A Persistent Peace
One Man's Struggle for
A Nonviolent World

John Dear
(Loyola Press)
Persistent is not the word for it. How about non-stop? Pushy? Even obnoxious? This Dear (sic) just won't give up the war for peace.

If there is a march somewhere, he's there. A retreat. A conference on the causes of violence. A war itself (San Salvador, Northern Ireland, Palestine, Guatemala). A convention of arms manufacturers. A prisoner being executed. Dear is there, johnny-on-the-spot:

    I had always been against the death penalty --- Jesus himself was a victim of it. Executions clearly violated every principle of the gospel, in no way squaring with Jesus' commandment to forgive without keeping score. It conveniently ignored his challenge to let the one who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.

Dear's mentors and inspiration (some of whom he has met, known, or demonstrated with) are the heroes of the pacifist brigades: Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, the two Father Berrigans, Thomas Merton. "Live as if you're in exile," advises Henri Nouwen. "Remember," says another maven, "you'll be wrong, wrong, wrong."

Dear gets fired from the Jesuits, then reinstated. He is not beloved by many of his superiors. After one of his many arrests, Father Jim "my novice master" tells him "matter-of-factly that I was hereby dismissed from the Jesuits."

    I wasn't really surprised, but I was sure that what I had done was right. I felt it in my bones that God had called me to two irreconcilable vocations: to be a Jesuit and to take action against war and nuclear weapons.

"I had disobeyed my superiors on the one hand; I had obeyed my conscience on the other. And now my goose was cooked."

§     §     §

Dear, if you will pardon the expression, takes no prisoners. During a demonstration at the Pentagon, he yells at a general --- a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff --- stepping out of his "long black limousine ... his shoes gleaming, the crease in his trousers crisp, the medals on his chest bright and shining:"

    For the love of God, go home, you evil warmonger! Stop planning the destruction of the planet! Stop killing Christ in the poor!

A Persistent Peace takes awhile to crank up. The early chapters dwell on what brought him to his powerful belief in Jesus, and his even more powerful belief that Jesus was without doubt "the Prince of Peace." The book as a whole could be called "The Making of a Bear," for dear is a real bear. When he is with those who agree with his somewhat militant view of the divine, he is a teddy bear. When he is fighting the enemy (those who aid and abet the murder of nuns in Central America, children in Iraq) he turns into a roaring Ursidae.

He says he's have been in jail seventy-five times. We are surprised it isn't more. We learn here that going to jail for civil disobedience is not for the faint of heart. Being thrown face-down on the ground, handcuffed; staying in musty, icy, stinky cells for hours (or days); being incarcerated with crappy food, and drunks, and other malcontents ... is no bed of roses.

In 1993, Dear and two other peace activists crept into Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro. They Shall Beat Their Swords into Plowshares was the name of their plan. They found an 18 billion dollar unguarded F-15E. "I locate the radar tracking device --- a narrow fin beneath the plane. At long last, by the grace of God, I will strike a blow for nuclear disarmament." He picks up his hammer.

    I swing. Clang! The vibrations travel through my bones. I expect damage, but there's neither dent nor chipped paint. I glance at Phil and see instead soldiers racing toward us, raising their weapons --- just time enough for one more swing. Clang!

"Put your hammers down and come to the other side," a soldier orders...

"'We are unarmed, nonviolent people,' I say loudly and calmly. 'We mean you no harm. We're here to dismantle this weapon of death.' The soldiers gape at us and freeze."

As I say, this Dear is a bear, and a dear one at that. A Persistent Peace is awash in thoughts about Jesus and peace and the dying of the poor and the cost of an armed --- more, an overarmed --- world. This is a man who grieves, and grieves deeply over the casual way in which we start wars, invest in the military infrastructure, fight and kill ... all the while, professing a love for Jesus.

Dear's leaps of logic (not to say leaps of faith) are spectacular. At the trial for the Johnson Air Force Base caper, his final statement is one worthy of Reinhold Neumuller, if not the Prince of Peace Himself: "I've often wondered what I would have done if I had lived in Nazi Germany. Would I have been a good, law-abiding, obedient German citizen? Or would I have been a good, gospel-abiding Christian, obedient and faithful to the God of nonviolent love --- and thus necessarily disobedient to the state's murderous policies?"

    I would have had the grace and strength and the spiritual fortitude to walk into those German death camps and begin to take apart the gas chambers and cremation ovens, to literally and symbolically start dismantling those legal instruments of mass destruction.

"I suppose if I were not shot then and there, I would have been arrested, jailed, and quickly tried in court for breaking the law, perhaps for 'willfully destroying government property.'"

He concludes:

    I believe we're faced with a similar situation today. As I ponder the United States --- the most violent nation in the history of the world; the inventor of the atomic bomb, the nuclear arsenal of unimaginable proportion --- I conclude that what the Nazis tried to do to Jews and others, our country threatened to do and is preparing to do to the whole human race.

"All of us have a responsibility to do what we can to stop the killing, to dismantle our nuclear arsenal, to renounce war, as well as to promote peace and life for all."

With A Persistent Peace we are allowed to venture deep into the heart of a powerful dissident. It is hard not to compare him with those fabulously rich, unrepentant religionists --- the likes of Tim LaHaye, James Dobson, Rod Parsley: so fond of the wars abroad, so enamored of capital punishment at home.

--- Lolita Lark
Send us e-mail


Go Home

Go to the most recent RALPH