Waging Peace: A Review in Catholic Worker NYC

Waging Peace: Global Adventures of a Lifelong Activist

By Patrick Jordan

Catholic Worker, NYC

March 2015

If Ammon Hennacy were around to update his 1970 posthumously published The One-Man Revolution in America, he would likely add a chapter on David Hartsough (b. 1941). For nearly sixty years, this Quaker-inspired activist has resisted war, racism, and injustice at home and literally around the world. Hennacy’s book was a veritable Profiles in Courage for America’s unsung peacemakers and radicals. In Waging Peace, David Hartsough brings that tradition up-to-date by forty years, every year of which includes his actions of protest and courage.

This autobiographical record begins with David’s Ohio roots. His mother was a first-grade teacher and an activist, his father was a Congergational minister. At age seven, young Hartsough faced down a group of town bullies who had bloodied him. Later, he sought out—and became friends with—their jefe.

From there the story moves quickly to Pennsylvania, where the teenage David organizes his first peace protest (at a Nike missile site); then to Virginia, where the angered patron of a segregated lunch counter David and others were attempting to integrate threatens his life; and then on to the White House, Berlin, Red Square, and even the Holy Land, all places where he demonstrates nonviolently for reconciliation. The book concludes half a century later, with his arrest outside a U.S. drone base.

I got to know David (a fitting name for one taking on Goliaths), his wife Jan, and their two small children in 1970 at Pendle Hill, the Quaker Study Center outside Philadelphia. He had just completed an arduous, five-year stint as a national organizer for the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Little did I know, until reading Waging Peace, that in that capacity he had organized many of the huge antiwar demonstrations Catholic Workers and others had taken part in during the 1960s; or that before that, his father had worked with Martin Luther King Jr.; that Bayard Rustin had encouraged David to enroll at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and that in 1960, with fellow student Stokely Carmichael, he had led protests for integration in Virginia; or that as part of a 1962 Quaker delegation, he had met with President John F. Kennedy to call for a national policy of “waging peace”: the inspiration for this book’s title.

David first came to the attention of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI at age fifteen. In fact, Waging Peace reads like a chronology lifted from his FBI file—a lifetime of protests, arrests, and agency misperceptions concerning David’s actions and motivations. It’s not hard to see why. There are his Quaker summer work camp in Cuba (1959), only months after Castro overthrew the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Batista; David’s experience in Communist Yugoslavia the following summer (he would return again in 1997, attempting to reconcile warring Serbs and Kosovars); his junior year in Germany (1961), auditing classes at East Berlin’s Communist Humboldt University; and summer forays for students he organized to Eastern Bloc countries and the Soviet Union in 1961 and ’62. There, David was nearly arrested in Red Square and threatened with twenty years in prison for demonstrating against nuclear testing. Back in the U.S., he was arrested outside the White House during a similar demonstration. In one instance, he was released from jail in the nick of time to accept his college diploma. Then came alternative service as a conscientious objector, a master’s degree in international studies at Columbia, five rewarding but hectic years in Washington, D.C., with Quaker lobbying groups, and marriage and a family.

Here is where the story gets particularly interesting and challenging for someone like me, close to David’s age and with a similar family constellation. For during David’s time at Pendle Hill, he and Jan decided to continue following a path of protest and simple living that would allow them to take risks in the service of peace and to resist paying the federal taxes that go for military expenditures (over 50 percent of the annual discretionary budget). A simple lifestyle, often shared with other like-minded families in community, allowed the Hartsoughs to live below a taxable income for many years. When they did exceed that minimum, they made it difficult for the IRS to extract its blood money. The IRS threatened to confiscate their home, but eventually settled for garnishing a savings account. For over forty years, the Hartsoughs have been able to resist paying war taxes outright; during the same period they have welcomed countless guests, all the while remaining exemplars of sane and caring resistance.

Ammon Hennacy would be particularly impressed with the long, consistent list of David Hartsough’s protests, fasts, and jailings. They include organizing several peace flotillas to block free passage of munitions ships during the Viet Nam War; helping form the Abalone Alliance (1977-84) to impede completion of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant; protests and arrests at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (1981-83). These were followed by years of actions against U.S. counterinsurgency policies in Central America, based on David’s own fact-finding trips to the region. He personally accompanied threatened villagers in Chiapas, Mexico, as well as Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. In 1987, he and others pledged to disrupt weapons shipments to Central America from the Concord Naval Weapons Station in California.

In one of those protests, his good friend Brian Willson was run down and nearly killed by a munitions train. The callousness of the event, and David’s assistance to Willson, then and for many years after the train had severed Willson’s legs, make for heart-pounding reading. “The war came home in a powerful way that day,” David recounts. “What our government had long been willing to do to poor people and people of color in other parts of the world, it was also willing to do to peaceful protesters in the United States who tried to impede the war effort.”

Here, as elsewhere, David reflects on the necessary courage of those who would wage peace. The Concord protest lasted 875 days. David was arrested repeatedly, but, he writes, “an amazing, inspiring community grew up around the Concord tracks,” one that included ex-CIA agents, many war veterans, and even his own aged and infirm parents.

David later traveled to the Philippines, the Soviet Union, Iran, and the former Yugoslavia; and served as executive director of the activist group Peaceworkers. In 2001, he co-founded the Nonviolent Peaceforce with Mel Duncan. Its aim is to send teams of nonviolent “soldiers” into war-threatened areas to short-circuit violence and offer peaceful models of resolution. David’s arrest in Kosovo in 1997, under orders from Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, is another heart-palpitating episode in this inspiring chronicle. For David, nonviolent protest for change is never on the cheap. The Nonviolent Peaceforce has now fielded support groups in over forty countries, and has received growing recognition and support from the UN and the European Union.

In his final chapters and appendices, David provides further stories of successful nonviolent campaigns and offers resources for those wishing to challenge the status quo. He finds hope in living near his own grandchildren; contact with them, he writes, “renews our commitment to helping build a world in which all children can look forward to a future of peace and justice.”

If anything might have further enriched this book, it would have been to include more about the author’s own inner geography: the effect of the storms he experienced on his inner thought and person. Further, the macro geopolitical landscape alluded to here relies almost entirely on a “Democracy Now” point of view. For many readers that will be a high compliment, even an endorsement; for others, it will seem an unnecessary but limiting liability. For those who don’t know David Hartsough in person and have not experienced his hearty, self-deprecating laughter, his purity of spirit, and his hospitality, that might diminish this exemplary autobiography. That would be a loss for our times, so in need of exemplars and “one-man revolutionaries.”

Waging Peace is a book that challenges, inspires, and offers hope: all gifts that will endure and even transcend the heroic witness of its remarkable author.

Back to David Hartsough’s Author Page