DOROTHY DAY

101

PART 39

Dorothy Day recalled in her autobiographical memoir, The Long Loneliness, that just after World War II ended she got a letter from some activists in the Catholic Worker movement complaining about it’s pacifist stance. There was indeed more than one such letter.

Dorothy expressed her amazement at this – at how for 15 years and more the pages of The Catholic Worker had consistently featured articles advocating pacifism and people were just complaining about it now. “We had been pacifist in class war, race war, in the Ethiopian war, in the Spanish Civil War, all through World War II, as we are now during the Korean war. We had spoken in terms of the Sermon on the Mount and all of our readers were familiar enough with that. But there were a very great many who had seemed to agree with us who did not realize for years that The Catholic Worker position implicated them.”

It was as though the pacifist penny had not dropped with many of her  supporters. Now it seemed that they were beginning to realise that if they supported her they would be bound, sooner or later, to make decisions personally and to act upon them. All principles are in one way or another adhered to at a cost and at his time, when the United States had just taken on the mantle of the free world’s military defence, life became very complicated for principled pacifists. The power and the pervasiveness of the “Military Industrial Complex” about which President Eisenhower sounded warning bells in the 1950s was now coming into its full flowering and it touched the lives of millions of ordinary Americans.

Dorothy realised throughout World War II, into the Korean War and later into the Vietnam War, that her pacifist principles had implications for union workers in steel plants, auto and airplane factories—- many in industry and business would have to find other jobs not tied up with the war effort. “And where could they get  them? If they worked in the garment factories they would have to fill government orders for uniforms. Mills turned out blankets, parachutes. Raising food, building houses, baking bread – whatever you did you kept the wheels of industrial capitalism moving and industrial capitalism kept the wheels moving on war orders. You could not live without compromise. Teachers sold stamps and bonds. Children were asked to bring aluminum pots and scrap metal to school. The Pope asked that war  be kept out of the schoolroom, but there it was. It seemed impossible to get away from it.”

The Catholic Worker leadership had grappled with the pacifist issue for years. Robert Ludlow, a convert brought to Catholicism through his reading of John Henry Newman, argued the case for them on natural and supernatural grounds – Natural Law theory and the Sermon on the Mount. Against the argument made by some that pacifism placed too much of a burden on the ordinary Catholic he replied that in truth “it places not so much a burden as does Catholic sexual morality with its day to day difficulties and the heroism it requires of many in these days. And yet the Church will not compromise in this regard.” It seemed to them that the day must come when Catholics would refuse to compromise on this matter of war. The alternative, given the nature of modern warfare, would be to sink into sub-human bestiality and most certainly  stray far from the spirit of Christ.