Friendly Influence and Personal Choice
This is a story about learning and how friends can influence our view of the world towards peace. I grew up in a family that was not intellectual. My mother had Grade eight while my father had much less. Dad knew how to calculate grain in a bin and other things useful for farmers. We never had much money, but we always had the Leader-Post.
I must have been in Grade 3 or 4 when I learned about the United Nations and its various agencies. In our family, there was the story that my mother’s father came to Canada to get away from war — but I later learned that he was blacklisted as a carpenter fighting for the 10-hour-day in Vienna and ended up becoming a farmer in Saskatchewan. I was ten when President Kennedy was shot and for years I followed the proceedings of the Warren Commission. Around that time I learned about the war in Vietnam and I initially supported the USA’s killing machine.
In Grade ten, I met a friend at school and we spent months at his family’s farm making a canoe. He helped me understand that I was wrong about Vietnam and that the fight there was not really over democracy, but over resources. My first ever peace action was in school — I participated in fundraising for UNICEF. Later, I joined my friend in efforts to stop the war in Vietnam. We collected signatures on petitions, my friend did some public speaking, and we raised funds for a children’s hospital for Vietnam. May 1st 1975, was a very happy day for me because that was the day the USA was forced to leave Vietnam.
By coincidence, I was drawn into all kinds of humanitarian activities because of my friend. If I had not met him, my life would have been entirely different. I was also drawn into learning about social justice and the civil rights movement in the US — the killing of Fred Hampton, for instance, made a big impression on me. Later, I learned how violence was used against the people of Chile to turn back the progressive gains of the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende. I concluded that progress requires millions of people acting together in one voice — that ideas are stronger than weapons.
Shortly after being introduced to the peace movement, I learned about the great efforts in Canada to ban the bomb after World War II and for nuclear disarmament treaties between the United States and the Soviet Union. I became an advocate for peaceful co-existence and believe that the number one danger today is not global warming, but nuclear war.
I have become a voracious reader of peace literature and am convinced that even though the Cold War is supposed to have been over, the USA, Canada and other allies still believe in fighting a nuclear war with China or Russia or North Korea. If this was not so, Canada today would be embracing a proposal to have a Department of Peace in Parliament and would support some 130 countries of the United Nations to ban the bomb. The announcements by Minister Sajjan and Minister Freeland in early June of this year attest to a hawkishness on Canada’s part that is not justified by any events since this federal government took power.
Canada requires peace. The people of the world require peace and the creation of nonkilling societies. The world needs to move the hands of the Doomsday Clock back before it is too late. Although it was a coincidence that led me to the peace movement, it was also my choice that introduced me to wonderful people and fascinating ideas — and this has given meaning to my life as well as hope to the world.
Jed Lehman, Regina, Sask. Worker, educator, peacenik.