Joy and growth come from following our deepest impulses,
however foolish they may seem to some, or dangerous,
and even though the apparent outcome may be defeat.
A .J. Muste
A. J. Muste, who died at the age of eighty-two on February 11, 1967, was one of the most important leaders of active nonviolence in the US in the twentieth century. Born in Holland, A. J. (Abraham Johannes) had been a Dutch Reformed minister in Michigan until his pacifist opposition to World War I led his congregation to dismiss him as their pastor.
Though he is relatively unknown, he had a major impact on efforts for peace, in part during his role as executive secretary of the U.S. Fellowship of Reconciliation, an interfaith pacifist group. But he made a major impact on peace efforts after he left that role.
I have seen pictures of him climbing over a fence to protest nuclear weapons, standing with Dorothy Day to witness the burning of draft cards during the Viet Nam war. The year before he died he made a trip to North Viet Nam to see the devastation wrought by US bombs.
He seems to have been a gentle soul, though resilient in his struggles for peace.
Some may think all this was foolhardy – but as he said to a reporter questioning a vigil outside a nuclear weapons base, “I don’t do this to change the world. I do it to keep the world from changing me.”
He followed his deepest impulses and is an example to many of us who still hold the dream of nonviolence and justice, who see the wisdom of one of his most famous statements:
There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.