It was such a total turnaround, on that Pearl Harbor Sunday, that Dorothy Day stood out in stark contrast when she spoke, the following day, to an assembled group at the Liberal-socialist Alliance in New York City. As Erwin Knoll put it, in a 1994 issue of The Progressive, "the day after the Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor [was] a day when even the most committed pacifist might have been forgiven for maintaining a discreet silence."
But as he further notes, "There was nothing discreet about Dorothy Day," who had shared in the founding of the Catholic Worker movement, and not only pursued peace and justice as a lifelong goal, but lived it daily in her life. She made not the least attempt to temper her convictions, though she stood starkly alone with them on that darkly shadowed day of American patriotic resolve.
Here is a portion of what she said, in the course of that talk. Think about how it resonates, as you read it, with the Middle East situation today.
"There is now all this patriotic indignation about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and Japanese expansionism in Asia. Yet not a word about American and European colonialism in this same area. We, the British, the French, and others set up spheres of influence in Asia, control national states-against the expressed will of these states-and represent imperialism in the Orient. We dictate to Japan as to where she can expand economically and politically, and we declare what policy she must observe. From our nationalistic and imperialistic point of view, we have every right to concentrate American military forces in the Philippines, confronting Japan at her front door. Were Japan to face us from Cuba, what would be our reaction? If the United States insists upon a colonialist policy in Asia, then this nation must be prepared for a militaristic backlash....
"But I waste rhetoric on international politics-the breeding grounds of war over the centuries. The balance of power and other empty slogans inspired by a false and flamboyant nationalism have bred conflict throughout 'civilized' history.
"And it has become too late in human history to tolerate wars which none can win. Nor dare we quibble about just wars.' Well did Pius X tell us that 'in any conflict both sides claim moral justification. We find the term repugnant and impossible to define. All wars are, by their very nature, evil and destructive.'
"It has become too late for civilized people to accept this evil.
"We must take a stand. We must renounce war as an instrument of policy. We must affirm that there will be no more war. Never - but never - again....
"Evil enough when the finest of our youth perished in conflict and even the causes of these conflicts were soon lost to memory. Even more horrible today when cities can go up in flames and brilliant scientific minds are searching out ultimate weapons.
"War must cease. There are no victories. The world can bear the burden no longer. Yes, we must make a stand.
"Even as I speak to you, I may be guilty of what some men call treason. But we must reject war: Yes, we must now make a stand. War is murder, rape, ruin, death; war can end our civilization. I tell you that within a decade we will have weapons capable of ending this world as we have known it.
"War is hunger, thirst, blindness, death. I call upon you to resist it. You young men should refuse to take up arms. Young women tear down the patriotic posters. And all of you - young and old - put away your flags."
Now consider how many wars have engaged us since those words were spoken, 65 years ago today. How many wars will yet tear us apart, before we can accept the responsibility that those words of Dorothy Day imposed on us?