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Beyond War: Movement Takes Disarming Approach to World Tensions

Times Staff Writer

The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe. --Albert Einstein, 1946

The people involved in Beyond War--A New Way of Thinking are working to correct that. They are out to change themselves. They are out to change you. By so doing, they think they can save the world.

They hope to do all this through education. They believe that if they can persuade enough people that all war is obsolete and that all life is interconnected, people will rise to the challenge that this new knowledge brings and act accordingly. Such a population will put an end to the arms race and prevent any government from warring.

Seems vague, abstract and idealistic to the extreme? Consider that in three years this movement has grown from about 60 or 70 people in Los Angeles and Palo Alto involved in Beyond War’s predecessor, the Creative Initiative Foundation, to today’s staff of 400 full-time unpaid workers and 8,000 active supporters devoting large amounts of time to the organization. They are at work in 12 key states, and have targeted another 12 “start-up” states.

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With no dues and an operating budget of $2 million, most of which they say comes in contributions of less than $100, they are only now getting started on fund-raising, soliciting tax-deductible contributions to the nonprofit educational foundation as “investing in a world beyond war.”

Their International Task Force has taken their message abroad, including a trip that 11 Silicon Valley executives took last November to the Soviet Union and Hungary.

They established a Beyond War Award in 1983, appointed a prestigious selection committee, commissioned Steuben Glass to sculpt a representation of the world, and awarded the first one to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops for its 1983 pastoral letter on war.

Last December, the second Beyond War Award went to the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. It was presented simultaneously to its co-presidents, Dr. Yevgeni Chazov of the Soviet Union and Dr. Bernard Lown of the United States. Chazov was in a Moscow television studio; Lown was in a San Francisco auditorium. And Beyond War was in both places by means of a televised space bridge that connected both cities by satellite, only the sixth such time the two countries had been hooked up.

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With live audiences in both cities and links to several American cities, including Los Angeles, the award ceremony was witnessed by 100,000 people. Speeches, music, children’s choirs and emotional greetings between the Russians and the Americans--it was a visibly moving, at times joyous, experience for participants and spectators.

Television producer Mel Swope (with his wife, Judie, a devoted Beyond War activist) made an hourlong documentary of the ceremony. The documentary is being aired during September on 268 public television stations across the country.

Last January in New York, 72 ambassadors to the United Nations attended a special Beyond War presentation on the effects of a “nuclear winter,” where testimony was given by American scientist Carl Sagan and Soviet scientist Segei Kapitsa.

At the core of Beyond War’s activities are the presentations it makes, followed by orientations.

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“We’re not looking for members,” said Jim Burch, with his wife, Wileta, coordinator for Southern California. A former senior executive with the Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn advertising agency who left to work full time for Beyond War, he explained, “We are not looking for people to join anything. We just want them to change their lives.”

The presentation:

It is a balmy Sunday evening in Westwood and a dozen or so people are milling around Edith and Ray Wallenstein’s living room, drinking mineral water, lining up for the buffet, introducing themselves to each other. The mood is pleasant, friendly but somewhat subdued.

This is often the scene at the Wallensteins. She is a sculptor and he an attorney. One way they can involve themselves in Beyond War, they said, is to give their Westwood home over to such gatherings, providing not only the place but a buffet supper or refreshments.

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On this particular night, health-care professionals had been invited. Kent and Marilyn Pelz would be making the presentation. Kent is director of advertising for California Federal Savings and Loan. Marilyn quit her job as a mathematics teacher at the Marlborough School last year so that she could volunteer full time for Beyond War.

Warning Reiterated

Supper over, guests settle on couches, Einstein’s warning is reiterated. Kent Pelz, a man who seems both calm and full of energy at the same time, stands in front of the brick fireplace, a zinc wash tub at his feet, holding a plastic canister filled with BBs.

Picking up three BBs, he says they represent all the firepower used in World War II, including the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He drops them into the tub and a brief hollow sound rings through the room.

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Next he holds up the canister, saying its contents represent the firepower available in today’s nuclear arsenals. He slowly pours 18,000 BBs into the tub. The noise that shatters the room is devastating and, although it lasts not much more than a minute, it seems interminable.

One man lowers his head. “Jesus,” he says softly.

There is a way out, Pelz said.

First people have to disabuse themselves of three illusions: that human beings can continue to war with each other and survive, that there will not be a nuclear war because someone or something will prevent it, that one person cannot make a difference.

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In place of those illusions, he offers to them the new way of thinking: War is obsolete and we are one.

New Mode of Thinking

Nuclear weapons have made all war obsolete, he says. Nuclear war, nevertheless, is inevitable unless humankind adopts a new mode of thinking centered on the fact that all life and all people on the planet are interconnected and interrelated. Violence in any human relationship, be it among family members or among nations, must be abandoned as a means of resolving conflict.

He repeats the movement’s basic philosophy. “Working together we can build a world beyond war,” reminding them that individuals working together in grass-roots movements have been at the beginning of all great movements in history, such as the abolition of slavery and women’s suffrage. Most recently, he says, there is Candy Lightner and her effect on the laws and behavior of society through founding Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

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If they are interested in the movement, if they want to pursue this further, if they are thinking of becoming involved, they can come to an orientation, Marilyn Pelz tells them.

The orientation:

It is 9 a.m. on a damp, overcast Saturday morning. About 14 people, most of them strangers to each other, have gathered in Phyllis and Dick Hicks’ house in Van Nuys, helped themselves to coffee, tea or decaf and are settling in for the daylong session. They seem full of anticipation and a little self-conscious as they eye the photograph of Earth taken from outer space that has been set up on an easel, to remind them, they are told, that there are no boundaries.

“Orientation means getting yourself in correct relation to something, getting yourself lined up with the planet,” Dick Hicks, a business litigation attorney, begins, nodding toward the photo. “We want to talk about how to preserve and protect it, and make sure it goes on.”

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The people introduce themselves, a middle-class mix of couples and singles--a sound technician, an educational therapist, a psychologist, a retired musician, an actor, a businessman. They describe themselves as “concerned,” “reevaluating priorities,” tired of “feeling helpless,” “looking for something more important than my little world and goals.”

One man, a camara assistant on a television show, confesses that while it is nice to entertain people, “I feel what I do is sort of insignificant. My wife and I wanted to get involved in the nuclear issue . . . and we think if you do something in a group you have more power. The bottom line is that education is the most important (thing you can do).”

They had all come to the right place. Beyond War’s commitment to its large-as-life-itself goal has education as its bottom line. It is not abstract, however. It makes demands on their daily lives, they are warned. As one chart on the easel attests, it is personal:

I will resolve conflict.

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I will not use violence.

I will not preoccupy myself with an enemy.

I will maintain a spirit of good will.

I will work together with others to build a world beyond war.

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They look at films, break into discussion groups, consider questions the Hicks’ put before them, describe their difficulties with it all.

“I have to tell you, this is all well and good,” says one woman, describing herself as Jewish, “but if Israel was attacked, I’d be the first to write them a check. Or if the neo-Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan went after black people here, I’d be the first to say go after them (the attackers), get them.”

“I know,” Phyllis Hicks, a full-time Beyond War worker, says reassuringly. “Almost everyone has some place they draw the line, ‘my child’s life,’ whatever. We’re asking you to give that up. It just won’t work. What we are asking you to do is so radically profound. . . .”

Wants to Change

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Later the woman comes back to her conflict, saying, “I agree with you. It’s not that I don’t think you’re right. That’s why I’m here. I would like to get beyond the way I think now.”

(People often come back to the personal violence question, Phyllis Hicks said later, the latest version being, “What would you do if the Night Stalker was attacking you?”

(Ultimately, she said, there isn’t a Beyond War position as such, nor does anyone really know what one would do.

(“Personally,” she said, “I would defend myself as far as I could short of killing someone. That’s where I draw the line. I would hope I’d find something short of that that would stop him. What we’re really working for is a place where we will have prevented that sort of thing from happening.”)

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By the end of the day all indicate they would like to become further involved, by hosting a presentation, educating others or by attending or working for some of the special events and projects Beyond War sponsors.

They can come to a clarification day, if they want to explore the implications of the philosophy further, Phyllis Hicks tells them. They can come to a “tough questions” night, or a “What about the Russians?” session. Or just attend one of the every-other-Wednesday-night meetings at their house.

The last one had been so well attended, Dick Hicks says, that he and Phyllis had been discussing knocking out a wall and putting an addition on the house--just to accommodate this growing interest.

The evolution:

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Are these people for real? Can they possibly mean what they say? Do they have a hidden agenda? Is this on the up and up?

These are not overgrown flower children from Haight-Asbury. They are long-time member Hal Sandler MD, chief of bio-medical research for NASA’s Ames Research Center in Palo Alto. He serves on the Joint US/USSR Cosmos Bio-Satellite Project, is a frequent long-term visitor to the Soviet Union, where, he laughingly says, he is known as “peacenik” thanks to persistent promotion of Beyond War with his Soviet colleagues. They are new Los Angeles member Kate Kinkade, managing editor of California Broker for Time Insurance Co., who was concerned about the direction the world was heading in, looking for something that would make a difference, and says she is now convinced that by personalizing the Beyond War philosophy she is making a difference.

They are, in short, middle-class, affluent, educated, mostly white professionals. They are women who have quit second-income-for-the-family jobs and adjusted their finances accordingly. They are men, and women, who have taken early retirements and sabbaticals or have rearranged their lives significantly to devote time and energy to this movement. In some instances, they have even moved to different cities and states for a year or two to help.

Asset and Liability

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They appear to be about as dedicated and committed as people can be, to such a degree in fact that it is both an asset and a liability. It helps account for their success, but it is often a source of suspicion. Some people find that kind of dedication off-putting, they know, having been criticized from time to time by dropouts or a few others involved in various peace organizations. It makes them uncomfortable. It seems suspect, to some, even leading them to conjecture that only a cult movement could account for it.

They counter by pointing out that they have deliberately eschewed a guru or leader-as-dominant-personality, that the decisions and ideas for the organizations come from the ground up--the opposite of the way a cult operates.

Although in general their dedication is characterized by a good cheer and friendliness that can be disconcerting in its intensity, they stop short of the glint in the eye. And they even confess, although rarely, to doubt and burnout.

Phyllis Hicks, involved since Creative Initiative days, says she has tried more than once over the years to drop out. She has raised a family, been a good citizen, realized with her husband some modest material comfort. Why not be allowed to sit back and enjoy it? Nothing wrong with that.

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‘I Had No Choice’

“I wanted to read Russian novels and eat bonbons all day,” she said. “I really tried doing that.”

“We still have the Russian novels to prove it,” Dick Hicks said.

“It didn’t work. I just could not not do this. It was as if I had no choice,” she said.

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The Beyond War Movement has grown from a handful of people, most of them couples, who were all associated with the Creative Initiative Foundation.

Founded in the early ‘60s, in the early days of the human potential movement, by a Palo Alto couple, Harry and Amelia Rathbun, the latter an engineer and Stanford business professor, it started as a series of seminars exploring the meaning of life. (Their son, Richard Rathbun, is president of the Beyond War Foundation, which also has a board of directors.)

Soon, however, some of the participants were looking to apply their philosophy to life itself and the Creative Initiative Foundation began engaging in projects relating to environmental issues (such as energy saving, toxic wastes and air pollution), nuclear power and drug and substance abuse. A nonprofit educational foundation, they formed a separate political organization, Project Survival, in the mid-'70s to take on nuclear power plants in California.

A Way of Life

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It became for its members a way of life and at times was described as a religion. Recently, Jim and Wileta Burch and Don and Virginia Fippen, all long-time members of Creative Initiative, discussed it over lunch at the Burches’ home in Palo Alto.

Today the Fippens are the Beyond War coordinators for Northern California, the Burches for Southern California. At the time of the lunch the Burches were packing for a return to Glendale to take up their second year in residence here. They had leased their house in Palo Alto.

Virginia Fippen described Creative Initiative as a religion, in the sense that it became a way of life for them. They do not smoke or drink, mainly because of the work they had done on substance abuse. Jim Burch added that there was nothing wrong with a glass of wine. It was not a moral issue. It was not a requirement or even a suggestion for people involved in Beyond War, although the group certainly discourages the serving of alcohol at its functions, regarding it as counterproductive.

Most important, perhaps, they stayed married. They are people who believe in commitment and in conflict resolution. From the beginning, Creative Initiative, which tended to consist largely of married couples, had sponsored marriage encounter workshops. Often, couples would claim that Creative Initiative had improved or saved their marriages. (By contrast, Beyond War seems to be drawing as many single people as couples.)

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The turning point for Creative Initiative came in 1982. The foundation was ready for a change, some say, and at the same moment some of the members saw a film that would change everything for them--"The Last Epidemic,” a film about the insurvivability of nuclear war.

About 10 members of Creative Initiative attended a Los Angeles Conference sponsored by Physicians for Social Responsibility where they saw the film, Marilyn Pelz recalled recently. They immediately called Palo Alto, pressing on their friends there the urgency of the nuclear issue. It superceded anything else they had been concerned with. The people in Palo Alto had seen it. They had been thinking the same thing.

Pat Weil, a former schoolteacher now working full time for the movement in the Valley and concentrating on presentations for educators and others who work with children, watched the film with her husband, Chris, also working for Beyond War now, as much as his financial planning business permits.

She thought to herself at the time, she recalled, “So much for the bottles of Sparkletts in the garage that I had stored for my family in the event of a nuclear explosion.”

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In Palo Alto, Traute Greening, now full-time media coordinator and then occasional dabbler in Creative Initiative projects and seminars, experienced the same kind of devastating reaction she had once before. In 1942, when she was a child in Germany, a bombing raid caught her town unaware.

Running for the shelter, struggling to help her feeble grandmother--who kept telling the family to leave her behind, she had lived her life--Greening realized she was up against something her mother and grandmother and the familiar comfort of her home could not protect her from.

Three years ago, John Anderson, at the time an IBM executive in the East, asked his 15-year-old son what was on his mind about the future.

“He didn’t even hesitate. He said, ‘The fact I might not have a future. I think there’s going to be a nuclear war. And the fact that in three years I have to register for the draft.’ This absolutely stunned me, I had no idea this was on his mind.”

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It so stunned Anderson, who had been active in Creative Initiative with his wife, Cissy, when they had lived in California, that he requested a transfer back to San Jose to be in on the initial groundwork for the Beyond War movement.

Today, he is general director of product marketing for the general products division of IBM. Within Beyond War, he concentrates on the business community.

Anderson spends more time at IBM than with Beyond War, he said, in spite of his dedication, and what he sometimes calls his preoccupation, with the latter. The overall philosophy, such as conflict resolution, has made him more effective than less at IBM, he said, more valuable to the corporation than in the days when his consuming ambition was to become president of IBM.

Recently at the Palo Alto headquarters, Richard Roney reconstructed the events of the past three years. An engineer, he was an executive and shareholder with ROLM corporation. When IBM bought it out, he said, he went full time with Beyond War.

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Researched the Issues

Once Creative Initiative decided to devote itself to the arms race and nuclear question, members researched the issues, traveling the country interviewing experts. Going to the root of the problem led them to their Beyond War philosophy.

Then came the game plan. They developed their position paper and their educational materials and approach. They studied marketing and advertising, and read John Naisbitt’s “Megatrends,” identifying areas of the nation that demonstrated an openness to change. They sent an expedition to Iowa to test the waters. The waters were favorable and last year 17 families pulled up roots in the Palo Alto area and moved into 11 states to spend a year setting up local movements.

Research and advertising studies have convinced them that when 5% of the population accepts an idea, it becomes entrenched in the society. When it reaches 20% acceptance, it becomes unstoppable. To make those gains they have initially to reach 50%, they say.

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They are making an all-out effort at the well-equipped, high-tech headquarters to develop alternative video approaches. And they are trying to figure out ways to involve more minorities. It bothers them that the movement is so overwhelmingly white, although it is the comfortable middle-class that has to be reached if society is to change, they say.

They realize that only in an affluent and relatively peaceful society are they likely to find a receptive audience.

“We realize we can’t go down to Nicaragua and say, ‘Hey fellas, we’d like to put on this presentation for you,’ ” Pelz said.

“We’d be wasting our breath,” Hicks said similarly of trying to bring the Beyond War message to the people of South Africa right now.

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“Really,” he added, “what we’re talking about is preventing situations like those in South Africa or Nicaragua from reaching a crisis. Once armed conflict has begun, there’s really not much you can do.”

The movement is young. They have not yet figured out all the repercussions, it seems. For example, although they are devoted to the concept that all war is unacceptable, some members balk at being called pacifists. The word makes them uncomfortable. Either they think it connotes a weakness or wishy-washiness, they say, or they find it slightly subversive. Pressed, they admit the definition fits them, as long as it includes positive action to promote peace. Likewise, they are often caught up short when asked their position on the draft, saying they have not thought about it. It has never occurred to them.

It has occurred to one young member. Tim Mattheis, 24, is an architect, still working for his license, and active in Beyond War in the Lodi area. He registered for the draft several years ago.

Would he register now.

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A long pause.

“No, I would not. The reason I hesitated is because I really believe in upholding the law. But by now, my beliefs are just so strong, there’s just no way I could do it.”

Involvement with Beyond War, Jim Burch said later, should certainly prove a valid reason to be granted conscientious-objector status.

They have been accused of being exclusive, of dissociating themselves from their fellow peace activists, of having a holier-than-thou attitude towards the peace movement. They are acutely aware of the criticisms, hypersensitive at times, and unfailingly point out that they are glad the other organizations exist.

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Moreover, as individuals they do sign petitions, make phone calls, write their congressmen--and, they say, they do so relentlessly.

Looking back, Rick Roney seemed somewhat awed or humbled as he remembered that at this time two years ago, he was getting into a van with a few other Beyond War men to make the exploratory foray into Iowa--looking to find if it made sense to expand the movement out of California.

The answer having been yes, a year later, Roney, his wife, Regina, and their daughter had just arrived for their year’s stay in Madison, Wis. Now they have been replaced by another family.

And here is Rick Roney, back in Palo Alto, working full time at national headquarters, getting ready for Beyond War’s first national meeting by satellite on Oct. 5. Accomplishments, strategies, new materials and regional plans will be shared and discussed by groups as small as 15 and as large as 1,000. They will be gathered in homes and auditoriums communicating with each other from 40 locations.

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“It’s on track,” he said of the three-year odyssey. “If the world is going to end tomorrow, there’s nothing we can do about it. If it holds together long enough for a solution to emerge, we’re on track.”


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