They say that a week is a long time in politics, and half a century is more than the working lifetime of most politicians and members of the military. For those working for a more peaceful and just world, and for Quakers, who’ve been advocating for peace for 380 years and counting, 50 years is but a short time. Yet, just over those years we’ve seen US involvement in four major wars (Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, and Iraq, at an estimated cost of nearly $2 trillion for direct military operations and many hundreds of thousands of lives lost or ruined) and numerous smaller conflicts, such as the invasions of Grenada and Panama and interventions in Bosnia, Somalia, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and beyond. In addition, US Special Operations Command reported that, as of 2016, we had Special Forces in over 137 countries (a sign of our many “secret wars”). We’ve counted the fallout at home from those conflicts in casualties that include not only the dead and physically wounded, but those suffering the invisible wounds of war – the psychologically injured, manifesting for some in PTSD, domestic violence, and suicide. We’ve seen increasing evidence of moral injury as a result of what service members have experienced or ordered to do during tours of duty. We’ve witnessed increasing use of drones in war, torture as a means of interrogation, extraordinary rendition, indefinite detention of “suspected terrorists,” and a seemingly endless “war on terror.”
What, then, can a tiny group of Quakers in a military town do? Starting in 1969 with a conscientious objector, Dean Holland, in a small rented house in Fayetteville, and supported by faith, conscience, and a steadfast network of friends across the country and beyond, Quakers have maintained a continuous witness to the Friends’ peace testimony in the city ever since. From that small beginning during the Vietnam War, Friends began to counsel GIs, offer assistance to recently discharged veterans, and advocate for a peaceful end to war.
Over the next decades and in lean times, Quaker House appeared to be just a tiny outpost, barely heard amidst the clamor for war – yet these were the times when the call to witness was ever stronger. Today, some 50 years later, Quaker House educates prospective service members about conscientious objection through presentations, publications and our “Truth in Recruiting” program; takes part in protests and peace rallies against rendition, drone warfare, the military industrial complex, and the war on terror; and offers free counseling to veterans, active service members, and their families who are suffering from domestic violence, sexual assault, or moral injury. Along with other peace and faith organizations, we brought the issue of moral injury to the fore in numerous presentations and a recent publication, organized conferences and alternatives to violence trainings, and supported two GI Rights counselors who are integral to the functioning and training within the greatly expanded national GI Rights Hotline, started in 1995. The Quaker House counselors, Steve and Lenore, have responded to almost 25,000 calls over the past ten years, about one third of the network’s total, worldwide. Over that period, their call volume has tripled to about 300 per month, with no signs of a let-up.
Over 350 years ago George Fox asked, “But what canst thou say?” He might have been slightly surprised to hear today’s Quaker House responses in emails, Facebook posts, Twitter feeds, Instagram messages, and blog posts, as well as in those old-fashioned forms, from printed materials (over ten books and pamphlets and counting!) and face-to-face meetings among veterans and service members, counselors, and activists, to vocal ministry in our Meetings. Undoubtedly, Fox and early Friends would have recognized the spirit in heartfelt testimonies of individual conscientious objectors (COs), service members, and their family members whom Quaker House has helped over the years. One such testimony, from Ricky Clousing, a CO from the Iraq war, speaks volumes. Before giving himself up to face a court-martial, he said at a rally, “I stand before you today about to surrender myself. . . . As a soldier, as an American, and as a human being, we mustn’t lend ourselves to that same evil which we condemn.” Hearing such testimony reminds us of Fox’s admonition to “be loyal to the promptings of love and truth in your hearts.” In other words, let your life speak, and answer to your conscience, to God, the Inner Guide. It is this spirit that will continue to guide the mission of Quaker House for the long haul. Whether it’s working for an end to war or repairing broken hearts and minds among its victims, we are called to sow the seeds of peace through education and advocacy, healing and reconciliation, and, underneath it all, through the practice of love.
We’ll be celebrating our upcoming 50th anniversary in 2019 with events including video presentations, local celebrations, and participation in conferences, which will be announced in this newsletter and online. We’ll also be saying thank you to all our past and ongoing supporters. Please join us by supporting our celebration and our ongoing work with a donation. You can find a donation link with several giving options on our webpage, or you can send a check made out to Quaker House at 223 Hillside Ave, Fayetteville, NC 28301. Quaker House has been responding to the call to witness to peace for half a century, and, with your help, we’ll heed that call for as long as it takes!
~ Quaker House Board of Directors
This post originally appeared in the Summer 2018 newsletter. Please contact us or fill out the form on this web site if you would like to be added to our mailing list.