1988: Peace Symposium

“Remembering the 1988 Peace Symposium” – from the Gettysburg Times (October 28, 2013)

by Bill Collinge

In this year’s commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, little has been said about peace.  By contrast, at the 50th anniversary celebration in 1913, President Woodrow Wilson challenged his audience to do “the things . . . which make blessed the nations of the world in peace and righteousness and love.”  At the 75th anniversary in 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the Peace Light, with its motto, “Peace eternal in a nation united.”  And for the 125th anniversary in 1988, the ICPJ worked together with the Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg College, and the Lutheran Seminary to make peace the theme of the celebration.

From their consultation, The Gettysburg Peace Celebration Commission was formed under the leadership of Judge Oscar Spicer to oversee the year’s events.  A performance of Peace Child combined local children with a touring international cast.  The first Peace Camp, which prepared for Peace Child, drew around 165 (!) children.  I was pleased to see the Peace Quilt, which the children made under the supervision of Celeste Lauritsen, on display at the Voices of Unity event earlier this month.  It would be hard to forget the Peace Child children, all dressed in white, marching across the fields to the Peace Light in near 100-degree heat on the July 3 anniversary of the end of the battle.  There, some of them helped Governor Robert P. Casey re-light the gas flame, which had been extinguished during an energy crisis in 1974.

The year concluded with the Gettysburg Peace Symposium, September 23-25, co-sponsored by the Peace Celebration Commission, the ICPJ, Gettysburg College, Mount St. Mary’s, and the Lutheran Seminary.  Subtitled “Economic, Ecological, and Spiritual Foundations for Global Peace,” it began with a concert by Noel Paul Stookey (Paul of Peter, Paul, and Mary) on the 22nd.  Some 300 people gathered for the weekend’s events, keynoted on Friday by Frances Moore Lappé, author of Diet for a Small Planet.  Lappé challenged the view that ending world hunger could be accomplished by curbing population and increasing production of food.  When these things are done, food scarcity still remains.  Ultimately, she said, the problem arises from our absolutizing of private property and of markets, rather than treating property and markets as mechanisms to distribute the earth’s resources for the good of all.

A Saturday morning symposium featured the eminent ecologist Barry Commoner.  Our problem is that we are trying to cure pollution, he said, when we should be preventing it.  As things stand, industry can pass the environmental costs of its actions onto others.  “What if they had to pay?” he asked.  In an evening address, peace studies scholar George Lopez of Notre Dame argued that we cannot make progress toward ending either war or environmental degradation until we learn to put ourselves in the place of their victims.  I am struck by how timely the speakers’ observations remain, though only Lappé mentioned atmospheric carbon dioxide.

The event ended with an interfaith service on Sunday, and we all went home.  Some of us were disappointed at the time that it did not lead to something more permanent, perhaps a book or an organization.  But for me it began a 25-year involvement with the ICPJ, and if it made any such impact on the other three hundred people there, it served its purpose.