Peace historian Charles Howlett, a frequent Peace & Change contributor, brings peace history into historians’ broader dialogue on the antecedents and significance of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. As the media and academia turn to historians of war and conflict for perspectives, it is important for peace researchers to expand the scope of inquiry. Howlett begins,
“The tragedy in Ukraine is a stark reminder that bad actors still remain on the world stage. How is it that the world’s international organization, the United Nations, despite its overwhelming condemnation of Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s naked aggression against a sovereign state, has failed in its mission to prevent the senseless killing of innocent civilians? The answer is that it cannot do it alone. There is a lesson for all to learn.”
A key factor that explains Vladimir Putin’s military invasion of Ukraine is traditional Russian imperialism.
Throughout the world’s long and bloody history, other powerful territories (and, later, nations) expanded their lands through imperial conquest, including Rome, China, Spain, France, Britain, Germany, Japan, and the United States.
Russia was no exception. Beginning with the small principality of Moscow in 1300, Russia employed its military might to crush neighboring peoples and gobble up territory across the vast Eurasian continent. Under the czars, it became known as the “prison of nations.”
By the early twentieth century, Imperial Russia was the largest country in the world―and, also, one of the most brutal and reactionary.
When the Bolshevik Revolution occurred, part of its impetus was a revolt against the imperialist role of Russia and other great powers of the era. Vladimir Lenin denounced imperialism, loosened the Russian grip on some subject countries, and promised that, within the Soviet Union, the new Soviet republics would have self-determination.
Unfortunately, with the rise of Joseph Stalin, that anti-imperialist impulse was abandoned. When it came to the Ukrainian People’s Republic, which had not fulfilled the grain production quota set by the Kremlin, Stalin, in 1932-33, shipped off 50,000 Ukrainian farm families to Siberia and ordered the seizure of Ukraine’s grain crop. Massive starvation followed in Ukraine, causing an estimated 4 million deaths. Not surprisingly, this treatment did not endear Ukrainians to the Soviet regime.
Although most Russians―and most Communists―were horrified by the rise of Nazi Germany during the 1930s, Stalin signed a pact with Hitler (the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) in August 1939. Its secret provisions turned over the independent nations of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, as well as the eastern half of Poland, to the USSR, which soon occupied them. It also provided a green light for the Soviet invasion of Finland (which led to Soviet seizure of a portion of that country) and Soviet seizure of a portion of Rumania. As the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact also provided Soviet endorsement of Nazi Germany’s imperialist ambitions, Hitler promptly launched World War II.
In June 1941, however, things shifted dramatically, for Hitler, overly ambitious, began a full-scale military invasion of the Soviet Union, thereby double-crossing his ally. In the ensuing bloody conflict, the Russians fought fiercely against Germany for their very survival. They were aided by Britain and the United States, both of which also took on the powerful Japanese armed forces in the Pacific.
After World War II, although Ribbentrop was tried at Nuremberg and executed, Molotov and Stalin were not, for, of course, they were on the winning side of the war. As part of the spoils of victory, the Soviet Union incorporated Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and eastern Poland into its territory.
This proved only the beginning of a new round of Russian imperialism. In the aftermath of the war, the Soviet Union took control of most nations in Eastern Europe and retained them as vassals and unwilling partners in the Warsaw Pact. They included Poland, Hungary, Rumania, Czechoslovakia, Albania, Bulgaria, and East Germany. The Soviet Union retained its grip on them through Communist Party dictatorships that it imposed, occupations by Soviet troops, and military assaults, most notably bloody invasions of Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968), where Communist regimes proved too independent for the tastes of the Kremlin. In Hungary, Soviet military repression produced 20,000 Hungarian casualties (including 2,500 deaths) and 200,000 refugees.
When the reform-minded Mikhail Gorbachev finally stopped enforcing Soviet imperial rule in Eastern Europe, revolutions in these countries swept aside the tired pro-Soviet dictatorships and reasserted their national sovereignty. Not surprisingly, many of these newly-independent countries then began to apply to join NATO―not because they were forced to do so, but because they feared a reassertion of Russian domination.
Events in Ukraine illustrate this desire for freedom from Russian control. Gorbachev allowed a referendum on Ukrainian independence to take place in 1991. In a turnout by 84 percent of registered voters, some 90 percent of them voted for independence from Russia. As part of its independence arrangement, Ukraine―which had the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world―handed over all its nuclear weapons to the Russian government. In turn, as part of the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, Russia formally pledged to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty.
But the Russian government began to backtrack on its agreement with Ukraine. It was happy with the rule of Viktor Yanukovych, a pliable pro-Russian politician. But when the political tide turned against him and he was ousted from office because he blocked Ukraine’s membership in the European Union, Russian leaders were incensed. Ukraine was turning toward the West, and this, they believed, could not be tolerated. In a clear violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, the Russian government deployed its military power to seize Crimea and take control of Russian-language separatist regions in eastern Ukraine.
Of course, the Russian government sought to justify its actions with flimsy claims, then and subsequently. It said that there was no military intervention by Russia. But clearly there was. It said that there were fascists in Ukraine. True enough; but there were also plenty of fascists in Russia and in many other lands. Ukraine’s government, it said, was under the control of an unrepresentative Nazi cabal. But Zelensky was elected with 73 percent of the vote, remains wildly popular, and is certainly no right-winger or authoritarian. Can we say the same about Vladimir Putin?
When one looks at what Putin has declared in his recent pronouncements, his dominant motive is clear enough. Denying that Ukraine has any right to statehood independent of Russia and glorifying the expansionism of his country’s Czarist and Stalinist past, he is caught up in a reactionary nostalgia for empire. Or, to put it simply, he longs to Make Russia Great Again.
To safeguard the interests of smaller nations, as well as international peace, Putin―like other arrogant rulers of powerful countries―should be encouraged to discard outdated imperial fantasies and accept the necessity of a world governed by international law.
Series Editors: Scott H. Bennett and Michael Clinton
Studies in Peace History promotes new scholarship on peace history and on the movements, groups, people, and actions that have opposed both war and its causes. Conceptually, this series understands peace to include pacifist, antiwar, and antimilitarist positions. Since wars have social, political, economic, cultural, and psychological roots, this series is also concerned with the relationship between peace and social justice movements aimed at reducing the social causes of conflict. Books in this series include historical monographs and biographies; critical and/or annotated editions of letters, diaries, and other primary texts; and edited collections of primary or secondary texts. Studies in Peace History welcomes proposals for English-language manuscripts addressing all periods and regions based on archival research and published primary sources by historians and other scholars. Proposals that combine historical topics and approaches with other disciplinary perspectives and methodologies will be considered.
This series will feature titles that address such core themes in peace history as:
peace movements, leaders, activists, organizations, and campaigns
opposition and resistance to specific conflicts
disarmament and arms control
campaigns against nuclear weapons
protests within the military
remembrance and reconciliation
women, gender, and peace
cultural expressions and peace
peace and environment
legal history of peace action
transnational connections promoting peace
peace and nonviolence
links between peace history and nonviolent social justice and reform
Throughout history, “the most powerful, most heavily-armed countries, which had the best chances of emerging victorious in a military conflict, were usually the most eager for it.” The vast destruction wrought by the atomic bombing of Japan in August 1945 should have been enough to convince national governments that the game of war was over.
Wars have had a long run among rival territories and, later, nations, with fierce conflicts between Athens and Sparta, Rome and Carthage, Spain and Britain, and the combatants of World Wars I and II among the best-known. Although the wars had a variety of causes and were sometimes promoted with lofty ideals and slogans, they were often occasioned by disputes over territory and resources. Not surprisingly, the most powerful, most heavily-armed countries, which had the best chances of emerging victorious in a military conflict, were usually the most eager for it.
With the advent of nuclear weapons, however, the traditional pattern of great power conflict—regarding other nations as enemies, confronting them militarily, and waging devastating wars against them—had acquired a ghostly quality. As Albert Einstein remarked: “General annihilation beckons.”
Unfortunately, the governments of the great powers were slow to learn this lesson. Despite their professed support for international security under the leadership of the United Nations, they expanded their military budgets and engaged in new military invasions and wars. Meanwhile, they built vast nuclear armadas to prepare for future armed conflicts.
Today, the great power war game is particularly evident in Ukraine, where nuclear-armed nations are engaged in a tense standoff. Russia, which seized portions of eastern Ukraine in 2014, has massed 100,000 troops, plus missiles, tanks, and warships, on the borders of that nation. And, although the Russian government has denied any intention to invade, its military juggernaut has clearly not been assembled to play potsy. Indeed, President Vladimir Putin has issued ultimatums demanding that NATO reject membership for Ukraine and remove military forces from NATO nations in much of Eastern Europe.
Although dismissing any intention of sending troops to Ukraine, the U.S. government, along with its NATO partners, has been dispatching defensive weapons to the Ukrainian government and threatening a “severe” response to a Russian invasion. The U.S. government maintains that it is merely trying to avert Russia’s invasion or takeover of a weaker neighbor. But the Ukraine confrontation might have been avoided had previous U.S. administrations not incensed Russia’s rulers by blithely expanding NATO eastward—right up to Russia’s border.
It’s certainly an explosive situation, as well as an exceptionally dangerous one, particularly given the fact that Russia and the United States each possess about 6,000 nuclear weapons.
Nor is this the world’s only current military confrontation between nuclear powers, for U.S.-China relations have also grown increasingly tense.
The U.S. government, in turn, has sharply contested China’s assertion of great power status. In addition to conducting military exercises in the South China Sea, often skirting Chinese-claimed and -occupied islands, it has created a military alliance against China and supplied Taiwan, which China considers a breakaway province, with advanced weaponry. According to the Pentagon, this year’s ramped-up U.S. military budget is designed to “prioritize China.”
Although a war between China and the United States is most likely to begin with conventional weapons, it could easily escalate into a nuclear war. Both nations possess advanced nuclear weaponry and, though the United States has a very substantial advantage in numbers, the Chinese lead, so far, in the production of hypersonic nuclear weapons. Such weapons travel more than five times faster than the speed of sound and have greater maneuverability than other nuclear-armed missiles.
If these developments seem to indicate that the great powers have not yet learned the lesson about war taught by the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that is because they haven’t. And so the game continues.
Numerous plans have been suggested to defuse these latest showdowns among the great powers. In the case of the U.S.-Russian confrontation, some analysts have recommended implementing the Minsk formula for the autonomy of eastern Ukraine. Others have suggested a broader settlement, including Western acknowledgement of legitimate Russian security concerns and Russian acceptance that it cannot make Ukraine a vassal state or force the Baltic nations to abandon their NATO membership. In the case of the U.S.-China confrontation, concerned observers have sought to avert a war by calling attention to its dangers and championing cooperative projects between the two nations. These or other policies might yet save the day. Or they might not.
In the long run, however, constraining the dangerous proclivity for war of the great powers—and their wannabes—necessitates building an organizational structure with the responsibility and power to maintain international security. Such a project clearly requires a stronger system of global governance—a system more capable of enforcing international law than the one we now possess.
Although the United Nations was created with the proclaimed goal of curbing the reckless behavior of individual governments, the world organization is obviously not strong enough to accomplish this task. Indeed, the great powers, contrary to their rhetoric, never allowed it to assume this role, for enhanced UN authority would have interfered with their own military ventures.
But it still remains possible to cast off outdated fantasies of national glory and strengthen the United Nations as a key force for peace. This action, a truly meaningful response to the nuclear age, would dramatically improve the possibilities for saving the world from destruction by the great powers.
The Peace History Society (https://www.peacehistorysociety.org/) invites applications for the position of Executive Editor of Peace & Change: A Journal of Peace Research. Our search will continue until the position is filled.
Peace & Change is published by the Peace History Society (PHS) in conjunction with the International Peace Research Association (IPRA). Its scholarly and interpretive articles engage with topics related to the achievement of a peaceful, just, and humane society. The journal, whose medium is English, enjoys a global audience. We endeavor to build bridges across disciplines and among peace researchers, educators, advocates, and activists. Peace & Change recognizes the longstanding underrepresentation of scholars from marginalized groups within the fields of peace history and peace studies. We are committed to inclusive editorial leadership that reflects the growing diversity of our scholarly community. To this end, we seek applicants from all ethnicities, races, religions, sexes, sexual orientations, gender identities, national origins, dis/abilities, ages, and backgrounds.
Applicants should review the following information about the journal and the position. Launched in 1972, Peace & Change publishes four digital issues a year. It is co-owned by the PHS and Wiley (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/14680130), with PHS exercising editorial control over the journal content and review process. The successful applicant must demonstrate an ability to represent Peace & Change in interfacing with the PHS Board, PHS’s IPRA partners, the scholarly community, and various other constituencies. The applicant must also have institutional support, which traditionally includes a one-course release and a graduate assistantship or the equivalent for the accompanying Managing Editor position. The time commitment is estimated to be ten hours per week. The key responsibilities and tasks of the Executive Editor include:
1) Receives all new submissions. Screens all submissions for originality and fit to the journal’s mission. Reads all valid submissions with the managing editor and determines which articles are sent out for review and which are declined.
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12) Conducts outreach to potential authors, reviewers, and other contributors to the journal at conferences and other events. The Executive Editor and Managing Editor will attend Peace History Society conferences to identify manuscripts that might be appropriate for submission to the journal.
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Wiley is migrating Peace & Change to a Scholar One platform, which will automate some parts of the work, including screening for originality and plagiarism and keeping the review process on track (sending reminders, etc.). This will involve 2-3 meetings with Wiley developers at the start of the Executive Editor’s term to set up the automated workflow to suit their preferences.
Please submit applications and inquiries to <email@example.com>. The search will continue until the position is filled. Your application must include a vita and a letter setting forth your interest in the position, your relevant background and experience, and your vision for Peace & Change and the field of peace research. Please also convey your institution’s commitment to yourself and to the journal. We are open to applications by potential co-editors. Please provide a joint letter of application, vitas, and information about support from your institution(s).
Late January of this year will mark the first anniversary of the entry into force of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This momentous international agreement, the result of a lengthy struggle by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and by many non-nuclear nations, bans developing, testing, producing, acquiring, possessing, stockpiling, and threatening to use nuclear weapons. Adopted by an overwhelming vote of the official representatives of the world’s nations at a UN conference in July 2017, the treaty was subsequently signed by 86 nations. It received the required 50 national ratifications by late October 2020, and, on January 22, 2021, became international law.
Right from the start, the world’s nine nuclear powers—the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea—expressed their opposition to such a treaty. They pressed other nations to boycott the crucial 2017 UN conference and refused to attend it when it occurred. Indeed, three of them (the United States, Britain, and France) issued a statement declaring that they would never ratify the treaty. Not surprisingly, then, none of the nuclear powers has signed the agreement or indicated any sympathy for it.
Even so, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has acquired considerable momentum over the past year. During that time, an additional nine nations ratified it, thus becoming parties to the treaty. And dozens more, having signed it, are expected to ratify it in the near future. Furthermore, the governments of two NATO nations, Norway and Germany, have broken free from the U.S. government’s oppositional stance to the treaty and agreed to attend the first meeting of the countries that are parties to it.
In nations where public opinion on the treaty has been examined, the international agreement enjoys considerable support. YouGov opinion polls in five NATO countries in Europe show overwhelming backing and very little opposition, with the same true in Iceland, another NATO participant. Polling has also revealed large majorities in favor of the treaty in Japan, Canada, and Australia.
In the United States, where most of the mainstream communications media have not deigned to mention the treaty, it remains a well-kept secret. Even so, although a 2019 YouGov poll about it drew a large “Don’t Know” response, treaty support still outweighed opposition by 49 to 32 percent. Moreover, when the U.S. Conference of Mayors, representing 1,400 U.S. cities, met in August 2021, the gathering unanimously approved a resolution praising the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
Meanwhile, a variety of institutions, recognizing that nuclear weapons are now illegal under international law, have begun to change their investment policies. In September 2021, Lansforsakringar, a Swedish insurance company with assets of over $46 billion, cited the treaty as a major reason to avoid investing in companies producing nuclear weapons. In December, the New York City Council adopted a resolution telling the city comptroller to remove investments from the city’s $250 billion pension fund from companies producing or maintaining these weapons of mass destruction. According to ICAN, 127 financial institutions stopped investing in nuclear weapons companies during 2021.
Despite this impressive display of respect for the landmark agreement, the nine nuclear powers have not only continued to oppose it, but have accelerated their nuclear arms race. Having cast off the constraints of most nuclear arms control and disarmament agreements of the past, they are all busy either developing or deploying new nuclear weapons systems or have announced their intention to do so.
In this process of nuclear “modernization,” as it is politely termed, they are building newly-designed nuclear weapons of increasing accuracy and efficiency. These include hypersonic missiles, which travel at five times the speed of sound and are better able than their predecessors to evade missile defenses. Reportedly, hypersonic missiles have already been developed by Russia and China. The United States is currently scrambling to build them, as well, with the usual corporate weapons contractors eager to oblige.
When it comes to “modernization” of its entire nuclear weapons complex, the U.S. government probably has the lead. During the Obama administration, it embarked on a massive project designed to refurbish U.S. nuclear production facilities, enhance existing nuclear weapons, and build new ones. This enormous nuclear venture accelerated during the Trump administration and continues today, with a total cost estimated to ultimately top $1.5 trillion.
Although there remain some gestures toward nuclear arms control—such as the agreement between U.S. president Joe Biden and Russian president Vladimir Putin to extend the New Start Treaty—the nuclear powers are now giving a much higher priority to the nuclear arms race.
The current build-up of their nuclear arsenals is particularly dangerous at this time of rising conflict among them. The U.S. and Russian governments almost certainly don’t want a nuclear war over Ukraine, but they could easily slip into one. The same is true in the case of the heightening confrontation between the Chinese and U.S. governments over Taiwan and the islands in the South China Sea. And what will happen when nuclear-armed India and nuclear-armed Pakistan fight yet another war, or when nuclear-armed national leaders like Kim Jong-un and a possibly re-elected Donald Trump start trading insults again about their countries’ nuclear might?
At present, this standoff between the nuclear nations, enamored with winning their global power struggles, and the non-nuclear nations, aghast at the terrible danger of nuclear war, seems likely to persist, resulting in the continuation of the world’s long nuclear nightmare.
In this context, the most promising course of action for people interested in human survival might well lie in a popular mobilization to compel the nuclear nations to accept the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and, more broadly, to accept a restrained role in a cooperatively-governed world.
Although critics of the Biden administration’s Build Back Better plan to increase funding for U.S. education, healthcare, and action against climate catastrophe say the United States can’t afford it, there are no such qualms about ramping up funding for the U.S. military.
In May 2021, the Pentagon asked Congress to fund a $715 billion budget for Fiscal 2022—an increase of $10 billion over the previous year. Together with another $38 billion requested for military-related programs at other government agencies, this would bring total U.S. military spending to $753 billion.
But from the standpoint of most Republicans and many Democrats in Congress, this was not enough. In September, by an overwhelming margin, the House passed a $768 billion military spending bill and, in December, the Senate did so, as well, sending the legislation to the president for his signature. These actions were taken despite the fact that, except for military spending at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, current U.S. military spending, after adjusting for inflation, is the highest since World War II.
Indeed, even without any increase, annual spending on the U.S. military would have been more than four times the proposed $175 billion annual spending on the stalled Build Back Better plan.
But isn’t this massive military spending necessary to prevent Chinese aggression?
China, although recently quite assertive in world affairs and repressive toward internal dissent, has not been at war with another nation since 1979, when it fought a brief but bloody conflict with Vietnam. Furthermore, even though China has engaged in a military buildup in recent decades, its military spending increases have often lagged behind those of the United States. In 2020, China’s military spending rose over the preceding year by 1.9 percent, whereas U.S. military spending increased by 4.4 percent.
Furthermore, if Chinese aggression isn’t already deterred by the current level of U.S. military spending, it’s hard to imagine that increased funding for the U.S. military will be more effective. After all, the United States is currently the biggest military spender in the world, accounting for 39 percent of the global total. China, the number 2 nation in military expenditures, spends only a third of that amount. When it comes to nuclear weapons, the United States has 5,500 nuclear warheads to China’s 350, providing the United States with an almost 16-to-1 advantage.
Given the enormous superiority of current U.S. military power, is more really useful? Indeed, isn’t increased U.S. military spending actually counterproductive—provoking China to engage in an expensive and dangerous arms race with the United States and squandering U.S. tax dollars that could be spent more productively? Wouldn’t both countries be better served by an agreement between them to freeze military spending at current levels and to transfer responsibility for the enforcement of international security to a strengthened United Nations?
Why, then, is U.S. military spending increasing? One reason is an inflamed nationalism—the widespread assumption that, as U.S. politicians like to say, the United States is “the greatest country in the history of the world.” This belief in the superiority of one’s own nation, shared by people in many lands, is played upon by demagogues like Donald Trump, who talk glibly of “America First” and send their audiences into rapturous chants of “USA, USA.” In these circumstances, citizens of powerful nations slip easily into what U.S. Senator J.W. Fulbright once called “the arrogance of power”—the assumption that their country should play a dominant role in world affairs. Little wonder, then, that many members of Congress, although skeptical of the necessity for rising military budgets, tamely vote for them lest they be portrayed as “soft on defense.”
But this is only part of the story, for, although many Americans support ramping up U.S. military spending, most Americans don’t. A July 2020 opinion survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that only 23 percent of U.S. respondents favored increasing U.S. military spending, while 66 percent either favored maintaining the current level (38 percent) or cutting it (28 percent). A February 2021 Gallup Poll revealed similar opinions.
A more powerful driver of military spending increases lies in the enormous influence of self-interested corporate contractors. These private companies work hard to ensure that the U.S. military budget—and thus their income—keeps rising. Over the past two decades, U.S. weapons makers have spent $2.5 billion on lobbying, employing over 700 lobbyists per year to sell new, immensely expensive high-tech missiles, warplanes, warships, and other implements of destruction to the U.S. government. Most of these corporate lobbyists have moved through a revolving door of jobs at the Pentagon, the National Security Council, Congress, and other key agencies. Indeed, four of the past five U.S. Secretaries of Defense have come from one of the top five arms contractors. Military contractors also copiously fund major think tanks and, of course, make very substantial campaign contributions to friendly politicians—an estimated $285 million over the last two decades.
Such investments have paid off handsomely, enabling military contractors to rake in roughly half of the Pentagon’s lavish annual spending. Since Fiscal Year 2001, U.S. weapons manufacturers have secured $4.4 trillion in U.S. government contracts, with a quarter to a third of all Pentagon contracts in recent years going to just five major weapons companies: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman. In Fiscal 2020, Lockheed Martin alone received $75 billion from the Pentagon. Furthermore, enormous Pentagon contracts are also handed out to military logistics, reconstruction, and “security” corporations.
In response to these pressures, the U.S. government all too often bypasses other approaches to international security—including forging cooperative agreements with other nations and strengthening multilateral institutions—while increasing its military spending to new, outlandish levels.
In mid-December 2021, I urged my colleagues, friends, and family to find the joy in the festive season rooted in our collective work for justice. As we prepared to close our year out with hopes for a better one in the future, I too was looking for reasons to celebrate. On the day after Christmas, however, my joy was diminished as the world bid farewell to a true voice for justice for all, one whose circumstance and character catapulted him to extraordinary prominence. I was truly humbled to call South African Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Despond Mpilo Tutu a friend, honoured to have his strong and supportive words serve as Introductions to three of my books and his inimitable presence on video and in person add to countless conference and events I helped organize. The “Arch” truly provided a human entranceway for so many freedom fighters who would find no similar source of sustenance from anyone near to his level of global prominence. It was not just that he had an unquenchable thirst for the liberation of all, leading him to a genuine, independent radicalism which defied easy ideological definition and defied the powerbrokers of every continent and corporation. It was not just that he fashioned—even in the busiest and most repressive of times—an administrative centre which enabled clear access to so many grassroots resistance initiatives. Archbishop Tutu’s head and heart, his prayers and actions, triumphantly focused on reconciliation and reparations borne of that resistance.
One might assume that my connection to the Arch came about first and foremost through my mentorship and deep collaborations with the man who would eventually become my step-dad, Pan African pacifist Bill Sutherland, with whom I co-authored Guns and Gandhi in Africa (2000) which Archbishop Tutu provided the Introduction for. And while it is true that the Arch’s connection to Bill was a deep and long-standing one more akin to family members than friends, it is not how he and I first met. Bill, it should be noted, worked for decades with the War Resisters’ International and for years as a staff member of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), which won the Nobel Peace prize as an organization – along with the British Friends Service Council – in 1947, following the end of WWII. As is the custom, Nobel Peace laureates are given special space to nominate future prize-winners and – as an AFSC representative helping to lead that group’s work against the heinous racist apartheid regime, Bill worked hard to get AFSC to recommend then-Bishop Tutu for the prize, As is now well documented, Tutu was awarded the prize in 1984 at a key moment in South Africa’s history.
Though repression within the apartheid regime was still extremely intense, the mass democratic and anti-racist movements which would sweep across the country and ignite the world were coming up at just this time, in the early 1980’s. The United Democratic Front, a broad coalition of grassroots groups, was taking the lead in many places and, within the white community, the End Conscription Campaign (ECC) was developing as a voice within the communities of the oppressor, to spark a creative fire among a new generation of whites who would come to oppose both militarism and racism. Tutu, of course, was a supporter and champion of both and – more than that – was willing to take substantial risk by boldly dispelling the myth that the Boycott and Divestment movement would hurt the African people of South Africa. The callous liberal and mainstream mock-concern that BDS would be anything other than a strategic, internationally accessible, nonviolent means of hurting the apartheid regime was laid bare when Tutu led the call (at a time when getting direct word out of South Africa was difficult) that BDS was a policy which would help Black South Africans not hurt them; their torture at the hands of the racist regime was far more serious than the loss of a few coins which might trickle down to the African community from the state losses under a successful divestment campaign. 1984 was key, and the Archbishop was always personally grateful and politically engaged with Papa Bill for the support of the Nobel endorsement and what became our collective conversations on unarmed resistance and the tactics of social change. I shall never forget the surprise call from the Arch which came through on my mobile phone in Brooklyn decades later as we were celebrating Papa Bill’s 90th birthday, noting that the people of Africa owe him a debt of gratitude.
My first personal connection to the Arch, however, came through work with another fierce and fearless friend: Cape Town’s wonderful Dr. Ivan Toms. Ivan was many things to many people, first and foremost known as the medical doctor who built and staffed the health clinic at Crossroads. Crossroads was not really a township or a neighborhood, it was a community–a very unique community made up of those now called shack-dwellers, a grouping of squatters making up what some termed a shantytown. One of the special things about Crossroads was that no matter how many times the apartheid regime literally bulldozed down this community of open resistance, community members would quickly turn around and rebuild. A little thing like a highly militarized and repressive state was not going to get in their way! Another special thing was that there was this one member of the white community, a prominent medical doctor no less, who decided to throw his lot in with those most oppressed and create a health center in the middle of Crossroads where he could attend to people most in need and train a crew of community-based health practitioners and nurses to take care of the rest. This was just who Ivan was. He was, by the way, also one of the early leaders of ECC, refusing the doctor’s draft and other calls to military service and supporting those younger resisters who were less established. When he obtained a small US State Department grant to travel to the States as an example of South African ‘goodness,’ he made sure to speak out against racism and apartheid whenever he could and, as soon as his official responsibilities were completed, decided to extend his stay in the hemisphere and bought himself a ticket to revolutionary Nicaragua, fighting against the US-sponsored contra war. Upon returning to South Africa, he infuriated the right-wing regime and ruffled a few feathers on the left when he publicly proclaimed, “Yo Soy Sandinista!”
Dr. Ivan Toms was also gay. And like nearly everything in the rest of his life, he refused to keep quiet about things which were important to him. He was, in addition, an Anglican and a member of the Cape Town church where Desmond Tutu regularly pastored. So, very early on in his life as an iconic figure in his own right, Ivan asked his pastor Tutu (also years before the Nobel prize) what he should do. He didn’t want to be closeted, but also didn’t want to diminish his role as a then-rare white opponent of apartheid. Needless to say, Tutu and Toms engaged in dialogue deeply personal, spiritual, and strategic – as was their way. Out of those conversations came Ivan’s very public coming out, and Tutu’s very public support of the same. By the mid-1980’s and the growing anti-apartheid movements within South African and internationally, these two stalwart figures and friends was already “on record” – not merely about LGBT rights but about the principled position that liberation for all was not a negotiable thing to be compromised away. Ivan and I became buddies as fellow draft resisters across the waters at and after the founding of ECC. When I was tasked with editing a Peace calendar on youth resistance and “Children of War, Children of Peace,” Ivan helped connect me (now in the early 1990’s) with his famous friend who had also championed those children caught within the tragedies of war. Archbishop Tutu thus wrote the Introduction to my first edited “booklet,” a 1993 collection which includes short poetry and prose from young people around the world, including the voice of a “New Afrikan” scout based in the southeastern US by the name of Tupac Shakur!
In the days and weeks following Archbishop Tutu’s passing, the leaders of almost every nation— the politicians and pundits of the most powerful on earth—will line up to claim him as their own. But the still-colonized people of the world who the Arch strenuously supported and defended will hopefully also remember his love—be they the Puerto Rican nation seeking freedom from direct US colonialism or the Tibetan people seeking freedom from China, be they the people of Western Sahara or West Papua or of Palestine, who as subjects of modern settler-colonial Israeli apartheid were of particular concern to this servant of God. We would also hope but do not expect that their colonizers, who will be among the first to claim Tutu as a source of inspiration (out of both sides of their mouths), would follow the freedom-loving directions which the Archbishop set forth. Those still imprisoned for political reasons (and their jailers) should also remember his consistent calls for their release—be they well known figures such as American Indian Movement elder Leonard Peltier or Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal, or the lesser-known names of the wrongfully incarcerated of every nation (including, in the US, Sundiata Acoli, who is just a few years younger than the Arch). Freedom for all would be a far more fitting tribute to the life of Archbishop Tutu than the hollow words we will undoubtedly hear repeated in the coming days, and “peace on Earth, good will towards All” would be a more significant refrain if put into practice by the arms manufacturers and weapons peddlers of the planet.
The Arch was a great strategic thinker, and I remember sitting with him privately some years back in his office in Cape Town. Our conversation spanned so many topics across a world of injustices, but I recall two points of both tactical and spiritual significance. In discussing the still-incarcerated Puerto Rican patriot Oscar Lopez Rivera, termed by many South American heads of state “the Mandela of the Americas,” the Arch weighed in on how best to balance his ongoing support for Oscar’s immediate and unconditional release with the need to also understand the mind of the man who would be destined to release him: Barack Obama. Students of realpolitik, we realized that Obama wouldn’t simply set Oscar free based on moral suasion. The right words and right timing had to be considered regarding the Call for release. Then, as we moved to another “agenda item,” we reflected upon the people of Palestine’s West Bank and especially Gaza who had just suffered a bombing raid by the all-powerful and unregulated Israeli Defense Force. “God must be weeping now,” the Arch sombrely repeated to me, heart sick about both the immediate human toll as well as the difficulties ahead.
On these same days and weeks, I will try not to weep for our loss of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who—as I just wrote to his daughters—lived such a truly extraordinary and meaningful life. As we send the family our condolences and best wishes for a healing time ahead, let us do as the Arch would do, with steadfastness and humour and a focus on what needs to be done rather than its costs.
Today the gratitude which Archbishop Tutu insisted be paid to the under-recognized Bill Sutherland, the precious memories which are due to Ivan Toms, and those looking to pay tribute to Tupac as well as so many others, would do well to better understand the connections between these fierce freedom fighters. We would do even better to comprehend and act upon the potential connections which we can and must build between us. Let us take part of our energy in remembering the Arch to work towards building the 21st Century united fronts so needed to pave a path toward justice.
Let us work to heal the earth, and to heal one another, by redoubling our fight to Free the Land and its Peoples, to Free All Political Prisoners, to build a beloved community of liberation where all can find the enduring peace which is the fruit of our struggles for structural justice.
Matt Meyer is Secretary General of the International Peace Research Association, Senior Research Scholar at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst Resistance Studies Initiative, and a member of the editorial board for Peace & Change.
This post was expanded and revised on December 29, 2021.
On September 10, 2021, during an important diplomatic meeting that occurred by telephone, U.S. President Joseph Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping affirmed the necessity of a better relationship between their two nations. According to the official Chinese summary, Xi said that “when China and the United States cooperate, the two countries and the world will benefit; when China and the United States are in confrontation, the two countries and the world will suffer.” He added: “Getting the relationship right is . . . something we must do and must do well.”
But imagine the possibilities if the United States and China did cooperate. After all, these countries possess the world’s two largest military budgets and the two biggest economies, are the two leading consumers of energy, and have a combined population of nearly 1.8 billion people. Working together, they could exercise enormous influence in world affairs.
Instead of preparing for a deadly military confrontation—one that appeared perilously close in late 2020 and early 2021—the United States and China could turn over their conflicts to the United Nations or other neutral bodies like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for mediation and resolution. Aside from averting a potentially devastating war, perhaps even a nuclear war, this policy would facilitate substantial cuts in military spending, with savings that could be devoted to bolstering UN operations and funding their domestic social programs.
Instead of continuing as the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gasses, these two economic giants could work together to fight the escalating climate catastrophe by reducing their carbon footprint and championing international agreements with other nations to do the same.
Instead of blaming one another for the current pandemic, they could work cooperatively on global public health measures, including massive production and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines and research on other potentially horrendous diseases.
Instead of engaging in wasteful economic competition and trade wars, they could pool their vast economic resources and skills to provide poorer nations with economic development programs and direct economic assistance.
Instead of denouncing one another for human rights violations, they could admit that they both had oppressed their racial minorities, announce plans for ending this mistreatment, and provide reparations to its victims.
Although it might seem that such a turnabout is impossible, something roughly comparable happened in the 1980s, when the U.S.-Soviet Cold War, long a staple of international affairs, came to a sudden, unexpected end. In the context of a massive wave of popular protest against the heightening Cold War and, particularly, the growing danger of nuclear war, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev had the wisdom to see that the two nations had nothing to gain and a great deal to lose by continuing down the path of rising military confrontation. And he even succeeded in convincing U.S. President Ronald Reagan, long an ardent hawk but beleaguered by popular pressure, of the value of cooperation between their two nations. In 1988, with the U.S.-Soviet confrontation fast collapsing, Reagan strolled pleasantly with Gorbachev through Moscow’s Red Square, telling curious onlookers: “We decided to talk to each other instead of about each other. It’s working just fine.”
Unfortunately, in subsequent decades, new leaders of both nations squandered the enormous opportunities for peace, economic security, and political freedom opened up by the end of the Cold War. But, at least for a time, the cooperative approach did work just fine.
And it can again.
Given the current frosty state of relations between the governments of the United States and China, it seems that, despite the promising rhetoric at the recent Biden-Xi meeting, they are not yet ready for a cooperative relationship.
But what the future will bring is quite another matter—particularly if, as in the case of the Cold War, the people of the world, daring to imagine a better way, decide that it is necessary to set the governments of the two most powerful nations on a new and more productive course.
The Peace History Society (www.peacehistorysociety.org) invites applications for the position of Executive Editor of Peace & Change: A Journal of Peace Research.
Peace & Change is published by the Peace History Society (PHS) in conjunction with the International Peace Research Association (IPRA). Its scholarly and interpretive articles engage with topics related to the achievement of a peaceful, just, and humane society. The journal, whose medium is English, enjoys a global audience. We endeavor to build bridges across disciplines and among peace researchers, educators, advocates, and activists. Peace & Change recognizes the longstanding underrepresentation of scholars from marginalized groups within the fields of peace history and peace studies. We are committed to inclusive editorial leadership that reflects the growing diversity of our scholarly community. To this end, we seek applicants from all ethnicities, races, religions, sexes, sexual orientations, gender identities, national origins, dis/abilities, ages, and backgrounds. Applicants should review the following information about the journal and the position. Launched in 1972, Peace & Change publishes four digital issues a year. It is co-owned by the PHS and Wiley (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/14680130), with PHS exercising editorial control over the journal content and review process. The successful applicant must demonstrate an ability to represent Peace & Change in interfacing with the PHS Board, PHS’s IPRA partners, the scholarly community, and various other constituencies. The applicant must also have institutional support, which traditionally includes a one-course release and a graduate assistantship or the equivalent for the accompanying Managing Editor position. The time commitment is estimated to be ten hours per week. The key responsibilities and tasks of the Executive Editor include:
Receives all new submissions. Screens all submissions for originality and fit to the journal’s mission. Reads all valid submissions with the managing editor and determines which articles are sent out for review and which are declined.
Oversees double-blind peer review. Identifies appropriate readers and sends out anonymized manuscripts for review. Tracks due dates for readers’ reports and revised manuscripts for authors and send reminders as needed.
Keeps a database of reviewers, seeks new reviewers.
Evaluates readers’ reports and makes decisions about reviewed articles. Communicates decisions to authors and includes anonymized readers’ reports (unless a reader requests to be identified).
Works with the authors to revise manuscripts to address reviewers’ and editors’ concerns.
Schedules articles for publication and forwards final versions to Wiley for Early View publication online. Articles are submitted to Wiley for individual publication when drafts are in final form. Wiley assembles the issues from the tables of contents provided by the Executive Editor.
Prepares articles for publication, from preliminary copyediting for house style and readability to reviewing and approving proofs and verifying the securing of permissions and copyright clearances prior to publication. The Managing Editor may assist with copyediting and verification of copyright and is responsible for writing the Table of Contents and Notes on Authors for each issue.
Reviews the final draft of each issue and approves or enters final changes before publication.
Review final drafts of book reviews (solicited, developed, and edited by the Book Review Editor), assigns them to issues, and submits them to Wiley for production and publication.
Works with the Peace & Change Editorial Board on significant issues, nominates board members, and uses board members to review manuscripts.
Serves as the point person for communications between the PHS Board, the IPRA, and Wiley on matters concerning the content, publication process, policies, and production of the journal. The PHS Board oversees matters related to subscriptions, profit sharing, and contractual matters with Wiley and IPRA.
Conducts outreach to potential authors, reviewers, and other contributors to the journal at conferences and other events. The Executive Editor and Managing Editor will attend Peace History Society conferences to identify manuscripts that might be appropriate for submission to the journal.
Oversees publication of short-form pieces and news items on Peace & Change Blog. The Managing Editor can review, edit, and post these features.
Wiley is migrating Peace & Change to a Scholar One platform, which will automate some parts of the work, including screening for originality and plagiarism and keeping the review process on track (sending reminders, etc.). This will involve 2-3 meetings with Wiley developers at the start of the Executive Editor’s term to set up the automated workflow to suit their preferences.
Please submit applications and inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org by November 1, 2021. The search will continue until the position is filled. Your application must include a vita and a letter setting forth your interest in the position, your relevant background and experience, and your vision for Peace & Change and the field of peace research. Please also convey your institution’s commitment to yourself and to the journal. We are open to applications by potential co-editors. Please provide a joint letter of application, vitas, and information about support from your institution(s).