the country to make a difference, in which the people, millions of us, all around the country, worked on the new agenda, such as “Head Start,” worked in a legislative way while people were in jail and marching. We worked to pull the signs down in California, as well as in Tennessee. And we did this out of a sense that we could have another kind of society, somehow in our time and in our day.
I accept this award with a personal sense that I will continue to work on it. Somehow in our day we must convince ourselves we can have another world, we can have another nation. There is a more powerful vision that cannot only hold us in a way, but will allow us in the United States to find the burst of freedom and equality and liberty that will shock our imaginations, and will help us to see that we can be and will be the people history designates us to be in the 21st century.
Thank you very much.