URBANE PEACHEY, Making Wars Cease: A Survey of MCC Peace Section 1940-1990. Morgantown, PA: Mastof Press, 2022. Pp. 310. $20.00 US.
When I received a review copy of this book, I was immediately intrigued. In Making Wars Cease, Urbane Peachey traces the history of Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) Peace Section from its inception in 1940 in the midst of World War II to its dissolution in the early 1990s. At the time of Peace Section US’s dissolution (or perhaps more accurately, when it morphed into MCC US Peace and Justice Ministries), I was a member-at-large on the MCC US board and representing both the board and the Brethren in Christ Church on the Peace Section US board. I remember the conversations around the board tables—how difficult they were for many people who respected Peace Section for all the work it had done since 1940 and feared that the peace witness of MCC would be diluted. So I was eager to read the whole story from more of a birds-eye view of the whole, although it should be noted that Peachey is not a disinterested observer and recorder of history: he served with MCC for many years, including eleven years as executive secretary (director) of Peace Section bi-national.
Peachey’s stated purpose for the book is “to preserve and interpret the half century work and witness of the Mennonite Central Committee Peace Section” (1). Noting that a previous article by John A. Lapp in 1970 had documented the first twenty-five years of Peace Section, Peachey aims in this book to focus on the years 1968-1990 while also summarizing the earlier years. Does he accomplish his purpose?
First, preserving the work and witness of Peace Section: Through a meticulous and heavily-footnoted listing and description of years of Peace Section statements, consultations, testimony to government, and theological reflection, Peachey provides a roadmap for those seeking additional information (many if not most of the documents are housed in the MCC archives in Akron, PA). Many influential people are named, including names known to the Brethren in Christ—C. N. Hostetter Jr., John K. Stoner, Ronald J. Sider, Ross Nigh—along with Mennonite scholars and churchmen (and yes, they were almost exclusively men) whose names were/are well-known in the Anabaptist world.
Peachey also documents the period of time (1968 to 1986) when individuals were recruited by Peace Section to carry out special assignments (portfolios) in Europe, Africa, and elsewhere. Many of these assignments were to advance ecumenical dialogue and promote MCC’s public witness against war. Another section of the book focuses on MCC’s international peace work in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, India, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and elsewhere. Yet another chapter summarizes several case studies of the experience of MCC workers in countries experiencing political and military crises. Peachey also lists additional issues that became part of the overall agenda of Peace Section, especially the US Peace Section: advocacy for international conscientious objectors, war tax resistance, abortion, a peace library, conflict mediation, restorative justice, a women’s task force.
Second, interpreting the work and witness of Peace Section: Peachey traces the evolution of Peace Section’s agenda from the years when its primary goal was advocating for conscientious objector status for Mennonite and Brethren in Christ, to promoting peace education in the church, to addressing systemic injustice. While some have suggested that the early years of lobbying for conscientious objector status was self-centered, Peachey refers to “many bold written and spoken testimonies on war and peace, beyond conscientious objection, to members of Congress and other U.S. government officials from 1939 to 1975 and beyond” (35).
One theme he returns to repeatedly is that “the response of MCC and the Peace Section was more circumstantial, adaptive and reactive than visionary” (60). He also provocatively suggests that because the historic doctrine of nonresistance “translated unconsciously into conflict avoidance,” Peace Section needed “to grow new abilities to engage the oppressive and authoritarian environment presented us by the times” (266). He seems to suggest that MCC did not adapt adequately to changing international realities: “Where in the structure of MCC and related groups does the expanding vision and training for the ever-changing sociopolitical environment, nationally and internationally, take place?” (253). In the end, MCC Peace Section (both the international Peace Section and Peace Section US) dissolved for three reasons, according to Peachey: 1) MCC culture changed; 2) MCC wanted to emphasize that peacemaking is central to all aspects of MCC’s work (and not assigned exclusively to a “peace section”); and 3) MCC tired of the organizational complexity. I’m not sure about the first and third reasons, but I can attest to the truth of the second reason, based on my memory of board discussions at the time.
For me, the book is marred by a number of weaknesses. It was at times difficult to read because it often seemed more like a listing of events or people or publications than a continuous narrative. (An index might have been helpful.) There was some confusion about which Peace Section Peachey was writing about at any given time: the Peace Section managed by MCC’s international program office or the Peace Section managed by MCC US. Admittedly, for those unversed in the complexity of the MCC organization, this distinction might not matter, but I found it confusing because during my board tenure there were two separate entities. Finally, the book would have benefitted from more careful copy-editing to eliminate some formatting mistakes, misspellings, etc. Still, as an admirer of MCC’s long history of being a consistent voice for peacemaking and nonviolence, I appreciated Peachey’s catalogue of the significant work done by Peace Section and the probing evaluative questions he raised, especially about its long-term vision and efficacy. It is good to have this record of the amazing body of work created by people dedicated to “making wars cease.”