- History of the American Peace Movement, 1890–2000: The Emergence of a New Scholarly Discipline
As Charles Chatfield notes in the foreword, this book not only presents a concise selection of several key contributions to the field of peace history (defined as “the historical study of nonviolent efforts for peace and social justice” (1)), but it also illuminates the historiographical shifts in the field over the course of the 20th century. Editor Charles Howlett begins with an introduction to the U.S. peace movement, and concludes with a helpful historiographical essay of the field of peace history. The bulk of the book is a collection of chronologically ordered essays, all originally published elsewhere, by eight additional authors, including some standards in the field, such as an excerpt from Merle Curtis now classic Peace or War, originally published in 1936.
As the chapters unfold, we see a transformation in the meaning of and means to peace. In the first half of the century (covered especially by the first four essays), most peace activists, in the main “respectable citizens” (Howlett, 3) with a “distinctly elitist approach to peace” (Howlett, 5), insisted that spreading U.S. ideals to the rest of the world was the most assured means to peace. By the 1930s, activists were beginning to analyze the relationship between economic structures and war and understand the relationship between social justice and peace, but the rise of fascism and the specter of socialism shifted the equation in the U.S., so that these analyses were set aside as organizers tried to avoid the “twin dangers of total war and social revolution” (DeBenedetti, 99). The remaining essays indeed show the development of a movement “proclaiming the need for social, political and economic justice” (Howlett, v), but given the broad brushstrokes of these essays, the detailed reasons for and scope of this transformation sometimes get lost, partly because of the treatment of “the movement.”
Howlett writes that “it is fair to question whether or not there has been a consistent, single peace movement” (vi), but then proceeds from the very assumption of one. Chatfield aptly quotes Rufus Jones, who stated that the corollary of conscience [End Page 54] is “a final farewell to uniformity,” and given that those contributing to the cause of peace were and are a conscientious lot, it seems all the more necessary to seek to portray the movement in all its diversity. Yet this is a difficult task to accomplish in this kind of work. Individual leaders and familiar organizations (e.g., the FOR, the AFSC, the National Council for the Prevention of War, WILPF, the War Resisters League, the Catholic Worker movement, and the Historic Peace Churches) are well treated, but the less well known remain so. In addition, movements whose contributions to the peace movement are undeniable—such as the Civil Rights movement in particular—are underrepresented. This might be because the definition of “peace” that most consistently informs this work is the narrower one—i.e., the absence of war.
The chapters by Charles Chatfield, Lawrence S. Wittner, and Barbara Epstein stand out as particularly artfully written and illustrative of the debates on the questions with which peace activists must contend: definitions of nonviolence, violence, and peace; dynamics of race, class, and gender; and appropriate and effective means by which to challenge injustice and oppression. The useful discussion questions by which the editor frames each chapter should also generate an engaged readership.