In May 1970, a student strike shook the campus of Syracuse University. A large part of that upheaval was a protest against the Nixon administration's escalation of the Vietnam War and the university's role in conducting research for military programs. One of the 19 demands of the strikers involved research of another kind: the establishment of courses in peace studies.
Today, more than a decade later, Syracuse University has one of the nation's most acclaimed peace-studies programs. Those who dismissed the 1970 strike demand as no more than a counter-culture tantrum have been proven wrong.
The desire for peace was deeper than that. It was to flourish as a desire to engage in hard studies about the mechanics of the peacemaking process -- from learning the economics and the politics of arms spending, to examining the true nature of national security, to understanding the art of nonviolent conflict resolution.
In his office the other afternoon, Professor Neil Katz, the director for the past eight years of the university's Program in Nonviolent Conflict and Change, told me that the more that talk of "limited nuclear war" and demonstration bombs fills the air, the more students want to take his courses. In the fall semester of 1981, 204 students were enrolled in four three-credit courses and two one-or two-credit workshops. This fall, the number is close to 300. A dozen graduate students are pursuing doctorates in the program, double the number three years ago.
Nationally, this astonishing growth is the same. Before 1970, according to the Consortium on Peace Research, Education, and Development at Kent State University in Ohio, only one school -- Manchester College, a Church of the Brethren institution in Indiana -- offered a peace studies program. Since 1970, degree programs have been established at some 35 colleges and universities. About 80 more are offering courses. All this has occurred when schools have been hit with declines in liberal arts enrollment.
"A definite need is present in this society for peace programs," Prof. Katz said. "It's not just on the global level and the threat of nuclear war. Conflicts are everywhere, from domestic disputes in the family, up to international, racial, ethnic and environmental disputes. It gets down to people wanting to learn alternative nonviolent ways of settling disputes."
It detracts from the intellectual and moral force of peace studies programs to call them a movement. That suggests a fad. A "movement person" is a short-timer easily sucked away by the temptation to "make another scene."
In talking with some of the students and teachers in the Syracuse University program, I had the sense that peace studies programs have permanence. Enough Syracuse students have earned degrees, including doctorates, for a positive judgment to be made that large contributions are being made to community service. "That's an area too long neglected by academia," said Prof. Katz. He tells of former students who are now working in advocacy programs for children and the elderly, in mediation work in public school systems, in national peace organizations. Some are teaching peace courses in other schools.
I found it striking that when talking about national defense issues neither Prof. Katz nor his students were in any way shrill. They are too analytically careful to spray-paint the walls of their minds with strident anti-Reagan slogans. They understand that the public sanctioning of the U.S. military-industrial colossus represents a conditioning of American citizens. This conditioning is a greater and more enduring problem than the peace-through-military-strength slogans of this or that politician who rises today and falls tomorrow.
The questioning of this conditioning means that the study of peacemaking and nonviolence must be an examination of both personal and societal behavior. How much is accomplished if a student can show that the Pentagon's policies are wasteful and ill-focused yet, in his own life, he behaves like an unguided missile?
Peace studies programs -- what Gandhi would call "experiments in truth" -- are meant to educate the young that a philosophy of nonviolence is the strongest force any individual or nation can possess. Every enduring moral leader has taught that -- from Daniel and Jesus, to Martin Luther King and Dorothy Day. The peace educators on American campuses, a group deserving full public support, have no shortage of past mentors. Nor, it seems, future students.
COLUMNIST'S NOTE: In a recent column, I quoted Martin Anderson, an adviser to the President, as saying: Poverty had been "virtually wiped out in the United States, our systems of government aid had been a brilliant success . . . They should now be dismantled."
That was inaccurate. What Anderson did say is: ". . . our welfare system has been a brilliant success. The war on poverty is over for all practical purposes. We should now begin thinking about how to . . . make programs more effective and efficient, to eliminate those programs that are not not needed."
I apologize to Anderson and regret the error.