Home > Uncategorized > W.E.B. Du Bois: Work for Peace

W.E.B. Du Bois: Work for Peace

====

Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

American writers on peace and against war

====

W.E.B. Du Bois
From Work for Peace
Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois (1963)

336px-motto_web_dubois_original

*****

“Leading this new colonial imperialism comes my own native land, built by my father’s toil and blood, the United States. The United States is a great nation; rich by grace of God and prosperous by the hard work of its humblest citizens…Drunk with power we are leading the world to hell in a new colonialism with the same old human slavery which once ruined us; and to a Third World War which will ruin the world.”

“I represent millions of citizens of the United States who are just as opposed to war as you are. But it is not easy for American citizens either to know the truth about the world or to express it.”

The half-billion persons in the world who signed the Stockholm Appeal and the billion who would have signed if given the chance, were moved not by the thought of defending the Soviet Union so much as by the desire to prevent modern culture from relapsing into primitive barbarism.

“Manifestly, to meet this hysteria, it is not so much a question of the concept of war under any circumstances, as the far deeper problem of getting the truth to the masses of the citizens of the United States who still in overwhelming majority hate murder, crippling destruction and insanity, as a means of progress. By personal contact, by honest appeal, by knowing the truth ourselves, we can yet win the peace in America. But it is going to take guts and the willingness to jeopardize jobs and respectability…”

*****

My connection with the peace movement had been long. Even in my college days I had vowed never to take up arms. I wrote in The Crisis in 1913 concerning the meeting of the peace societies at St. Louis:

“Peace today, if it means anything, means the stopping of the slaughter of the weaker by the stronger in the name of Christianity and culture. The modern lust for land and slaves in Africa, Asia,and the South Seas is the greatest and almost the only cause of war between the so-called civilized peoples. For such ‘colonial’ aggression and ‘imperial’ expansion, England, France, Germany, Russia, and Austria are straining every nerve to arm themselves; against such policies Japan and China are arming desperately. And yet the American peace movement thinks it bad policy to take up this problem of machine guns, natives, and rubber, and wants ‘constructive’ work in ‘arbitration treaties and international law.’ For our part we think that a little less dignity and dollars and a little more humanity would make the peace movement in America a great democratic philanthropy instead of an aristocratic refuge.”

At the Congress of Versailles in 1919, my contribution was the Pan-African Congresses, and appeals to the Mandate Commission and the International Labor Organization. In 1945, as consultant to the American delegation to the UNO in San Francisco, I tried to stress the colonial question. I wrote May 16, 1945:

“The attempt to write an International Bill of Rights into the San Francisco Conference without any specific mention of the people living in colonies seems to me a most unfortunate procedure. If it were clearly understood that freedom of speech, freedom from want and freedom from fear, which the nations are asked to guarantee, would without question be extended to the 750 million people who live in colonial areas, this would be a great and fateful step. But the very fact that these people, forming the most depressed peoples in the world, with 90 per cent illiteracy, extreme poverty and a prey to disease, who hitherto for the most part have been considered as sources of profit and not included in the democratic development of the world; and whose exploitation for three centuries has been a prime cause of war, turmoil, and suffering – the omission of specific reference to these peoples is almost advertisement of their tacit exclusion as not citizens of free states, and that their welfare and freedom would be considered only at the will of the countries owning them and not at the demand of enlightened world public opinion.”

On February 5, 1949, O. John Rogge, formerly U.S. Assistant Attorney-General, wrote me:

“The recent development in American-Soviet relations places a new emphasis on the need for a meeting such as our Cultural and Scientific Conference for World Peace. Certainly intellectuals today are faced with no greater challenge than to give the best of their talent, skills, and special knowledge to the problem of how we achieve a real peace.

“We are most eager to make this Conference a real contribution to the solution of the problems that now block the way to peace. For that reason we are asking you and a small group of key individuals among our sponsors to meet with us to help in the preparation of the subject matter and program as well as speakers for this Conference…”

The conference took place in March 1949, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York, and marked an era in the cultural history of the United States. It was sponsored by 550 of the outstanding leaders of American cultural and liberal thought. It succeeded in bringing together an extraordinary representation of the leaders of modern culture, and especially cultural leaders of the Soviet Union.

So rabid was its reception by the American press, that a concerted and directed movement against peace and in favor of war against the Soviet Union was made clear. Distinguished cultural figures like Picasso were refused visas to attend. The meeting became a matter of bitter recrimination; the sessions were picketed,and the distortion of the whole enterprise in the press was unprecedented.

Thus a conference called by persons of the highest standing in science, literature and art, and conceived with the best motives, became as the New York Times said, one of “the most controversial meetings in recent New York history”; and a signal expression of the witch-hunting and calumny in this nation which drove free speech and the right to inquire and reason into almost total eclipse.

At the final meeting in Madison Square Garden I said in introducing the Chairman, Harlow Shapley:

“We know and the saner nations know that we are not traitors nor conspirators; and far from plotting force and violence it is precisely force and violence that we bitterly oppose. This conference was not called to defend communism nor socialism nor the American way of life. It was called to promote peace! It was called to say and say again that no matter how right or wrong differing systems of beliefs in religion, industry, or government may be, war is not the method by which their differences can successfully be settled for the good of mankind.”

The next month I was urged by O. John Rogge, Albert E. Kahn, and others to attend a world peace meeting in Paris. The American committee offered to pay a part of my expense, and I paid the rest. I went to what seems to me to have been the greatest demonstration for peace in modern times. For four days witnesses from nearly every country in the world set forth the horrors of war and the necessity of peace if civilization was to survive. On the concluding Sunday, 500,000 pilgrims from all parts of France, coming on foot, by automobiles, by train and plane, filed through the vast Buffalo Stadium crying, “Peace, no more war!” At this Conference I emphasized colonialism and said:

“Let us not be misled. The real cause of the differences which threaten world war is not the spread of socialism or even of the complete socialism which communism envisages. Socialism is spreading all over the world and even in the United States…Against this spread of socialism, one modern institution is working desperately and that is colonialism, and colonialism has been and is and ever will be one of the chief causes of war…Leading this new colonial imperialism comes my own native land, built by my father’s toil and blood, the United States. The United States is a great nation; rich by grace of God and prosperous by the hard work of its humblest citizens…Drunk with power we are leading the world to hell in a new colonialism with the same old human slavery which once ruined us; and to a Third World War which will ruin the world.”

On Monday, April 25th, during the last session of the Congress, a Peace Manifesto was adopted. This historic document whose preamble declared it was drawn up by representatives of the people of 72 countries, “men and women of every creed, philosophy, color, and type of civilization,” solemnly proclaimed that “the defense of Peace is henceforth the concern of all peoples.” In the name of the 600 million represented, the Congress sent out this message: “We are ready and resolved to win the battle for Peace, which means to win the battle for Life.”

The Congress adjourned and the delegates returned to their 72 countries.

In July 1949, I joined with Linus Pauling, John Clark, Uta Hagen and O. John Rogge to call an “American Continental Congress for World Peace” to be held in Mexico City in September.

Again in August 1949, 25 prominent Americans were asked to attend an all-Soviet peace conference in Moscow. For reasons which arose directly from the violent reception given the peace congress in March, I was the only one who accepted the invitation. I addressed the 1,000 persons present:

“I represent millions of citizens of the United States who are just as opposed to war as you are. But it is not easy for American citizens either to know the truth about the world or to express it. This is true despite the intelligence and wealth and energy of the United States. Perhaps I can best perform my duty to my country and to the cause of world peace by taking a short time to explain the historic reasons for the part which the United States is playing in the world today. I can do this the more appropriately because I represent that large group of 15 million Americans, one tenth of the nation, who in a sense explain America’s pressing problems…”

My trip to the Soviet Union made it impossible for me to get to the Congress in Mexico City, but I watched with interest other peace conferences: in Cuba in August; in Australia in April 1950; the delegations to the Parliaments of the world, projected by the Defenders of Peace in Paris in February 1950. I joined a group to welcome persons selected to come here, including the Dean of Canterbury, and the great painter, Picasso. They were refused visas. A Mid-Century Conference for Peace was called by the Committee for Peaceful Alternatives in May 1950, in which I was asked to conduct a panel; but a previous engagement kept me away. I was asked to attend the meeting of the Executive Committee of the Paris Defenders of Peace in Prague in August 1951, and accepted. This meeting was to call a Second World Congress and make a new plea for disarmament.

But before this meeting, we had succeeded in forming in the United States an organization to work for peace. This was the Peace Information Center. There were about 60 Americans who attended the World Congress of the Defenders of Peace in Paris in April 1950. We were all tremendously impressed and discussed many times the question as to what we could do when we returned to America. We did nothing for nearly a year, because in the state of hysteria and war-mongering which we found in the United States, it was not at all clear as to what could be done legally.

Finally I received this telegram from O. John Rogge:

“Strongly urge your participation meeting my house 400 East 52 Street at 8 o’clock Wednesday evening March 1st. Purpose is to discuss certain vital problems relating to current activities for promotion of world peace.”

I went to the meeting and found that the 30 or 40 persons attending had already in previous meetings been exploring methods of organizing for peace in the United States. The first idea seemed to have been a federation of the various peace movements in the United States already in existence. That had fallen through. Then a committee to welcome the prominent advocates of peace who proposed to visit the United States proved useless when they were refused visas. We appointed a committee to explore possibilities.

A number of the participants in this initial meeting went to Europe to attend a meeting of the Bureau of the Defenders of Peace in Stockholm, and also to visit Russia under the plan of approaching Parliaments in the interests of peace. Our committee adopted a plan which seemed to us all unusually apt and legal, and that was, as we decided at a later meeting in a private home, to form a Peace Information Center, the object of which should be simply to tell the people of the United States what other nations were doing and thinking about war.

Johannes Steele suggested that we publish what he called a “Peacegram” at intervals, and in that way we could collect information and send it over the United States. The proposal to organize was made by the chairman of the committee, Elizabeth Moos, and we proceeded to locate offices and start organized work. In July, Mrs. Moos, on account of ill health, resigned with regret after having put the organization on its feet.

Abbott Simon, a young veteran interested in work among youth, was her obvious successor and became our executive secretary from July to our dissolution. Kyrle Elkin was a young businessman, educated at Harvard, and engaged in small manufacturing. He had never been especially active in social work, but was attracted by our program, and in his quiet way helped us by accepting the duties of treasurer.

We all worked together smoothly and effectively. We issued the “Peacegrams,” and then reprinted and circulated the “Stockholm Appeal” to abolish the atom bomb. We distributed this over the nation, and collected in all 2,500,000 signatures. We printed and distributed other demands and arguments for peace, like the Red Cross Appeal, the statement of the Friends, and many others.

The half-billion persons in the world who signed the Stockholm Appeal and the billion who would have signed if given the chance, were moved not by the thought of defending the Soviet Union so much as by the desire to prevent modern culture from relapsing into primitive barbarism.

The first direct public attack on the Peace Information Center came in a broadside from the United States Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, released July 12 (New York Times, July 13, 1950):

“I am sure that the American people will not be fooled by the so-called ‘world peace appeal’ or ‘Stockholm resolution’ now being circulated in this country for signatures. It should be recognized for what it is – a propaganda trick in the spurious ‘peace offensive’ of the Soviet Union…”

I replied immediately on July 14, saying in a release to the press:

“The main burden of your opposition to this Appeal and to our efforts lies in the charge that we are part of a ‘spurious peace offensive’ of the Soviet Union. Is it our strategy that when the Soviet Union asks for peace, we insist on war? Must any proposals for averting atomic catastrophe be sanctified by Soviet opposition? Have we come to the tragic pass where, by declaration of our own Secretary of State, there is no possibility of mediating our differences with the Soviet Union? Does it not occur to you, Sir, that there are honest Americans who, regardless of their differences on other questions, hate and fear war and are determined to do something to avert it?…

“We have got to live in the world with Russia and China. If we worked together with the Soviet Union against the menace of Hitler, can we not work with them again at a time when only faith can save us from utter atomic disaster? Certainly hundreds of millions of colonial peoples in Asia, Africa, Latin America and elsewhere, conscious of our support of Chiang Kai-shek, Bao Dai and the colonial system, and mindful of the oppressive discrimination against the Negro people in the United States, would feel that our intentions also must be accepted on faith.

“Today in this country it is becoming standard reaction to call anything ‘communist’ and therefore subversive and unpatriotic, which anybody for any reason dislikes. We feel strongly that this tactic has already gone too far; that it is not sufficient today to trace a proposal to a communist source in order to dismiss it with contempt.

“We are a group of Americans, who upon reading this Peace Appeal, regard it as a true, fair statement of what we ourselves and many countless other Americans believed. Regardless of our other beliefs and affiliations, we united in this organization for the one and only purpose of informing the American people on the issues of peace.”

The Peace Information Center continued its work. The evidence of the desire for peace came in from all parts of the United States, and especially from those regions where the newspapers were suppressing information. Surprising interest and support came to us especially from the West and South.

In August, I had a cablegram from Paris inviting me to attend as a guest the meeting of the Bureau of the World Congress of the Defenders of Peace in Prague. They were meeting for two main purposes: to broaden the Stockholm Appeal by asking for disarmament; and to arrange a Second World Peace Congress. I regarded this as important and applied for extension of my passport.

It took ten days of deliberation in Washington and two telephone calls before permission came. Even then it was carefully limited to 60 days in Czechoslovakia and “necessary lands” enroute, and “was not to be validated for additional countries without the express authorization of the Department of State.” I felt like a prisoner on parole.

When asked at Prague to speak, I said:

“For 50 years I have been in touch with social currents in the United States. Never before has organized reaction wielded the power it does today: by ownership of press and radio, by curtailment of free speech, by imprisonment of liberal thinkers and writers. It has become almost impossible today in my country even to hold a public rally for peace. This has been accomplished by inducing Americans to believe that America is in imminent danger of aggression from communism, socialism and liberalism, and that the peace movement cloaks this threat…

“Manifestly, to meet this hysteria, it is not so much a question of the concept of war under any circumstances, as the far deeper problem of getting the truth to the masses of the citizens of the United States who still in overwhelming majority hate murder, crippling destruction and insanity, as a means of progress. By personal contact, by honest appeal, by knowing the truth ourselves, we can yet win the peace in America. But it is going to take guts and the willingness to jeopardize jobs and respectability…”

After this meeting in Prague where the Bureau of the Defenders of Peace finally voted to broaden the “Stockholm Appeal” so as to ask for disarmament and condemn aggression and armed intervention, I started home; but on my way I received two messages in Paris, which led to a political campaign and a criminal indictment.

Advertisements
Categories: Uncategorized
  1. rosemerry
    December 5, 2011 at 7:53 am

    As a person who has been involved in peace and justice movements most of my life, I had NEVER heard of this wonderful man or of the conferences he writes about. What does this say about the information surrounding us all in the years between the end of WW2 and now? So much discussion of the “change” in the USA towards belligerence, which has, it is clear, never disappeared thoroughout the history of the nation. Obama is following in the same footsteps, with new enemies, but continuing the push against Russia twenty years after the communist régime was replaced.
    I remember the anti-Vietnam -War marches and the accusations of “proSoviet” thrown at us for any suggestions of peace, and I always wondered why it was only the Soviet Union which was allowed to encourage peace. Now the list of enemies has grown, but the old ones are retained. China is blamed for using its powers to grow and invest in other lands while the “West” invades and destroys them. “Terrorism” is fought, as if it could be, by violent means and threats, while real problems of war, poverty, environmental destruction are relegated to the bin.

    • richardrozoff
      December 5, 2011 at 3:59 pm

      Thanks for picking up on the significance and relevance of Du Bois’ comments.
      What struck me, especially with the excerpts I italicized at the top of the feature, is how what he wrote about concerning the immediate post-World War Two period has been revived and expanded to an if anything more dangerous level and degree over the past twenty years – in the post-Cold War era.

    • richardrozoff
      December 5, 2011 at 4:32 pm

      I was particularly struck by these comments:

      “I represent millions of citizens of the United States who are just as opposed to war as you are. But it is not easy for American citizens either to know the truth about the world or to express it.”

      “By personal contact, by honest appeal, by knowing the truth ourselves, we can yet win the peace in America. But it is going to take guts and the willingness to jeopardize jobs and respectability.”

      The three words no one is permitted to utter in the United States, even at an Occupy rally: Peace, war and military.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: