Former Washington Post columnist Colman McCarthy founded the Center for Teaching Peace (in Washington, DC) in 1982, and is currently a professor of Peace Studies at Georgetown University. He embraces the tenets of liberation theology and describes himself as a pacifist, anarchist and vegetarian. Claiming that George W. Bush “stole” the 2000 presidential election, McCarthy condemns Bush for having unleashed “the American invaders” upon Iraq in 2003. Moreover, McCarthy has denounced virtually all U.S. military actions of the past century.
Born in 1938, McCarthy graduated with a B.S. degree from Spring Hill College in Alabama. He later received advanced honorary degrees from that institution as well as Belmont College, St. John’s University, Walsh University, and Wheeling Jesuit College.
Beginning in 1969, McCarthy spent nearly three decades as a journalist for The Washington Post, where he covered issues ranging from politics to religion to sports. In 1997 the Post ended its relationship with McCarthy, citing a decline in revenue from the syndication of his column.
“What should be the moral purpose of writing,” McCarthy posed in his last editorial for the Post, “if not to embrace ideals that can help fulfill the one possibility we all yearn for, the peaceable society?”
McCarthy also has written for Atlantic Monthly, The Nation, National Catholic Reporter, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Progressive, the Reader’s Digest, Vegetarian Times, and The Wall Street Journal.
In 1982 McCarthy created the Washington, DC-based Center for Teaching Peace as a way to help schools develop their Peace Studies programs. Specifically, he has developed an eight-session course titled “Solutions to Violence,” which he makes available to schools across the United States. “As a student,” McCarthy writes in the introduction to this class, “you have a right to courses in peace. Let’s not only give peace a chance, let’s give it a place in the curriculum.” The course includes recommended readings by McCarthy, Daniel Berrigan, and Howard Zinn.
McCarthy personally has taught classes in Peace Studies at a juvenile detention center in Maryland, and at several DC-area universities and public high schools. As of 2006, these included American University, Georgetown University Law Center, the University of Maryland, the Washington Center for Internships, Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, Wilson High School, and School Without Walls.
“I have never given a test. I respect my students too much to demean them with exercises in fake knowledge. Tests represent fear-based learning, the opposite of learning based on desire. Frightened and fretting with pre-test jitters, students stuff their minds with information they disgorge on exam sheets and sweat out the results. I know of no meaningful evidence that acing tests has anything to do with students’ character development or whether their natural instincts for idealism or altruism are nurtured. I have large amounts of evidence that tests promote the opposite: character defects…. To compensate for my no-testing policy, I assign tons of homework. The assignments? Tell someone you love him or her. Do a favor for someone who won’t know you did it. Say a kind word to the workers at the school: the people who clean the toilets, cook the food, drive the buses and heat the buildings. And a warning: If you don’t do the homework, you’ll fail. You’ll fail your better self, you’ll fail to make the world better, you’ll fail at being a peacemaker.”
McCarthy passionately condemns America’s military spending, which he deems an unwise, immoral, and wasteful allocation of resources. He blames the United States for bringing the wrath of Islamic terrorists upon itself. When asked what first came to his mind when he heard that the Twin Towers had been attacked on 9/11, he answered:
“Shock but not surprise…. On April 4, 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr. said that ‘the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today is my own government.’ He was right then and is right now. In only the past 20 years, the U.S. government has sent troops to kill or threaten to kill people in Lebanon, Grenada, Libya, Panama, Haiti, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia and now Afghanistan again. All are poor nations and mostly people of color….
“The U.S. has military bases in more than 100 countries to ‘protect our vital interests,’ which really means to protect our vital privileges. The U.S. is the world’s largest maker and seller of weapons, often to dictators or governments that abuse human rights. Its military budget this year is $343 billion, a sum 23 times larger than the combined military budgets of our seven alleged enemies…. And after all that, we wonder how come the world doesn’t love us? Take it to the neighborhood level. Suppose the wealthiest person on the block routinely walks up to people and smashes them in the face or cracks their skulls with a crowbar. It keeps happening. But one day someone swings back. Are you surprised?”
According to McCarthy, the Bush administration responded to 9/11 as follows:
“The same way every [American] administration has responded to a conflict: Order the military to go kill people…. Bush arrogantly says he won’t negotiate: We’re freedom-lovers, they’re evil doers. It’s the familiar pattern of U.S. foreign policy. On September 11th, U.S. leaders began to theorize about who did this and why. Days later, they began to demonize. On October 7th, U.S. pilots dropped bombs to victimize. And the cheerleading American media played its expected role: it glamorized. Whether it was Noriega in Panama, Qadhafi in Libya, Aidid in Somalia, Milosovec in Yugoslavia and now Bin Laden in Afghanistan, the scripted response is: theorize, demonize, victimize and glamorize.”
On June 6, 2006, McCarthy took part in an anti-war vigil at Lafayette Park, adjacent to the White House. Protestors were encouraged to participate in street theater and don “Bush and Satan masks, complete with [the number] 666 on their crowns.” They then engaged in a game of “tug of war between good [the anti-war activists] and evil [the Bush and crony masks].” Vigil organizers also solicited the help of exorcists from various religious affiliations to cast out the demons that allegedy had taken possession of the White House.
McCarthy is an endorser of the Consistent Life campaign, a network of organizations that seek to “protec[t] the unprotected” by actively opposing “war, abortion, poverty, racism, capital punishment and euthanasia.” Other past and present endorsers include Daniel Berrigan, Philip Berrigan, Leonard Peltier, and Martin Sheen. Member groups of the Consistent Life network include Pax Christi USA, Peace Majority Report, and Sojourners.
McCarthy has authored and edited a number of books on peace activism, including: I’d Rather Teach Peace (2008); Facilitator’s Manual for the Class of Nonviolence (2007); All of One Peace (1994); and Disturbers of the Peace: Profiles in Non Adjustment (1973).