Waging Peace: Global Adventures of A Lifelong Activist
by David Hartsough with Joyce Hollyday
PM Press, Oakland, California, 2014
Reviewed by Jim Haber
David Hartsough has repeatedly put his body on the line in the name of peace,been seriously threatened with death by individuals and armies, and had bones broken by angry police. His memoir, Waging Peace: Global Adventures of A Lifelong Activist, shows that engaged pacifism isn’t as rare as–and is more successful than–many people think. Hartsough has thrown himself into historic moments all over the world for over half a century. His faith that unarmed people are rarely just killed on the spot, but can and do shape the course of history, is borne out by many personal encounters recounted in his book.
Hartsough is the executive director of the San Francisco-based Peaceworkers and is the co-founder of the Nonviolent Peaceforce. A lifelong Quaker, he was inspired by his father’s trip to assist refugees in Israel and Palestine in 1949. By consciously applying Jesus’ oft-disregarded admonition to love one’s enemies, Hartsough turned ice-ball hurling bullies into friends when he was only seven, setting him on his life path of trying to walk his talk.
Waging Peace is written chronologically and simply as befits Hartsough’s lifestyle. With the help of writer/friend Joyce Hollyday, he presents a good overview of historical backdrops from the late 1940s through the Occupy Movement that started in late 2011. It is similar to Howard Zinn’s You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train in this way. The book challenges conceptions of what is idealistic versus what is real. The many resources in the various appendices also show how widespread such faith and activism really are.
He relates account after account of experiences in which he trusted his life to his commitment to nonviolence. An enraged white man in Arlington, Virginia pressed a knife to Hartsough’s back during a 1960 civil rights lunch counter sit-in. Hartsough turned and said, “Friend, do what you need to do and I will still try to love you.” He even refused to feel hate towards a police officer who dragged him off of a blockade line in 1987, breaking his arm in two places.
Hartsough studied in Berlin from 1960 to 1962 and wanted to see if Russians lived up to their stereotypes so he went camping in the U.S.S.R. He met many ordinary, equally curious people (and demonstrated against nuclear weapons in Red Square, which led to the denial of a return visa in 1968). It was at that time that he visited Yugoslavia and fell in love with the social integration he found there.
Hartsough isn’t one to blame all the world’s ills on the United States, but until I read Waging Peace, I hadn’t understood the historic background he provides for the Balkan conflict of the 1990s. His analysis is, “After the death of Yugoslavia’s authoritarian President Tito in 1980, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc a few years later, the United States no longer thought it necessary or important to support Yugoslavia as a bulwark against Russian Communism. With U.S. pressure, the World Bank demanded payback of loans. The Yugoslav government was forced to discontinue its broad economic and social benefits….People began fighting over the crumbs. The era of scarcity in turn created fertile ground for nationalist leaders to emerge in the various republics that were part of Yugoslavia, whipping up enmity and fanning the flames of ethnic strife.”
He saw groups in Kosovo creating effective, alternative institutions together, using strikes and various types of demonstrations to oppose the vitriolic calls for ethnic hate. This reviewer now agrees with Hartsough that “had the international community rallied around the nonviolent movement there, a peaceful resolution could have been reached and a costly military conflict averted–costly in the loss of lives, in the billions of dollars expended, and in the escalated ethnic hatred and mistrust that will be the legacy of Kosovo for years to come.”
Hartsough has stood with villagers in the Philippines and in Central America, actually shielding people from death squads. This and other experiences inspired him to co-found the Nonviolent Peaceforce, which continues to grow, providing nonviolent accompaniment in conflict zones. “I witnessed once again the power of nonviolent presence and solidarity…usually at fairly low cost to ourselves…[W]e can actually make the world safer for all of us when we act on that belief.”
There are too many stories in Waging Peace to mention in a review. The lesson of Hartsough’s life and the lives of the people he has met all over the world is that ordinary people regularly stand up against greedy institutions and despots. We owe it to these courageous peacemakers and visionaries to learn their stories and stand with them. Waging Peace is a personal and compelling introduction to this neglected history, and an uplifting call to action.
To purchase Waging Peace: Global Adventures of a Lifelong Activist, visit Peaceworkersus.org or PMpress.org or send $20 to Peaceworkers, 721 Shrader St., San Francisco, CA 94117.
Jim Haber is a longtime social justice activist from San Francisco. His email is <haber.jim at gmail> and his blog is <haberjim.wordpress.com>.
An apology to David and the reading public for pitching this to a couple sites for wider distribution, delaying getting it out there. Get the book, read it and know that hope does spring eternal.