The Quaker Wars?

Over on Quo­ra, a ques­tion that is more fas­ci­nat­ing than it might at first appear: What wars in his­to­ry were fought in the name of Quak­erism (Soci­ety of Friends)?:

This ques­tion is nei­ther sar­cas­tic nor rhetoric. As many peo­ple insist that vio­lence and atroc­i­ties are an inher­ent part of reli­gions, that reli­gions would cause wars, I real­ly want to know  if that is the truth. Per­son­al­ly I believe reli­gions can be peace­ful, such as in the cas­es of the Quak­ers and the Baha’i, but I might  be wrong. 

The obvi­ous answer should be “none.” Quak­ers are well-known as paci­fists (fun fact: fake can­non used to deceive the ene­my into think­ing an army is more for­ti­fied than it actu­al­ly is are called “Quak­er guns.”) Indi­vid­ual Quak­ers have rarely been quite as unit­ed around the peace tes­ti­mo­ny as our rep­u­ta­tion would sug­gest, but as a group it’s true we’ve nev­er called for a war. I can’t think of any mil­i­tary skir­mish or bat­tle waged to ral­ly­ing cries of “Remem­ber the Quakers!”

Quaker guns at Manassas Junction, 1862. Via Wikimedia.
Quak­er guns at Man­as­sas Junc­tion, 1862. Via Wiki­me­dia.

And yet: all of mod­ern civ­i­liza­tion has been shaped by war. Our polit­i­cal bound­aries, our reli­gions, our demo­graph­ic make-up – even the lan­guages we speak are all rem­nants of long-ago bat­tles. One of the most influ­en­tial Quak­er thinkers, the eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry min­is­ter John Wool­man, con­stant­ly remind­ed his brethren to con­sid­er those lux­u­ries that are the fruit of war and slav­ery. When we broad­en the scope like this, we’ve been involved in quite a few wars.

  • We like to remem­ber how William Penn found­ing the colony of Penn­syl­va­nia as a reli­gious refuge. But the king of Eng­land held Euro­pean title to the mid-Atlantic seaboard because of small wars with the Dutch and Swedes (and lat­er held onto it only after a much larg­er war with the French New World settlements).
  • The king’s grant of “Penn’s Woods” was the set­tle­ment of a very large war debt owed to Penn’s father, a wealthy admi­ral. The senior William Penn was some­thing of a scoundrel, play­ing off both sides in every-shifting royalist/Roundhead see­saw of pow­er. His longest-lasting accom­plish­ment was tak­ing Jamaica for the British (Bob Mar­ley sang in Eng­lish instead of Span­ish because of Sir William).
  • By most accounts, William Penn Jr. was fair and also bought the land from local Lenape nations. Most­ly for­got­ten is that the Lenape and Susque­han­nock pop­u­la­tion had been dev­as­tat­ed in a recent region­al war against the Iro­quois over beaver ter­ri­to­ries. The Iro­quois were skill­ful­ly play­ing glob­al pol­i­tics, keep­ing the Eng­lish and French colo­nial empires in enough strate­gic ten­sion that they could pro­tect their land. They want­ed anoth­er British colony on their south­ern flank. The Lenape land reim­burse­ment was secondary.

The thou­sands of acres Penn deed­ed to his fel­low Quak­ers were thus the fruits of three sets of wars: colo­nial wars over the Delaware Val­ley; debt-fueled Eng­lish civ­il wars; and Native Amer­i­can wars fought over access to com­mer­cial resources. Much of orig­i­nal Quak­er wealth in suc­ceed­ing gen­er­a­tions is indebt­ed to this huge land trans­fer in the 1680s, either direct­ly (we still hold some valu­able real estate) or indi­rect­ly (the real estate’s sale could be fun­neled into promis­ing businesses).

Not all of the fruits of war were sec­ond­hand and coin­ci­den­tal to Friends them­selves. Many wealthy Friends in the mid-Atlantic colonies had slaves who did much of the back­break­ing work of clear­ing fields and build­ing hous­es. That quaint old brick meet­ing­house set back on a flower-covered field? It was prob­a­bly built at least in part by enslaved hands.

And today, it’s impos­si­ble to step free of war. Most of our hous­es are set on land once owned by oth­ers. Our com­put­ers and cell phones have com­po­nents mined in war zones. Our lights and cars are pow­ered by fos­sil fuel extrac­tion. And even with solar pan­els and elec­tric cars, the infra­struc­ture of the dai­ly liv­ing of most Amer­i­cans is still based on extrac­tion and con­trol of resources.

This is not to say we can’t con­tin­ue to work for a world free of war. But it seems impor­tant to be clear-eyed and acknowl­edge the debts we have.

Taxes then and now

WW I pie chart.indd

Every year as April’s tax dead­lines comes near, the War Resisters League pro­duces a pie chart show­ing mil­i­tary spend­ing as a per­cent­age of the fed­er­al bud­get. This year Ed Hede­mann went back in time to see what the chart would have looked like dur­ing World War I:

A strik­ing dif­fer­ence between this fic­tion­al WW I era pie chart and today’s ver­sion is how much sim­pler the fed­er­al bud­get was back then. Not only was it a lot small­er – vast­ly small­er – there were many few­er cat­e­gories. A hun­dred years ago, the bud­get was most­ly mil­i­tary (75% of the bud­get) – even before entry into WW I – a large part of which was to pay off expens­es incurred dur­ing the Civ­il War from 50 years ear­li­er and the recently-ended Spanish-American War. The non­mil­i­tary por­tions were labeled “Indi­ans,” “Postal Defi­cien­cies,” and “Civ­il and Miscellaneous.” 

H/t The Pick­ett Line

Arnold: Losing Our Religion

Johann Christoph Arnold has an interesting piece on the intersection of peace activism and religion [originally published on]. Here's a taste:

The day before Martin Luther King was murdered he said, "Like anybody, I would like to live a long life...But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will." We must have this same desire if we are going to survive the fear and violence and mass confusion of our time. And we should be as unabashed about letting people know that it is our religious faith that motivates us, regardless of the setting or the consequences.

Many peace activists are driven by religious motivations, which is often all that keeps them going through all the hard times and non-appreciation. Yet we often present ourselves to the world in a secular way using rational arguments.

It took me a few years to really admit to myself that is a ministry intimately connected with my Quaker faith. In the eight years it's been going, thousands of websites have sprung up with good intentions and hype only to disappear into oblivion (or the internet equivalent, the line reading "Last updated July 7, 1997"). I have a separate forum for "Quaker religious and peace issues" [which later became the general QuakerRanter blog] In my essay on the Quaker peace testimony, I worry that modern religious pacifists have spent so much effort convincing the world that pacifism makes sense from a strictly rationalist viewpoint that we've largely forgotten our own motivations. Don't get me wrong: I think pacifism also makes sense as a pragmatic policy; while military solutions might be quicker, pacifism can bring about the long-term changes that break the cycle of militarism. But how can we learn to balance the sharing of both our pragmatic and religious motivations?


Army of None

I’ve always found U.S. Army recruit­ing adver­tis­ing fas­ci­nat­ing. It’s not just that the ads are well-produced. They catch onto basic human yearn­ings in a way that’s the teen equiv­a­lent of self-help books. “Be all that you can be” is won­der­ful – who wouldn’t want that. And the cur­rent ads mak­ing the Army look like a extreme sport also hits the nexus of cool and inspir­ing. The cur­rent US Army slo­gan is “An Army of One,” which might almost make poten­tial recruits for­get that a basic cor­ner­stone of mil­i­tary train­ing is wip­ing away indi­vid­u­al­i­ty to mold recruits into inter­changable units. The link above is to “Army of None,” a smart par­o­dy of the offi­cial recruit­ing site.

Who Lied About Weapons of Mass Destruction?

It’s time to state the obvi­ous: there weren’t any “weapons of mass destruc­tion” in Iraq. The stat­ed ratio­nale for this war was “sim­ply wrong” (see below). Either U.S. Intel­li­gence agen­cies made the biggest mis­take of the new cen­tu­ry or there’s been sys­tem­at­ic, pre­med­i­tat­ed lying at the high­est lev­els of the U.S. gov­ern­ment. Mid-level intel­li­gence and mil­i­tary com­man­ders are start­ing to duck and weave to avoid the fall­out: U.S. Insid­ers Say Iraq Intel Delib­er­ate­ly Skewed and Did Iraq real­ly have weapons of mass destruc­tion? and Was the Intel­li­gence Cooked?

Pres­i­dent Bush and his insid­ers will sure­ly con­tin­ue to deny the obvi­ous and bul­ly on with more lies and mis­for­ma­tion. Will the Amer­i­can pub­lic stop believ­ing? Or have we entered a phase in Amer­i­can his­to­ry in which the Big Lie can jus­ti­fy out­right impe­ri­al­ism and per­pet­u­al war? Post­ed 5/31/2003

No More Coincidences: Big Bill’s Zipper Strikes Again

Back in Feb­ru­ary, I con­clud­ed my “Stop the Zip­per War Before it Starts” with the following:

Nothing’s real­ly changed now except U.S. polit­i­cal inter­ests. Hus­sein is still a tyrant. He’s still stock­pil­ing chem­i­cal weapons. Why are U.S. polit­i­cal inter­ests dif­fer­ent now? Why does Bill Clin­ton want U.S. media atten­tion focused on Iraq? Look no fur­ther than Big Bill’s zip­per. Stop the next war before it starts. Abol­ish everyone’s weapons of mass destruc­tion and let’s get a Pres­i­dent who doesn’t need a war to clear his name.

I put this at the bot­tom of the piece because then the idea that Clin­ton might have done this was still way out there.

Since then most every major turn­ing point in the President’s scan­dals has been echoed by mil­i­tary maneuverings.

On August 17th Clin­ton gave a tele­vised address which was wide­ly crit­i­cized as being “too lit­tle, too late” and non-repentant enough. Pub­lic opin­ion turned sharply against him. Three days lat­er Big Bill sent 100 cruise mis­siles into Afghanistan and Sudan in order to assas­si­nate Osama bin Laden, the pre­vi­ous­ly unknown arch­en­e­my of the Unit­ed States.

And now, on the after­noon before the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives was sched­uled to begin pro­ceed­ings on his Impeach­ment, Clin­ton has ordered an attack on Iraq. Con­gress will of course delay the vote. Rumors are that this new bomb­ing cam­paign might last more than a few days, and come January’s new Con­gres­sion­al term there will be five less Republicans.

Each time these coin­ci­dences hap­pen, a few pun­dits that mut­ter about “Wag the Dog” sce­nar­ios before assur­ing the audi­ence that Clin­ton would nev­er do that. Every­one talks about coin­ci­dence and then moves on.

But coin­ci­dence has been Clinton’s friend through­out his scan­dals. Remem­ber the long-lost White­wa­ter doc­u­ments that mys­te­ri­ous­ly appeared on Hillary Clinton’s coffee-table when inves­ti­ga­tors were threat­en­ing to issue here a sub­poe­na? Remem­ber the job offers that Clin­ton cronies arranged for key wit­ness­es just before they either recant­ed their sto­ries or lied under oath? All of Clinton’s scan­dals have been of the “who cares” variety-shady land deal­ings twen­ty years ago in Arkansas, his hav­ing sex with an intern in the Oval Office. They dis­played a lack of judg­ment and char­ac­ter, but were not Impeach­able. But his scan­dals have grown and tak­en a life of their own as Clin­ton and his wife have been vis­it­ed by an ever-growing amount of coincidences.

Enough is enough. How much more are we to believe? As I write this the mis­siles are scream­ing over Bagh­dad and Iraqis are dying hor­ri­ble deaths. This is real. This is not some polit­i­cal game. It is time for Amer­i­cans to stop deny­ing that these coin­ci­dences are real­ly coincidental.

It is time to demand Clinton’s resignation.

And if he refus­es, then it is time to sub­poe­na White House records on the last year of mil­i­tary actions. If they show that Clin­ton has mur­dered in his des­per­ate attempt to save his Pres­i­den­cy, then it is time not only to impeach him but to put him into jail.