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Rev. Homer Alexander Jack: A Model for Unitarian Universalist Disarmament Action
Rev. Homer Alexander Jack: A Model for Unitarian Universalist Disarmament Action
Rev. Homer Alexander Jack

Rev. Homer Jack

How do you ever get the membership of the United Nations to sit down and talk about disarmament and even set off a large enough public response to have a significant downsizing of nuclear arsenals as a result? All we need is another Homer Jack.

“And who is he?” you ask. Certainly not a commonly referenced name in any household these days. And yet—perhaps he should be, as one familiar with this Unitarian Universalist minister and his life of accomplishments would attest. Reading over his biography is inspiring to learn how much one person can contribute to making a better world. If we were to have a peek at his address book, we would find names like the Quaker civil rights leader Bayard Rustin; James Farmer, a disciple of Mohandas Gandhi; Albert Schweitzer; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Dr. Benjamin Spock, author of the popular Baby and Child Care book; Dana McLean Greeley, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA); the hundred UU ministers he organized in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965;  Adlai Stevenson, former Vice President and subsequent US Ambassador to the UN; significant members of the range of five Unitarian Universalist Churches where he served as minister; and those peace activists and publishers with whom he stayed in touch once “retiring” in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania in 1987 where their College maintains his papers.

Disarmament was only one of his passions.  After inviting him to keynote at a conference of the Institute on Nonviolence and Social Change in 1959, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said of him: “Homer Jack is certainly one of the most dedicated persons that I have ever met. He combines the fact-finding mind of a social scientist with the great insights of a religious prophet. [1] Some of his accomplishments include…

  • Co-founder of interracial Roosevelt College
  • Co-founder of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality)
  • Co-founder of SANE (National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy) which he served as Executive Director;
  • Co-founder and Associate Director of the American Committee on Africa which helped countries in Africa to achieve independence from their European colonizers
  • Director of a new Department of Social Responsibility for the UUA from 1964 to 1969, under which the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) worked to promote world peace, human rights, disarmament, health, and social issues and they did all this with a very meager budget.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Dana McLean Greeley, and Homer Jack

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Dana McLean Greeley, and Rev. Homer Alexander Jack

Along with Elizabeth Swayzee, Rev. Jack worked to make the UU-UNO effective from 1963 to 1970, both before and after it lost funding from the UUA and became a separate organization.

In 1969 budgetary constraints in the UUA led to the loss of Rev. Jack’s position in the Department of Social Responsibility but he continued his work for peace as Founder of the Religions for Peace organization in 1970 and Secretary General of the World Conference on Religion and Peace (1970-83). During this time he developed his skills at organizing conferences around the world. From 1973 to 1984, Homer Jack served as Founder and Director of the UN Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) Committee on Disarmament. It was in that capacity that Rev. Jack used his diverse skills in organizing two Special Sessions on Disarmament in 1978 and 1982.

While the issue of disarmament remained in the NGO Committee since that time, with UU-UNO Director, Bruce Knotts, currently serving as chairperson, hopes are alive that a fourth Special Session will be called for 2019 or 2020, especially given the attention to the recent Convention to Ban Nuclear Weapons in the process of coming into force.

What were the results of these ’78 and ’82 Special Sessions? One of them brought a million marchers to New York City in 1982 in support of the Session and a strong sentiment in favor of disarmament from the global participants. This ultimately led to a reduction in the global count of nuclear weapons from 80,000 to 15,000 today. But hopes to eliminate all nuclear weapons did not come about, hence the new Convention to Ban Nuclear Weapons, and this blog.

Rev. Jack was a prolific writer and in his book Disarm or Die, which he wrote right after the closing of the second Special Session on Disarmament (SSOD II) in June 1982, he carefully describes its step by step process, citing the words and reactions of many of the participants. The consensus coming out of the first and second sessions among those who worked diligently for total disarmament was in fact major disappointment. The Cold War persisted and there was no real sign at first of compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty to eliminate and destroy nuclear arsenals. Instead the arms race was expanding and distrust among the nuclear powers (especially the USA and the USSR) continuing.

The breadth of topics covered in SSOD II is apparent from a list of topics for general debate: “the Annual Report of the Secretary General, the UN Role in Disarmament [including the range of five different UN entities working on the topic]; Nuclear Arms Limitation and Disarmament; Nuclear-weapon-free-zones; Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons; Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy; Cessation of Nuclear-Weapon Tests; Security Guarantees for Non-nuclear-weapon States; Biological Weapons Convention; Prohibition of Chemical Weapons; Geneva Protocol of 1925; Certain Conventional Weapons; Peace Zones; Prohibition of Environmental Warfare; New Weapons of Mass Destruction; Outer Space; General and Complete Disarmament; Arms Race in the Sea-bed; Reduction of Military Budgets; Economic and Social Consequences of the Arms Race; Disarmament and Development; Arms race, Disarmament and International Security; Program of Studies; Regional Approach to Disarmament; Technological Aspects of the Arms Race.” [2]

Nevertheless he did cite positives:

  1. The media (TV, radio, newspapers, magazines) gave the initial weeks of SSD II good coverage, worldwide and some to its close
  2. The World Disarmament Campaign was launched.
  3. Many Heads of State or governments of the 157 participants took part in the general debate, giving SSOD II prestige and publicity.
  4. The occasion of SSOD II was used by NGOs throughout the world for intensive disarmament activities.
  5. A large number of speakers (77) representing NGOs and research institutions gave oral statements.
  6. The nuclear freeze concept [initiated by the United States NGOs] was injected into the session through several different proposals.
  7. The Soviet Union made a unilateral announcement that it would not be the first to use nuclear weapons. [China, however, made this announcement 18 years before].
  8. Observers now know that currently the reason for the continuation and escalation of the arms race lies primarily on the shoulders of the USA and the USSR. [3]

However a third Special Session on Disarmament (Special Session 15) did take place in 1988. “The agreed agenda of this session was similar to its predecessors: a general debate; a review and appraisal of the current international situation; an assessment of implementation of the decisions and recommendations of the previous two Special Sessions; consideration of the comprehensive program of disarmament; trends in the disarmament process; the role of the United Nations; the relationship between disarmament and development; and the opportunity to adopt a final document.” [4]

Mr. Rydell adds: “Special sessions are largely about establishing accountability for past commitments, clarifying or reaffirming principles and goals, and developing new multilateral disarmament norms. They are also part of a larger process of building the legitimacy of disarmament as a worthy national, regional and multilateral goal to pursue, as part of the Charter’s larger system for maintaining international peace and security.” [5]

Homer Jack was a pioneer in reviving the issue of disarmament globally and helping to lay a foundation that needs to be readdressed for the welfare of our planet today. We are indebted to his legacy in this and the other pursuits he founded in his lifetime.

Footnotes

  1. Homer Alexander Jack
  2. Jack, Homer: Disarm or Die; 1983; New York: World Conference on Religion and Peace. p. 49
  3. Ibid, p. 217
  4. Rydell, Randy. Special Session on Disarmament III, UNODA No. 29 UNODA Occasional Papers No.29: Bringing Democracy to Disarmament
  5. Ibid p. 38

About the Author

  • Joanne Dufour is a Volunteer for the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office completing a circle of connection with the office since 1968. She was introduced to it in her second year of teaching back then, maintained connections over the course of her career in education,...

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