- Anti-war activist and nuclear disarmament proponent
- Founder of Urgent Call
- President of the Fourth Freedom Forum
- Helped establish the Win Without War coalition
- “We must ask ourselves why these 9/11 attacks have occurred, and what the United States has done to incur such wrath.”
Born on November 15, 1946 in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, David Cortright holds a B.A. degree in history from Notre Dame University (1968) and an M.A. in history from New York University. He also completed doctoral studies in political science at the Union Institute in residence at the Institute for Policy Studies.
Cortright was drafted into the U.S. Army in the summer of 1968, during the height of the Vietnam War. To avoid being sent into the infantry, he signed up for the army band, where he played a baritone horn and trumpet. Though he saw no active combat, Cortright characterizes his tenure in the military as “an experience that made me realize the folly and horror of war.” “Uncle Sam turned me into a peace activist,” he says.
Soon after he had enlisted, Cortright came across a magazine story about a group of soldiers in Oklahoma who were speaking out against the war and were forming a servicemen’s union. He decided to join them in the GI antiwar resistance movement, whose members commonly participated in peace demonstrations, disobeyed orders, sabotaged equipment, and even filed a lawsuit against the Army.
In 1978 Cortright was named executive director of SANE, the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, which, under his leadership, became the largest disarmament organization in the United States—growing from 4,000 members to 150,000.
Also in the ’80s, Cortright was active in the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign (NWFC), a Soviet-sponsored initiative that sought to freeze the USSR’s nuclear and military superiority permanently in place. When SANE and NWFC formally merged in 1987, Cortright served as a co-director of the new composite.
In September 2001, Cortright held that the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States should be treated as criminal matters—via legal channels and police actions—rather than as acts of war requiring a military response. Urging American leaders to “re-orient our foreign policy toward justice” and “find more equitable and even-handed approaches toward Arab nations,” Cortright said: “We must ask ourselves why these attacks have occurred, and what the United States has done to incur such wrath. Could it be our unyielding support for Israel at the expense of Palestinians; our large-scale and seemingly permanent military presence in and around the Arabian peninsula; our constant bombing and draconian sanctions against Iraq; our support for repressive governments in Egypt and other Arab states?”
In June 2002 Cortright founded Urgent Call, an organization advocating America’s complete nuclear disarmament. Later that year, he helped establish the Win Without War coalition, a core opponent of the 2003 U.S. military incursion into Iraq.
In April 2003—a month after what he characterized as the Bush Administration’s “illegal and unjust military invasion of Iraq”—Cortright wrote in The Nation: “This war was and is completely unnecessary. Iraq was being disarmed through peaceful diplomatic means.” He maintained that the U.S., as a form of restitution for its pointless aggression, should “provide massive humanitarian assistance and economic aid for the Iraqi people and other vulnerable populations in the region,” while funding “the reconstruction and development of Iraq.” “Ownership of Iraqi oil should remain with the Iraqi people,” Cortright added, notwithstanding the fact that the oil in question had long been entirely under the control of Saddam Hussein, who used its revenues mainly to enrich himself. Moreover, Cortright derided “the double standard of the United States and other nuclear states, in which we propose to keep these deadliest of [nuclear] weapons indefinitely while denying them to the rest of the world.”
In the September-October 2003 issue of Sojourners magazine, Cortright portrayed President George W. Bush as a liar who had spun an elaborate “web of deceit” regarding the threat allegedly posed by Iraq’s WMD program. “President Bush not only misled the country into war,” wrote Cortright, “he subverted the very foundations of American democracy. Freedom is imperiled when government goes to war on the basis of lies.”
In July 2015 Cortright declared himself “an enthusiastic supporter” of the nuclear deal that the U.S. and its partner nations (Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China) had negotiated with Iran. The agreement’s “many obvious benefits,” he said, included the fact that it “blocks Iran’s ability to manufacture weapons-grade uranium and plutonium”; “establishes the most rigorous nuclear inspections regime ever negotiated”; and “calls for lifting sanctions against Iran as it accepts enhanced monitoring and begins to implement nuclear reductions.” Cortright’s claims were riddled with inaccuracies, as is explained here and here.
Today Cortright teaches peace studies and nonviolent social change at the University of Notre Dame, and serves as the director of policy studies at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. He also serves as an advisory board member of Peace Action; board chairman of the nuclear disarmament group Fourth Freedom Forum, where he was formerly the director; a research fellow at the One Earth Future Foundation, which seeks to “create constructive alternatives to violent conflict”; a contributing writer at Sojourners magazine; and the editor of Peace Policy, the Kroc Institute’s online journal.
For additional information on David Cortright, click here.