Teaching Peace and Ethical Memory with Voices of Vietnam

By Patrick Chura, University of Akron

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., a black granite wall listing the names of all 58,286 American war dead, is 150 yards long; if a similar monument were built with the same density of names listing the three million Vietnamese who died in the same war, that wall would be four and a half miles long. The beautifully designed Veterans Memorial in Washington—a place of reflection and reckoning about a national atrocity—speaks profoundly to Americans, insisting that the United States search its conscience and confront the truth about itself. The fact that it does not acknowledge the Vietnamese is not surprising, but it reminds us that remembering only “one’s own” as narrowly defined by national borders leaves room for more cosmopolitan forms of memory.

During a five-week Fulbright lecturing grant at Ho Chi Minh City Open University in May-June 2016, I taught a course on American Literature of the Vietnam War for 22 Vietnamese undergraduates. In the first stage of our work, we read and discussed American literature and music. (The students loved Pete Seeger, by the way.) The second stage of the course shifted the focus, requiring the students to conduct oral history interviews with parents, grandparents or other Vietnamese who remembered the war, and to translate those interviews into English. These interviews were used immediately in the final stage of the class: the creation and performance of an oral history “memory play” about the conflict referred to in Vietnamese history books as The American War.

Realizing that this plan asked a lot of the students, I devised a short rationale to provide clarity and motivation (for them and for me), as we began. After holding up a copy of Viet Than Nguyen’s recent study, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of the War and explaining that Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American whose novel The Sympathizer had just won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, I recited a statement I had silently rehearsed a few days earlier on the flight from Hong Kong to Saigon: “Nguyen says that Ethical Memory of war remembers one’s own, but does not fail to remember others as well,” I said. “This course asks you to remember others—Americans. It also asks you to remember your own—Vietnamese—in order to help Americans remember others.”

The play we made together, Voices of Vietnam, in War and Peace, is the product of their interviews and translations, and my editing and scripting. The play promotes Ethical Memory by speaking the truths of the Vietnamese people while evoking the humanity, and inhumanity, of soldiers and civilians on all sides of the conflict. It was performed in June 2016 in an on-campus auditorium at Ho Chi Minh City Open University, using a minimal set and simple staging, by student-actors who had been rehearsing for only a few days.

At the opening of the play, each student carried a single white flower onstage and placed it in a vase that remained in view throughout the performance. The six scenes that followed offered perspectives perhaps unfamiliar to Americans, describing viewpoints that have not been acknowledged by the English-speaking “memory industry” epitomized in American war films. Voices heard include those of a Vietnamese draft resister, a female doctor who worked for the Viet Cong, and a grandmother who kept books for the American military at the Saigon airport from 1956 until 1973. Voices of Vietnam explores striking cultural differences but also confirms that the prevailing American view of the war—a political and moral failure that left a young generation scarred and stripped of illusions—is largely shared by the Vietnamese.

At the end of the play, the students retrieved their flowers, presented them to an invited guest and led that guest forward. I gave this explanation of the play’s Epilogue: “You have been listening to the students speak your voices, the voices of Vietnamese who remember the war. Now you will speak the students’ voices. Please don’t be shy about coming up on stage.” As their own words became our text, I could see pride on the students’ faces. When they said, “This is my voice,” there was strong emotion, made stronger by the fact that speaking out is still closely monitored in Vietnam. Also lending power were the words themselves, the student-written “appeals to ethical memory.” Here is a sample of those appeals; words about war from Vietnamese 20-year-olds:

Thảo Quy: I did not comprehend the war until I talked to my parents about it. Its brutality is beyond imagination. There are still misunderstandings and untold stories. War has no heroes and no right side. War is wrong. War does not bring peace. The young must understand so as not to repeat. Silence explains nothing.

Le Thanh Tan: The husbands, wives, fathers, sons and daughters who lie beneath us can’t rise again to tell untold stories. But we can find them again in your voices, your stories. Some now want to go to war again; both the young and the old can be childish and naïve. So open your hearts and tell us your stories.

Hồng Loan: War is loss—friends, family, dream, and hopes. We are still affected after 41 years. Agent Orange victims suffer and leftover bombs have killed thousands. Teach the young the value of human life. Whether you are soldiers or farmers, from North or South, Vietnamese or American, we need to hear your voices, for a better future.

Gia Hân: Why did the U.S. fight here? They killed many, including my grandfather, and the consequences of dioxin remain. My father’s house was burned 3 times by bombs. My grandparents had nowhere to turn, they were poor and hungry. History books are not enough. Talk to your elders. Sympathize with them. Problems aren’t solved by fighting but by talking.

Watching the students perform and seeing the audience captivated by how openly they were speaking remains my favorite Vietnam memory. I was grateful to the students for stepping out of their comfort zone to do something in an academic setting that went beyond what they thought was possible. I had told the Vietnamese students that their play would “help Americans remember others,” which meant that U.S. students would perform it also. When some of my Akron undergraduates came down with acute cases of stage fright, I used the bravery of the Vietnamese students as motivation.

We performed the play in Akron on November 9. In a discussion with the audience afterward, someone asked the cast how it felt to speak the voices of Vietnam. Several students said that the experience was “eye-opening.” One remarked thoughtfully, “When you have to present someone else’s story, someone else’s feeling, there is a seriousness to it.” Another said, “This — performing this play — has been a way for us to go back and trace a dark part in our nation’s history and also grow more empathy.” I shared these responses by email with a Vietnamese colleague I’d met during my stay in Ho Chi Minh City. He wrote back, “I’m very moved to learn that the U.S students found performing Voices of Vietnam ‘eye-opening’ and that is has developed a mutual understanding between seemingly old enemies.”

A key defining trait of oral history is how effectively it countermands state-sponsored narratives that glorify war. At our June 2 performance in Vietnam, an audience member stopped me during intermission. “Do you know what you’re doing is strictly forbidden in this country?” he asked. Then he said that the play wasn’t “true.” I said something like, “It’s the truth of the people affected by the war. All we’re claiming to do is to express what people said, so it’s automatically the truth. We’re speaking the words of people interviewed and the play is about what they said.” That automatic truth, I think, is what Viet Thanh Nguyen has in mind when he writes, “telling family war stories . . . is an important way to treat the disorder of our military-industrial complex.”

Image courtesy of Patrick Chura

Perhaps projects of this type can help students see history from another angle and teach peace for the future. Fundamentally about words, oral history plays embrace simple staging and are adaptable to groups of almost any size and composition. Young people may speak the voices of the elderly, males may speak female voices and vice versa. In our production, a Vietnamese grandmother was played successfully by a young man of 19. By allowing students to imaginatively inhabit the Other—especially those of differing ethnicities, nationalities, gender identities and age groups—oral history readings foster social awareness and cultural sensitivity.

Educators who are interested in using Voices of Vietnam in the classroom may write me for a copy at jpc@uakron.edu.

The Future of Peace under Trump

Doug Rossinow

No one knows what the foreign policy of President Donald J. Trump holds in store for the world. Who could have predicted the course of US foreign policy under Barack Obama or George W. Bush? Obama, it is true, went far toward fulfilling his pledge to withdraw US combat troops from Iraq, and he has scaled down the US war in Afghanistan as well (something he did not promise to do in 2008). He has failed, however, to consistently press for a closure of the extra-constitutional Guantánamo Bay detention facility for accused terrorists. The persistence of the US military presence in Iraq is largely due to the rise of Daesh, which Obama did not anticipate and which, basically, is traceable to Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. That disaster, of course, was predicted by exactly no one in 2000, and it was only made possible by the shocking 9/11 attacks on America.

In light of this recent history, we can only expect the unexpected from foreign affairs during the coming four years.

From a peace perspective, the campaign of 2016 was rather dismal. The Democratic nominee for president, Hillary Clinton, was so hawkish — enamored of Henry Kissinger and proud of pressing President Obama toward armed intervention in Libya — that she allowed a right-wing nationalist, in the person of Trump, to campaign as the peace candidate. Trump cogently criticized the policy of armed overthrow of Middle Eastern dictatorships. Trump pledged to maintain Obama’s resistance to deeper US military intervention in the Syrian civil war. Trump astounded everyone by declaring, before the South Carolina Republican primary no less, that Bush had deceived the country by waging war against Iraq based on phony claims about weapons of mass destruction. He declared that the US would be better off with Saddam Hussein and Moammar Qaddafi still in power. The GOP voters of the Palmetto State rewarded Trump’s eerie echo of standard peace movement talking points with victory. Once he secured the Republican nomination, Trump had the antiwar lane all to himself. The corrosive effects of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars on the authority of America’s customary political elites have been more profound and widespread than many analysts understand. The collapse of confidence in US leadership has opened a path to power for a business tycoon who styles himself an outsider. Activists will mobilize to protest abuses of Americans’ rights and of the planet in the coming years. Whether they will need to protest new US wars is something we cannot know. If Trump turns his back on his antiwar campaign, he will spurn not only peace activists, but many who supported him as well. In that event, the peace movement will do well to reach out to disaffected Trump voters who inhabit the America where the wars of our century have taken a terrible toll.

Doug Rossinow is a former president of the Peace History Society and author of The Reagan Era: A History of the 1980s. He currently writes from Oslo, Norway

Peace in the Trump Era

With Donald Trump poised to assume the presidency of the United States, the editors of Peace & Change have decided to inaugurate a series dedicated to examining the implications of a Trump presidency. To aid us in this task, we have asked influential scholars to weigh in with their reactions, reflections, and analysis of the impending Trump era. These experts, from their unique scholarly and personal perspectives, will help to illuminate the multiple ways in which a Trump presidency might influence the prospects for peace. This series of guest posts will also raise new questions, point to emerging areas of inquiry, and suggest possibilities for scholars and activists to influence the discourse in the coming years. Ultimately, it is important that we dialogue about the future of peace, peace scholarship, activism, and the uncertainties of a Trump presidency.

We will kick off the series tomorrow morning with a post from Doug Rossinow, former president of the Peace History Society and author of The Reagan Era: A History of the 1980s.

Call for Papers – “Peace Initiatives and the Urban Space”

By Susanne Schregel, University of Cologne

There are many answers to why studying the history of peace and conflict resolution is so rewarding, and one of them is the diversity of actions and strategies that have been employed to foster peace, disarmament and reconciliation. In my scholarly work, I have been particularly interested in the history of micro-political strategies and grassroots actions, above all the spatial strategies that were used to mobilise for peace and achieve conflict resolution. So I am enthusiastic that the upcoming Annual Conference of the German Society for Historical Research on Peace and Conflict will be devoted to “Peace Initiatives and the Urban Space in the long 20th century.” The event, which will take place in Berlin in September 2017, will explore the past and present of initiatives campaigning for nonviolence, disarmament, and peace from an urban point of view.

With this conference, the Society for Historical Peace and Conflict Research aims to strengthen the argument that cities and towns operate as more than just places where activities for peace and disarmament can take place. Concrete urban settings, rather, serve as objects of reflection and become sources for negotiations concerning peace, reconciliation, and nonviolence in people’s everyday lives.

The conference will investigate the dynamic between urban space and initiatives for peace and disarmament that has emerged throughout the long 20th century and continues into the present. It will explore how towns and cities have assumed the role of a counterforce against tendencies towards militarisation, destruction, and violence, thereby aiming to widen and enlarge our perspective on creating peace in relation to urban life and urban space.

We invite contributions from scholars across a broad range of disciplines, including history, sociology, political science, peace and conflict studies, geography, urban studies, architecture, religious studies, anthropology, and media studies.

Topics for papers include, but are not limited to:

Grassroots Urban Peace Activism and Its Local/Global Interconnections. As a first analytical focus, we invite contributions discussing the rich history of grassroots urban peace initiatives and peace activism in towns and cities. When, where, and how did urban grassroots peace initiatives emerge and evolve, and in which spatial interrelations and broader organisational frameworks did these activities develop? In which ways were such activities backed by cities’ ‘peace’ traditions, and how did these traditions contribute to interpretations of both local and national history?

Peace and Disarmament in Official City Policies. As a second analytical focus, we encourage contributions exploring how local municipal officials and elected bodies have been involved in urban actions for peace – for instance via town twinning and city networks, through adopting peace resolutions, or in local nuclear-free zone initiatives. Where, when, and why did urban representatives and urban elected bodies engage in ‘local foreign policy’ initiatives? Which roles did prominent local elected officials assume in such endeavours, for instance in groups as ‘Mayors for Peace’? How was promoting peace and disarmament localized via initiatives such as the establishment of peace awards?

Peace and the Symbolism of Urban Geographies. As a further strand of discussion, we suggest investigating interconnections between the design of concrete urban spaces, and discussions about peace, nonviolence, antimilitarism, and disarmament. How did debates about peace, reconciliation, and nonviolence engage with the symbolism of urban geographies – for instance in discussions about street naming or monument erection and in practices such as peace garden design or tree planting ceremonies? How did material interventions into the urban space negotiate local cultures of remembrance, and how did they draw on and engage relics and memories of urban violence and wartime destructions? How did and how does architecture reflect themes of peace and reconciliation in concrete urban settings – be it with famous buildings such as the Peace Palace in The Hague or more mundane settings that serve everyday purposes?

Cultures, Imagination, and Aesthetics of Peace. How did initiatives try to foster a local culture for peace, for instance via the organisation of cultural events or the establishment of local peace museums? How do imaginations and aesthetics of peace look when viewed through the lens of urban studies? Which kinds of media were used in urban initiatives for peace and disarmament, and how did specific media approaches shape the relation between peace and the city? How do predominantly visual media such as photography and film reflect on the interconnections between peace and the city? How are relations among cities, peace, and conflict discussed in art, literature, poetry, and music?

‘Peace Cities.’ Finally, we invite presenters to offer general and theoretical reflections on notions and concepts of the relation between towns and cities, peace and conflict. Is there such a thing as ‘peace cities’ or ‘cities of peace’, and if so, in what sense? How can we relate this mode of characterising cities and towns to modes of describing the urban that focus on war and conflict (for instance the ‘postmortem city’, the ‘post-catastrophic city’, or the ‘Cold War city’)?

These questions are meant to be interpreted broadly, and applicants are encouraged to submit brief proposals for papers addressing the conference’s title themes. If you are interested in participating, please send an abstract of 200–300 words and a short biographical note to akhf@mail.de by January 15, 2017.

There is no conference fee, and we intend to cover all accommodation costs and most meals, pending the availability of funds. We also offer travel grants to participating scholars, particularly to those without institutional resources to cover travel expenses.

Susanne Schregel is the chairperson of the German Society for Historical Research on Peace and Conflict. She is fascinated by the diversity of grassroots mobilisation for peace and disarmament and particularly interested in aspects of place, space and scale in contemporary history. Her newest articles include ‘Nuclear War and the City. Perspectives on Municipal Interventions in Defence (Great Britain, New Zealand, West Germany, USA, 1980–1985),’ in: Urban History 42 (2015) n. 4, p. 564–583; ‘Global Micropolitics. Toward a Transnational History of Nuclear Free Zones,’ in: Eckart Conze/Martin Klimke/Jeremy Varon (eds.), Nuclear Threats, Nuclear Fear and the Cold War of the 1980s (Cambridge University Press, 2016), p. 206–226. Contact at s.schregel@uni-koeln.de; http://www.akhf.de

Photo: Daniel Gerster, “Berlin Alexanderplatz”

Where is Standing Rock?

By Shelley E. Rose

It’s not where you think it is.

Like many, I have been following the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and the establishment of the Sacred Stone Camp in April 2016. (see this helpful timeline from Mother Jones) When I signed into Facebook this morning, my feed was flooded with friends and colleagues checking in at Standing Rock, ND.

My first thought: I’ve definitely missed something big.

It soon became clear that my contacts had not all traveled to North Dakota overnight. So what changed in the movement? The exact origins of this virtual campaign remain unclear, but Kim LaCapria of Snopes.com reports that it did not originate with the Sacred Stone Camp. Regardless of the campaign’s origins, No-DAPL supporters checking-in on Facebook occupy the growing virtual space of Standing Rock: harnessing the power of social media and bringing the physical confrontation to the digital realm. Here I again ask the question: Where is Standing Rock?

The Standing Rock movement is intricately tied to both the physical location of the Sacred Stone Camp and virtual locations for protest on social media, including the Standing Rock Facebook page and #NoDAPL tag. As a historian interested in space as a lens into protest movement histories (ok, borderline obsessed), this is an excellent example of how protests and the spaces they occupy are intimately linked, and most often, deliberately chosen. While a single blog post cannot provide a thorough analysis of protest spaces, here I offer three reasons why the Standing Rock locations matter.

1. Location-based Protest and Communities of Practice

Shared physical spaces bring individuals together around a common issue and establish common narratives in ways that cannot be discounted in the study of protest movements. Spatial proximity fosters a heightened sense of community, profoundly impacting individual activists long after they leave the protest site. Huffington Post’s Katie Scarlett Brandt describes this feeling well in her recent article “I am a White Person Who Went to Standing Rock. This is What I Learned.” Brandt’s thick description of sleeping outside at the camp, waking up to the mundane sounds of her fellow activists starting their day, and being embedded in the routine of the movement all supports the role of shared space in the creation of activist communities of practice. As a scholar, I rely on Sally McConnell-Ginet and Penelope Eckert’s definition of communities of practice as “an aggregate of people who come together around mutual engagement in an endeavor. Ways of doing things, ways of talking, beliefs, values and power relations- in short, practices- emerge in the course of this mutual endeavor.” [1] What is most important about communities of practice, is that their boundaries remain undefined, limited only by the scope of interaction and the spaces occupied by individual members. Transferred as a lens into the No DAPL protests, the physical space of the Sacred Stone Camp brings individuals together around a common issue and establishes common narratives for protest. This type of space-based solidarity can also be seen in the #NoTAV movement as documented by political scientists Donatella della Porta, Maria Fabbri and Gianni Piazza.[2]

2. Isn’t this just hashtag activism?

Not exactly. Standing Rock is a critical moment for reexamining the role of social media in protest movements. As in the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring protests, social media outlets provide a key means of communication for activists to find the physical locations of the movement. In fact, social media posts were among the first catalysts for such a diverse group of Native Americans and their supporters to gather in North Dakota. (See this September 2016 article by Jack Healy). Yet even earlier today I read social media posts questioning the real-world impact of checking-in at Standing Rock. The general conclusion seems to be that it helps just to “do something” to raise awareness.

These place-based solidarity posts on Facebook beginning on October 30 are what make the Standing Rock case different, and marks a new direction in the relationship between social media and protest events. Each “check- in” at Standing Rock represents an exercise of power from a growing activist community of practice in the social media world. This is not a standalone hashtag, social media activists checked-in with the belief that they could disrupt the perceived “geo-targeting” power of law enforcement and security forces over No-DAPL activists. In short, virtual interventions might physically protect activists. Those occupying “virtual” Standing Rock, regardless of the actual impact on law enforcement, are expanding the community of practice, drawn to a sense of solidarity fostered by Standing Rock as a physical protest space, and compelling networks of virtual activists to create a digital extension of that location.

3. Is “virtual” Standing Rock still Standing Rock?

Standing Rock is not just a space for protest, it is a place. Geographers understand place as space inscribed with meaning. Standing Rock has a long place history, grounded in the struggles between the Native Americans and the US government. As of 2016, it also has a place history as a site of protest against the DAPL. In the last 24 hours, I argue, “virtual” Standing Rock has also become a place. It is intimately tied to the physical space in North Dakota, and yet stands on its own as a virtual space, occupied for a specific purpose by a diverse group of people coming together around a common cause. It is not sponsored by any established organization, but formed organically and has had 198,267 visits by the time of this writing. Historian David Glassberg argues that spaces anchor individuals in their “sense of history” and a common past. [3] In this case, the occupation of both physical and virtual Standing Rock has engaged individuals in an activist community of practice and the creation of place through protest.

Shelley E. Rose (@shelleyerose) is Assistant Professor of History and Director of Social Studies at Cleveland State University. She is currently working on her book, Gender and the Politics of Peace: Cooperative Activism and Transnational Networks on the German Left, 1921-1983, and is a director of the Protest Spaces digital humanities project.

1. Penelope Eckert and Sally McConnell-Ginet, “Think Practically and Look Locally: Language and Gender as Community-Based Practice” Annual Review of Anthropology 21 (1992): 464.
2. Donatella della Porta, Maria Fabbri and Gianni Piazza, “Putting Protest in Place: Contested and Liberated Spaces in Three Campaigns,” in Nicholls, et al., Spaces of Contention: Spatialities and Social Movements (Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2013).
3. David Glassberg, Sense of History: The Place of the Past in American Life (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001), 6.

Peace History and U.S. Foreign Policy

Image courtesy of Roger Peace

Is it possible to cultivate a peace perspective while studying American wars? I think it is, if value-based questions are asked and a corresponding framework for analysis is offered.

The peacehistory-usfp.org website, which I am developing with the support of the Peace History Society and Historians Against the War, asks whether each foreign war fought by the United States was just and necessary. This is the entry point for critically evaluating U.S. wars and foreign policies.

The standards for evaluating wars are situated outside of Washington but within the real world. They are rooted in the developing moral architecture of international norms, including prohibitions against national aggression written into the Charter of the United Nations (1945), human rights guidelines as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and subsequent human rights treaties, and humanitarian laws governing the conduct of war as set forth in the Geneva Conventions of 1949.
Having taught many U.S. history survey courses at the community college level, including 35 “U.S. in the World” courses, I have struggled to find appropriate resources that offer alternative perspectives to the dominant nationalistic viewpoints that infuse undergraduate textbooks and popular websites. Wars are typically evaluated on the basis of whether American power and interests were advanced, with little concern for “just war” principles or the harm done to others.

The goal of the website is to fully examine every U.S. war and major foreign policy orientation over the course of 240 years. Thus far, four of the eighteen planned entries have been completed: War of 1812, U.S.-Mexican War, War of 1898 and U.S.-Filipino War, and Korean War. Each entry comprises a short book of 28,000-32,000 words (roughly 85-95 pages), supplemented with images.

I invite educators to utilize the website by assigning sections for student reading. Feedback is welcome. I also invite scholars to participate in developing new entries, whether by suggesting resources, creating outlines, writing sections, or reading drafts.
The website does not purport to reveal an “untold story,” but rather to parlay critical perspectives commonly found at higher levels of academia into accessible narratives for non-history majors and the general public (history majors will benefit as well). In the War of 1812 entry, for example, I relied on the authoritative accounts of historians Donald R. Hickey, Carl Benn, and Alan Taylor, experts on the subject, among others. The perspective put forth is “new” only in the sense that U.S. textbooks and popular history have privileged the official (Madison) administration viewpoint, minimizing or excluding British, Canadian, and Native American views, and treating dissenting Federalists and peace advocates as losers. It will nonetheless appear new to many.

Peace scholars have added much to our understanding of the role of peace movements and antiwar voices in policy debates and protests. The intent of the website is not to fashion the story around these movements and individuals, but to give them more prominence and highlight their critiques. Readers and students should become thoroughly familiar with the idea that the prospect of war has typically engendered intense debate and opposition, that U.S. leaders have often resorted to underhanded methods to push the nation into war, and that militant patriotism has been used to intimidate and silence antiwar voices.

Apart from historical entries, there are two other parts of the website that have yet to be developed. One is a subsection in “Resources” to be titled “For Educators,” which might include lesson plans and curricula/syllabi for courses. Another is the “Connections” section, which I envision as highlighting recent newspaper and website articles connecting past and present.

To take one example, the New York Times (9/7/16), in covering President Obama’s visit to Laos, reported that “the United States had dropped more than two million tons of bombs on this country during the height of the Vietnam War, more than it dropped on Germany and Japan during World War II.” Obama offered $30 million to help clean up the still-unexploded bombs, which “lie buried under fields and forests, killing and maiming thousands of children, farmers, and others who stumble on them.” The war has not ended for Laotians.

In the end, I hope that the website leads students and citizens to intelligently question both current and past U.S. foreign policies, and to consider alternative international arrangements that build on international cooperation, mutual security, and common problem-solving. More immediately, I hope it serves as an outreach vehicle for the Peace History Society and Historians Against the War.


Roger Peace earned his doctorate in American Foreign Relations from Florida State University and taught U.S. and world history courses for 17 years. Prior to teaching, he worked as a local peace organizer and foundation director for nearly two decades. He is the author of A Call to Conscience: The Anti-Contra War Campaign (University of Massachusetts Press, 2012). Contact him at rcpeace3@embarqmail.com.

Hear Peace Historian Geoff Smith’s CBC Interview on the 2016 US Presidential Race

Image Courtesy of Shutterstock

This week we begin a new feature in collaboration with the Peace History Society newsletter, currently under the editorship of Robert Shaffer of Shippensburg University. In the future, the Peace and Change Blog will periodically republish selected materials from the newsletter for our readership. Our goal is to introduce you to one of the key organizations behind Peace & Change and provide you with pieces about peace studies, current events, and other related topics of interest.

We begin our new series with an interview of PHS member – and recent winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award – Geoff Smith of Queen’s University about the recent U.S. presidential election, which aired on the Canadian Broadcasting Company. Commenting on the state of the Republican Party, Smith argues “that the Republican Party is not there anymore as a political vehicle.” Smith goes on to highlight Trump’s populist appeal, discussing how the Republican candidate has reached “out to groups in various areas of economic life that have been depressed, and that have been put down, people who feel aggrieved.”

Smith also discussed the issue of racism in the Republican Party, highlighting how Trump “stands for white America.” According to Smith, the key to a Democratic victory in November is to challenge Trump’s racist rhetoric and make it clear to the U.S. public that Trump is “not presidential.”

For those interested hearing more of the Smith’s thoughts on the current U.S. presidential election, follow this link for the full interview.

Lost Girls: Canada’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

By Eithne Leahy


About four months ago, I came upon a post on Tumblr. It was no more than three hundred words and unsourced (a serious red flag), but it seemed to strike a chord with me. When I took the position of social media intern for this blog back in January, I knew that this was something that I wanted to write about. Now, as May approaches, I can think of nothing better to leave with.

When researching this piece, for all intents and purposes, I went in blind. I knew nothing more about this issue than what a brief Google search told me- that rates of murdered and missing indigenous women in Canada were much higher compared to white and other non-native ethnicities. So when I emailed the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) and asked for an interview, I’m not sure what I expected. I definitely did not expect to find myself Skyping with Dr. Dawn Lavell-Harvard, president of the NWA’s Board of Directors. What I learned from my conversation with Dr. Lavell-Harvard is that the problem of violence towards indigenous women is neither a recent problem nor small-scale, but the culmination of generations of abuse and neglect from the Canadian government and society at large.

The NWAC was formed in 1974 as a consolidation of thirteen different indigenous women’s groups, all focused on the advancement of native women, who, since the implementation of the Indian Act in 1867, had lost all claim to their tribal identities except through their fathers. In other words, native women were only “Indian” through their relationships to their fathers and husbands. If a native woman married a nonnative person, she and her children would lose their “native” status. This law remained in practice until April 1985, when Bill C-31 forced an amendment to the Indian Act, stating that, pursuant to section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the gender discrimination enforced by the Indian Act was unethical as well as unlawful.[i]

The Indian Act was not the start of violence against indigenous women, just as the passing of Bill C-31 was not the end. In 2013, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) released a report on a national investigation into the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women and released some disturbing statistics. Since 1980, there have been 1,181 reports indigenous women who have either gone missing or been murdered. As of 2011, the indigenous population counted as 4.3% of Canada’s total population. As one of Canada’s smallest ethnic groups, it has one of the highest numbers of murdered and missing women.  It is important to note that there additionally untold hundreds of cases every year that go unreported. According to Dr. Lavell-Harvard, going to the police is not always a safe option for indigenous women.

Starlight tours, as they have come to be known, are one of the possibilities deterring indigenous women from reporting crimes. Starlight tours involve police officers, usually men, taking indigenous men and women out of towns and cities and leaving them in the cold to find their way home. When women are involved, rape threats are usually involved as well. In the winter, this can be a death sentence, as it has been time and time again[ii]

The dehumanization of native women does not stop here. The rates of native women in poverty are exponential compared to other ethnic identities. First Nations communities have extremely high risks of suicide, poverty, and Child Welfare Apprehension (known in the US as Child Protection Services) call-ins, as well as unusually high rates of murdered and missing women. As Dr. Lavell-Harvard said, “Racism and sexism have existed in Canada since time immemorial, and history is dependent on the displacement and dehumanization of indigenous peoples.” This rings all too true, especially in regards to First Nations children.

In September 2014, the provincial government of Manitoba was made subject of an inquiry. The inquiry focused on allegations of mistreatment and neglect of children by the state, but also unveiled some disturbing practices. According to the allegations, the CWA in Manitoba, after running out of beds in foster homes and shelters, checked young children into Best Westerns around Winnipeg and left them unsupervised. This practice came under fire after the brutal sexual assault of a fifteen-year-old native girl.[iii]

After the inquiry was released, judges and lawyers in Manitoba advocated for the children to be taken out of hotels and placed back into foster homes. With no room in the shelters, these children were sent to youth detention centers, and incarcerated alongside violent young people. Suicide rates among these children (many of whom are indigenous) have skyrocketed.[iv] Many of these children remain in police custody pending foster placement.

The past ten years has seen a surge of interest in this issue. After the RCMP released its report in 2013, the UN Human Rights’ Commission released a report, berating the Canadian government for its failure to protect indigenous women and girls. The Human Rights Watch has begun an inquiry, a CBC, one of Canada’s leading news sources, maintains a series of articles dedicated to missing and murdered indigenous women. Dr. Lavell-Harvard also expressed optimism for Trudeau’s administration, as justice for indigenous women was ne of his major campaign issues. She was however, very adamant that, as strange as it sounds, Trudeau is just one Prime Minister. For Lavell-Harvard’s vision of justice, there must be multiple administrations with similar attitudes spanning at least a decade. As she said, one “cannot address within one term of office decades of neglect.”


Learn how you can get involved at http://www.nwac.ca


Edit: As of May 10, 2016, Canada has officially adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a document which recognizes the rights of self-determination, language preservation, and land ownership.[v] Whether this will have any affect on the epidemic of violence against indigenous women remains to be seen.



[i] http://www.ictinc.ca/indian-act-and-women’s-status-discrimination-via-bill-c-31-bill-c-3

[ii]  http://www.cbc.ca/news2/background/aboriginals/starlighttours.html

[iii] http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/manitoba-ends-placement-of-foster-children-in-hotels-across-the-province/article27538419/?service=mobile

[iv] http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/lack-of-foster-spots-keep-manitoba-kids-in-jail-watchdog-says/article23963168/?service=mobile

[v] http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/aboriginal/canada-adopting-implementing-un-rights-declaration-1.3575272

Writing a Twentieth Century American Peace History Textbook for Students

By Chuck Howlett, Molloy College

Chuck Howlett is a professor at Molloy College with an extensive background in peace studies. His previous works include Troubled Philosopher: John Dewey and the Struggle for World Peace (Kennikat, 1977) and Brookwood Labor College and the Struggle for Peace and Social Justice (Mellen Press, 1993) among others. His newest textbook,  The American Peace and Justice Movement from the Early Twentieth Century to the Present hit the shelves in April 2016 and is available in both paper- and hardback through Amazon and other booksellers.


   There are many worthy scholarly surveys detailing the history of the struggle for peace in America’s past. One can easily consult Merle Curti’s classic, Peace or War: The American Struggle, 1636-1936 (1936), Arthur A. Ekirch, Jr’s (my mentor) The Civilian and the Military (1956), Charles DeBenedetti’s The Peace Reform in American History (1980), which deservedly updated Curti’s important contribution to the study of peace efforts, Charles Chatfield’s The American Peace Movement: Ideals and Activism (1992), which addresses the peace movement from a social theory perspective, and, more recently, the very large survey by Charles F. Howlett & Robbie Lieberman, A History of the American Peace Movement from Colonial Times to the Present (2008). Each of these works is richly detailed and thoroughly documented with comprehensive end notes. These works, however, are designed more for scholarly audiences than undergraduate students interested in learning more about the peace/antiwar movement in the nation’s past.

    Rather interestingly, it was Lewis Paul Todd of Teachers College, Columbia University, and Merle Curti, who formerly taught there and then went on to a distinguished scholarly career at the University of Wisconsin, who were the first to include a discussion of the history of the American peace movement in their very popular high school textbook, America’s History (1951). Naturally, textbook publishers of American history textbooks were reluctant to address peace activism given the emphasis placed upon patriotic citizenship in social studies classrooms. However, despite the post-World War II Cold War atmosphere, the enormous cost of blood and treasure exacted from the war and the advent of the atomic, then, nuclear, bomb convinced the authors that it was time to remind the nation’s secondary school students that the struggle for peace was, indeed, part of the American experience.

    Unfortunately, the aftershocks of McCarthyism and the post-World War I Wilsonian internationalists were consumed by the Cold War and need to contain the spread of communism. The textbooks being published at the time chose to emphasize America’s military successes at the cost of defining the contributions made by peace activists. Peace through strength, a theme we are currently hearing in the Presidential primaries, became the mantra defining America’s greatness in the twentieth century. Only the Todd-Curti textbook survived the test of time.

    The Vietnam War provided renewed enthusiasm for the development of peace history and peace studies. Although numerous scholars began creating peace history courses there still was no textbook designed specifically for student use. The scholarly surveys above clearly fulfilled their mission, of course. Peace educators, like David Barash and Ian Harris, were more effective in developing peace texts, although not from a historical perspective. These works were more practical as manuals in terms of how to work for peace within the context of presentism. In large measure, the pioneering efforts of Morton Deutsch of Columbia Teachers College made peace studies a respectable endeavor and his ideas were certainly incorporated by Barash, and Harris, among others.

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    Given these circumstances and the current realities of world politics marked by a failed mission in Iraq, the widespread growth of terrorism, and, of course, the events surrounding the 9/11 attacks on American soil, I decided to revise, reorganize, and develop a simple narrative text addressing the role of peace activism in the United States from the time of World War I, a turning point in global history, to the present. My first debt of gratitude, of course, belongs to Robbie Lieberman. During the Iraq War, I invited Robbie to collaborate with me on a comprehensive survey of the American peace movement. The above-mentioned work is the fruit of our combined efforts. The work received very positive reviews, but like most surveys it did not provide a substantial analysis of all the peace organizations and the leadership issues surrounding their successes or failures. The same could be said for all the movements related to peacework, past and present. However, it served its purpose in terms and breadth and scope. My second debt is to Scott Bennett. He suggested that I take on the assignment of developing an inexpensive text in paperback suitable for classroom adoption. That was the hard part. While I knew how to strategically put together a reliable textbook, the real problem was affordability for students given how expensive textbooks are today

   While I invited Robbie to partake in this new adventure, I appreciated her response that she had numerous outside and administrative tasks to address and therefore could not participate. Hence, given my own background teaching in the Division of Education at Molloy College and determination to follow through on Scott’s recommendation, I tailored the textbook to the most relevant aspects of the twentieth century and the fact that the most dynamic aspects of peace activism were in response to the world wars and regional global conflicts such as Korea, Vietnam, antinuclear activism so compelling described by Larry Wittner’s excellent global analysis, and the Middle East, currently ongoing. Let me explain how the textbook, The American Peace and Justice Movement from the Early Twentieth Century to the Present was constructed and why educators can use it with their students. What should be considered in terms of content and pedagogy in the current political and cultural environment?

Howlett, Charles Cover Photo American Peace and Justice Movement (1).JPG

    First, with respect to content, there are two very important themes I attempted to convey. The first theme I wanted to express is that peace activists in American history are not really obstructionists; they are the embodiment and expression of what democracy is all about. Their right to dissent from war is based on a careful analysis of social, political, and economic events and a strong desire to make America a better place in which to live. Second, when looking at the facts, the individuals and organizations working for peace are not unpatriotic. It’s just the opposite because they truly care about their society; they are not out to destroy it but to improve it.

    Both of these concepts can be developed into pedagogy for teaching peace history. As I noted many years ago in the American Historical Association pamphlet with Glen Zeitzer, The American Peace Movement: History and Historiography (1985): “American historians for the most part continue to view peace history as a separate discipline and have not sought to integrate peace research into their own work….[P]eace history remains a tangential part of America’s history.” Sadly, and a motivating reason for developing this particular text, is that “When peace movements…have been included in textbooks, diplomatic studies, or histories of domestic America, it has often been pejoratively, in order to criticize pacifists as obstructionists or traitors to the realpolitik patriotism of the national policy known as war. The justification for omitting peace history has been that without war, or at least the threat of war, pacifism is merely a reactive ideology, with little to offer on its own.” Yet, the record does show that not only do pacifists, for example, oppose war and armaments, they also embrace social justice issues like pollution, racism, worker oppression, and colonialism. Peacework is an active ideology in that these activists have presented and continue to present “unique alternative to the policies they oppose.”

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Demonstration against conscription in Times Square, New York, New York, 1916, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom Records.  Photo courtesy of the Swarthmore College Peace Collection.

    Structurally and in terms of content in order to drive home these concepts, I first wrote an introductory chapter that covered the origins and actions of the history of the peace movement from colonial times to the end of the nineteenth century. In this chapter I touched upon the main themes of religious non-resisters, most notably the Society of Friends and the work of John Woolman who exemplified peace action described in his journal as not only one of opposing violence and war but also criticizing the evils of slavery. I proceeded to describe the origins of the organized peace movement and its conservative and religious humanitarian outlook while criticizing it for lacking any real understanding of the economic causes leading to war—a charge Curti effective made in his important study. The work of Elihu Burritt and how he effectively used peace propaganda is included, which emphasizes the activist perspective mentioned above. Also included are discussions related to the growth of international arbitration at the turn of the new century. Simply put, the design of the book is to set the tone and substance of what is to follow and to demonstrate that Americans working for world peace and justice has always been part of the nation’s experience.

    It is after that initial chapter when I launch into my narrative in lively detail discussing the emergence of a more radical form of peace activism emerging from World War I. What I attempt to do is contrast the respectable work of peace activism before the war to a more wide-ranging examination of peace efforts addressing not only the problem of war and internationalism but also racial justice and the role of the labor movement. The defining aspect here is that the postwar peace movement, captured by the efforts of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the American Friends Service Committee, the War Resisters League, and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, now began to publicize the idea that peace is more than the absence of war. It is also about justice!

    Thus throughout the remaining chapters not only are the events discussed surrounding opposition to America’s wars in the twentieth century but also some of the emerging leaders like A.J. Muste, Jane Addams, Jessie Wallace Hughan, Emily Greene Balch, Martin Luther King, Jr., and a host of others. One telling point in terms of pedagogy is that the peace movement that evolved after World War I is largely defined by the seminal role women played in it. In contrast to the male-dominated movement in the nineteenth century, the new movement was greatly influenced by female activists who had tied their struggle for suffrage to the battle for peace. At the same time, explanations are provided for how the organized peace movement called for an end to racial discrimination in America through helping to establish the Congress of Racial Equality during World War II to participating in the Journeys of Reconciliation in the late 1940s and early 1960s. The early 1970s revolt on the part of Native Americans for justice is also discussed as part of the larger narrative for peace.


Eugene V. Debs speaking in Canton, Ohio, 1917. Photo courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society

    Looking at the movement in terms of political success, the narrative addresses how the peace movement sought to mediate the conflict between American Marines and Augusto Sandino in Nicaragua in the late 1920s, how it played an important role in supporting the Washington Naval Arms Limitation Treaty of 1921-22, influencing the treaty to outlaw war in 1928, although flawed but nonetheless an expression of postwar peace sentiment, the US Senate examining the munitions industry—“Merchants of Death”—on the part of the Nye Committee in 1934-35, the adoption of the 1973 War Powers Act stemming from the Vietnam War, the origins of anti-nuclear activism during the 1950s to the “Freeze” in the 1980s, the popularity of the sanctuary movement in the 1980s—this can be tied to the ongoing immigration debate today—and the influence and role of the internet in mobilizing worldwide support for peace during the Iraq War. These are just some examples the text addresses and, which can be used for discussion purposes in the classroom.

    What should make this text appealing to students is that it is written in narrative form and seeks to minimize quoted material. Since this work is derived from the much larger survey Robbie and I co-wrote, interested parties can refer to the extensive citations listed in the back of that work. Another feature is that the book tries to tell a story through each chapter. Although designed as a textbook, the narrative is told in complete chapter form and is not broken down into subtopics. Purposely, I chose to frame it in such a way that instructors can use it to develop appropriate essential questions for in-class discussion as well as encouraging students to read it for critical comprehension. Rather than developing a set of questions for each chapter, which is normally found in textbooks, I decided to let the narrative speak for itself.

    Lastly, there is included a few illustrations and charts tailored to highlight the topic under discussion. While I wanted to include a number of images as part of the text, the cost was prohibitive. So, to compensate for that, I included a series of appendices. These appendices were created to assist students get a better feel for the history of peace activism itself. Included are a list of notable peace leaders, a chronology of events, a brief description of peace organizations, and some primary source documents. The tone, substance, and balance of this textbook resulted in a paperback edition of close to three hundred pages and priced, presently, at $39.95.

    By focusing on new insights and interpretations that demonstrate knowledge of the field, it is my hope that students will become more familiar with how democracy encourages citizens to play an active role in the struggle for peace. This particular exercise was designed to demonstrate to students that individuals like them took an active interest in issues such as peace and justice from a grassroots perspective and that their non-governmental participation can not only improve our democratic way of life but make it better.

    Equally important, while the popular culture may not give much credence to studying peace history, it certainly cannot ignore the reality for scholars that writing a textbook about peace and antiwar movements helps refine the process of thinking about the critical issues of the day. The purpose is thus very simple. It is to achieve one very important common objective, which was so eloquently stated by publisher Alfred A. Knopf.  When Knopf asked the eminent Columbia University cultural historian Jacques Barzun to write a book about teaching all Barzun could do was ask why? Knopf, in his own inimitable way, succinctly responded: “the substance of what we think, though born in thought, must live in ink.”                                             



This past week I attended the 63rd Annual Meeting of the Rocky Mountain Conference for Latin American Studies hosted by the Rocky Mountain Council for Latin American Studies (RMCLAS) in Santa Fe, NM. While at the conference, I attended a number of panels and roundtables that presented scholarship and teaching practices that might prove interesting to peace and activist scholars.

Transnationalism proved a popular topic at the conference with three panels and a roundtable discussion dedicated to the theme. It is also not surprising that I attended these panels considering that I examine transnational networks. One particular panel, titled “Without Passports: International Solidarity in the Cold War,” presented a different views on international cooperation between North American and Latin American activists. In “International Agents: Locating Transnationalism in the Chicano Movement,” University of New Mexico graduate student Victor Andrew Oneschuck detailed the connections between the Chicano movement and political movements in Cuba and Nicaragua. Taylor Perk, also a graduate student at the University of New Mexico examined the often contested relationship between U.S. and Chilean Maoists with his paper titled “A World to Win: Chile, the United States, and the Formation of Maoism.” Finally, Griselda Jarquin, a graduate student at the University of California, Davis, discussed the transnational activism of The Berkeley-Leon Sister City Association during the Nicaraguan Revolution.

Sprinkled among the various panels were a number of other papers that addressed activism in Latin America. Claudia Rueda, a professor at Texas A&M at Corpus Cristi, detailed the relationship between Nicaraguan students and U.S. diplomats in the 1960s with her paper, “Unlikely Bedfellows: Nicaraguan Students and their Allies in the 1960s.” In a look at more contemporary Latin American protest, Cheryl Jiménez Frei, a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Santa Barbara, examined monuments and memorials as sites of political protest and contestation in modern Buenos Aires in her paper, “Public Protest, Performance, and Participation: Shaping Historical Memory and the Monumental Landscape in Buenos Aires.”a. In the same panel, Sarah Cline, a professor of history at University of California, Santa Barbara, highlighted the importance of Wikipedia as a space for academics to participate in public history, arguing that creating content for the digital encyclopedia would reach far more readers than is possible with traditional scholarly publications.

One panel that might be particularly interesting to the readership of Peace and Change addressed the current legal struggles of Central Americans seeking asylum in the United States. Elizabeth Hutchison (ehutch@unm.edu) and Kimberly Gauderman (kgaud@unm.edu), both faculty at the University of New Mexico, joined Maria Baldini-Poterman and Natalie Hansen (natalie@hansentaylor.com), both lawyers specializing in asylum cases, to discuss the experiences of and difficulties faced by those fleeing Central America out of fear for their own safety. For many fleeing Central American violence, their experience in the United States is little better than the one the left, with many being held for months, and sometimes years, in squalid detention centers along the border. If denied asylum, many refugees are deported back to their home country where a majority fall victim to the violence they fled. In response, the presenters highlighted the need for scholars as “expert witnesses” and issued a call to action, asking that those interested provide their emails in order to join a growing database of academics and other experts willing to help those seeking asylum. Although the database itself is still being created, the panelists advised those interested in joining the list of expert witnesses to contact them and to visit the University of California, Hastings College of Law’s Center for Gender and Refugee Studies or the Executive Office for Immigration Review.

Finally, in a roundtable discussion of gaming and history education, of which the author was a participant, participants engaged in a discussion of various interactive teaching methods. A subject of significant discussion was Reacting to the Past (RTTP), a role-playing experience in which students assume the role of a historical figure in a historical scenario. Scenarios can be found at the RTTP website, along with guides for instructors. Many of participants in the discussion had used Reacting to the Past in their classrooms and had significant praise for the gamified learning experience.

In sum, RMCLAS 2016 was once again a fantastic experience. There is a significant and growing study of Latin American activism, particularly in the transnational twentieth century, and significant spaces for scholars to engage in public discourses on pedagogy and politics. Ultimately, it was encouraging to find the places where are others are engaging the intersections between peace history and Latin American Studies.