A Call to Peacemaking

“You’ll get more from being a peacemaker than a warrior. I’ve been both, so I speak from experience”
Sargent Shriver | Hartford, CT | November 16, 2002

Our Quote of the Week is a personal call to peacemaking by Sargent Shriver, one that we echo today.

This week, we mark the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese military’s strike against the Pearl Harbor naval base in Honolulu, Hawaii. One of the most consequential events in United States military history, the attack prompted the US’ entry into World War II. In addition to being a pivotal moment in our collective history, it was a formative event in Sargent Shriver’s life, as well, one that would give him the indelible experience of becoming the “warrior” to which he refers in the quote.

Sargent Shriver spoke these words in in a passionate call to peace during the 2002 Address to the Knights of St. Gregory. Shriver was emphatic in his call, stating:

“Our world needs a call to peace and to service, peace and service on a scale we have scarcely begun to imagine.”

And ending with:

“Let’s join in common cause with all countries to eradicate poverty, selfishness, greed, fear and militarism. Let’s start today.”

The concluding statement is notable in its inclusion of “poverty, selfishness, greed, fear” as well as militarism in the definition of “war”.

Shriver had a dramatic journey from warrior to peacemaker. As a young man, he opposed the US’ involvement in World War II. Wanting to serve his country, however, he enlisted in the US Navy in 1940, while he was still a law student at Yale University. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Shriver was assigned to the USS South Dakota, a new battleship that would eventually be deployed in the South Pacific. The ship was involved in the Battle of Guadalcanal, during which Sargent Shriver was wounded, and many of his peers lost their lives.

Shriver served in the Navy until 1945. Several years later, working at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, he embarked on a career of service of a different kind. Throughout the 1950s, he headed the boards of both the Chicago Board of Education and the Catholic Interracial Council. During this era, he successfully integrated the city’s public and parochial schools, an experience that engaged him early on in the battle for civil rights. In 1959, he joined the Presidential campaign of his brother-in-law, then-Senator John F. Kennedy. Once Kennedy won the presidency, Shriver was appointed to be the founding Director of the Peace Corps, an institution of “citizen diplomats” with a mandate to foster peace in the developing world through service and friendship,

After the tragic assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, President Lyndon Johnson launched another service-focused initiative in which Sargent Shriver would play a central role: the War on Poverty. Through the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), Shriver oversaw the launching of the War on Poverty programs, including Head Start, VISTA, Community Action, Legal Services for the Poor, Job Corps, Foster Grandparents, among others. The programs served to empower economically disadvantaged communities around the country. It’s notable that while leading the War on Poverty, Sargent Shriver often made the connection between conflict and poverty, noting that people who have been denied economic opportunity as well as political rights were living under a constant state of stress and duress that could at times result in violence. Essentially, the poor were in a war of their own -- for their very survival. Combating poverty, was, in effect, peacemaking of a different sort.

Although the Peace Corps and the War on Poverty are Sargent Shriver’s best known accomplishments as a peacemaker, they are by no means his only ones. In 1968, Shriver served as US Ambassador to France during a time of increasing domestic and international tensions for both the US and France over the US’ role in the Vietnam war.

Shriver’s peacemaking efforts did not end when his diplomatic post in France was over. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, he worked behind the scenes on initiatives towards nuclear disarmament and peace in the Middle East, mainly by bringing together religious leaders to exert their influence on world leaders. He also held leadership roles at Special Olympics well into the 2000s, during which he greatly expanded the organization, into Russia, China, Tunisia, New Zealand, and South Korea. In doing this, he expanded opportunities for people with developmental disabilities, giving agency to individuals whose human rights are sometimes ignored.

Whether fighting for the civil and human rights of the vulnerable, working on fostering relationships between people or between countries, or securing economic opportunity for those who were struggling, Sargent Shriver perhaps never left his fighting days behind; he simply shifted his focus, becoming a warrior for peace.

May the conflicts we’ve experienced and witnessed in our own lives fuel us to act in ways that bring peace to all of the spaces we inhabit, from our dinner tables to our communities and beyond.

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Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
Sargent Shriver
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