Lasting Ties

Mennonite peacemakers across generations gather to discuss resistance – then and now

Friday, February 19th, 2010

It was the height of the Vietnam War and the U.S. military draft; Woodstock was taking place in New York; and it was also a turning point for the Mennonite peace witness. The year was 1969.

In a historic gathering of the biennial Mennonite General Conference delegate session at Turner, Ore., in August 1969, a small group of college students called on the delegate body to recognize draft resistance – in addition to the historic peace position of nonresistance – as a valid and faithful peace witness. And they did, somewhat to the students’ surprise.

Panelists during the Nov. 13 and 14 “Resistance: Taking a stand against war, 1960s to today” conference included draft resisters in the late 1960s and early 1970s: (left to right) Dennis Koehn of Chicago, Jon Lind of Manassas, Va., J.D. Leu of Brunswick, Md., and Doug Baker of Goshen.

Panelists during the Nov. 13 and 14 “Resistance: Taking a stand against war, 1960s to today” conference included draft resisters in the late 1960s and early 1970s: (left to right) Dennis Koehn of Chicago, Jon Lind of Manassas, Va., J.D. Leu of Brunswick, Md., and Doug Baker of Goshen.

The group of resisters who brought that concern to the conference was led by three Goshen College students – Doug Baker of Goshen, J.D. Leu of Brunswick, Md., and Jon Lind of Manassas, Va. The delegates were initially suspicious of the students because of their appearance, but the group – mostly long-haired, scruffy college students who had been staying in an improvised tent colony on the edge of the conference grounds – engaged in serious conversation with church leaders and shared how they connected their actions with being followers of Jesus.

“We thought there would be a lot of opposition,” said Leu. “As things unfolded, … it was interesting that the primary concern was that we could show this position was consistent with biblical teaching and with tradition. This made it much easier to come to common ground and a decision there. … It really felt like the Spirit was leading, the way things meshed despite our differences.”

Forty years later, those three leaders along with others who also resisted the draft or who supported draft resisters gathered on Nov. 13 and 14 at Goshen College for a reunion and an intergenerational conference: “Resistance: Taking a stand against war, 1960s to today.” More than 50 people attended the conference – a third of which were students – planned by current Goshen College seniors Daniel Foxvog of Tiskilwa, Ill., Hannah D. Miller of Scottdale, Pa., and Annali Smucker of Akron, Pa.; Professor Emeritus of Religion J.R. Burkholder; and faculty members Joe Liechty, associate professor of peace, justice and conflict studies, and Tamara Shantz, assistant campus minister.

At the conference, Perry Bush, Bluffton University professor of history and author of Two Kingdoms, Two Loyalties, offered the historical context leading up to the Turner, Ore., event, describing Civilian Public Service (CPS) as an alternative to war for conscientious objectors during World War II, which was funded and administered entirely by the Historic Peace Churches. This was in contrast to the imprisonment and persecution of conscientious objectors during World War I for refusing to serve in the military.

Bush went on to describe the creation of the 1-W program, a post World War II alternative service program that was in place through the Vietnam War, which addressed some of the concerns of those who “thought we compromised too much” with the CPS program. In this new system, the government paid and administered the program, though it was seen as problematic by some who thought it “essentially silenced protest to war.”

As the Vietnam War and the draft escalated, it also led to the escalation of the peace movement in the United States, which included the involvement of Mennonite young adults. Among those, there were a number who considered 1-W “too safe and sound while so many draftees were dying.” They wanted to resist the draft as a response, but the (old) Mennonite Church didn’t support that as a legitimate witness. That’s why these hippie college students boarded trains and hitchhiked to Turner, Ore.

“There was a sense of urgency and sense one needed to do something,” said Glenn Conrad, a conference attendee from Columbia, Md., who was among those who went to Turner.

Leu added, “We were calling the church to be what it wanted to be.”

But why was the statement that came out of the delegate session at Turner important? Bush said, “In effect, Mennonites had cut a deal with the state. ‘You go to war, but we are people of peace. As long as you leave us alone, we won’t cause any problems.’ Essentially this statement meant that the Mennonite Church broke that deal.”

The 1969 church statement included both of the following points: “We recognize the validity of noncooperation as a legitimate witness” and “We continue to support church-related alternate service as a legitimate option for those who do not feel called to a position of noncooperation.”

What was considered extreme actions by many at the time – draft resistance – were taken very seriously and with much deliberation by the students. Lind had spent time in Hong Kong and then Vietnam with Mennonite Central Committee doing refugee relief work. “It was the crucible for getting me into draft resistance later. … I felt like I was caught in the machine,” Lind said, as he was providing relief for people devastated by the actions of his own government.

While Baker was in college, “the things I heard about that were happening in Vietnam were so personally distressing to me,” he said. “On a matter of conscience, I didn’t feel like I could go along with it at all and that someone had to appeal to the government on behalf of the people dying over there.

“But [draft resistance] was not very costly for me,” he added, as he wasn’t arrested and didn’t spend time in prison.

Others did though. Two draft resister participants at the conference that didn’t go to Turner were Duane Shank of Washington, D.C., and Dennis Koehn, of Chicago. Shank was attending Eastern Mennonite College (now University) in 1969 when he didn’t register for the draft. He was then arrested on campus by the FBI, charged with a crime, convicted and sentenced to three years probation working at community organizing. “Conscription was part of the war system,” Shank said. “For me, if I didn’t want to participate in war, I also had to not cooperate with the draft. It wasn’t just about staying personally pure, but also about being a Christian witness to the state of being opposed to war in entirety.”

Shank has worked with the peace movement since, including in his work now at Sojourners where he is the senior policy adviser.

After Koehn publicly refused to register for the draft, he was investigated by the FBI and was then arrested on the Bethel College campus in Kansas. He spent a year and a half in prison. Last year, for the first time, he was able to visit Vietnam when his daughter was there doing service through Mennonite Central Committee.

Goshen College student organizers of the “Resistance: Taking a stand against war, 1960s to today” conference were (right to left) seniors Annali Smucker, Daniel Foxvog and Hannah D. Miller. They listen to the panel of draft resisters speak about their experience in 1969. Ethel and Ed Metzler of Goshen sit next to them in the front row.

Goshen College student organizers of the “Resistance: Taking a stand against war, 1960s to today” conference were (right to left) seniors Annali Smucker, Daniel Foxvog and Hannah D. Miller. They listen to the panel of draft resisters speak about their experience in 1969. Ethel and Ed Metzler of Goshen sit next to them in the front row.

These new models of Mennonite peacemaking were helpful for André Gingerich Stoner, pastor of Kern Road Mennonite Church in South Bend, Ind., when he became a college student and faced the reinstatement of the draft in 1980. He and his peers read the stories of the earlier draft resisters. “I thank you for your witness,” he said. “We were very much challenged, shaped, inspired by your witness.”

The idea for the gathering was hatched by Goshen College Professor Emeritus of Religion J.R. Burkholder who has recently been organizing his collection of documents from the Vietnam era and recalled the intensity of discussion and emotion among young men facing crucial decisions about the draft. As a teacher of ethics and peace studies, he was a primary supporter of the young men when they were in college. “I am gratified that my brainstorm to reflect on what happened 40 years ago has born fruit more than I could have imagined,” Burkholder said.

After listening to stories and learnings from the 1969 draft resisters and specifically the experience at Turner, Ore., the conference moved to the implications for the present Mennonite peace witness. Several of the panelists had suggestions for Mennonites today. Baker said, “Look around you. Whatever breaks your heart, get involved with it. … Never be afraid to stand up to the government. But the starting point isn’t looking to stand against government.”

Koehn added, “Our highest calling today as Mennonites is to go live with the enemy and report back what is really going on, what the world looks like from the ground.”

Annali Smucker, a Goshen College student, got involved in the conference planning and attended because she “hoped for generational sharing, how history repeats itself and how it is applicable to us today.”

The conference included three workshops about what a faithful peace witness might include today when there is no military draft. One was on war tax resistance led by Al Meyer, another on counter military recruitment led by Wendell Wiebe-Powell and one about working with members of the military by Gingerich Stoner.

Shank offered final remarks to conclude the day of reflecting and thinking about the future of the Mennonite church in relation to war and peace. “This reminded me of how the relationship between the church and state – especially around war – has been defining for Mennonites in 20th century,” he said. “How do we relate to the war and war system absent a draft? A significant piece of draft resistance movement was a call to the church to live up to what it had professed.”

He noted how the response to the Vietnam War shifted Mennonites’ views on peacemaking, and that a number of programs that developed afterward were a result, such as Christian Peacemaker Teams, peace studies programs at the colleges and the Peace and Justice Support Network.

Forty years later, with ample time for reflection and chances to see the ramifications for today’s peace witness, the 1969 draft resisters have very few regrets about going to Turner. “It felt good all the way,” Lind said. “It looks even better looking back.”

But the final word on the conference was about the future rather than the past. “It is important once again to call the church to be a peace church. A Christian peace witness is a Mennonite gift to the wider church. If we lose that, the entire church is hurt,” Shank said.

– by Jodi H. Beyeler

‘In the name of peace we came together’

Friday, February 19th, 2010
A procession of peace signs and caskets were part of the Moratorium march on Washington, D.C., which called for an end to the Vietnam War on Nov. 15, 1969.

A procession of peace signs and caskets were part of the Moratorium march on Washington, D.C., which called for an end to the Vietnam War on Nov. 15, 1969. (Photo courtesy of the 1970 Maple Leaf yearbook)

In the fall of 1969, few in the GC community were immune to the struggle of deciding if, where or how to work for peace.

On the evening of Nov. 13, 1969, up to 100 GC students boarded vehicles at the Union Building’s south portico to head for Washington, D.C. There, the students joined a throng of perhaps a half-million other people mourning the loss of life and calling for an end to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Camping in area churches, some GC students headed out in the chilly fall drizzle to join a somber four-mile procession with flickering candles. J. Devon Leu ’70 carried the name of a Hoosier Marine killed in Vietnam two years earlier, depositing it in a symbolic row of caskets near the White House. Anne Burkholder found “gentle seriousness” and “emotional unity” among the marchers, but worried whether the march would serve to polarize rather than prompt change. This concern was not unlike that which Jon Lind ’71, who coordinated transportation for those traveling to D.C., thought had caused GC professors to refrain from overt support for the march.

Professors of Religion J.R. Burkholder and C. Norman Kraus had worked together with students Steve Ainlay ’73, Matt Lind ’72 and Don Yost ’72, to plan an action-study day on campus for the Oct. 15 national moratorium. That day’s discussions with a church volunteer and a GI who had served in Vietnam, letter-writing, films and a silent memorial brought out fears in the town of Goshen of a “rabble-rousing, out-for-kicks demonstration.”

In response, 200 students who did not make the trip to the nation’s capital volunteered to clean alleys, rake leaves and wash windows for Goshen city residents. By so doing, they hoped to show support for those who did go, offer a service in love to persons in the Goshen community and continue the effort “to open avenues of … understanding between the community and Goshen College.”

– Joe Springer, Curator, Mennonite Historical Library

‘Every stitch a link of strength’

Thursday, October 8th, 2009
shirtfactory1a

Joe Brunk working at the shirt factory in the basement of Coffman Hall. Brunk was superintendant of Maple City Shirt Co. from 1934 - 37.

On Sept. 15, 1934, the north end of Coffman Hall’s basement filled with the whirr and clacking of a new enterprise: The Maple City Shirt Company. Its students faced with the economic challenges of the Great Depression, Goshen College had suffered a 15 percent drop in enrollment two years earlier and ramped up efforts to sustain enrollment. Although themselves strapped for cash, faculty extended credit to students, students from west of the Mississippi River received discounts to help pay their transportatioin to Goshen and the college unified its tuition, room and board fees to a straightforward – but for some still unaffordable – $187.50 per semester.

shirtfactory2a

Equipment for the shirt factory was acquired from Maugansville, Md.

The college enlisted the entrepreneurial savvy of faithful alumnus Joseph E. Brunk ’20 (1888-1973) to create a new opportunity for student aid. Having earlier served as the college’s business manager, for the previous decade Brunk had been working in the management of fruit-canning company C.H. Musselman Co. After investigating several enterprises, Brunk arranged for the purchase and transport to Goshen of the equipment of a shirt factory in Maugansville, Md. Brunk had estimated the shirts cost $6.36 to produce, and that they might be sold to retailers for $7.84. Critical to the successful start of production was Brunk recruiting his cousin, Martha Martin [Lehman] ’15 (1903-2000), who had worked in the Maugansville factory.

With Brunk as superintendent and Martin as patient tutor, about 20 students worked in two shifts through the first year of operation. Students like Minnie Sutter ’42 (1915-2002), who had scratched together $88, and Emmanuel Hertzler (1917-2009), who came to Goshen with $50, were able to cover the rest of their costs with grants earned in the factory. Over 1,014 dozen blue chambray and grey covret workshirts were cut, sewed, seamed, hemmed, buttonholed, labeled, pressed and folded during the first year of operation.

Producing the shirts seems to have been more successful than marketing them. College representatives on student recruitment trips offered shirts to merchants in the towns they visited. Student Paul W. Miller ’39 (1908-1990) came up with a catchy slogan – “Every stitch a link of strength” – to advertise the shirts on telephone poles. But even in Mennonite communities, merchants complained that their customers were reluctant to switch from accustomed brands to purchase Maple City shirts.

In its three years of operation, the factory appears not to have produced a business profit, but does seem to have successfully met its original objective of providing several dozen students the means to pursue their education at GC.

– Joe Springer, Curator, Mennonite Historical Library

WGCS hosts a request-a-song for Fifi Relief

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

WGCSOn Oct. 15, 1974, the 91.1 FM evening broadcast featured Khatchaturian’s Violin Concerto. Off-air, WGCS student general manager Jon Kennel (future general manager) and others had spent the day fielding dozens of request calls for classical and rock music as part of a special phonathon.
Since the fall of 1958, Goshen students, together with faculty collaborators such as chief engineer J. F. Swartzendruber and program director Roy Umble, had been broadcasting a variety of music, news, sports and commentary from a lofty nook in the Union Building. For the past year, students had capped the 12-hour broadcast day with “Synthesis,” a 75-minute program of progressive rock music.
Each of those 1974 request calls came with a pledge of money for Project Fifi (Fifi Reliefi). A devastating hurricane, Fifi, had struck Central America almost a month earlier. Particularly hard hit was Honduras, then hosting its ninth Study-Service Term group (including future president Jim Brenneman). In late September, GC faculty Bruce and Helen Glick gathered students with Central American connections at their home to brainstorm fundraising possibilities. WGCS public relations director Roger O. Smith took leadership for a phonathon.
Capitalizing on a midterm reading day, the station extended its broadcast day by almost five hours. Callers could request classical or rock pieces. The higher the pledge, the more likely the request would be played at a preferred time. Requests for rock music outnumbered those for classical music, but classical requests seemed to bring in higher pledges. Meanwhile, in the Union Gymnasium, WGCS staffers squared off against other challengers in volleyball. All told, the college radio station raised $2,074 for Fifi Reliefi.
Today, 50 years after its founding, WGCS continues to broadcast from the Union Building and is more commonly referred to as The Globe. It provides 24-hour programming and can be listened to from anywhere in the world at: www.globeradio.org.

– Joe Springer
Curator, Mennonite Historical Library