The Missing Peace: The Search for Nonviolent Alternatives in United States History

George Crowell

The Conrad Grebel Review 20, no. 2 (Spring 2002)

James C. Juhnke and Carol M. Hunter, The Missing Peace: The Search for
Nonviolent Alternatives in United States History. Kitchener, ON: Pandora
Press, 2001; co-published with Herald Press.

As its authors point out, “This book is an invitation to a fresh look at United States history from the viewpoint of peace values” (269). They recount in considerable detail the violence which has characterized US history, including not only well-known facts but also numerous lesser-known episodes and statistics. They challenge the prevailing self-image of Americans, who see themselves as using violence for redemptive purposes — gaining “freedom,” establishing democracy and peace, and overcoming injustice, crime, and even violence itself. US reliance on violence has tended to lead to the further glorification and use of violence, bringing in the present highly-militarized political system, which subverts democracy, justice, community, care for the environment, and prospects for a viable world order.

Nevertheless, with every expression of violence in US history, voices have spoken out clearly against violence, arguing for peaceful alternatives and often taking vigorous nonviolent actions. The authors document this alternative, largely overlooked, history, urging it be given a prominent place in American consciousness. Well before the War for Independence, for example, Americans were employing creative, nonviolent means of protest and defiance against British oppression that could well have succeeded without any need for war, thereby establishing a radically different precedent for American selfunderstanding.

Unfortunately, the European settlers arrived in North America with strong proclivities for violence, which were soon expressed in conflict with each other and with native peoples, and in the beginnings of slavery. Americans generally understand now that native peoples were not the violent savages they were long depicted to be, but that the colonists’ treachery and violence against them provoked counter-violence. But few know about the powerful peacemaking traditions of the native peoples, which Juhnke and Hunter describe and see as crucial to these peoples’ ability to survive, thrive increasingly in our day, and equip them with resources that could richly contribute to the type of community life we need.

The decades-long struggle by abolitionists to overcome slavery is rather well known, although access to details provided by the authors are useful. Not so familiar are the views of those who opposed resorting to the Civil War. Quite unfamiliar is the authors’ argument that conflicts between North and South, including those about slavery, might have been overcome gradually without this extremely violent, destructive war. The bitterness it engendered was expressed in the violence of Reconstruction, and in the exploitive, brutal institutions of segregation which were “as violent and vengeful as the old system of slavery” (135). The nonviolent transformation of relations between blacks and whites by the civil rights movement, however, brought into effective reality a highly creative alternative strain of nonviolence in American history. The authors note that the most potent expressions of nonviolence come from those who have experienced most repression — native peoples, blacks, labour, and women.

Juhnke and Hunter argue that, when Woodrow Wilson led the US into World War I, justifying it as the way to achieve such idealistic goals as making the world safe for democracy, he failed “because he chose to join in using means which contradicted his ends” (195). The war fostered a potent, vengeful spirit which prevented the establishment of an effective League of Nations, and sowed the seeds for the most destructive war yet — World War II. The authors challenge the prevailing notion that this was the “Good War.” In opposing the evils of the Fascist and Nazi regimes, along with Japanese imperialism, the US and its allies participated in saturation bombing of civilian populations. The unnecessary, tragic use of atomic bombs on Japan promoted the nuclear arms race which, even after the Cold War, threatens the entire world with annihilation.

This book is a provocative, informative alternative to conventional histories of the US — a much needed antidote to American illusions about the redemptive power of violence. It provides rich detail in extensive endnotes but the sparse index unfortunately fails to do justice to the authors’ thorough documentation. Nevertheless, this volume is a valuable resource for advocates of nonviolence.