Waging_peaceWaging Peace is a wonderful, inspiring, hope-filled memoir about one man’s life dedicated to nonviolent resistance to war. David Hartsough, a Quaker well known to many of us in Australia, was seven years old when he first felt stirrings to love his enemies. On a chilly day in Iowa bullies threw ice balls at him. Resisting both the temptation to run or retaliate, the young David turned the other cheek and reached out in friendship. For David Hartsough, Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount was not something to be rationalised away; it was a call to action, a code to live by.

By 15 Hartsough had already earnt himself an FBI file for organising a vigil against the Nike Nuclear Missile Base a few miles from his home. But it was a meeting with Dr Martin Luther King Jnr in Montgomery in 1956 that really deepened his commitment. Hartsough went on to participate in the student led campaign to desegregate lunch counters across the South. His group chose Arlington, Virginia to act. At the time the city was a hot bed of racist and extremist violence – a place that was home to the founder of the American Nazi Party, where the local authorities were threatening a $500 fine and six months jail to anyone who challenged Virginia’s segregation laws. Shortly after the students – Black and White – sat down at the segregated lunch counter David heard a voice behind him. “Get out of this store in two seconds, or I’m going to stab this through your heart.” When he turned around he saw a tough looking man “with the most terrible look of hatred in his eyes”. The man held a knife in his clenched fist, inches away from his chest, ready to plunge it into his heart. Prior to this David had been reading the New Testament, spiritually preparing for the action, steeling himself as people hurled insults and threw punches and eggs. But this was different. These were not ice balls; he could be killed. Turning, David faced the man, smiled, and looked him in the eye. “Friend” he said, “Do what you believe is right and I will still try and love you.” Amazingly, the man lowered his knife and walked out of the store.

In David Hartsough’s life we see ethics, faith, lifestyle and strategy coming together in what Gandhi called the “nonviolence of the strong”.

Again and again Hartsough confronts situations that appear utterly hopeless; people and places torn apart by poverty, hate and violence. Into these situations step a few brave souls, invited to accompany the truly courageous who live in the midst of such oppression. Together they dare to believe and act as if love will find a way; as if the impossible is possible. This may be foolish but it is not naïve. David is not blind to the depths of human depravity and many of the stories he recounts do not have Hollywood endings. But in the pages of Waging Peace we get glimpses of a hidden force that is unleashed when people act collectively on their deepest convictions coupled with a combination of fearlessness and absolute respect for the sanctity of life. And even when nothing changes the reader is left with a sense that “nonviolence of the strong” sows seeds of love and possibility deep in the soil bed of our collective imagination. We see how his service with Peace Brigades International in El Salvador and Guatemala prepared him for a risky experiment to defend refugees from death squads in Negroes, the Philippines. In turn this action laid the foundations for Nonviolent Peaceforce, a modern day embodiment of Gandhi’s vision of the Shanti Sena, a standing nonviolent army. 

But my favourite story of unforeseen connections between the means and the ends is of David’s mother. For years she maintained a silent vigil outside a biological weapons plant at Fort Detrick, Maryland. The authorities made no arrests and the employees at the germ warfare factory were instructed not to take the protesters’ leaflets, engage them in conversation or even give eye contact. Years later a man approaches David’s mother in a bookstore in Salem, Oregon. “Were you at that vigil at Fort Detrick about ten years ago?” he asks. Flabbergasted, David’s mother replies “yes”. He told her, “I just want you to know that I was working at Fort Detrick at the time, and because of you folks, I resigned my job.”

Waging Peace is also a narrative of what it takes to live Quaker testimonies of simplicity, peace, integrity, community and equality, not just as an individual, but as families. But mostly the book is about a passionate commitment to nonviolently ending war; one man’s belief that the impossible can become possible. I am deeply indebted to David Hartsough and not just for writing down a life well lived. David was one of the first people who gave my colleagues and I money and advice in support of civil resistance training in West Papua, a generous act that opened space for others to support this work.

David closes his book with advices and queries. It seems appropriate to conclude this review with one that speaks to my condition: “Where is God leading you to invest your life on behalf of a world where all God’s children share the abundance and live as one family in peace and harmony with the earth?”

Jason MacLeod, Queensland Regional Meeting

Waging Peace by David Hartsough with Joyce Hollyday (PM Press, 2014), 243 pages.


Share This