My Poor Path to Peacebuilding: Producing a Peace Academy
By Holger Terp
There was nothing in my formal basic education that suggested that, many years later, I would use most of my time learning and communicating about peace, except a growing interest in history and policy. For history it was mostly the discovery of old things, like Carsten Nieburg's journey to the Felix Arabia, which blew my mind.
My first encounter with the military was the draft. I refused.
I grew up in a right-wing family where my stepfather was a member of the Home Guard; a voluntary military corps created during the beginning of the Cold War. From indoctrination in that organization, obedience was the most important thing in his life. As a reaction, I didn't want to have anything to do with the military.
As a young man I went sailing. Working on ships carried me to foreign countries and cultures. Hearing Arabic music for the first time from my limited experience with foreign music, I thought the performers made mistakes. There was so much for me to learn about the world.
My eyes became dysfunctional. As a result, I had no jobs for many years, which required living off of social security. Nevertheless, I still kept learning, without getting a formal university education.
One day my Swedish friends infused my insatiable interests with the contents of newspapers and booklets they had found on a dump yard. These documents from World War One revealed a persecution of the organizers, in addition to a censure, of a leftwing peace meeting in Stockholm. After reading them, I slowly realised that here was an interesting subject I knew too little about: peace work in war and peace movement history.
Subsequently in 1980, I moved to Copenhagen and became a member of the Conscientious Objectors Union, which by this time had a Portuguese strategy, that it was possible to change the military system by becoming critical soldiers. The discussions in the Union solidified my pacifist identity.
At the same time, I found some of the rare works of the German soldier Hans Paasche, who became a pacifist during World War One, as well as the complete files of the Danish Peace Conference, an organization that was active during the Cold War.
By the middle of the 1980s, I began collecting records of Danish peace publications, going further and further back in time as I discovered that peace movements had a long history. This work resulted with my publication in 1989 of a bibliography of Danish peace literature.
At first I thought it strange than no one had written a complete history of Danish peace work, but as I learned more about the work in the universities, I found that there simply wasn't time enough to individually do it, except if one was writing a lengthy dissertation. This research is still needed.
Meanwhile, I acquired the records of Ellen Hørup that were rich sources for learning about the radical peace work between the world wars. Books and documents I found in London during 1986 included Hirst's writings on Quakers in Peace and War from 1923 and some Greenham Common documents. Noble men like Anthony Benezeth also appeared from these books. I managed to carry these entire resources home for expanding my study of peace efforts and their accomplishments.
After reading the German writings by Hugo Grotius as well as the Dutch Jacop ter Meulden and his five rare volumes on the history of peace work from a justice perspective, I was sold.
I decided to become a librarian in order to get the tools needed to organize my growing collection of peace documents. I never had lasting jobs, because my poorly functioning eyes made me a slower worker. But at least I had acquired the knowledge of the trade, which I used in my personal quest to develop a library of peace documentation and literature.
At the end of the Cold War, I discerned that the peace groups I worked in had mostly been reacting to problems caused by militarism: such as the NATO double decision in 1979 and the USA policy towards Palau. The people of Palau wanted to keep their constitution from 1979 which declared the small country would be free of chemical and nuclear weapons, while the Reagan administration wanted a Compact of Free Association with Palau, so the USA could continue nuclear testing in the Pacific.
Through the years most of the Danish peace groups were so busy with the continual development of militarism, that we, or at least I, didn't have time to focus on alternatives. Although, there was some support for the Non Offensive Defense system first developed by the late Danish Peace Researcher Anders Boserup. With the establishment of the Danish Defense Commission in 1997, I saw a need for creating a Peace Commission. The members of the new Peace Commission worked so fast, that when the Defense Commission’s report was published, we published ours.
We then had new experience writing about our ideas of a peaceful world, by using the less violent society of Canada as an example for an alternative to the violence in and by the USA. However, we recognized that after much of our work, no politicians were following and supporting our recommendations.
The wars in the Balkan region were predominately the news on the television each night, and very seldom did conflict or peace research get included in or anchor the presented information. It was only officers from the Defense Academy who voiced their opinions - standing like teachers, with maps and a pointer-stick telling their interpretation of what was going on.
Believing that Danes had learned more about war than peace, I decided to establish a Danish Peace Academy (DPA) for provision of needed information about peace work and its historic continuity. Without money to hire teachers or to rent buildings, I created the DPA on the Internet, where others in the same situation could find what they needed. Being poor, there are many things you cannot do such as attend meetings and conferences with entrance fees, get needed publications that are commercial, etc. However, one can record events and create free publications to support development of a better world.
Not being a teacher, or degreed in any other field, I jumped into deep water as a new creator of curriculum.
After acquiring my first computer for this task, I made a database with some thirty-six thousand records of peace work. After I recognized the value of developing an encyclopedia on peace and security, it became apparent that I needed to include a documented timeline. The next step gave itself; adding articles and books to augment the encyclopedia. These were the initial resources of the DPA, which were valuable in peace studies programs that began almost everywhere, but Denmark. After recognizing the lack of formal peace education in my homeland, we created Danish lessons on war, especially the First World War.
Thus began the hard work with getting teachers to the online DPA. A few like John Avery came, and he wrote the text books on Science and Society in addition to Space-Age Science and Stone-Age Politics as a part of a plan to get ethics into Danish universities. The goal was developing the social responsibility of scientists and engineers as well as providing free text books for students in the developing world. The idea of creating an online peace academy of read-for free literature was subsequently exported to Norway, Germany and Israel. This enabled world-wide access of students and their teachers to libraries of regional as well global peace-development information.
While writing an article on the German pacifist and women's activist Helene Stöcker, I discovered two things. First, that it was nearly impossible to find records online before 1990, except for digitalized books, and secondly that women's peace work, historically speaking, was hardly described online. This led me in three new directions. First I documented the extensive work of the Women’s Peace Camps at Greenham Common, which I could only accomplish after finding a way to upload online these files and records, including illustrations and sound files. Then I developed a connection to the Danish Women for Peace that documents international peace work from 1980 onward. This addressed the void of print information about women and peace. The organization Danish Women for Peace has no leaders, and only voluntary members. What unites them is pacifism, yearly meetings and their magazine that records very many international and local events of peace groups. At the present, I am working with peace art; hoping to find the Peace Dragon of Greenham Common, which surrounded the base in December 1982.
As evident in my life, a formal university education might have helped in getting peace research and peace education institutionalized in Denmark. Nevertheless, my information creations continue. They are inspired by new discoveries and friends worldwide who make my peace work a daily joy by having so much to share, as well as their solidarity with me in a community of peacebuilding.
If it is possible for this poor and nearly blind man to accomplish peace work, everybody can do it, in different ways. Thank you for joining me.
Danish Peace History
Peace in Print : The History of the Peace Movements
: A Short Bibliography
Greenham Common Women's Peace Camps Songbooks