Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Making of 20th century Quaker Peacemakers: Anna and Howard Brinton

Howard and Anna were both deeply committed peacemakers whose example can teach us much today, as I show in my pamphlet "Living the Peace Testimony: the Legacy of Howard and Anna Brinton" (Pendle Hill, 2004). Both left the academic world to join the newly founded AFSC and do relief work after World War I. They served as volunteers, freely offering their talents as writers and organizers. Anna went to Breslau, the capitol of Lower Silesia, the southeastern part of Germany, where she became involved in the feeding program. It was there that Howard  joined her. Their marriage resulted from their joint commitment to be peacemakers and relief workers.

Both remained committed to the AFSC and peacemaking throughout their lives. When  Anna resigned as Administrative Director of Pendle Hill in 1949, she took a job with the AFSC international relations program. When Howard and Anna went to Japan in 1952-1954, they went as representatives of the AFSC and Pendle Hill.[1]  Anna immediately became involved in the two relief centers run by Friends in Tokyo, Setagaya and Toyama Heights. Located in an old military barracks, Setagaya had been converted into housing for over a thousand families. The AFSC Neighborhood center at Toyama Heights was a childcare center. Anna was not only a frequent visitor to these centers, she also traveled to Korea to support AFSC’s program work there.

Because the Brintons had no set assignment, they felt free to do whatever they felt led to do. Howard gave talks in various parts of Japan on a wide variety of topics related to Quakerism.  According to Howard, his “most important achievement in Japan was to assist a group of Nichiren monks to plan a world pacifist conference to be held at eight major cities in Japan. These monks had been bomber pilots. Their experiences as bomber pilots made them pacifists. Their leader, Nittatsu Fujii, had been in India and under the influence of Gandhi.”[2] Seven foreign Quakers attended, but none of the Christian missionaries. “Although themselves pacifists,” wrote Howard, “[these missionaries] apparently did not feel ready to work with Buddhists.”[3]

Interestingly, Howard was not able to secure support from the American Friends Service Committee for this venture because “they feared too much Communist influence.”  According to Howard, the American embassy in Tokyo (no doubt under the influence of McCarthyism) had spread the word that the conference would be infiltrated by Communists.

In his first speech, Howard “tried to show that all the great religions in the world were pacifist at the beginning.” His address was mimeographed and circulated widely. The fourth and final meeting was held at Hiroshima. There he and the Mexican Quaker Herberto Sein lived in a home built by Floyd Schmoe (a Quaker pacifist and CO who built homes in areas of Hiroshima destroyed by the atomic bomb).[4] Over 80,000 people attended this final meeting and there was also an elaborate parade described in detail by Anna Brinton.[5]

Howard said that these meetings were interfered with by Communists only at the closing meeting in Tokyo. There two of the Communists, a Canadian missionary and a Buddhist monk from Ceylon, attacked the United States for using atomic weapons.

Howard also spoke out against the U.S. use of atomic weapons and was congratulated by the Japanese. “The Japanese had suffered so much that militarists were very unpopular and pacifists were welcome,” recalled Howard.

Howard’s awakening to pacifism took place in Europe after World War I. He saw Quakers as having an advantage over other religious groups because “the Society of Friends has come through the war with hands unstained by blood that sacrifices might be offered for the healing of the nations.”[6] He argued that Friends have an opportunity to make a difference in the world because they were not part of the war propaganda effort. “[Friends] have many times been able to do things impossible to a semi-official organization like the Red Cross. In Russia they have circulated freely among all factions. They have carried supplies across the barriers of hate within the old Austrian Empire, where others had failed.”[7] Howard called upon Friends to move beyond quietism into an active engagement with service and peace making.

As a Quaker, Howard had always supported the Peace Testimony as a personal witness, but in the aftermath of World War I he came to realize that another world war was inevitable unless Friends and others took positive action to promote peace. “To refuse to fight evil with evil is only the first mile,” wrote Howard. “The second is to overcome evil with good.”[8] While tutoring German students in Berlin, Howard discovered that many of them were learning English in order to prepare for the next war. They did not accept defeat. “What Hitler was to plan later,” recalled Howard, “was already having its beginnings in the minds of the students.[9] Howard’s response was to write an “Appeal to German Youth,” which was later published in the American Friend in the USA.[10] 

In this essay, Howard took a philosophical view of developments in Germany. He told German students that one of Germany’s greatest periods of literature and philosophy occurred when Napoleon was sweeping over Europe and had conquered their country. Howard argued that the German idealists were instrumental in saving humanity from eighteenth-century rationalism and scientism. Kant’s great achievement was to use “the critical methods of the new science which threatened to destroy humanity’s faith in itself to build up that faith anew on a surer basis”[11]

In Howard’s view, modern critics, especially psychologists such as Freud (whom he does not mention by name), had destroyed this German idealism and replaced it with a materialistic approach that dehumanizes human beings. Howard was particularly appalled by the use of psychological techniques for war propaganda.

Howard felt that scientists bore a burden of guilt for the unprecedented destruction wrought by modern warfare. He wrote, “The war through which we have just passed, has shown that modern science, which we supposed was devised to further civilization, can be used to reduce man to a beast, and destroy what the years have built up.”

Howard concluded by observing that the spirit of service and idealism is desperately needed in the postwar world. “The world is in pain. Men have lost their way. Another war will bring a new age of darkness and yet every move of the diplomatists of Europe increases the probability of another such war.”

Howard’s idealism was tinged with realism about human weakness. For this reason, he rejected the idea of inevitable historical or spiritual progress, an idea he associated both with Hegel and with his mentor Rufus Jones. According to John Cary, when Howard was asked what he thought of Rufus Jones, he replied: “He was too Hegelian.”[12] For Howard, human progress could best be described in that old phrase: “Two steps forward, one step backward.” Having experienced first-hand the brutality of modern war, Howard was far less optimistic than Rufus Jones and his generation. Although Howard was not as “disillusioned” as those of the Jazz Generation, he could to some extent understand and empathize with their “doubt and bewilderment.”[13]

It should be noted that after World War I, pacifism was embraced by most mainline Protestant leaders, as Patricia Appelbaum explains in her book Kingdom to Commune: Protestant Pacifist Culture between World War I and the Vietnam Era (University of North Carolina Press: 2009):

Most Protestant denominations during that period [after World War I] declared themselves opposed to war. Interdenominational groups like the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) fostered pacifism. Many of the more than one hundred peace organizations founded in the 1920s had significant mainline participation and leadership.[14]

Because of their historical commitment to the Peace Testimony and their distinctive beliefs and mode of worship, Quakers had a unique role to play in this movement. “While chroniclers of Quaker history have often focused on Friends’ exceptionalism,” writes Appelbaum, “I would suggest instead that Quakers occupied a sort of borderland with respect to the Protestant mainline. They had by the turn of the twentieth century moved some distance away from their original sectarianism, and over the course of the century they developed many social and theological connections with the mainline. On the other hand, their beliefs and practices remained distinctive enough that those who joined them as converts experienced Quakerism as different from other Protestant communions, and many midcentury mainliners regarded the Society of Friends as model denomination different from their own.”[15] Applebaum sees the relationship between Quaker and mainline Protestant pacifism as “dialectical.”

During the 1920s, Howard did what he could to promote pacifism at Earlham College and elsewhere. Howard’s experience during the war also made him impatient with Friends who rest on their laurels or take a passive approach to peacemaking. In a 1926 commencement address to the graduating students at Barnesville, Ohio, Howard warned about the dangers of complacency during times of peace:

You are just old enough to remember how the great war came upon us and found us unprepared for the emergency. We had been thinking too much about traditions and not enough about the world around us. Finally we rallied from the shock and discovered that our peace testimony did not mean merely that we did not do certain things, it meant that we did do other things. We found our work in helping heal the wounds of war. Now that the number is growing who believe that only evil can came out of the war, we are patted on the back and told how wonderful we are. It is time for great humility. The truth is that since the stimulus of active relief work is removed, we are drifting back to our old negative attitude and peace means only that we don’t fight, not that we are endeavoring to make a world where peace is possible.[16]

Because Howard and Anna had both seen first-hand the horrific effects of war, they never lapsed into their pre-war complacency about the need to witness and work for peace.  More will be said later about how the Brintons embodied the Peace Testimony both in their actions and in their writings.

Of particular concern to Howard (and to most Quakers at this time) was pacifism. The pacifist movement spread throughout Europe and the United States in the 1920s and 1930s, but the threat of a second war world caused some to doubt whether pacifism would be enough to stop the rise of militarism in Germany and Italy.

“Friends believed that their pacifism followed so naturally and inevitably from their other more fundamental principles that little is said about it in early Quaker writings,” wrote Howard.[17] Although some might question how widespread pacifism was among early Friends, twentieth century Quakers certainly felt the need to articulate their pacifist principles. Early Pendle Hill pamphleteers included A.J. Muste (1885-67), who wrote “The World Task of Pacifism” (#13, 1941) and “War is the Enemy” (#15, 1942), and Richard Gregg, who  wrote “Pacifist Program in Time of War” (#5, 1939) and “A Discipline for Non-Violence” (#11, 1941). But it was Howard who articulated the theological basis for Quaker pacifism in a way that has had an enduring influence upon Friends.

As World War II broke out in Europe, Howard began writing essays on pacifism which were collected into a Pendle Hill booklet called Critique by Eternity (1943). In this booklet, which was widely used in Quaker First Day Schools, Howard lays out what have become the seminal ideas of Quaker peacemaking.

First, Howard argued that isolationism and pacifism are polar opposites. The true pacifist is engaged with the world, and seeks to bring about a peaceful society by eliminating injustice. A pacifist is someone who has experienced inner peace, usually within the context of a supportive religious community, and then seeks to bring out peace in the world through the elimination of selfishness. The root cause of war is a sense of isolation that leads to barriers between people—borders, tariffs, armies, etc.

In “Why Are Quakers Pacifists?” Howard uses a historical approach. He discussed the faith and practice of early Friends and observed that they did not write a lot about pacifism or the Peace Testimony because they were primarily concerned not with “right action in itself but a right inward state out of which right action will arise.”[18]

In “Blitzkrieg and Pacifism” Howard takes an approach rooted in biology (Howard frequently described Quaker approach to religion as “organic” as opposed to the “mechanical”).[19] According to Howard, violence depends on quickness because its very nature is mechanical and self-destructive. Pacifism, on the other hand, works slowly because it is an organic process. “The pacifist therefore cannot depend on blitzkrieg methods,” concludes Howard. “He must abide the slowness of organic. An inanimate bomb reaches its goal swiftly, annihilating whatever is in its way. A living object is soft and pliant, slowly adjusting its environment to itself. It must always depend on small beginnings, germ cells which are perhaps invisible. The pacifist is not afraid of minute beginnings, aimed at the distant future. Violence works quickly, but in the realm of life results are never swift.”[20]

In Howard’s view, curing the unhealthy tendencies in a violence-addicted society like ours will not be accomplished quickly through some kind of pacifist “wonder drug,” but will require a slow, organic healing process.

Like Gregg, Muste and others who regarded pacifism as a way of life, Howard was convinced that pacifism cannot succeed if it is based merely on facts, theories and intellectual concepts. True pacifism must be grounded in spiritual experience, and in a community where peace and reconciliation are practiced as a way of life. This “new pacifism,“ as Howard termed it, also requires discipline and training, not unlike that of a soldier. “As on the drill ground soldiers acquire the habit of obedience,” wrote Howard, “so, in the discipline and collective experience of the meeting, worshippers become wonted to heed the Captain of their souls.”[21]

Howard’s ideas about peacemaking have permeated Quaker thinking and still have relevance today. The Brintons’ commitment to the peace testimony also had an influence on their son Edward, who turned 18 one month after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Ed became a conscientious objector and served in a Civilian Public Service Camp (CPS). As a result, Anna took a special interest in the camps and wrote an essay called “Uncharted Education” for the Friends Intelligencer. In this essay, she reflected on the educational opportunities that CPS camps afforded—no doubt concerned about what might happen to young men like her son during this critical period.

Anna painted an idealistic picture of what life in a CPS camp could or should be like. Among other things, she proposed that they include adult study classes like those at Pendle Hill and the New York School for Social Research, and encouraged Friends to offer their services as lecturers and teachers. In the spring of 1943, Pendle Hill hosted a training institute for directors of CPS Hospital units. It also welcomed Friends and others involved with the Friends Ambulance Unit in China.[22]

It is characteristic of Anna that she would see the challenges of life in a CPS as an opportunity to grow spiritually and intellectually. She concluded: “The seriousness of the peace testimony in war time and the difficulty of exemplifying it in collective life under the draft bring a steady pressure on all C.O.’s. It is pressure that makes marble out of limestone. Pressure may produce from Civilian Public Service at least some superior and enduring qualities.”[23]

Her words proved prophetic. Many of the young men who served in the CPS camps, often under tremendous stress and pressure, and under conditions far from ideal, went on to become leaders in the Religious Society of Friends.

After WWII, Howard and Anna both became involved with the ecumenical movement where they became advocates for the Quaker Peace Testimony as an essential part of Christian witness.

Brinton attended the founding assembly of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam in 1948, the year after Friends were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts in relief and reconstruction following two world wars. Brinton wanted the assembly to adopt a pacifist stance and met with little resistance:
Those of us who were pacifists or inclined toward pacifism, found it surprisingly easy to introduce into the Report such declarations as ‘War is contrary to the will of God,’ ‘War as a method of settling disputes is incompatible with the teaching and example of our Lord Jesus Christ,’ ‘The church has always demanded to obey God rather than men.’      

It was, however, disappointing to Brinton to discover afterwards that some of the delegates agreeing to these words were followers of “Christian realists” such as Reinhold Nieburh and  adopted this stance with a mental reservation because it constituted “an unattainable ideal, a perfectionism impossible of achievement in this imperfect world” (390).

In Friends for 300 Years, Howard wrote a theological defense of pacifism against those such as Niebuhr and Barth who considered peace unattainable in a sinful world. Howard challenged Christian Realism with the Quaker belief in the Inward Light. Niebuhr felt that Christians had a responsibility to resist evil, even if it meant resorting to violence. As Howard explained in Friends for 300 Years, Friends believe that we must live according to the measure of the light that has been inwardly revealed to us, including Christ’s teaching that we “love our enemy.”  Even though human beings are imperfect, and even though human society is flawed, we are obliged to follow Christ’s example to the best of our ability, as Spirit leads us.
“If Jesus was himself a pacifist, as even the Neo-Orthodox admit,” wrote Howard, “we must be pacifists also if we obey his command to follow him.”[24]
For Howard, the Quaker approach to Christian ethics is best summed up in a rejoinder by Joseph Hoag, a nineteenth-century peace advocate. When Hoag advocated the Quaker peace testimony in 1812, a member of the audience said, “Well, stranger, if all the world was of your mind I would turn and follow after.”
Hoag replied, “So then thou hast a mind to be the last man to be good. I have a mind to be one of the first and set the rest an example.”[25]
Anna did her bit to support peacemaking by joining the board of the AFSC in 1938 and serving for nearly 30 years. From 1958-1960 and from 1962-1965 she served as vice president of the Board. In 1965, she resigned from the Board due to old age and ill health. 

At this time, Doris Darnell wrote a letter on behalf of the American Friends Service Committee in which she remembers with fondness Anna’s thirty years of service.

It is impossible to put into words what Anna Brinton meant to the AFSC. To new staff members I have said that at some point they must meet Howard and Anna Brinton. . . .

The day I most cherish in the past six months was that May Monday when the Personnel Department was to spend an hour at staff meeting interpreting our work to others. Through posters, brief comments, witty but informative flow charts we attempted to communicate some of the demands, pressures, and achievements. And then came the frosting on the cake when Anna Brinton spoke of the old days, illustrating the points she was making with humor, with telling anecdotes, with an obvious delight in having been part of it all. Her fund of stories, her interest in each person as an individual, her acceptance of human frailties made her beloved by all. We who knew her well will have a special feeling of being among the privileged many. How fortunate we all are whose lives were touched and brightened by hers![26]

In my pamphlet, “Living the Peace Testimony: The Legacy of Howard and Anna Brinton,” I address the question: What can we learn from the Brintons’ experience of peacemaking?

First, Quaker pacifism is not based upon intellectual concepts or an ideology. Rather it springs from a religious concern, inwardly felt as a “leading of the Spirit.”

Second, such leadings often involve reaching out to those who are seen by society as the enemy and building bridges of understanding.

Third, Quaker peace activism is not a profession or career, but a way of life.

Anna Brinton summed up the main elements of Quaker mission/activism as follows:

These [missions] were in no sense career activities, they were a kind of volunteering carried on without the spur of reputation. Even to assess prospects of success or failure played no real part in the effort. The important factor is obedience to an inward requirement clearly felt, and agreed to by one’s fellow members. With this impetus, ordinary men and women have undertaken extraordinary missions.

In fewer words, in a 1963 symposium on the “Spiritual Basis of AFSC Work” Anna told this anecdote: “Someone once asked a staff person at Pendle Hill if she liked her job, and the woman replied, ‘It’s not my job, it’s my life.’”

Through their writings and teaching  Howard and Anna Brintons helped to clarify the spiritual, theological and historical basis for the Friends’ Peace Testimony. But it is in their lives that we see most vividly the Quaker spirit at work in the world. This legacy of peacemaking continues to be invaluable as we struggled to find our own way as Quaker peacemakers in the twenty-first century.


[1] Autobiography, p. 99. Much of this section is taken from Living the Peace Testimony, The Legacy of Howard and Anna Brinton, Anthony Manousos. Pendle Hill Pamphlet 372.
[2] See Brinton’s “World Pacifist Conference,” Friends Intelligencer, Sixth Month 12, 1954.
[3] “Buddhists, Quakers, Peace,” by Howard Brinton, The Friend, Sixth Month 10, 1954, p. 416.
[4] Autobiography, p. 102.
[5] Mather, p. 32: “We marched with yellow robed priests from Ceylon. Some Indians wore business suits, others their Prince Alberts. The Japanese were in stiff brocade. Priest Fujii and his monks and nuns, all newly shorn the night before so that their pates were smooth as ostrich eggs, were clad in white with yellow mantles. Many were beating fan-shaped drums. . . . The cadence of this refrain [“Hail to the Lotus of Perfect Truth”] ran through everything, greeting us on station platforms, giving a rhythm for our walking, and faintly or more loudly was heard at any hour of day or night. . . . We were feasted, flowered, and photographed, and put up at the finest of Yamagata’s Inns.”
[6] “The Present Strategic Position of the Society of Friends,” The Friend, Fourth Month 29, 1920, p. 518.
[7] Op. cit. p. 518.
[8]  Op. cit. p. 518.
[9] Autobiography, p. 33-34.
[10]  American Friend, Seventh Month 7, 1921, p 533.
[11] Op. cit., p. 534.
[12] John Cary, a professor of German at Haverford College, who is married to Brinton’s daughter Catharine.
[13] In “Quakerism and Progress,” written at the height of the Great Depression, Brinton wrote: “Through science we proclaim a god-like control over Nature and through science we reduce ourselves to the very nature we seek to control. The man of today is a pitiable figure. Driven back on himself because he has lost his material goods, he looks into his soul and finds it empty. It is an age of doubt and bewilderment” (Friends Intelligencer, Sixth Month 11, 1932, p. 439). Brinton argued that “my study of the evolutionary process has led me that we can go forward only by occasionally going backward.” This meant returning to a simpler, more “organic” way of life associated with Quakerism.
[14] Opus cit, p. 3.
[15] Ibid, p. 5.
[16] Delivered 6th mo. 4th, Olney Current, 1926?, pp. 16-22. Translated into German and reprinted in the German Quaker newsletter, Mittelungen fur die Freunde des Quakertums in Deutschland, January 1926. From the Howard Haines Brinton and Anna Shipley Cox Papers, Quaker Manuscript Collection, Haverford College Library.
[17] Friends for 350 Years, Wallingford, PA: Pendle Hill Publication, 2002, p. 196. Margaret Bacon in her note observed that “the expectation that members would not fight was probably less common in the seventeenth century than here stated” (p. 287).
[18] Critique by Eternity, Wallingford, PA: Pendle Hill, 1943, p. 21.
[19]  Brinton’s ideas here may also have been influenced by Taoism and by the mystical works of Jacob Boehme, who was the subject of Brinton’s doctoral dissertation.
[20] Op. cit., p. 19.
[21] Op cit., p. 24.
[22] Pendle Hill Bulletin, #48, June, 1943.
[23] Friends Intelligencer, First Month 15, 1944, p. 42.
[24] Friends for 350 Years, edited by Margaret Bacon. Pendle Hill: Wallingford, PA, 2002.
[25] Ibid, pp. 196-7.
[26] Letter by Doris Darnell, Philadelphia, PA,  October 30, 1969.

1 comment:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.