Can Friends Come Together in the Search for Peace?

I am writing this because I was very moved by the articles of Mary Lord and Arthur Rifkin in the July 2002 issue of Friends Journal.

On September 11, 2001, my wife Margery and I lived close enough to the disaster at the Twin Towers to be able to see it. We watched people coming over the 59th St. Bridge from Manhattan. Many thousands, walking like refugees, clothing covered with dust and debris, trying to find a way to get home and away from the smoke and the fire. We gave first aid to a neighbor, a young man who hurt his leg running from the disaster. In the days that followed we could see the fire, smell the acrid smoke; it seemed that it would never go away. We cried and mourned and lit candles for those we knew who had lost someone at the Trade Towers.

I felt I had to do something besides attend peace vigils and candlelight services, so I volunteered at the only restaurant that, just a few blocks from Ground Zero, was feeding the rescue workers, firemen, policemen and women, Red Cross workers, state troopers, and members of the National Guard. I worked shifts of six to eight hours to help, with other volunteers, with the feeding of at least 3,600 people a day, 24 hours a day, every day. All the food was donated. You cannot imagine what these people looked like, covered with dirt and debris, tired, many working 12-hour shifts. This "hands-on" work helped me cope with my own inner turmoil.

I am a Quaker and a pacifist, and I came to my convictions from a different direction than most. In World War II, I was an Air Force gunner flying out of England. On our 18th mission over Germany, my crew and I were shot down and I became a prisoner of war. Wounded, beaten, almost executed, and imprisoned in a Stalagluft, I found out very quickly what the consequence of being a combatant in war is all about. To this day I have never gone to visit Ground Zero. I do not need to see the area of destruction. In my lifetime, I have seen enough. Living near London in 1944-45 after the blitz and during the V1-V2 rocket attacks, I watched the people go about their daily lives, with streets, houses, and stores all destroyed. As a POW I walked through the cities of Frankfurt, Nuremberg, Regensberg, and others. Not one whole building was standing as a result of the Allied bombing raids. The people walked about like robots, with nothing to do and no place to go except hide when air raid sirens went off. I watched them, mostly women and children, standing in a line that stretched for miles waiting with pails for water at a common spigot. With all of these memories, how do I find a way to respond to the Peace Testimony? One had to be in New York on September 11 or tested in combat to know what it feels like to see the hell of humankind’s inhumanity.

It is now that I need my Quaker extended family more than ever to help me in this personal turmoil. With great excitement and anticipation I am looking forward to the Friends World Committee for Consultation Conference in January 2003. I would like to see all the branches of Quakerism unite to face this crisis of our time—the threat of global war and terrorism. I need to see our Peace Testimony made relevant for the 21st century. I want to hear the stories of others about their search for peace. I want to know more about our history as it pertains to this search. I want my Quaker family to find a response that is an affirmation both for the living and the dead and that will free us from the scourge of war and terrorism. Friends must declare that we can no longer endure hatred and fear. This will mean taking risks in a search for peace, but in the end we may have a more trustful world and a better living faith. The future of the Religious Society of Friends in the 21st century depends on finding new ways for others to hear our message. Is there still a "great people waiting to be gathered" as George Fox thought at the top of Pendle Hill? I believe this is a time for a new social and spiritual revolution so that we are not irrelevant in the marketplace of religious ideas and action.

As the writer/poet Norman Corwin said at the end of World War II, ". . . and press into the final seal a sign that peace will come for longer than posterity can see ahead, and that human beings unto their fellow human beings shall be a friend forever." I know that this will not be easy. The peacemakers have always steadfastly refused to give up. I fervently hope that the conference in 2003 will be a start on this journey. I also hope that we are not too late.

We need to listen to the prophecy of Joel, so often repeated since his day. It still rings with hope for those who believe in the eternal power of the spirit over the hearts and minds of men and women: "and it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions." (Joel 2:27-29)

George Rubin

George Rubin is a member of Manhassett (N.Y.) Meeting, now attending Medford (N.J.) Meeting. A former clerk of New York Yearly Meeting, he is a member of the American Friends Service Committee Corporation and previously served on the Executive and Personnel Committees for Friends World Committee for Consultation.