- Anti-war activist
- Co-founder of the Nonviolent Peaceforce
Born the son of a Christian minister in 1941, David Hartsough has been an anti-war activist since the 1950s. In 1952 he and his family joined the Society of Friends (Quakers) and settled in the Philadelphia area. At age 15, Hartsough shook hands with Martin Luther King, Jr., and he would later cite that meeting as one that strongly propelled him toward peace activism. In the summer of 1958, Hartsough spent six weeks with an American Friends Service Committee Peace Caravan composed of students from a number of different nations. Speaking to church groups, youth organizations, and service clubs, these youngsters, Hartsough recalls, “presented the non-violent method as a way to solve international conflict rather than violence.”
Also in the late fifties, Hartsough became a leader of a World Affairs Discussion group composed of young Quakers; he participated in numerous demonstrations aimed at persuading the U.S. to put an end to its H-bomb tests; and in 1959 he took part in a prayer vigil in front of Fort Detrick (Maryland), “asking for a stop to [America’s] preparation for Germ Warfare.”
Also in 1959, Hartsough claimed “conscientious objector” status in order to be exempt from serving in the U.S. military. He told the Selective Service agency that “by reason of my religious training and belief,” he could participate neither in “war in any form” nor in “noncombatant training and service in the Armed Forces”; that “killing or even hating any man is injuring part of God himself”; and that “hatred breeds hatred, while love and understanding try to bring friendship and conciliation with the so-called ‘enemy’.”
In 1961 Hartsough participated in sit-ins aimed at pressuring shop owners in Arlington, Virginia to desegregate their lunch counters.
Over the next several decades, Hartsough joined a variety of peace efforts in such far-flung locations as the Soviet Union, El Salvador, Mexico, and Kosovo, to name just a few. Hartsough made headlines in 1987 when he and S. Brian Willson knelt on the train tracks near the Concord Naval Weapons Station (in California) in an attempt to block a munitions-laden locomotive from transporting its cargo to Central America. Tragedy struck, however, when the train ran over Willson and inflicted injuries that caused the man to lose the lower half of both his legs.
In the late 1990s, Hartsough created the San Francisco-based anti-war group Peacemakers. In 2002 he co-founded, along with Mel Duncan, the Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP). Hartsough has also been a member of Peace Brigades International, whose methods of intervention in conflict zones closely resemble those of NP.
In April 2009, Hartsough dismissed speculation that the fundamentalist Islamic government in Tehran was intent on developing nuclear weapons for aggressive purposes, noting: “Iran has not attacked another country in over 200 years, so it’s not like Iran is a warmonger.” “Muslim religious leaders,” Hartsough assured, had publicly “said that to develop or use a nuclear weapon … is totally against the Islamic faith.” Further, Hartsough derided the “confrontational tactics” which the Bush administration had employed against Iran—such as “calling them the axis of evil”—as counterproductive and inflammatory. “What will work,” Hartsough said, “is to have real respect for one another, really use negotiation and diplomacy.”
By Hartsough’s reckoning, the Bush administration’s response to 9/11 was inappropriately vengeful and militaristic. “As a society,” the activist laments, “we weren’t about to forgive whoever did this to us.… We were raring to go and kill these people that killed our people.”
In March 2010, Hartsough urged worldwide support for “the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israeli occupation of Palestine, and [against] companies that profit from the occupation and apartheid policies.” Further, Hartsough called for an end to “the American blank check to the Israeli government of over $3 billion a year in military aid”; he depicted the anti-terrorism barrier which Israel had erected in the West Bank as an “Apartheid wall”; and he derided the Israeli blockade of Gaza, whose purpose was to prevent Hamas from importing weaponry into the region, as “the Siege of Gaza.” In Hartsough’s estimation, the anti-Israel efforts of the International Solidarity Movement, the Christian Peacemaker Teams, and the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program deserve worldwide support.
In March 2011, Hartsough reported that he had been arrested for civil disobedience more than 100 times during his long activist career, but had spent less than 6 months in jail.