Howard Grace
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22 November, 2012

Howard Grace believes we should take a unilateral stand for goodness. This article first appeared in the UK national Quaker weekly The Friend on 9 November 2012

Howard Grace (Photo: Maria Grace)
Howard Grace (Photo: Maria Grace)
The Quaker Peace Testimony was a focus for discussion at a recent ‘Becoming Friends’ evenings at our local Newbury Meeting. It brought back university memories from fifty years ago. My degree specialised in Nuclear Power. But seeing how it was going to be used led me to oppose nuclear bombs and to speak at Hyde Park Corner in favour of unilateral nuclear disarmament.

Weapons, whether nuclear or otherwise pose a dilemma. How can it be right to be even prepared to kill others? Yet how can it be right to expose our country, and other friendly countries, to the risk of being subjugated by oppressive ideologies? My wife is Dutch and was born during the war. Her country was overrun by the Nazi regime of Hitler. Her family was given twenty-four hours to leave their home because the occupying soldiers needed it. That sort of experience leaves its mark and a motivation to try control your own future destiny, if necessary by force.

Although in principle I support the unilateral cause I believe it is not right or wrong in itself but depends on the reasons a person has for adopting that stance. The debate about unilateralism seems to me to be muddied by a problem – the difficulty of distinguishing between true non-violence and appeasement.

Mohandas Gandhi, a devoted exponent of nonviolence, believed personal motivation was paramount. He wrote, “Non-violence is not merely a negative state of harmlessness but a positive state of love. It is not a cover for cowardice but it is the supreme virtue of the brave. Exercise of non-violence requires far more bravery than that of swordsmanship. But swordsmanship is any day superior to passive and helpless submission.”

I believe that the highest moral stance towards disarmament is to do it unilaterally. But it needs to be taken with the realistic acceptance of the implications. It is often claimed that Jesus’ life and message is one of non-violence. We are also told, often by the same people, that disarmament will lead to peaceful co-existence. Yet a consequence of Jesus’ life was death on the cross, and since then many of his most devoted followers have been thrown to the lions. Unilateralism may be right, it may be in line with with Jesus’ teaching, but we are deceiving ourselves if we think it is the likely way to true peace.

Jesus told Peter to put his sword away and was prepared to face the consequences. If we are prepared to face the consequences we can go down the path advocated by the Peace Testimony. It would however be wrong to do so from a misplaced trust in human nature. At root it is not the fact that we have or do not have armaments that leads to war – it is the way we live all aspects of our lives. In my radical student days I was struck by someone saying, “You demonstrate for peace but live in a way that makes war inevitable.”

We must take a unilateral stand for goodness, living every facet of our lives in such a way that the Divine spirit can work through us to bring a new heart to human affairs - whether or not others go along with them. We should do it not just because we hope it will benefit us but because we know that is how we are meant to live.

Kent M. Keith summed up this stance in The Silent Revolution when he wrote:

  • Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable – be honest anyway.
  • What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight – build anyway.
  • The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow – do good anyway.
  • Give the world the best you have and you’ll probably get kicked in the teeth – give the world the best you have anyway.

A life centred on being true to God, or our deeper inner leading, will often be instrumental in creating peace, but it sometimes leads you into conflict. A stand for peace should not be taken in isolation, but primarily in conjunction with a commitment to a fundamental moral reassessment of all aspects of our lives. It also challenges us to become involved with social and peace-making initiatives before conflict arises.

Howard is an attender at Newbury Meeting.

NOTE: Individuals of many cultures, nationalities, religions, and beliefs are actively involved with Initiatives of Change. This article does not necessarily represent those of Initiatives of Change as a whole.

Article by Howard Grace for 'The Friend'
Article by Howard Grace for 'The Friend'

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