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April 15 / 16, 2006
"With Him, We Were Changed Forever"
Remembering Rev. William Sloane Coffin
By RALPH NADER
O ne of his Yale students, famed cartoonist Garry Trudeau, said of Yale University Chaplain, Williams Sloane Coffin, during those heady years in the Sixties; "Without him, the very air would have lost its charge. With him, we were changed forever."

Who was this former Army Captain, ex-C.I.A. agent, talented musician, linguist and motorcycle rider? How did he become one of the most influential clergymen of his time by focusing public attention on the essential moral questions so often avoided in times of war, strife over civil rights and the perilous nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union? Most clergy do not roam so far from their Church.

When challenged to stick with his ministerial duties, this great speaker of sweeping vision and public virtue replied:

Every minister is given two roles: the priestly and the prophetic. The prophetic role is the disturber of the peace, to bring the minister himself, the congregation and entire social order under some judgment. If one plays a prophetic role, it's going to mitigate against his priestly role. There are going to be those who will hate him.

And with that definition, the Rev. Coffin became the outspoken activist and doer of nonviolent civil disobedience directly from the principles of his Christian faith. He wrote, spoke, organized, marched, protested, was arrested, jailed and prosecuted. He inspired the struggles against the Vietnam war, Jim Crow laws, the military draft, poverty here and abroad, and the planet-threatening atomic arms race. He did all this with an historical frame of reference, biblical wisdom, and humor which was almost always witty and informative.

There was an arresting moment right after World War II when infantry Captain Coffin was assigned to the French and then the Russian army to compel Soviet refugees, who had been taken prisoner, to return to the Soviet Union. He admits to using deception to lure them onto the trains heading for Russia, leading some to attempt suicide because they knew what awaited them there. Many simply disappeared.

In his memoir Once to Every Man (1977), Rev. Coffin said his behavior left him a "burden of guilt I am sure to carry the rest of my life." It led, he wrote, to his spending "three years in the C.I.A. opposing Stalin's regime."

In 1978, he became the head minister at the large, interdenominational Riverside Church in New York City, where he advanced his often affluent congregation toward addressing problems of unemployment and juvenile offenders.

Last October, I arranged a telephone interview about the Iraq war with Rev. Coffin from his Strafford, Vermont home. Though seriously ill, he was typically upbeat: "How are you, Reverend?" "Better than I have any right to feel, the rest is commentary," he replied.

He made a number of cogent points in the interview, to wit:
What the rest of us have to remember is that dissent in a democracy is not unpatriotic, what is unpatriotic is subservience to a bad policy.

Local clergy must brave the accusation of meddling in politics, a charge first made no doubt by the Pharoah against Moses. When war has a bloodstained face, none of us have the right to avert our gaze.

And the search for peace is biblically mandated. If religious people don't search hard, and only say 'peace is desirable,' then secular authorities are free to decide 'War is necessary'.

I think the absence of a draft has much to do with the present lack of student protest. On the other hand, I think the colossal blunders of the administration will quicken an antiwar movement faster now than during the Vietnam war.

What we shouldn't do is to believe President Bush when he says that to honor those who have died, more Americans must died. That's using examples of his failures to promote still greater failures.
I asked him what he thinks should be done by the peace movement? He was direct, saying "I am very much in favor of well thought out, nonviolent civil disobedience, of occupying congressional offices, telling lawmakers, 'You have to stop the slaughter, to admit mistakes and to right the wrong.'"

Reverend William Sloane Coffin passed away in Strafford on April 12 at the age of 81.

Five weeks earlier, another storied man of conscience who waged peace for 65 years died at the age of 88 in Santa Rosa, California. Caleb Foote was such a profound war-resister that he spent 18 months in federal prison because he did not want to easily fake a religiously-based conscientious objection status, since his opposition was based on humanistic principles.

He went on as a law professor to engage decades of championing racial, economic and criminal justice. Not just by representing aggrieved defendants but by also putting forth studies which addressed systems of reform. He spent his later years active in local conservation initiatives.

Should their relatives and many friends and admirers be contemplating the extension of their legacies, they may wish to consider establishing an institution dedicated to the thought and action which these two men demonstrated.

Around two years ago, Reverand Coffin's was honored at a large dinner in New York City. After eloquent encomiums by several noted speakers, he rose to give a few remarks. Listening on C-SPAN radio, I paraphrase one of his urgings to carry on: It is as if our long gone, valiant reformers in our country's history were reaching out to us and saying "finish the job, finish the job."












October 19, 2005
An Interview with Rev. William Sloane Coffin
"None of Us Have the Right to Avert Our Gaze"
By RALPH NADER
R ev. William Sloane Coffin has been a leader against the war in Vietnam, an advocate for civil rights and an opponent of nuclear weapons.   Coffin was an Army officer in World War II, acting as liaison to the French and Russian armies.   Upon graduating from Yale University in 1949, Coffin entered the Union Theological Seminary until the outbreak of the Korean War when, in 1950, he joined the CIA and spent three years in Germany fighting Stalin's regime.   He earned his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Yale in 1956 and was ordained a Presbyterian minister.

Rev. Coffin became Chaplain of Yale University in 1958.   Early on he opposed the Vietnam War and became famous for his anti-war activities and his civil rights activism.   He had a prominent role challenging segregation in the "freedom rides."   Coffin used his pulpit as a platform for like-minded crusaders, hosting the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. , South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, among others.   Fellow Yale graduate Garry Trudeau has immortalize Coffin as "the Rev. Sloan" in the Doonesbury comic strip.

By 1967, Coffin increasingly concentrated on preaching civil disobedience and supported the young men who turned in their draft cards.   In 1968 Coffin, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Marcus Raskin and others were indicted by a Federal grand jury for conspiracy to counsel, aid and abet draft resistance.   All but Raskin were convicted, but in 1970 an appeals court overturned the verdict.

Coffin remained chaplain of Yale until December 1975.   In 1977 he became senior minister at Riverside Church in New York City and became a leading activist, meeting with world leaders and traveling abroad to protest U.S. policies.   He currently resides in Vermont.

Ralph Nader:    With the majority of Americans in poll after poll turning against the U.S. war and occupation in Iraq and with many retired Generals, diplomats and intelligence officials opposed to the invasion in the first instance why is the organized opposition not greater? What can be done to turn this public support into organized opposition?

Rev. William Sloane Coffin:    Sacrifice in and of itself confers no sanctity.   Even though thousands of Americans and Iraqis are killed and wounded, the blood shed doesn't make the cause one wit more or less sacred.   Yet that truth is so difficult to accept when sons and daughters, husbands, friends, when so many of our fellow-citizens are among the sacrificed.

Because her son was killed Cindy Sheehan is not called unpatriotic.   What the rest of us have to remember is that dissent in a democracy is not unpatriotic, what is unpatriotic is subservience to a bad policy.

The war was a predictable catastrophe and we've botched the occupation.   However, I sympathize with those who are perplexed about what is best now to do.   Soon I hope people will heed the call to renounce all American military bases in Iraq and to begin withdrawal of American troops.   I think Bush has it wrong.   He says: "When Iraqis stand up, Americans will stand down."   More likely its: when Americans stand down, then Iraqis will be forced to stand up.   The question is, "Which Iraqis and for what will they stand?"

Ralph Nader:    Why do you think most of the anti-war groups stopped their marches in 2004 and became quiescent compared to 2003?

Rev. William Sloane Coffin:    Wars generally mute dissent, and Bush is given to silence criticism, to keep problems hidden and ignored.   Now that such tactics are no longer possible, given the many setbacks to his war aims, the marches will soon begin.

Ralph Nader:    What do you think the churches and the National Council of Churches should be doing that they are not now doing regarding the war-occupation?

Rev. William Sloane Coffin:    Bob Edgar, the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, has been an eloquent protester of the war.   Local clergy must brave the accusation of meddling in politics, a charge first made no doubt by the Pharaoh against Moses.   When war has a bloodstained face none of us have the right to avert our gaze.   And it's not the sincerity of the Administration, but its passionate conviction of the war's rightness that needs to be questioned.   Self-righteousness is the bane of human relations, of them all-personal and international.   And the search for peace is Biblically mandated.   If religious people don't search hard, and only say "Peace is desirable," then secular authorities are free to decide "War is necessary."

Ralph Nader:    Any comparisons between the domestic opposition to the Iraq War/Occupation with the domestic opposition to the Vietnam War?

Rev. William Sloane Coffin:    There are similarities.   The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was based on a lie; so was the charge that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.   And the lies continued: We were winning the Vietnam War, Iraqi oil would pay for the costs of the war and of the occupation.

I think the absence of a draft has much to do with the present lack of student protest.   On the other hand, I think the colossal blunders of the Administration will quicken an antiwar movement faster now than during the Vietnam War.   After all, it was only after the Tet Offensive in 1968, not originally in '62,'63 or '64, that the American opposition to the Vietnam War became massive.

Ralph Nader:      What should the U.S. government do now?

Rev. William Sloane Coffin:    The U.S. government should realize that if we can't defeat the insurgents, we have lost.   The insurgents, on the other hand, have only not to lose to declare victory.   And to defeat the United States and its allies might go a long way to assuage, to offset the humiliation and rage so many Muslims presently feel.   All of which indicates we should start to withdraw our troops.   What we shouldn't do is to believe President Bush when he says that to honor those who have died, more Americans must die.   That's using examples of his failures to promote still greater failures.

Ralph Nader:    What do you think should be done strategically and tactically by the peace movement?

Rev. William Sloane Coffin:    I am very much in favor of well thought out non-violent civil disobedience, of occupying congressional offices, telling lawmakers, "You have to stop the slaughter, to admit mistakes and to right the wrong."

Unfortunately, to get media attention, you have to sensationalize the valuable.   But town meetings, letters to the editor, flooding Washington with protest letters and marches ­ all that is still very important if the protest continues and gains momentum.

Ralph Nader:    How is Vermont a model in this respect?

Rev. William Sloane Coffin:    Representative Sanders, Senators Leahy and Jeffords ­ Vermont is well representative by these sensitive, intelligent people.   The state is exceedingly environmentally friendly which tends to make people more peace-minded.   Actually some Vermonters want to secede from the Union.   I'm opposed.   Better to stay where the guilt is and try to improve things throughout the country.

Ralph Nader:    What broader advice do you have for strengthening our democracy and confronting the concentration of power and wealth over the life sustaining directions our country (with its impact on the world) needs to take? Please address any specific reforms that demand priority.

Rev. William Sloane Coffin:    Something happened to our understanding of freedom.   Centuries ago Saint Augustine called freedom of choice the "small freedom," Libertas minor.   Libertas Maior, the big freedom was to make the right choices, to be fearless and selfless enough to choose to serve the common good rather than to seek personal gain.

That understanding of freedom was not foreign to our eighteenth century forebears who were enormously influenced by Montesquieu, the French thinker who differentiated despotism, monarchy, and democracy.   In each he found a special principle governing social life.   For despotism the principle was fear; for monarch, honor; and for democracy, not freedom but virtue.   In The Broken Covenant, Robert Bellah quotes him as writing that "it is this quality rather than fear or ambition, that makes things work in a democracy."

According to Bellah, Samuel Adams agreed: "We may look to armies for our defense, but virtue is our best security.   It is not possible that any state should long remain free where virtue is not supremely honored."

Freedom, virtue ­ these two were practically synonymous in the minds of our revolutionary forbears To them it was not inconceivable that an individual would be granted freedom merely for the satisfaction of instinct and whims.   Freedom was not the freedom to do as you please but rather, if you will, the freedom to do as you ought! Freedom, virtue ­ they were practically synonymous a hundred years later in the mind of Abraham Lincoln when, in his second inaugural address, he called for "a new birth of freedom."   But today, because we have so cruelly separated freedom from virtue, because we define freedom in a morally inferior way, our country is stalled in what Herman Melville call the "Dark Ages of Democracy," a time when as he predicted, the New Jerusalem would turn into Babylon, and Americans would feel "the arrest of hope's advance."

Ralph Nader:    What about the Educational system as it relates to democracy?

Rev. William Sloane Coffin:    Higher education is doing fairly well.   Universities are only too expensive, and do too little to persuade students to make a difference, not money, to be valuable not "successful."

Lower education, on the other hand, particularly for the urban and rural poor, cries for attention.   And it's all related ­ inadequate education, housing, jobs, day care, lack of medical assurance.   Our children need teachers and doctors, not generals and wars.   And they desperately need the incentive only good mentors and a good nation can provide.



Ralph Nader's blog: www.DemocracyRising.US









Flight Lieutenant Malcolm Kendall-Smith arrives at his Court Martial hearing at Aldershot Army Base in Surrey, April 11. Kendall-Smith, a British Royal Air Force doctor, has been jailed for eight months and dismissed from the service after being found guilty of refusing to deploy to Iraq.

The judge presiding in the case, Jack Bayliss, had the arrogance to criticise Kendall-Smith's analysis of how the war in Iraq was completely unjustified and illegal.
  Iraqis watch a burning storage facility Thursday April 13, 2006 in Baghdad, Iraq.

An Iraq resistance mortar shell hit a grain silo in southwest Baghdad, injuring 7, and triggering a huge fire.

Picture: AP/Samir Mizban  

(left)
Flight Lieutenant Malcolm Kendall-Smith arrives at his Court Martial hearing at Aldershot Army Base in Surrey, April 11. Kendall-Smith, a British Royal Air Force doctor, has been jailed for eight months and dismissed from the service after being found guilty of refusing to deploy to Iraq.

The judge presiding in the case, Jack Bayliss, had the arrogance to criticise Kendall-Smith's analysis of how the war in Iraq was from its inception completely unjustified and illegal.

"A degree of arrogance which is amazing," was the UK war-machine bootlicking Bayliss' remark.

Stop the War coalition national organiser Chris Nineham called the decision "a travesty of justice".

Dr Kendall-Smith had taken "a very courageous stand" and "paid a very high personal price for the lies of Tony Blair and his government", Chris Nineham said.

One of Kendall-Smith's lawyers, Justin Hugheston-Roberts, said an appeal against the conviction and sentence would be filed immediately.

"Now, more so than ever, he feels his actions were totally justified and he would not, if placed in the same circumstances, seek to do anything differently," Justin Hugheston-Roberts told the BBC.

He said it was also hoped to take the case to the House of Lords to have the whole question of the war's legality examined.

If that failed, he would pursue his case to the European Court.
(right)
Iraqis watch a burning storage facility Thursday April 13, 2006 in Baghdad, Iraq.

An Iraq resistance mortar shell hit a grain silo in southwest Baghdad, injuring 7, and triggering a huge fire.
Photos: AFP/Carl De Souza, AP/Samir Mizban






 
 
































































       Afghanistan — Western Terror States: Canada, US, UK, France, Germany, Italy       
       Photos of Afghanistan people being killed and injured by NATO     































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































 
 





 
For archives, these articles are being stored on TheWE.cc website.
The purpose is to advance understandings of environmental, political,
human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues.