S. Brian Willson

This site contains essays describing the incredible historic pattern of U.S. arrogance, ethnocentrism, violence and lawlessness in domestic and global affairs, and the severe danger this pattern poses for the future health of Homo sapiens and Mother Earth. Other essays discuss revolutionary, nonviolent alternative approaches based on the principle of radical relational mutuality. This is a term increasingly used by physicists, mathematicians and cosmologists to describe the nature of the omnicentric*, ever-unfolding universe. Every being, every aspect of life energy in the cosmos, is intrinsically interconnected with and affects every other being and aspect of life energy at every moment.

*everything is at the center of the cosmos at every moment

Brian's Blog

All blog entries and essays posted on this site are authored by S. Brian Willson.

The Secret of the Arrowheads (Summary)

When I was kid growing up in Geneva in the Finger Lakes Region of New York State, I was fascinated with collecting arrowheads from the previous civilization that lived there until wiped out in 1779 by the Continental Revolutionary Army. Then it was called Kanadesaga, the headquarters for the forty-strong village network of the Seneca Nation, one of the six tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy. I did not know the real history of what happened to the Iroquois, and the Seneca, because nobody had told me.

Washington’s Orders in 1779 to “lay waste” and “total ruinment” of the Iroquois Confederacy

In 1779, the largest battles of the Revolutionary War were conducted in central New York. On February 25, 1779, Commander-in-Chief General George Washington submitted to the Continental Congress plans for a major Indian expedition, which the Congress authorized.1 The first of four major military invasions, one little known, against the Iroquois occurred in April when Colonel Goose Van Schaick with more than 500 soldiers moved against the Onondaga settlements in east central New York State, “laying waste their towns and crops, slaughtering their cattle and horses, and carrying off thirty-three prisoners”.2

Planning for the remaining invasions from three different directions were outlined, all converging on central and western New York in the heart of Iroquois country, especially the Seneca. General John Sullivan, overall in charge, with 2,500 forces, was to ready his forces at Easton, Pennsylvania in late April to move north upon orders. General James Clinton with 1,500 men, was to begin in Schenectady, New York and move south on the Unadilla and Susquehanna Rivers to later join Sullivan’s forces in Tioga, Pennsylvania, just south of the border with central New York not far from Elmira. Colonel Brodhead with 600 men, was to start out at Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh) and move up the Allegheny River toward western New York.

Previously, Washington did not have the manpower to adequately fortify the frontier, but in 1779 the British began to concentrate their military efforts in the southern colonies, proving an “opportunity” to launch an offensive towards Fort Niagara on the Canadian border in western New York.

From his New Jersey military headquarters, Supreme Commanding General George Washington, who considered the Indians as “beasts of prey”3, issued his final orders on May 31, 1779, to launch the invasions:

The Expedition you are appointed to command is to be directed against the hostile tribes of the Six Nations of Indians, with their associates and adherents. The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements, and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more.

I would recommend, that some post in the center of the Indian Country, should be occupied with all expedition, with a sufficient quantity of provisions whence parties should be detached to lay waste all the settlements around, with instructions to do it in the most effectual manner, that the country may not be merely overrun, but destroyed.

But you will not by any means listen to any overture of peace before the total ruinment of their settlements is effected. Our future security will be in their inability to injure us and in the terror with which the severity of the chastisement they receive will inspire them.4

Chronicle of the Massacre

In June, Clinton began his march from Schenectady southwest to Otsego Lake, the head of the Susquehanna River. On August 9, with 1,500 men and 220 flatboats floating on the crest of a frontal wave formed by creating, then breaking, a dam at the river’s mouth, they were carried to Tioga, Pennsylvania where they arrived on August 22. Similarly, Sullivan marched west from Easton to Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, then marched up the Susquehanna and Wyoming valley toward Tioga (Athens, Pennsylvania) where he arrived on August 11, to await Clinton. Meanwhile Brodhead was moving north up the Allegheny River valley to Fort Venango then onto Conewango in western New York.5

When Sullivan’s and Clinton’s forces merged with more than 4,000 men on August 22, they began preparations for their scorched earth campaign into the heart of Iroquois country, first into New York’s southern tier, then into the Finger Lakes region. At Newtown along the Chemung River near Elmira, New York, the Sullivan-Clinton forces armed with artillery overwhelmed 500 Indians under the direction of Brant and 250 Tory rangers. The Indians and Tories fled in an attempt to regroup 70 miles further to the northwest at Genesee. As it turned out Sullivan’s forces were so numerous and overpowering this was the only major battle that took place during this month-long expedition. By September 7, the Continental Army forces had moved up the east side of 40-mile long Seneca Lake and had arrived in the village where I was to be born nearly 162 years later in Geneva, then called Kanadesaga.6

Even the Continental Army soldiers were impressed with the exceptionally well-built towns and houses, the beautiful orchards of apple and peach trees, and extensive corn, beans and squash crops, the Iroquois staples. In Indian town after town, the new “American” army destroyed everything – all homes, crops and fruit trees. Even graves were plundered as soldiers looked for possible burial items of value. Soldiers committed gruesome acts like skinning bodies “from the hips down for bootlegs”7 . Virtually all Cayuga, Mohawk, Onondaga, and Seneca towns had been totally destroyed.8

General Sullivan’s Description of “Laying Waste”

When the expedition was completed at the end of September, Sullivan issued a report to the Continental Congress:

“The loss of the enemy was much greater that was at first apprehended. [A]t Newtown…I suppose them to have been 1500 (p. 298). [S]aw… Indians, killed and scalped (p. 300). The number of towns destroyed by this army amounted to 40 besides scattering houses. The quantity of corn destroyed, at a moderate computation, must amount to 160,000 bushels, with a vast quantity of vegetables of every kind. Every creek and river has been traced, and the whole country explored in search of Indian settlements, and I am well persuaded that, except one town situated near the Allegana (sic), about 50 miles from Chinesee (sic), there is not a single town left in the country of the Five nations. It is with pleasure I inform Congress that this army has not suffered the loss of forty men in action…”(p. 303) (Italics added).

On the centennial of the Sullivan scorched earth campaign, Reverend Craft, a Presbyterian minister at Wyalusing, Bradford County, Pennsylvania (between Wyoming and Tioga), delivered the following address that celebrated the devastation by Sullivan’s exploits in Kanadesaga: […p. 364] Early in the morning of the 7th [September 1779], the army again struck tents, and after marching about eight miles, came to the foot of Seneca lake, about five miles from Kanadesaga, where expecting an attack, the army halted and reconnoitered the ground. Finding no enemy they proceeded keeping close to the bank of the lake on account of a bad marsh on their [p. 365] right. In about half a mile they came to the outlet, a rapid running stream from twenty to thirty yards wide and knee deep. Fording this the army re-formed on the high ground on the left bank and marched about half a mile with a narrow marsh between them and the lake; they then came to a large morass or quagmire, now known as the “soap mine” and were compelled to pass a narrow and dangerous defile along the lake shore, which was flooded at intervals. Emerging from this, they encountered another morass now known as Marsh Creek, thence by a narrow path along the beach they came to a cornfield and Butler’s buildings, consisting of four or five houses at the north-west corner of the lake near the present canal bridge in Geneva. The path then lay along the north side of Castle Brook to Kanadesaga, an important Seneca town, of about fifty houses, surrounded by orchards and cornfields, distant nearly two miles in a westerly or north-westerly direction from the foot of Seneca Lake, General Maxwell’s Brigade going to the right and General Hands’ to the left to gain the rear and surround the town.

Kanadesaga was a large and important town, ]366] with orchards of apple, peach and mulberry trees surrounding the town. Fine gardens with onions, peas, beans, squashes, potatoes, turnips, cabbages, cucumbers, water melons, carrots and parsnips, abounded; and large cornfields were to the north and northeast of the town. All were destroyed on the 8th of September.9

Historian Page Smith declared that “Sullivan’s campaign was the most ruthless application of a scorched-earth policy in American history. Its destruction bears comparison with Sherman’s march to the sea or the search-and-destroy missions of American soldiers in the Vietnam war. The Iroquois Confederacy was the most advanced Indian federation in the New World. It had made a territory that embraced the central quarter of New York State into an area of flourishing farms with well-cultivated fields and orchards and sturdy houses. Indeed, I believe it could be argued that the Iroquois had carried cooperative agriculture far beyond anything the white settlers had achieved. In a little more than a month all of this had been wiped out”.10

Declaration of Independence, “merciless Indian Savages”

On July 4, 1776, the US American Declaration of Independence from the British Empire penned by Thomas Jefferson was adopted by the 1st Continental Congress. Jefferson severely excoriated Great Britain’s King George for, among many things, exciting “domestic insurrection amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions”.

Who Are the Real “merciless Savages

In 1966, I was drafted out of my fourth semester of law school. In 1969 I “served” as a USAF Combat Security Police Section Leader in Viet Nam where I witnessed barbaric atrocities from bombings of inhabited, undefended villages. After I began speaking out against the criminal and lawlessness of the war my commander ordered me returned to the United States. Upon departure, in my parting words I reminded my commander of Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence, “merciless Indian Savages”. I informed him that I now know who the merciless savages are – of course, they are us. I was one of them even as I personally had not pulled any triggers or dropped any bombs.

The truth of this brutal history, and that of more than 560 US military interventions since 1798, and hundreds of battles against Indigenous Americans, was concealed in those arrowheads I collected when a young kid. If I had only known that my life would have been radically different. However, the fact will not be taught to us by our elders, our churches, our schools, or our politicians. But the truth is present for all to see when opening wide one’s hearts and eyes.


1. Sullivan/Clinton Campaign, Then and Now, http://sullivanclinton.com].

2. Colin G. Calloway, The American Revolution in Indian Country: Crisis and Diversity in Native American Communities (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 51; Anthony F. C. Wallace, Jefferson and the Indians: The Tragic Fate of the First Americans (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1999), 141-42).

3. Richard Drinnon, Facing West: The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating and Empire-Building (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1980), 65.

4. Wikipedia, Sullivan Expedition; John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., Writings of George Washington (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, XV, 1936), 189-93; Drinnon, 331.

5. Wallace, Death, 142.

6. Wallace, 142-43).

7. Calloway, 51.

8. Wallace, 143-44.

9.  Major Gen. Sullivan’s Official Report written at Teaogo, NY, September 30, 1779, submitted to the (unicameral) Continental Congress, presided by John Jay; Re-published in Journals of the Military Expedition of Major General John Sullivan Against the Six Nations of Indians in 1779 With Records of Centennial Celebrations, prepared pursuant to Chapter 361, Laws of the State of New York, of 1885, by Frederick Cook, Secretary of State (Auburn, NY: Knapp, Peck & Thompson Printers, 1887), 298, 300, 303, 364-6; T.C. Amory, The Military Services and Public Life of Major General John Sullivan (Boston, Mass.: Wiggin & Lunt, (1868, reprod. 1968), 130, & c.; A. T. Norton, History of Sullivan’s Campaign Against the Iroquois (Lima, NY: A.T. Norton, 1879).

10. Page Smith, A New Age Now Begins, Vol Two (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976), 1172.

1970s Origins of Accelerated Rise of Nonwhite Incarceration in the US

Case Study Using Data From the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The BOP is the one jurisdiction administering penal facilities in the United States that has maintained relatively accurate records since its 1930 founding, even though definitions of race have not been consistent.

1. Incarcerated federal prisoners on June 30, 1952 totaled 18,896 (75% White, 25% Nonwhite). [Federal Prisons 1952, Report of the Work of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Table 18, p. 75]

2. Incarcerated federal prisoners on an average day in 1970 totaled about 21,000 (71% White, 29% Nonwhite). [FBOP Annual Reports and BOP periodical data sheets]

NOTE: November 13, 1969, President Nixon ordered Attorney General John Mitchell to prepare a 10-year federal corrections system “reform” plan to construct new prisons and modernize existing ones. The BOP created its Long Range Master Plan (LRMP).

3. Incarcerated federal prisoners on September 11, 1977 totaled 30,343 (60.5% White, 39.5%. Nonwhite) [BOP Annual Reports and BOP periodical data sheets]

4. Between 1972 (when the BOP unveiled publicly its first LRMP) and 1977, the Bureau opened 21 new penal facilities capable of housing nearly 6,000 additional prisoners. In that same period of time the number of Nonwhite federal prisoners increased by approximately the same number — 6,000! In effect, the initial prison expansion was “reserved” exclusively for Nonwhite prisoners which proved to be a catastrophic prophetic warning of increased racial repression for the years ahead. When the rapid expansion began, especially after 1975 which revealed the first expansion in rates’ trends in BOP history, the incarcerated federal prisoner population quickly rose by 45%, but Nonwhite prisoner population experienced an extraordinarily disproportionate increase of 97%!

5. Incarcerated federal prisoners in September 2004 totaled 153,084 in BOP facilities, plus 27,234 in non-BOP contract facilities, for a grand total of 180,318 (24.5% White, 75.5% Nonwhite).

6. The BOP had an internal 2003 rated capacity of 106,046 prisoners. [Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners in 2003, Table 8]. Thus, with over 153,000 internal prisoners (those not contracted out to private or state facilities) it operated at 144% capacity. Since 1970, the BOP’s internal capacity has risen from approximately 21,000 to 106,000 beds, a spectacular 300+% increase of 85,000 beds, while relying increasingly upon contractual facilities, which capacity has jumped from 4,000 to 27,000 beds, nearly a 500% explosive increase of 23,000 beds.

Thus, the BOP has over 34 years (1970-2003 inclusively) increased its capacity by a net additional 112,000 beds (85,000 + 27,000). In that same period of time, 1970-2003, the number of Nonwhite prisoners jumped an unbelievable 2,100%, from 6,100 in 1970 to more than 136,000 in 2003-04, an astonishing increase of 129,000 minority prisoners! Every one of the new 112,000 BOP beds has been filled by a Nonwhite prisoner!

Though White prisoners did jump more than 200%, from 14,000 in 1970 to 44,000 in 2003-04, an increase of 30,000, its rate pales when compared to the 2,100% increase for Nonwhite prisoners! The added BOP capacity of 112,000 beds easily accommodated 30,000 additional White prisoners. But even with this staggering expansion in prison capacity, the shocking explosion of Nonwhite prisoners has been produced by the rapidly expanding criminal law/crime control/industrial complex, including the ill-fated “war on drugs”. Over 54% of the FBOP’s inmates are doing time for drug offenses. [FBOP Quick Facts, September 2004]. This phenomena has dramatically outpaced the ability of the BOP to operate anything but a terribly overcrowded, racist system. [S. Brian Willson, “Racist Nature of Juvenile Facilities, Jails and Prisons in the United States” (Washington, DC: National Moratorium on Prison Construction, February 1978)].


The Broader Context of the US Love Affair With Incarceration and Torture

The US imprisons 2.5 million of its citizens on an average day in more than 9,000 jails and prisons, boasting the highest per capita detention rate in the world by far – 800 prisoners for every 100,000 people [Local jails: 745,000; state and federal adult prisons: 1,600,000; juvenile facilities: 141,000; and immigrant detention: 34,000 = Grand Total: 2,520,000 U.S. prisoners]. Rwanda has the second highest detention rate at 595; Russia comes in third at 568. The world’s average per capita detention rate is 146.

Equally startling, is the fact that on an average day 6.9 million US Americans are on probation, in jail or prison, or on parole (under local, state or federal government “correctional” supervision), or 3.2% of U.S. adult residents (1 in every 32 adults). But on any given day, 30 percent of African-American males aged 20 to 29 are “under correctional supervision” [Tara Herivel and Paul Wright, Prison Nation: The Warehousing of America’s Poor (London: Rouledge, 2003), 31].

More than 60 percent of US prisoners are from racial and ethnic minority groups yet they comprise only 36 percent of the general population. The US, with 4.6 percent of the world’s population, holds 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. At least 80,000 of these, and as many 110,000, are locked up in solitary confinement in facilities, often for years, such as at Pelican Bay Prison in California, and Angola Penitentiary in Louisiana, among dozens of locations. Being held in solitary for more than 15 days was determined in 2011 by the UN Special Rapporteur to begin devastating, often irreversible physical and mental ill effects, and is therefore considered torture. Force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strikes in the US is also not unusual, itself another form of torture in violation of international law. Solitary confinement inevitably contributes to increased risks of prison suicides, of which hundreds are reported every year.

I studied the regular use of torture in Massachusetts prisons in 1981, where force feeding of striking prisoners was common; as was the withholding of rights and privileges such as necessary medicine, mail, or winter clothing during cold weather; the imposition of hazards such as flooding cells, igniting clothes and bedding, providing too little or too much heat, and spraying mace and tear gas; inflicting physical beatings of prisoners filing prison complaints or litigation, of those protesting conditions using hunger strikes; and various forms of intentional psychological abuse such as arbitrary shakedown of cells and brutal rectal searches, ordering prisoners to lie face down on cold floors or the outside ground before receiving food, and empty announcements of visitors or family only later to say it was a joke.

During the Spanish-American war in the Philippines, President Teddy Roosevelt proudly defended water boarding torture as part of the arsenal of techniques to achieve “the triumph of civilization over the black chaos of savagery and barbarism” of the Filipinos, or “googoos”. In Haiti in 1920, the NAACP investigated the conduct of US Marines who were murdering thousands of Haitians while practicing widespread torture to overcome a Haitian revolt of “savage monkeys” against the continuing unwanted U.S. presence there. The word googoo morphed into “gook” as the derogatory term used by US soldiers against the Vietnamese.

In 1931 President Hoover’s Wickersham Report (National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement) concluded that the use of torture (intentional infliction of various methods of pain and suffering) was “widespread” throughout the entire US criminal justice system. The US school of the Americas has been teaching torture (“interrogation”) to Latin American military personnel since 1946.

Over dependence on Incarceration and torture are US American values.

Corporation’s Usurpation of Democracy is as US American as Apple Pie

The first authors who alerted me to the nature and problems of corporations were Morton J. Horowitz, The Transformation of American Law, 1780-1860 (Harvard University Press, 1977); and Edwin Sutherland’s White Collar Crime (Dryden Press, 1949), which edition conveniently omitted the explosive list of criminal corporations and their list of violations. The UNCUT version was published posthumously in 1983 by Yale University Press, 34 years after the Dryden edition, 33 years after Sutherland’s death.

Horowitz‘ book describes development of U.S. corporations from the municipality (1700s) carrying out public functions, to the business corporation in the 1800s organized to pursue private ends for individual gain. The Dartmouth College Case (Sup Ct, 1819) held that a corporate charter was a private contractPolitical and economic power had shifted from precommercial and antidevelopmental common law values, to merchant and entrepreneurial ones, a radical transformation accomplished a decade before the Civil War. The rise of legal formalism subordinated natural laws and custom to disproportionate economic concentration in individuals or corporations, with the latter allowed to “contract out” pre-existing legal obligations. Law was no longer paternalistic or protective of the moral sense of the community at-large, but a device to facilitate individual and corporate desires for achieving economic and political power. It was the legal transfer of power from workers, farmers, and local consumers to the mostly White men of commerce and industry. Thus, was witnessed the active redistribution of wealth waged against the “weakest” groups in society who did not sufficiently revolt against the increasing stratification that was becoming entrenched in the political-economic structure of the Republic itself. This was unfolding before the 1886 Supreme Court case, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, that in some cases personhood includes corporations, apparently due to a clerk’s fraudulent (mis)interpretation of the Justice’s decision in that case. However, as can be seen, the idea of corporate personhood was already a happening policy in practice.

This was consistent with the theme of the Constitution as a document with one fundamental purpose to create a national political system to preserve commercial and financial interests. It created a system of checks and balances that strengthen private power with a Bill of Rights that protects monied interests and individuals in their pursuit of property while failing to guarantee genuine freedom of fair participation and liberty.  Jefferson had described the new republic as an ”empire of liberty” while Madison described it as an “imperial republic.”

Edwin Sutherland, one of the leading criminologists of the 20th century, gave his presidential address before the American Sociological Society in 1939 that shook up the professional “crime control” community. His presentation, entitled, “The White Collar Criminal,” altered the study of crime in fundamental ways by focusing on lawbreaking by persons in positions of power. He talked about the collusion between businessmen and politicians, and suggested the root causes of crime lie within the values of the social system itself and its corresponding structures. He spent the next 10 years extensively researching this subject of “White Collar Crime,” published ultimately by Dryden Press in 1949, but not before it demanded that Sutherland write a final chapter on theory of crime, AND that the chapter on naming criminal corporations be deleted from the book.

He concluded that White Collar crimes are very frequent and, therefore, that “crime” cannot be attributed to poverty and its related pathologies. Only the type of “crime” could be generally associated with socio-economic class, but the damage to society became more severe as one examined the heretofore exempted crimes of the wealthy.

In 1983, Yale University subsequently published his 1949 book without the deletions of criminal corporations/organizations. This explosive chapter summarized 980 decisions of courts and administrative bodies made against serious unlawful behaviors of the 70 largest manufacturing, mining, and mercantile corporations in the U.S., discovering an average of 14 formal decisions of unlawful or criminal behavior per corporation over their average life span of 45 years. A separate chapter examined the crimes and unlawful behavior during time of War of those 70 corporations. This revealed substantial padding of the costs to reduce reported profits, the systematic juggling of financial data, illegally selling munitions to enemy nations, etc. Thus proved beyond doubt that profits are way more important than patriotism. Sutherland quoted Eugene Grace, the president of Bethlehem Steel: “Patriotism is a very beautiful thing, but it must not be permitted to interfere with business” (White Collar, p. 190). And he quoted Pierre DuPont, president of his family gunpowder company: We cannot assent to allowing our patriotism to interfere with our duties as trustees (White Collar, p. 190). This latter quote is taken from the U.S. Senator (R-WI) Nye Committee Report (1934-36) examining the role played by U.S. businessmen inducing the nation’s entrance into WWI through various violations of State department policies.

Ah, yes, the trustees must preserve their profits, while we accept public decay and deterioration. Bring on the revolt, revive the central role of the human in our evolutionary journey, and pray that we shall soon understand our need to cease any further the politics of our obedience to voluntary servitude.

Mahatma Gandhi’s two-prong program: (1) noncooperation, & (2) constructive program

In the mid-1930s, Gandhi (1869-1948), when in his 60s, began demonstrating a significant shift in his emphasis and thinking. He had been significantly influenced by reading Leo Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God Is Within You (1894) in which Tolstoy wrote of the power of disassociation from the state altogether in numerous self-reliant communities. In fact, Gandhi’s life and work became increasingly dominated by his strategies of reconstruction from below (a full-time task for sure), lessening his emphasis on noncooperation and satyagraha, though the latter was never to be abandoned when determined to be strategically necessary to encourage conversion and moral transformation, but not retribution. But the thrust became withdrawing support from the political state freeing up energy and imagination for building economically self-reliant communities from below. The spinning wheel was both a symbol, and a literal appropriate technology, promising to liberate people from dependence upon British textiles, as they fulfilled their own needs with their own local basic industries. He vigorously rejected western materialist values and industrialism.

A symbol for empowerment and self-reliance for us westerners might be seeds, a hoe, or a bicycle.

In 1933, Gandhi founded the weekly newspaper, Harijan, concentrating on social and economic issues seeking empowerment of the impoverished (untouchables). Growing contempt for the historic pattern of tyrannical state power led to his resignation from the Indian Congress in September 1934. In effect, he dramatically reduced his active involvement in state politics enabling energy on empowering the poor – transforming society from below by developing village industries and crafts. This transformation sought to revive economic strength of self-reliant, self-contained village cultures, actually hundreds of thousands of them in a decentralized federation. Authentic political independence required fundamental and moral reconstruction of society from below, centered on economic renewal of autonomous village life and sardovaya (social uplift for everyone). In 1935 he created the All-India Village Industries Association. In 1936 he created the Sevagram Ashram as a model service village.

To Gandhi, noncooperation was the nonviolent counterpart of guerrilla war. But, the constructive program was counterpart to a parallel society from below so essential in the Mexican, Chinese, and Viet Nam revolutions. He concluded that noncooperation and withdrawal of consent taken by themselves were woefully ineffective, since they do not permanently relieve the oppressed. Concrete action was imperative to assure social betterment and justice for all (sardovaya).

Summary: The constructive program was a nonviolent revolutionary way to undermine vertical political power. As noncooperation drained power away from oppressors, the constructive program generated lasting power in the local people. In effect, rebuilding self-reliance from below undermined support for the state as it empowered local autonomy. Today, we envision re-constructing locally reliant, food and simple tool sufficient communities in watersheds or bioregions.

Historically withdrawal of support from vertical power was a major factor in collapse of the Mayan civilization @ 900 AD, when workers simply abandoned their increasingly enslaved conditions as the Mayan rulers became more greedy and demanding. They literally fled to the mountains where they lived on a mix of farming and foraging. As a result, the kings and their cabal starved. [Daniel Quinn, Beyond Civilization: Humanities Next Great Adventure (NY: Three Rivers Press, 1999), 41, 82, 91, 95, 98, 99; Alan Weisman, The World Without US (NY: St. Martins Press, 2007), 227-229].

There are hundreds of resources relating to nonviolence and Gandhi. My emphasis is to reveal Gandhi’s shift in the 1930s to the essential building of constructive programs from below. Selected resources:

* DVD Ancient Futures: Learning From Ladakh, documentary by Helena Norbert Hodge, Green Planet Films, Corte Madera, CA, about the Ladakh people in the Himalayas who lived peacefully for centuries and reveals what happens to their culture in just one generation of “development.”

* DVD Why Kerala, Grampa?, documentary by Tom Chamberlin, Portland, OR, describing the amazing development of thousands of relatively self-reliant communities communicating with each other in the state of Kerala, one of the 28 states of India.

* DVD The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, documentary by Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions, Yellow Springs, OH.

* “Gandhi’s Three Pillars of Freedom Are the Key To Our Survival,” interview with Vandana Shiva by David Barsamian, YES Magazine, Summer 2009. Note: The three pillars: (1) Swadeshi – self-making, local-reliance, decentralization; (2) Swaraj – self-rule, self-organizing, local responsibility; (3) Satyagraha – civil disobedience, noncooperation, withdrawal of consent. System change doesn’t happen at the system level; it happens by people wherever they are making the changes that they want to see.

* “Gandhi’s Constructive Program – And Ours”, by Joanne Sheehan, Peacework, Issue 368, September 2006 (http://www.peaceworkmagazine.org/gandhi-s-constructive-program-and-ours).

* M.K. Gandhi, Constructive Programme:
It’s Meaning and Place (http://www.gandhi-manibhavan.org/gandhiphilosophy/philosophy_consprogrammes_bookwritten.htm).

* Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God Is Within You (1894; Lincoln, NE: Univ of Nebraska Press, 1984).

* Jonathan Schell, The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People (NY: Metropolitan Books, 2003), Chapter 4, “Satyagraha”, 103-142.

* Peter Ruhe, Gandhi (NY: Phaidon Press, 2001), “Introduction”, 6-11.

* Etienne De La Boettie, The Politics of Obedience: A Discourse of Voluntary Servitude (@1553, Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1997).

* Mark Shepard, Gandhi Today: The Story of Mahatma Gandhi’s Successors (Washington, DC: Seven Locks Press, 1987), 5-8, 13-14, 42-43.

* Mahatma Gandhi, Gandhi: All Men Are Brothers, Autobiographical Reflections (NY: Continuum, 1984), 183.

* William Shirer, Gandhi: A Memoir (NY: Washington Square Press, 1979), 213.

* M.K. Gandhi, For Pacifists (A










The Importance of the December 1914 Christmas Truce

In December 1914, an amazing outbreak of peace, though brief, occurred when as many as 100,000 of the million troops, or ten percent, stationed along the 500 mile Western Front in World War I, mutually, and spontaneously, stopped fighting for at least 24-36 hours, December 24-26. Isolated instances of local truces occurred at least as early as December 11, and continued sporadically until New Year’s Day and into early January 1915. At least 115 fighting units were involved among British, German, French and Belgian soldiers. Despite general’s orders strictly forbidding any kind of fraternization with the enemy, many points along the front witnessed trees with lit candles, soldiers coming out of their trenches only 30 to 40 yards apart to shake hands, share smokes, food and wine, and sing with one another. Troops from all sides took advantage to bury their respective dead lying all over the battlefields, and there were even reports of joint burial services. In some cases officers joined the widespread fraternization. There is even mention here and there of a soccer game played between the Germans and British. (See SOURCES).

As impressive display of the human spirit as this was, it was not, however, a unique occurrence in the history of war. In fact, it was a resurgence of a long established tradition. Informal truces and small localized armistices and incidents of friendship shared between enemies have taken place during other prolonged periods of military fighting over several centuries, perhaps longer.[1] This includes the Viet Nam war as well.[2]

Retired Army Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a professor of military science, has argued that humans have a deep, innate resistance to killing that requires special training to overcome.[3] I was unable to thrust my bayonet into a dummy during my USAF ranger training in early 1969. If I had been an army grunt instead of an Air Force officer, and a few years younger, I wonder, would it have been easier to kill on command? My commander was obviously very unhappy when I refused to use my bayonet, because the military is well aware that men can only be made to kill by coercion. The tyranny needed to make an army work is fierce. It knows it cannot allow dialogue about its mission and must quickly patch any cracks in the blind obedience system. I was immediately placed on the “Officer Control Roster” and faced royal scoldings behind closed doors in which I was threatened with court-martial offenses, shamed over and over, and accused of being a coward and traitor. My unpremeditated refusal to participate in the bayonet drill, I was told, created morale problems that threatened to interfere with our mission.

Yale University social psychologist Stanley Milgram in 1961, only three months after the beginning of the trial of Adolph Eichmann in Jerusalem for his role in coordinating the Holocaust, began a series of experiments to better understand the nature of obedience to authority. The results were shocking. Milgram carefully screened his subjects to be representative of typical US Americans. Briefed on the importance of following orders, participants were instructed to press a lever inflicting what they believed were a series of shocks, gradually escalating at fifteen-volt increments, every time the nearby Learner (actor) made a mistake in a word-matching task. When the Learners began screaming in pain, the Experimenter (authority figure) calmly insisted that the experiment must continue. A startling 65 percent of Milgram’s Participants administered the highest possible level of electricity—a lethal jolt that might have killed someone actually receiving the shocks. Additional experiments conducted over the years at other universities in the United States, and in at least nine other countries in Europe, Africa, and Asia, all revealed similar high rates of compliance to authority. A 2008 study designed to replicate the Milgram obedience experiments while avoiding several of its most controversial aspects, found similar results.[4]

Milgram announced the study’s most fundamental lesson:

Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process . . . The most common adjustment of thought in the obedient subject is for him (her) to see himself  (herself) as not responsible for his (her) own actions.  . . He (she) sees himself (herself) not as a person acting in a morally accountable way but as the agent of external authority, “doing one’s duty” that was heard time and again in the defense statements of those accused at Nuremberg. . . . In complex society it is psychologically easy to ignore responsibility when one is only an intermediate link in a chain of evil action but is far from the final consequences. . . . Thus there is a fragmentation of the total human act; no one man(woman) decides to carry out the evil act and is confronted with its consequences.[5]

Milgram reminded us that a critical examination of our own history reveals a “democracy” of installed authority no less tyrannical, thriving on an obedient population of insatiable consumers dependent upon the terrorization of others, citing destruction of the original Indigenous inhabitants, dependence upon slavery of millions, internment of Japanese Americans, and the use of napalm against Vietnamese civilians.[6]

As Milgram reported, “the defection of a single individual, as long as it can be contained, is of little consequence. He will be replaced by the next man in line. The only danger to military functioning resides in the possibility that a lone defector will stimulate others.”[7]

In 1961 moral philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt, a Jew, witnessed the trial of Adolf Eichmann. She was surprised to discover that he was “neither perverted nor sadistic.” Instead, Eichmann and many others just like him “were, and still are, terrifyingly normal.”[8]  Arendt described the capacity of ordinary people to commit extraordinary evil as a result of social pressure or within a certain social setting, as “the banality of evil.” From Milgram’s experiments, we know that the “banality of evil” is not unique to the Nazis.

Eco-psychologists and cultural historians have argued that human archetypes rooted in mutual respect, empathy, and cooperation have been important for our species to get this far on our branch of evolution. However, 5,500 years ago, around 3,500 BCE, relatively small Neolithic villages began mutating into larger urban “civilizations.” With “civilization,” a new organizational idea emerged—what cultural historian Lewis Mumford calls a “megamachine,” comprised totally of human “parts” forced to work together to perform tasks on a colossal scale never before imagined. Civilization saw the creation of bureaucracies directed by a power complex of an authority figure (a king) with scribes and messengers, which organized labor machines (masses of workers) to construct pyramids, irrigation systems, and huge grain storage systems among other structures, all enforced by a military. Its features were centralization of power, separation of people into classes, lifetime division of forced labor and slavery, arbitrary inequality of wealth and privilege, and military power and war.[9] Over time, civilization, which we have been taught to think of as so beneficial for the human condition, has proven severely traumatic for our species, not to mention for other species and the earth’s ecosystem. As modern members of our species (excluding the fortunate Indigenous societies who somehow escaped assimilation) we have been stuck for three hundred generations in a model requiring massive obedience to large vertical power complexes.

Mumford makes clear his bias that autonomy in small horizontal groups is a human archetype that has now become repressed in deference to obedience to technology and bureaucracy. The creation of human urban civilization has brought about patterns of systematic violence and warfare previously unknown,[10] what Andrew Schmookler calls the “original sin” of civilization,[11] and Mumford, “collective paranoia and tribal delusions of grandeur.”[12]

“Civilization” has required massive civil obedience to enable vertical authority structures to prevail. And it hasn’t mattered how that hierarchical vertical power is achieved, whether through monarchial succession, dictators, or democratic selections, it invariably functions through various forms of tyranny. Autonomous freedoms that people once enjoyed in pre-civilization tribal groups now defer to belief in authority structures and their controlling ideologies, which have been described as oppressive “domination hierarchies” where private property and male subjugation of women prevail, by force if necessary.[13]

The emergence of vertical authority structures, the rule of kings and nobles, ripped people from historical patterns of living in small tribal groups. Along with forced stratification, the separation of people from their intimate connections with the earth produced deep insecurity, fear, and trauma to the psyche. Ecopyschologists suggest that such fragmentation led to an ecological unconscious.[14]

Thus, humans desperately need to re-discover and nourish examples of disobedience to political authority systems which have created 14,600 wars since the advent of civilization some 5,500 years ago. Over the past 3,500 years there have been nearly 8,500 treaties signed in efforts to end warfare, to no avail because the vertical structures of power have remained intact which demand obedience in their efforts to expand territory, power or resource base. The future of the species, and lives of most other species, are at stake, as we wait for humans to come to our right mind, both individually and collectively.

The 1914 Christmas Truce of one hundred years ago was an extraordinary example of how wars can only continue if soldiers agree to fight. It needs to be honored and celebrated, even if it was only a flash of a moment in time. It represents the potential of human disobedience to insane policies. As German poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht proclaimed, General, your tank is a powerful vehicle. It smashes down forests, and crushes a Hundred men. But it has one defect: it needs a driver.[15] If commoners refused en masse to drive the tank of war, the leaders would be left to fight their own battles. They would be brief.


[1] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/special_report/1998/10/98/world_war_i/197627.stm, information taken from Malcolm Brown and Shirley Seaton, Christmas Truce: The Western Front, 1914 (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1984.

[2] Richard Boyle, Flower of the Dragon: The Breakdown of the US Army in Vietnam (San Francisco: Ramparts Press, 1973), 235-236; Richard Moser, The New Winter Soldiers, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1996), 132; Tom Wells, The War Within (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1994), 525-26.

[3] Dave Grossman, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society (Boston: Little, Brown, 1995).

[4] Lisa M. Krieger, “Shocking Revelation: Santa Clara University Professor Mirrors Famous Torture Study,” San Jose Mercury News, December 20, 2008.

[5] Stanley Milgram, “The Perils of Obedience,” Harper’s, December 1973, 62–66, 75–77; Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View (1974; New York: Perennial Classics, 2004), 6–8, 11.

 [6] Milgram, 179.

[7] Milgram, 182.

[8] [Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963; New York: Penguin Books, 1994), 276].

[9] Lewis Mumford, Myth of the Machine: Technics and Human Development (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1967), 186.

[10] Ashley Montagu, The Nature of Human Aggression (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), 43–53, 59–60; Ashley Montagu, ed., Learning Non-Aggression: The Experience of Non-Literate Societies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978); Jean Guilaine and Jean Zammit, The Origin of War: Violence in Prehistory, trans. Melanie Hersey (2001; Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005).

[11] Andrew B. Schmookler, Out of Weakness: Healing the Wounds That Drive Us to War (New York: Bantam Books, 1988), 303.

[12] Mumford, 204.

[13] Etienne de la Boetie, The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, trans. Harry Kurz (ca. 1553; Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1997), 46, 58–60; Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade (New York: Harper & Row, 1987), 45–58, 104–6.

 [14] Theodore Roszak, Mary E. Gomes, and Allen D. Kanner, eds., Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth Healing the Mind (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1995). Ecopsychology concludes that there can be no personal healing without healing the earth, and that rediscovering our sacred relationship with it, i.e., our intimate earthiness, is indispensable for personal and global healing and mutual respect.

[15] “General, Your Tank Is a Powerful Vehicle”, published in From a German War Primer, part of the Svendborg Poems (1939); as translated by Lee Baxandall in Poems, 1913-1956, 289.


SOURCES 1914 Christmas Truce


Brown, David. “Remembering A Victory For Human Kindness – WWI’s Puzzling, Poignant Christmas Truce,” The Washington Post, December 25, 2004.

Brown, Malcolm and Shirley Seaton. Christmas Truce: The Western Front, 1914. New York: Hippocrene, 1984.

Cleaver, Alan and Lesley Park. “Christmas Truce: A General Overview,” christmastruce.co.uk/article.html, accessed November 30, 2014.

Gilbert, Martin. The First World War: A Complete History. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1994, 117-19.

Hochschild, Adam. To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and rebellion, 1914-1918. New York: Mariners Books, 2012, 130-32.

Vinciguerra, Thomas. “The Truce of Christmas, 1914”, The New York Times, December 25, 2005.

Weintraub, Stanley. Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce. New York: The Free Press, 2001.


S. Brian Willson, brianwillson.com, December 2, 2014, member Veterans For Peace Chapter 72, Portland, Oregon

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