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Waging Peace – Review (2015)

Jamie Newton
On Knowing (March 2015)
Waging Peace: Global Adventures of a Lifelong Activist
Book by David Hartsough
Reviewed by Jamie Newton

If war is not the answer, what is? David Hartsough’s Waging Peace: Global Adventures of a Lifelong Activist can help an uncertain reader progress to a firm conviction that effective nonviolent means of overcoming aggression and injustice really can be discovered and applied even in extreme situations – and that we “ordinary people” can do this. What makes the book so compelling is that it is an account of the author’s direct experience as an organizer and trainer in nonviolent campaigns, and as a participant in grassroots movements around the world.

Readers who favor action novels will find enough high drama in Waging Peace to hold their interest. Examples: a knife-wielding segregationist threatens to kill the 20-year-old David at a 1961 lunch counter sit-in; while participating in a flotilla of People’s Blockade canoes, David blocks huge military ships bound for Vietnam; he accompanies poor people threatened by military forces in the 1980’s in Central America; he is knocked down at the Concord Naval Weapons station in 1987 by the munitions train that dragged Vietnam veteran Brian Willson four hundred feet and cut off his legs.

Obviously, a commitment to nonviolence does not give activists a safe conduct pass through danger. The two champions of nonviolence who most inspired David Hartsough – Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King – died by assassins’ bullets, and countless unknown activists around the world have been killed or injured for their beliefs and actions. For David Hartsough, as for Gandhi and King, nonviolence is not merely a tactic or a strategic orientation. It is a profound calling that arises from the depths of his being. While acknowledging risks and suffering, David’s experiences demonstrate the transformative potential of nonviolence in serious conflicts. Waging Peace is filled with examples of divisions bridged and barriers lowered when David and others – including people without training or organizational support – disregard the labels and stereotypes that set people apart as “other” and address the common humanity that can be touched in us all.

The defense of the Russian White House by a spontaneous people’s movement during a hardline Communist coup attempt against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev is a thrilling example of transformative nonviolence. Thousands of Moscow’s citizens formed a living ring around the building, bringing cakes and flowers to soldiers whose tanks threatened it. Troops under the command of the KGB refused orders to attack their fellow citizens, soldiers climbed out of their tanks to join the crowds, and pilots refused to bomb the Russian White House.

David Hartsough’s purpose in Waging Peace is to reveal the power of nonviolence through his own life journey, and to invite us to explore realistic, practical pathways toward the peaceable kingdom. The book concludes with visions and proposals for new institutions and a world free of war, such as the Nonviolent Peaceforce that David co-founded, and resources to help us find our way together. David’s work has always been enabled and sustained by the love and solidarity of family and kindred spirits in community. Waging Peace encourages all of us who yearn for peace and justice to discover our own power to change the world together, and to share our stories of what we have already been led to do. It encourages us to examine: How do our lives speak? What are we led to do now in this challenged world? How can older adults be models for the young people in our lives?

Readers of Western Friend who know David Hartsough, a member of San Francisco Monthly Meeting, will recognize how successfully Joyce Hollyday has collaborated with David to bring his voice to the pages of Waging Peace. The result is a conversational prose style that is a pleasure to read despite its serious subject matter, with the authenticity, clarity, and blend of compassion and humor that characterizes David’s speeches and workshops. I gave my grandchildren a copy of Waging Peace to enrich our dialogue on how to live conscientiously in this present and how to shape the future we seek. I encourage others to enjoy and learn from this book, explore the issues it raises, take advantage of the resources it offers, and share it with those you love.  ~~~

Jamie Newton serves on the board of Gila/Mimbres Community Radio in Silver City, NM, and is Clerk of the IMYM Peace and Service Committee. He is a member of Gila Monthly Meeting.


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