In Memoriam: Howard Clark

ACTIVISM, 9 Dec 2013

René Wadlow – TRANSCEND Media Service

Howard Clark, long time co-editor of Peace News and “coordinator” of War Resisters memoriam-howard-clarkInternational (WRI) died November 28, 2013. The WRI’s older term for the post “general secretary” had been phased out in the early 1970s to give the impression that the headquarters did not depend on only one person, but terminology does not always change reality. In practice, there was little staff to “coordinate” and the national branches were too diverse in goals and organizational culture to be coordinated — beyond cooperation for holding important Triennial conferences, during which Howard became the daily news presenter keeping the challenges of world events in front of the participants.

Howard faced the issue of re-directing a movement in the post-Cold War years. War Resisters International, as others in the peace movement, had had its activities structured by the 1945-1990 Cold War between the USSR and the USA. WRI had been active in anti-nuclear weapons efforts, against the trade in arms to countries in conflict, and in finding ways of bridging the Cold War divisions, in part in some joint activities with the Soviet-led World Peace Council — and yet also supporting individual objectors and dissidents in the Soviet bloc. The struggle against the U.S.-led war in Vietnam had been an important focus. As an organization with much British leadership, the tensions in Northern Ireland were also ever-present (1).

With the 1990s, Howard faced the issue of how to keep faith with the WRI tradition of individual conscientious objection (C.O.) and at the same time responding to broad social aspects of armed violence, especially the armed conflicts resulting in the break up of the Yugoslav Federation.

I knew Howard basically on the C.O. issues which had become an agenda item at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which met in Geneva. However, as countries dropped conscription in favor of a professional military or developed alternatives to military service, the only C.O.s left were members of the Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses), whose theology seemed strange to Howard, all the more so that in some Watchtower publications, the returning Jesus seems less nonviolent than the first time around! Since I have worked on freedom of conscience and belief in U.N. human rights bodies, I have had many contacts with Jehovah’s Witnesses, explaining to them that I was not into reading the Book of Daniel or Revelations, but I would defend their right to have Kingdom Halls in Central Asia.

Howard was more tuned to broader social change — “Nonviolent Revolution” became a subtitle on the Peace News masthead and Making Nonviolent Revolution was Howard’s most widely circulated booklet within WRI, starting in 1977 with the third edition in 2012. Howard worked closely with Gene Sharp and George Lakey, both of whom put the emphasis on nonviolent actions for broad social change.

Thus we were both heavily involved in looking for ways to limit the conflicts starting in the early 1990s with the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Howard early recognized the importance of the nonviolent efforts of Ibrahim Rugova in Kosovo, an effort to create a total alternative society once Slobodan Milosevic had ended in 1989 the autonomy of Kosovo within the Serbian Republic and modified the education system. Howard’s book on Rugova and Kosovo is an important contribution to the study of nonviolence (2).

Howard was often frustrated by the lack of peace movement interest in Rugova when nonviolence seemed a real possibility for deep social change. After the 1995 “Dayton Accords” which deliberately left the Kosovo issues aside, there was the rise of an armed Kosovo faction, leading to harsh Serbian repression, NATO bombing of Serbia and the end of any possibilities of good-faith negotiations in Kosovo, a troubled situation still with us, Rugova having died in 2006.

After Howard retired as coordinator of WRI in 2006, in part to get married and follow his wife to Spain, he was elected chair of WRI, a post he held at his death. His drive and analytical mind will be missed.

Notes:

  1. For a good history of WRI from its founding until the mid-1970s, see Devi Prasad’s War is a Crime against Humanity: The Story of War Resisters’ International (London: War Resisters’ International, 2005, 555pp.)
  2. Howard Clark, Civil Resistance in Kosovo (London, Pluto Press, 2000)

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René Wadlow, a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and of its Task Force on the Middle East, is president and U.N. representative (Geneva) of the Association of World Citizens. He is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment.

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