My family on my father's side were born and raised as Doukhobors - a religious group who existed during Tsarist Russia and emigrated to Canada with the help and support of Quakers and Tolstoy. It's a long story, but they ended up in Canada to escape persecution and military service as they do not believe in taking a human life in any circumstance.
One of my essays for university is a 3,000 word paper about Bill Stenson's Svoboda, a novel about a Doukhobor family slowly assimilating into a Canadian way of life. The essay is about identity and how certain characters drift away from their Doukhobor roots.
The main character, Vasili, gives a speech at his high school to encourage students to apply for a conference about Peace Through Non-Violence at the University of British Columbia. As part of my essay, I intend to compare this to a speech that honorary chairman John J. Verigin delivered at a disarmament conference at the University of Ottawa in 1981 (A Farewell to (Nuclear) Arms). His speech, entitled "An Idea Whose Time Has Come", is not as far as I can tell, available on the internet. Until now! I believe it was my grandmother who passed this and a number of other papers down to me in case I ever took an interest in my heritage and I always have - but now I'm taking it a step further and including my interest in academic research.
For the benefit of my essay, I need to cite my sources and make this paper widely available to be verified as a credible source of information. I can't find this speech anywhere else on the internet so have published it myself.
AN IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS COME
A speech presented at the Disarmament Conference:
FAREWELL TO (NUCLEAR) ARMS
PROSPECTS FOR WORLD DISARMAMENT: PROSPECTS FOR WAR.
Presented by John J. Verigin CM,
Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ
Orthodox Doukhobors in Canada
Presented at Fauteux Hall, University of Ottawa,
At Session #2 of the Conference, November 14, 1981
Respected chairman, honoured guests, fellow delegates:
It has been truly said that “there is no force on earth that can suppress an idea WHOSE TIME HAS COME.” It is therefore, with a great deal of humbleness, as well as a deep consciousness of the profound significance of this occasion, that I take this opportunity to speak to you now.
Never before, in all the recorded history of mankind, has there been such a need for a human initiative, as the one represented by this gathering. It is my sincere belief, and that of all the people I represent, that the issue of disarmament – in view of the present world realities – presents the ultimate challenge which the human race has ever faced – a challenge which we must confront, with the utmost forthrightness, and surmount, with the utmost resolve.
I personally lost my only brother in the holocaust which was the Second World War, but I will not attempt to recount the virtually inconceivable statistical horrors represented by the all-too-real possibility of modern, technological warfare. These have been very clearly depicted by those who are better qualified than I am to do so. I can only acknowledge, that, tragically, such predictions are all too credible, and we are forced to accept the horrible fact that, civilisation is at that prophetic turning point – Armageddon – the capability of self-annihilation.
Yet, in the midst of our despair, we can detect a real glimmer of hope. The very fact that we are faced with such clear choice – disarmament or annihilation – can yet provide the long-awaited opportunity for mankind to rise to its highest potential – to finally see the truth in those golden words “swords into ploughshares”.
How many millions of our fellow human beings, in times long past, or in the most recent days, have suffered the Hell of violence and war, with all of its agonies, privations and horrors, while their spirits have cried out piteously for the Heaven of peace, with its joyful bliss of God-given bounty? Each time we pray to God [“]Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven”, can we not see that it is in our own hands to create a Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of God?
Indeed it is! It is in our hands to turn away from the grim folly of the Arms Race in which mankind is embroiled. It is in our capability to turn the earths bountiful resources towards peace and not war!
I realise, that similar words have been spoken by many, be they men of religion, scientists or even politicians and statesmen. But I speak not of mere philosophy and theory. As a representative of one of the historic peace groups, I speak of putting theory into practice, I the everyday lives of everyday people. I am proud to say that our Doukhobor forefathers were able to prove, in the most realistic and concrete manner, that it is possible to live in peace, and to avoid violence and war.
When, as illiterate and simple peasants living in the Tsarist Russia, they burned all their weapons in 1895, they broke with the military once and for all. The persecution which they endured as a result of their refusal to have anything to do with the killing of human beings, resulted in the virtual decimation of the tiny sect, but they held firm in their beliefs.
As a result, succeeding generations of Doukhobors have enjoyed the rare privilege of exemption from military service.
It is with deep gratitude and reverence that our Doukhobor people continue to commemorate the sacrifice of our forefathers. We continue to nurture an undying faith in the principle for which they died – the absolute refusal to kill a fellow human being.
But, though this principle is as valid now as it was then, civilisation has advanced and technology has changed, and military institutions have grimly kept step. Now, the pushing of a button can accomplish that, which a century ago, thousands of guns and swords could not.
Just as the Doukhobors burned their arms, so mankind must now dismantle its nuclear, chemical, biological and conventional weapons. Just as the Doukhobors and numerous other people of peace were able to, personally, face the realities of their situation, so now must all mankind deal with the realities if [sic] faces. In fact, the issues are now clearer than ever before.
In their absolute stand against military service, the Doukhobors in Tsarist Russia experienced, along with harsh persecution, the occasional instances, in which sympathetic representatives of authority attempted to understand and help them.
These sympathisers would say: “We fully appreciate your sincerity and self-sacrifice, but the time has not yet come for the noble, idealistic stand you are taking. Your sacrifices will have no effect on surrounding society. What you are doing now is like lying down in front of a fast-moving locomotive. It will cut you down and its speed will remain undiminished.”
Through their deep faith and inspired dedication to the highest of human ideals, our forefathers had the vision and fortitude to answer: “The time may now have come for you – but the TIME HAS COME FOR US. Our conscience now longer allows us to take a human life, under any circumstances, and even if you torture us to death, we cannot do otherwise – the spirit of good within our hearts will not allow us to do so.”
In answer to the incredulous stares these remarks evoked, the Doukhobor martyrs would add: “We firmly believe, our sacrifice is not in vain. The time is coming when there will be masses of people of peace such as ourselves, and the states and governments and military institutions which you liken to a locomotive, will be powerless to move against them. We believe that our actions of today will help serve as beacons of light for these masses of tomorrow, and such a time is not that far away.”
How remarkable [sic] accurate was their vision! Even taken in its most literal sense we can see how the beacons, which have shone forth from people such as the Doukhobors, their great friend and mentor Leo Tolstoy, and countless others throughout history, have affected events in our twentieth century. Inspired by such beacons, Mahatma Gandhi led millions in a non-violent struggle against the yoke of colonialism, and literally, masses of humanity swarmed the railroads and stopped locomotives. In the end, they reached their goal. Hundreds of thousands, led by Martin Luther King, similarly attainted, through non-violent struggle, a level of freedom which centuries of violence had failed to achieve. These struggles, and others like them, have also not been in vain, and have added to the strength of the “beacon” shining forth through the ages.
And now, dear friends, we must take up the cause that historic beacon represents, and engage in the final, most important, and most monumental struggle. The very survival of life on earth is at stake.
We must initiate a mass movement on a world scale. What a few thousand Doukhobors were able to do in the hinterlands of Tsarist Russia in 1895, must now be done by millions around the globe. There is no security in nuclear weapons! We must destroy that, which would destroy us. We must dismantle the horrible arsenal which promises our very annihilation. We must dismantle it soon, and we must begin now.
This present gathering should not pass on as merely “another disarmament conference”. We have the means at our disposal, and we can provide the will. Let us go back to our respective communities and groups. Let us work unceasingly to prevail upon our friends and neighbours, and all the many social and governmental institutions. Our friend, Mr. James Stark, and his dynamic nucleus in Operation Dismantle have provided one excellent example of how this can be done. We will support this effort. We will labour with untiring dedication for the attainment of a world consciousness for disarmament and peace. We will achieve our goal of a World Referendum for Peace.
We have no choice but to do so. And we have an undying faith that the forces of Good shall overcome the problems of apathy, fear, and greed.
Let me just add, that as Canadians of Russian Descent, we, the Doukhobors, would be proud to see this great and bountiful country of Canada be at the forefront, in this great movement for the salvation of all mankind. We believe it is possible for the peoples of the world to live in peace, regardless of colour, or nationality, East or West, Russian-speaking or English-speaking – not in the acceptance of each others philosophy or political creed, but in the acceptance of each others basic humanity – in the mutual desire to live and enjoy the bounties of life, free of the fear of annihilation. Canada can play a leading role in attaining such an understanding. Let us be the worlds first nation of peace. Let us create a powerful coalition of all Canadian peace forces. Let us have the honour, as Canadians, of being the sponsors of a world vote for peace and disarmament. This is not only possible – it is demanded by history.
The time for world peace has arrived. And as I mentioned at the beginning, it has been said that no force can resist an idea whose time has come. We shall exert every possible human effort to make this idea of peace the primary purpose of all humanity. Flowing along with this powerful historic tide we shall attain our goal, and succeeding generations will be eternally grateful for our efforts.
` And if we fail to make the necessary effort – there will be no succeeding generations.
At this time, I would like to read you a poem, which I believe is appropriate for this occasion. It was written by Wallace Collett, Chairperson of the American Friends Service Committee. Mr. Collett wrote this poem after standing vigil at Rocky Flats, Colorado, during a demonstration against nuclear warhead “reprocessing” in April of 1978. The poem is entitled “Mourn Now”
Mourn now for the next war’s dead,
weep now for the agony of the injured,
grieve now for the devastation of the homelands.
Now is the time to mourn, to weep, to grieve,
now when tears can cleanse the future,
when war starts it is too late,
then we can only bury the dead,
shudder at the screams of the wounded,
grope through the ruins of our cities.
Mourn now in the streets and homes
where people live who allow war,
grieve now in the board rooms and factories
where the machines of death are made,
weep now in the halls of governments
whose actions lead relentlessly to war.
Now is the time to mourn, to weep, to grieve, -
for the millions who will die,
whilst it still may not be too late.
I thank you for this opportunity, and for your attention, and wish to end by expressing my most deep and sincere belief that – in this great historic moment of mankind – with Gods help, we shall not fail.
Thank you and God Bless You!
I have also included (large) scans of each page of the speech.