Peace Action: Past, Present and Future

Edited by Glen Harold Stassen and Lawrence S. Wittner.(Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2007. 158p)

By Janette Watt (reviewer) | 2007-10-01 12:00:00

This book has given me renewed hope for the peace work that we do. It has reminded me of why we do what we do and of the truism "we stand on the shoulders of giants." Equally important it has reminded me that some of our best ideas are old ideas that are new again.

Within its158 pages are the collective memories of peace movement leaders who have remained involved in activist causes for the long haul.The book traces the history of the US grassroots peace network "Peace Action" from its inception as SANE in 1957 through its merger with The Nuclear Freeze Campaign when it took on the "Peace Action" moniker, through its many transformations according to political conditions.

In 1957 SANE was founded in response to the concern that the nuclear arms race was taking the world down the path to annihilation. The group skillfully used every form of influence to achieve their goal of global nuclear disarmament. They launched aggressive and smart media campaigns, aggressive and smart lobbying campaigns, and aggressive and smart grassroots campaigns ranging from meetings in church basements to public protests and marches. The stories told here trace the impact this group had that went far beyond their own national borders.

Because of the success and influence of this group over 50 years, the lessons contained in their history are many. Here is just one example of what I have taken away: In a time when celebrities seem to be everywhere, endorsing every kind of cause, many of us question the ethics of it all, wondering whether we should follow a movement that seems to be led by people who are not experts. An answer to our concerns is found in these pages. Homer A. Jack, one of the first directors of Peace Action (when it was SANE) writes in the book that the group was always looking for "new, visible personalities" to support their work. One of the most important Peace Action celebrities seems now to be largely forgotten. He was Dr. Benjamin Spock. Spock was an American pediatrician who had written one of the biggest best-sellers of all time. Spock originally turned down requests to support the work of Peace Action publicly. However, Homer Jack recounts how he rigorously pursued the good doctor and finally convinced Spock by quoting to him in a letter a passage from Philipp Frank's biography of Einstein. It went like this:

"Einstein realized that the great fame that he had acquired placed a great responsibility upon him. ...He saw that the world was full of suffering and he thought he knew some causes. He also saw that there were many people who pointed out these causes, but were not heeded because they were not prominent figures. Einstein realized that he himself was now a person to whom the world listened, and consequently he felt it his duty to call attention to those sore spots and so help eradicate them..."

Spock conceded and appeared in an ad campaign together with a child with the words: "Dr. Spock is worried." His appearance in this ad resulted in what Peace Action leaders say was the most effective ad campaign in their history.

Lesson learned: the use of celebrity is not a new idea, and can be a very powerful tool. Use it.

Reviewed by Janette Watt, a Toronto-based specialist in communications.

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2007

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2007, page 29. Some rights reserved.

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