Pacifism - Transnational links



It has become conventional to regard transnational nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as players in the foreign relations field. The peace movement, viewed as a transnational social movement, spans two centuries, and its pacifist core comprises a century of transnational experience.

The International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR, 1919), the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF, 1919), and the War Resisters' International (WRI, 1921) all were transnational associations with strong U.S. components. Except for the WRI, they were formed during World War I. (Indeed, the WILPF derived from a 1915 meeting in The Hague, where mainly pacifist women from the then belligerent countries delegated emissaries to heads of government in search of a mediated peace.) In wartime these groups linked isolated pacifists and conscripted war resisters. Thereafter they cooperated in relief and reconstruction projects, except that the WRI focused on providing a socialist matrix for war resistance.

In the interwar years the WILPF established an office in Geneva from which it sought to mobilize a transnational, citizen constituency for disarmament and other League of Nations initiatives. Pacifists in fascist countries were part of an international network. As the prospect of war grew again, U.S. pacifists strengthened their international ties, sponsoring colleagues from abroad to the United States on behalf of neutrality legislation.

The largely pacifist-initiated U.S. test-ban coalition of the 1950s was part of a world movement, as was its successor campaign against nuclear weapons in the 1980s. In both cases transnational coordination was secondary to national concerns, although the 1980s campaign was explicitly interfaced with the UN agenda. Similarly, pacifists extended their international links during the Vietnam War. The Fellowship of Reconciliation mounted an ambitious attempt to coordinate Vietnamese Buddhist and American antiwar efforts, publicized the existence and persecution of antiwar South Vietnamese, sent reconciliation and information teams to North Vietnam, and tried to relate public protest in Europe to that in the United States.

In Latin America the International Fellowship of Reconciliation and its U.S. national chapter worked from the 1960s to the 1980s to spread the concept and techniques of nonviolent resistance as a viable alternative to both violent revolution and apathy. U.S. civil rights and Fellowship of Reconciliation leaders reached both Protestants and Catholics in Latin America, while IFOR emissaries Jean Goss and Hildegard Goss-Mayr were particularly effective in Catholic circles. A period of social evangelism and preliminary organization led to the formation of SERPAJ (Servicio Paz y Justicia en América Latina, or Service for Peace and Justice) in 1974. Itself a regional organization, SERPAJ provided Latin American national and church leaders with nonviolent resistance techniques and with contacts in the international community, greatly empowering, for example, Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel of Argentina.

Nonviolent direct action was brought to bear upon the region's human rights crises and civil wars. Beginning in 1983, for example, Witness for Peace stationed trained North Americans in teams along the Nicaraguan border. They helped with economic development, but their high visibility was designed also to deter contra attacks. After U.S. support for the contras was withdrawn in 1988, the Witness for Peace program of intercession was expanded to other areas. Pacifist nonviolent action thus became one of several instruments through which a coalition with transnational linkages effectively challenged U.S. Latin American policy in the 1980s. Meanwhile, within the United States there was a surge of refugees from political life-threats in Central America. The U.S. government's reluctance to grant them asylum led to a sanctuary movement to provide safety, most often in churches. By the time the refugee flow subsided late in the decade, hundreds of sites were networked to smuggle people across borders and provide safe havens and legal and humanitarian services. Sometimes this modern Underground Railroad moved refugees on into Canada. The operation was a case of large-scale civil disobedience so widely condoned that the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service was slow to challenge it.



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