February 2002

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Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.

Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.

Scott Nearing -- Peace Activist and Practical Conservationist

Shepherd Bliss visited the Nearings at their Forest Farm in the mid-1980s and now owns the organic Kokopelli Farm, PO Box 1040, Sebastopol CA 95473;

  Scott Nearing

Scott Nearing is best known for a book he wrote with his wife Helen, Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World, in l954. The Nearings stimulated a back-to-the-land movement that they embodied for 50 years, until Scott's death at the age of l00 in l983. Scott Nearing's writing during World Wars I and II have growing relevance as the US starts the 21st century's first major war. America's weapons have developed, but the main reasons for its war-making remain the same, and were well-described by Nearing over 80 years ago.

A young University of Pennsylvania economics professor as World War I began, Scott Nearing wrote a pamphlet about war, The Great Madness, that documented the commercial causes of war. Nearing asserted that the main purpose of the US military was "to guard the hundreds of millions of dollars...invested in 'undeveloped' countries." For such views and for speaking out against child labor, the university fired Nearing.

In "The Menace of Militarism" Nearing said, he "analyzed... military preparedness and war-making as sources of business profits. My Oil and the Germs of War explained the role of the petroleum and other big business interests in the international struggle for sources of raw material, markets, and investment opportunities." Over 80 years later, the US (led by oilmen) begins its Afghan War, caused partly by our oil dependency.

"War is an attempt of one group to impose its will upon another group by armed violence," Nearing observed, adding, "But war has wider implications. War offers those in power a chance to rid themselves of opposition while covering up their designs with patriotic slogans." The leaders of the US's current war pursue a domestic agenda against "opposition," as well as an international one.

"War drags human beings from their tasks of building and improving, and pushes them en masse into the category of destroyers and killers." Wars transform the societies that wage them. The Afghanistan War gives US-based terrorists permission to commit violence, including the use of anthrax and other weapons.

"The event which finally tore me away from my commitment to western civilization was the decision of Harry Truman to blot out the city of Hiroshima," Nearing said. "This decision was one of the most crucial ever made by modern man. The decision was the death sentence of western civilization....the use of atomic weapons against Japan was not only a crime against humanity, but was a blunder which would lead to a gigantic build-up of the planet's destructive forces...Humanity is today astride a guided missile equipped with a nuclear warhead."

War's degradation of nature also concerned Nearing, "Man is able to live on the earth because its soil, water, air, sunshine, and the radiant forces which play so large a part in the preservation of life exist in relative abundance." Nearing wrote about how the planet's natural resources had "been squandered in waging war," especially "supplies of fuels and metals." He criticized "the pollution and poisoning of land, water, and air by the waste products of concentrated urban life and of large-scale industry." Nearing became a critic of technology and western civilization, and a practical conservationist.

In 1932, as he approached 50, Scott Nearing abandoned the city for country living. He and Helen Nearing inspired thousands of visitors to their Forest Farm in Vermont and Maine. That inspiration continues through their books and the Good Life Center, which still hosts events and welcomes visitors.

In Freedom: Promise and Menace--A Critique of the Cult of Freedom(1961) Nearing wrote that "in the present world crisis conservatives are using the 'freedom' slogan to win support for their reactionary policies." As politicians once again shout the "freedom" slogan, it is important not to be deceived.

Scott Nearing opposed all forms of "tyranny, despotism, and irresponsive power" and proclaimed, "I believe in democracy." He was one of America's greatest 20th century peace activists and practical conservationists. As the Afghan War threatens to spread, it is worth returning to his writing and to the Nearings' model of living in harmony with nature.

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