An interview with Professor Berne Weiss on her research project: The World without War

Kelechi Ajoku

The Messenger: Good afternoon Professor Weiss. I’m Kelechi Ajoku from the school’s newspaper – The Messenger – and I would like to interview you on your current research project: The World without War. What is your inspiration?

Prof Weiss: I got a scholarship from a Quaker organization to do the project.  I thought about it because I started asking people if they could imagine a world without war after president Obama talked about a world without nuclear weapons. I was an anti-war activist in the ’60′s and ’70′s during the Vietnam War. So this has been something on my mind for a while.
The Quakers have practiced and advocated non-violence for a long time.  In 1661 they gave a declaration to King Charles II, assuring him that they were not going to be enemies of the state and also making the point that they will not participate in violence. This year is the 350th anniversary of that Peace Testimony.
In 1947, the American Friends’ service committee, which is the social service part of the Quakers, and the British Friends, were awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for the work that they did with displaced people from World War II. They worked with people from both sides: the Allies and the Axis side.

The Messenger: We all know people do desire a world without war. But is it feasible?

Prof Weiss:  I don’t know, but if we can’t imagine it, we certainly can’t bring it about. In the last issue of The Messenger, there was an article on the law of attraction which essentially says that if you can’t imagine it, it can’t happen. That doesn’t mean that if you can imagine it, it will happen. But if we don’t believe it’s possible, there’s no impetus to try to make it happen. If we consider the possibility that there could be a world without war then we can start thinking about things like: What would it take? How do we get from here to there? What would that world look like? How would it be different from this world? What is it that we get from war that sticks so deeply to our human nature and has been going on for millennia? What can we replace it with?

The Messenger: What is your view on “just war” and government interventions on issues like genocide?

Prof Weiss: I can’t go back and refight or un-fight historical wars.  I can wonder what will prevent wars. I look at what’s happening in the Middle East now and I was so inspired by Egypt especially. Those who rose up in Egypt made it clear that they were non-violent and even when they were attacked, they did not arm themselves. They really in effect re-enforced a non-violent revolution.

The Messenger: It took a civil war to totally eradicate slavery in the US. How do you go about stopping people who are causing harm, and just won’t stop? I’m referring to cases where the government might have to resort to force or violence just to stop them.

Prof Weiss: The problem about re-living the past is that you can’t change it. The Quakers were very strong in the abolitionist movement in the US. There was the underground railway that helped people escape to Canada. I think that there are ways of taking actions that do not require using organized violence. I think that Gandhi showed that, and I think that Martin Luther King also showed that. It’s not like it’s easy and it’s not like there’s no violence involved.  The question is: can those who are non-violent maintain their strength under attack? I think that a strong sense of community helps. I think that was very important in the civil rights movement in the US. People felt like they were in it together with like-minded individuals who were equally strong. When I talk about a world without war, I’m not talking about a world without violence. I don’t think you can ever get rid of violence and human passion. What makes war different is that it is organized. Some people make the decision, and then they rally thousands and thousands to carry weapons to try and kill other people and to put themselves in the position of getting killed. I mean, it takes so much organization and resources. It’s amazing that we’ve gone to such trouble to do so much damage!

The Messenger: With the scholarship, how do you intend to go about the project and how much progress has been made?

Prof Weiss: In January I started my research at Woodbrooke, a Quaker study center in England.  They’ve got a great library. Since then, I’ve been interviewing people.  That’s why I want to have this information in the Messenger because McDaniel has a wonderful international student body. I’d love to get view points from young people from so many different parts of the world. Anybody who’s interested in being interviewed should contact me.
I’m especially interested in interviewing young people to see if there is a way that we could talk about eliminating war that feels productive, that provides a new vision of the future.

The Messenger: Are you in this project alone or as a team?

Prof Weiss: I’m doing it alone but I’ve got a great support system.

The Messenger: Do you look at the “world without war” from a religious or moral perspective?

Prof Weiss: I hope that my spiritual life and my sense of morality are not different from the way I live my life. What you believe in should inform the way you live.

The Messenger: Thank you very much Professor Weiss for your time.

Prof Weiss: you’re welcome.

NB: Professor Weiss is very happy to interview students on this subject. Interested students should please contact her @

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