Pacifism - Coalition politics

Pacifists affected peace coalitions in which they participated by their cultivation of a political base in specific publics and by the political techniques they employed. In the Cold War period they introduced new techniques of nonviolent protest. They also gave distinctive emphases to movements in which they were associated.

Pacifists were drawn together both by their opposition to World War I and by their isolation from the American public during the conflict. Increasingly, they became committed to a campaign against all future wars (and to campaigns for social and labor justice). They cooperated with those who had supported the war effort as a vehicle of internationalism and who, in the 1920s, supported membership in the League of Nations and the World Court, or ratification of a treaty outlawing war. In an era when leading peace advocates maneuvered to secure their own pet approaches at the expense of others, the more pacifist among them tended to be the most inclusive. Pacifists also systematically cultivated constituencies that had been largely neglected by other peace workers: religious bodies, college youth, Christian youth organizations, and labor. Although their primary appeal was to repudiate warfare altogether, pacifists also educated the public on international relations and recruited support for specific legislation, notably arms limitation. They lobbied through their own associations and also created a major coalition organization, the National Council for Prevention of War (1921).

By the mid-1930s a core of pacifist leaders had developed a network of support groups, a political base from which they tried to build a public consensus for strict neutrality. To this end they managed to align nonpacifist internationalists affiliated with the League of Nations Association in their $500,000 Emergency Peace Campaign. Occasionally they were able to translate public opinion into congressional positions, and they considerably reinforced popular resistance to over-seas involvement. In the course of the neutrality controversy, however, the League of Nations Association gradually broke from its coalition with pacifists and organized a counter-campaign for collective security arrangements. In this respect, the activity of pacifists heightened the political organization of the interwar peace movement, which, however, it also helped to polarize.

During World War II pacifists were largely isolated from political influence except insofar as they cooperated with prowar internationalists to popularize the proposed United Nations. They remained isolated after the war, as the world became polarized between the United States and the Soviet Union, and collective security was reinterpreted in terms of Cold War containment, still ostensibly in the service of internationalism.

Then, in 1957 pacifists became instrumental in forming a new national coalition to challenge nuclear weapons testing. Disclosures about the threat of nuclear fallout engendered worldwide protest that was led in the United States by the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE) and the Committee for Nonviolent Direct Action (CNDA). The former was a coalition with nonpacifist liberals like Norman Cousins, and it used traditional techniques of education, lobbying, and electoral action. CNDA represented an activist pacifist core, and it employed the tactics of nonviolent direct action, including civil disobedience like climbing or sailing into nuclear test zones and blockading nuclear submarines.

The bulk of the test-ban campaign was carried by SANE and the pacifist groups that had sponsored it—the American Friends Service Committee, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. The cause also spawned new organizations, notably Women Strike for Peace and the Student Peace Union, and the whole U.S. effort was in limited measure coordinated with the international campaign. It contributed to a moratorium on atmospheric testing during the Eisenhower administration and had a direct role in the adoption of the 1963 partial nuclear test-ban treaty under President John F. Kennedy.

The test-ban coalition formed the initial base for the antiwar coalition that challenged the U.S. war in Vietnam, even before that conflict became formalized in the bombing campaign early in 1965. Again SANE negotiated the linkage between pacifists and nonpacifist liberals, although increasingly an independent left wing competed for recognition. In the first three years of the Vietnam War, antiwar constituencies multiplied: business and professional groups, cultural and entertainment notables, Peace Corps and social service groups, Old Left socialists and New Left students (notably Students for a Democratic Society), and religious leaders (notably Clergy and Laity Concerned). The latter was predominantly though not exclusively pacifist, while a core of radical pacifist Catholics led by the priests Daniel and Philip Berrigan developed a sharp civil disobedience witness in the Catholic Worker tradition.

In 1968 the antiwar coalition fully informed Democratic Party politics and conditioned even the Republican platform on the war. The following year the coalition severely constrained President Nixon's war policies. By then the large liberal wing of the antiwar movement was becoming thoroughly politicized, especially in Democratic Party politics, while its smaller radical wing spun apparently out of control (where it could not be disciplined by pacifists). Given its media-driven stereotype as radical and countercultural, the movement seemed to have died, whereas actually the coalition had become mainstreamed.

Throughout this period, activist pacifists in the Fellowship of Reconciliation, American Friends Service Committee, Clergy and Laity Concerned, and Catholic and other groups were intensely involved in coalition politics of the political left and center. By the same token, pacifist communities were sharply tested by the tension between the radical and liberal approaches their members espoused.

Two other large-scale peace coalitions made serious impacts on twentieth-century U.S. foreign relations: the nuclear freeze campaign against nuclear weapons of the 1980s and the concurrent campaign for solidarity with Latin American liberation movements. In the case of the 1991 Gulf War, by contrast, no serious coalition arose. At the outset it was widely conceded that the evenly divided country was ripe for protest, and pacifist groups were prepared even to wield nonviolent disobedience. However, the limited duration and tight control of military operations obviated the development of a broad public coalition in opposition to the Gulf War.

The nuclear freeze campaign in the first half of the 1980s was systematically organized against the background of massive European protest, dramatic revelations of the destructive scope of nuclear weapons, and fear of nuclear war that was intensified by the Ronald Reagan administration. Pacifists were among the organizing and motivating core of a broad, diverse public coalition that was fed by media coverage. Although it failed to secure an outright freeze on nuclear weapons building or deployment, the nuclear freeze campaign was substantially responsible for reinstating the policy and institutions of arms control that the administration had begun to scrap.

Out-publicized by the more visible and larger nuclear freeze campaign, another coalition successfully challenged the Reagan administration on Latin America. It consisted of innumerable grassroots groups with direct contacts in Central America, which were linked by a few national organizations. These groups disseminated information from sources abroad, mounted public pressure, and lobbied in Congress. Their main focus was on human rights abuses in El Salvador and Honduras and U.S. intervention in the civil war in Nicaragua through the contras. In the former two countries, transnational associations channeled economic help to revolutionary forces and peasant war victims, exposed human rights abuses, and challenged U.S. ties to military regimes. On Nicaragua, peace groups lobbied and disseminated information. In all three cases they worked with the international community. Pacifists also brought organized nonviolent action to bear in the solidarity campaign.

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