Dorothy Day was a life-long pacifist who decried war and the justification of war on any terms. In a May 1936 article in The Catholic Worker, Day stated the organization’s position as “sincerely pacifist” and opposed to “class war and class hatred,” as well as “imperialist war” and the “preparedness for war.” Day and Catholic Worker supporters protested American involvement in World War II, as well as the Vietnam War and the post-World War II nuclear arms race. Day refused to accept theories of a “Just War” or a “good” war, instead seeing all violence as a contravention of Jesus’ call for his followers to be peacemakers.
Questions to Consider
- Why was Heschel’s vocal and very visible opposition to the Vietnam War so controversial in some quarters of American Judaism? What did American Jews have to lose by opposing the war? What might they gain by supporting it?
- What was the basis for Heschel’s opposition to the Vietnam War? How did he relate the teachings of the prophets to what was happening in Vietnam? Why did Heschel view the fight against Hitler in World War II as necessary, while the Vietnam War was a tragic and deeply unjust event?
- Why did Heschel, King, and other members of CALCAV hold a prayer vigil in Arlington Cemetery in February 1968? What was the significance of bringing the Torah scrolls to that protest? Do you think Heschel, King, and the others were taking a great risk?
- Benjamin Sax suggests that, by opposing the Vietnam War, Heschel was “putting at risk his life’s work to do the right thing,” and that Heschel was aware of what his actions might cost him. Do you agree with this assessment?
- Several commentators suggest that, by taking controversial public stands, such as opposition to the Vietnam War, King and Heschel sometimes found themselves socially or politically isolated. Nonetheless, they had each other to lean on, support, and take inspiration from. How do you envision their relationship? What do you imagine were its primary attributes?
Related Day Quotes
MOYERS FILM 27:06 I believe in miracles of course. I believe someday there will be mutinies large enough to bring an end to war. Who knows what will happen. …
THE CHRISTOPHERS PROGRAM (9:50) there is a tremendous growth in the peace movement in this country… (10:10) and the constant emphasis on the need for voluntary poverty and the works of mercy as a basis of the peace movement. (10:35) these things are taken hold all through the young. The desire is there to grow spiritually and to see how much they can do without to see how much they can change the system by each one playing his part…a great sense of personal responsibility…and the importance of it.
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