An Interview with Bradford Lyttle of the U.S. Pacifist Party

Mr. Lyttle, you have a great deal of experience as a pacifist. When did you decide that you were a pacifist, and how did your early involvement in pacifist causes affect your personal and professional development?

I was introduced to pacifism by my mother, who was a rationalist Unitarian with considerable Quaker background. It has always seemed to me that pacifism is the most reasonable political position; this particularly so after studying the works and life of Gandhi. I took the conscientious objector position in regard to the Korean War. Later, in choosing a vocation, I decided to work in the peace movement rather than try to become a physician. I believe this was because I believed that working for peace was the most important thing that I could do with my life, but it may have been because I thought that medical school would be too difficult. In any event, I have never regretted the decision. The decision to work in the peace movement eventually led me to study political science rather than concentrate on the physical or biological sciences, and this led me to develop the "Apocalypse Equation," a mathematical probability proof that nuclear deterrence will produce catastrophic accidents with nuclear weapons and nuclear war, therefore that the military approach to security is irrational, and the nonviolent approach to resolving conflicts the most reasonable.

Your writings include a book examining the anti-war movement in Chicago during the 1960's. In your opinion, how does the anti-war movement of today compare to that of the Vietnam era?

It is my impression that the main difference between today's coalition anti-war-against-Iraq movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement is that today's movement has been computerized, and makes extensive use of computers and other solid-state electronic devices for communication and graphic arts purposes. This makes it possible for today's movement to more rapidly educate people, organize demonstrations, and produce attractive leaflets and signs. Another effect of the improvements in communication is to make today's movement much more global in character. Still another difference I see is that the people and organizations in today's movement seem to more widely accept that nonviolent strategies and tactics are the best. On the other hand, both movements are the same in that they are driven mainly by the energy, optimism and courage of young people, and the faces of these young people tend to express the same open, loving, and helpful spirit.

Neither of the two dominant American political parties embraces pacifist ideals. What is there about militaristic activities that appeals to the leaders of these parties, and what prevents them from proposing pacifist solutions to national and international problems?

Pacifism involves ideas that are difficult to sell to any group of people, not only to the leaders of the dominant United States political parties. Most deeply, there are philosophic assumptions that must be addressed. Most people believe that they have a "right" to armed self-defense. This belief is understandable in the face of political horrors like Nazism, Stalinism, activities of China's Red Guard, Pol Pot's regime, and the brutalities of dozens of tyrants throughout the world, particularly in Africa, Central America, South America, and Southeast Asia. Most people see no alternative to military force to countering these brutal political entities. However, believing that one has a right to armed self-defense does not address the strategic question of what is the best way to oppose "evil". The military approach assumes that the end justifies the means, and creates a means that is successful to the extent to which it, itself, is capable of evil. The U.S. "won" World War II because it was capable of killing people and destroying property more efficiently than its enemies. Neither the Nazis nor the Japanese imperialists developed a weapon as terrible as the atomic bomb. At the same time, military force seems to "work" in the sense that it gains "victories" over "enemies." This means that most people not only believe that they have the right of armed self-defense, but that war will protect them. This is particularly true of U.S. citizens, who see the history of the U.S. as an almost uninterrupted succession of military victories over various enemies that now has made the U.S. the world's only "superpower". Not only can the U.S. defeat any enemy, but it can defeat most of them in major wars without losing more than a few dozen people on our side.

This apparent "success" of U.S. military force is seen most of all in the U.S. government. The Constitution assumes that the U.S. will have a military institution capable of "defending" it. The President is the Commander in Chief. George Washington, a general, led the colonies to victory against the British. Abraham Lincoln, who kept the Union united with military force, is lauded by many as our greatest President. Franklin D. Roosevelt led the U.S. to victory in World War II. Harry Truman ordered the Korean War. Ronald Reagan "won" the "Cold War", etc. What is superficially evident to nearly all of our political “leaders” is that U.S. military power has been amazingly "successful". They therefore support the military, and always give the military budgetary priority.

In addition, the military is closely tied to corporate capitalism. Vast sums are budgeted for weapons, and some of our largest corporations, such as Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, General Electric, etc., are deeply involved in weapons production. This creates an economic incentive for managers, workers, and politicians to want military production to continue. Most people, and the politicians who represent them, believe in the necessity and practicality of military force, and do not know how "prosperity" can be maintained without weapons production and the maintenance of military bases.

At the same time, the traditional pacifist movement has not presented a strong critique of military force. The traditional pacifist movement is religiously based, composed mainly of people in the traditional Protestant peace churches, the Brethren, Mennonites, and Quakers, and, more recently, radical Catholics. The arguments used by most of these people are "faithbased", and, while moral arguments based on the Bible are always important, they do not greatly influence people who do not consider themselves religious, or believe that religious morality is irrelevant to international politics. By and large, these are the people who run the country, the academic political philosophers and "scientists" in the elite universities, the managers and scientists in the giant corporations, and the professional politicians. To these people, at least until recently, pacifist analyses and proposals have seemed at least "unrealistic", and at worst "sentimental nonsense". To most of these people, military approaches to peace tend to work, and there is no alternative to them.

To most of those who run our society, nonviolent resistance, as developed by Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others, is not seen as a realistic alternative to military force. The standard criticism of nonviolent resistance is that nonviolence may work in a society that has some democratic, civil liberties, and civil rights traditions, but it will not work against totalitarian societies ruled by ruthless tyrants like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, et al. Those who make this criticism usually have not studied the theory or history of nonviolent resistance, and ignore the role that nonviolent resistance and other forms of noncooperation and nonviolent mass protest played in achieving the "velvet revolution" in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in the late 1980s.

The platform of the Pacifist Party includes statements on issues of environmentalism and equality in addition to nonviolence. How does the Pacifist Party make decisions about whether to support principles other than pacifism?

In theory, the United States Pacifist Party determines its platform by means of the democratic process, that involves conferences, conventions, etc. In practice, there have been so few people active in the party that policies have tended to be produced by face-to-face conversations, emails, and letters between a few individuals. If more people become active in the party, more conventional democratic process will tend to be used. Since some of the people interested in the party are Quakers, the party probably will always try to develop policies through consensus rather than majority vote.

How do you believe the principles of pacifism can be applied during this time of George W. Bush's perpetual war?

It seems to me that the USPP provides the most realistic and penetrating analysis there is of the foreign policies of the Bush administration. Bush has propounded the doctrine of "preventive war" on the grounds that it is the best policy for combating "terrorism" and generating "security" for the U.S. This foreign policy is based, first, on nuclear deterrence, and, second, on large arsenals of precisionguided weapons. The Administration maintains that deterrence will prevent nuclear war forever, and that the precisionguided weapons will enable the U.S. to win all conventional wars quickly, and with negligible losses in personnel on the U.S. side. The pacifist analysis explains, in irrefutable scientific terms, why nuclear deterrence can be expected to collapse at any time into catastrophic accidents with nuclear weapons and nuclear war, and, by means of historical, sociological, and psychological concepts, why continually fighting conventional wars will make more and more enemies for the U.S., and the people of the U.S. less and less secure. At the same time, the pacifist analysis points out that, for Christians people who consider themselves faith-based, military force is simply immoral contrary to God's Commandments. In sum, pacifist principles are the most scientifically realistic in their approach, and may be the most religiously moral as well.

What are the benefits of starting a political party based upon pacifism? Why not just create a new non-profit organization?

Because pacifism offers what may be the most radical critique there is of the military and dominant economic institutions of our society, the mass media, and "educational" institutions, normally exert considerable effort to prevent the pacifist viewpoint from reaching the general public. In times of national elections this wall of censorship tends to develop cracks because most U.S. citizens believe that all viewpoints should be heard. Therefore, candidates running on a pacifist ticket can expect may more opportunities to speak in the mass media, and at universities and colleges, than they normally would have. This is particularly true of a pacifist Presidential candidate. Since it is the President who determines foreign policy, people will tend to be most interested in what a pacifist Presidential candidate has to say about foreign affairs. A pacifist political party therefore is an efficient vehicle for promoting pacifist ideas.

What are the greatest challenges you have faced in organizing a political party from the ground up?

Organizing a pacifist political party is about the most difficult organizational task I have undertaken. First, most people are not pacifists. They may be antimilitarist, and prefer to solve most conflicts without war, but when "push comes to shove" they will support military power.

Second, many people who consider themselves personal pacifists, and would not serve in armed forces, do not believe that pacifism can be made politically relevant. Therefore, they have no interest in a pacifist party. Some of them believe in political change through mass organization, They try to develop a “nonviolent revolution” by working in coalitions with different social justice movements. Since most of the people in these movements are not pacifists, the pacifists tend to further lose interest in pacifist analyses.

Third, some pacifists have a theory of social change that does not involve conventional electoral politics or mass movements. They apparently believe that social change best is achieved through small nonviolent direct action projects–civil disobedience projects–in which a few people confront harmful government policies.

Fourth, many pacifists are uninterested in promoting a pacifist party because they see social change possible only through the existing, dominant, political parties, mainly the Democratic Party. Therefore, they invest their energy in strengthening the left wing of the Democratic Party.

Fifth, still other pacifists are attracted to third parties, such as the Green Party, that seem to have larger initial constituencies, and a greater chance of success than a pacifist party.

Sixth, organizing a pacifist party is difficult because it is dangerous. Since pacifism strikes at the heart of the military institution, and many of the large corporations that profit from military production, rightwing extremists sometimes physically threaten politically active pacifists. In addition, outspoken pacifists tend to be blocked from obtaining higher academic degrees, and from promotions in many professions.

return to irregulartimes.comAt heart, the main difficulty with organizing a pacifist political party is that few people realize that the pacifist political analysis, which includes nonviolent resistance as an alternative to military force, is the most rational and scientific; in fact, that it is the only analysis that offers a lasting solution to the major problems of our society.

What is the future of the Pacifist Party? Do you plan on running for President again in 2004, or will there be a new Pacifist Party presidential candidate?

Since I am now 75, I do not know if I will try to run again for President under the auspices of the USPP. In any event, the Presidential candidate would best be determined by a convention. I hope that the party will hold at least a conference, and, possibly, a convention, the summer of 2003.

What can someone who supports the ideals of the Pacifist Party do to help?

To help the USPP, it probably is most important to organize local branches. These branches can then address themselves to discussing policy questions, distributing literature, selecting candidates for local offices, and having the candidates listed on ballots, etc. Financial contributions always are helpful. Checks should be made out to the United States Pacifist Party, and sent to 5729 S. Dorchester Ave., Chicago, IL 60637.

One of the most effective outreach vehicles for the USPP is its website, whose URL is: Tragically, the site's webmaster died of cancer a few months ago, and the site is now considerably out of date. We are looking for a competent webmaster who is a pacifist, and has considerable experience working in the nonviolent movements for peace and social change.

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