What’s been going on at Oats since my company left on 7/4? Well, first, lots of sleeping and napping. Second, lots of kitty and bird petting and reassurances of love despite my vacationary defection with the dogs.* Third, daily thoughts that I should mow the lawn that are followed closely by “nah” and the naps mentioned above. Fourth, sanding and refinishing of the teak** chairs I bought for $5 each at local thrift shop. Fifth, a few around-town bike rides. Sixth, reading a friend’s EXCELLENT novel manuscript. Seventh, pretending that the fall semester is not starting in 6 short weeks.
I’ve also been doing some nonfiction reading: Mary Rose O’Reilly’s The Peaceable Classroom, which is focused on English lit and composition teaching and is inspiring, and Thomas Hamm’s The Quakers in America, a history of, yeah, the title says it all. Let me tell you, American Quakers have been a schism-happy bunch of folks, especially compared with British Quakers. Anyway, it’s the second book that leads to my little rant:
The book cites a Quaker historian as saying that Quakers should give up peace activism other than praying for peace because the government [war policies] always win anyway and “enormous expenditures of Quaker energy in peace activism . . . have had little impact and have never stopped a war” (165).
Okay. First, while we hope to be effective in our testimonies, when has Christianity ever been about immediate success? Christ’s crucifixion looks an awful lot like failure taken out of context of the resulting sea change in the hearts and minds of believers — and, given the selfishness and violence so often performed in the name of that crucifixion, an awful lot like failure at many points throughout history up to and including today. But we still see and hope and work for the good news.
Second, peace activism is as much about reaching individual people who witness the activism and planting a seed in their minds as it is about success with the current issue, and who’s to say we won’t reach a tipping point in the future, as we did with women’s suffrage and civil rights, both long, long campaigns that started and were maintained by (apparently) useless acts that could have no real effect on the government?
Third, what about the inherent nobility of doing what’s right, even when we know it’s doomed to failure? That leads us back to Christ’s crucifixion, of course. But even more so, Western Culture has long glorified doing what has been perceived as brave or right in the face of certain failure when fighting wars — look at the Children’s Crusade or Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade” or “glorious Gallipoli” (and there are many more examples, both real and fictional). When will we glorify doing what’s right when it’s to prevent deaths, rather than throwing lives into battle?
I’d appreciate others’ comments/ideas on either side of this issue. Perhaps I feel especially strongly about this because embracing the Peace Testimony has been one of the most radical changes I’ve undergone in my Quaker path, having grown up in a WWII family,*** having been pro-death penalty in some cases in my younger years, and just having grown up in the individualistic, gun-worshiping West.
*Of course, the cats would have forgiven my departure if I’d left the dogs somewhere in Wyoming….
**in tung oiling this wood and seeing its natural color, I’m wondering if it’s not kapurwood rather than teak. Kapurwood is another Indonesian hardwood and sort of the “poor man’s teak” in the same way that Reno is the poor man’s Las Vegas — you’re still gonna spend a lot of money.
***And I still honor my father’s service and my mother’s sacrifices to that service. They were doing what they thought was right and good at the time, and I’m not sure it wasn’t right and good; the Holocaust makes WWII an especially complex peace debate, I feel.