Reflections on the Peace Testimony

By Janet Hilliker

Friends have held the peace testimony for centuries now, yet it seems to me that we do not always grasp the wider implications of that testimony.

I was born in Naples, Italy, shortly after World War II. My father, a conscientious objector, joined the Foreign Service. As a U.S. diplomat, he hoped to help create a world of peace. My mother, newly pregnant, was uprooted from her Midwestern roots to move with my father to his first foreign assignment. She often told me how wrenching it was to be far from family and friends during her pregnancy, and especially to observe the small orphans of Naples begging in the streets. I absorbed the fact that war causes poverty.

As a child, I lived for four years in Helsinki, Finland. At my school, many of my classmates were children of other diplomats, so in addition to Finns, I played with Chinese, French, and Canadian kids, as well as Americans. The children I did not play with were the kids of the Soviet soldiers stationed in Helsinki. Their separate school was behind a high wall; they were not allowed outside it. Because the Finns had lost a war— and a large piece of their country—to the Soviets just before World War II, a large Soviet army group occupied Finland during the 1950’s. Hate and fear as results of war were part of my childhood.

The year I began college, my father became the Consul General of Recife, Brazil. After my freshman year, I spent the summer with my family there. Never before had I seen such intense poverty: slums called “favelas” on the hillsides, emaciated people begging, and victims of drought vainly seeking jobs. Environmental destruction and economic inequality became causes of violence. I also realized the role which the United States played: That we had militarily supported the overthrow of the elected president of Brazil because he was a leftist, that we stationed gunships and a nuclear submarine in Rio de Janeiro to threaten grassroots organizers for change, whom we deemed “communists.”

Curiously, in Brazil there was less of a “color bar” than in the United States. People with some African ancestry were able to hold high political office. The concept of being “black” if you had some slave ancestors was very foreign to Brazilian minds. Many people were mixtures of Native American, African, and European, and this was considered normal. I recognized how peculiar our American prejudices are. From these and other experiences, I learned to think of myself as a world citizen, not just as “an American.” We often express ourselves as being against war because it kills human beings who have “that of God” in them. Certainly this is one reason, but we need to make connections beyond that.

Please consider these queries:

     1.       Do I realize how much environmental degradation war causes?

     2.       When our country uses war and the threat of war, do I understand how angry people around the world feel at such bullying? Do I rebel at the concept of the U.S. as “cop of the world”?

     3.       Can I link the destruction of war with the poverty of many people in the world?

     4.       Do I connect race and poverty in our country with the growth of our “volunteer” army?                

5.      Can I move beyond my self-definition as “an American” and become a world citizen?