Nicanotes: Book Review: Waging Peace: Global Adventures of a Life Long Activist

Nincanotes : A blog about nicaragua by solidarity activists

 by John Kotula

A Review of Waging Peace by David Hartsough with Joyce Hollyday

The trajectory of David Hartsough’s life, as described in this remarkable book, is a perfectly straight line. Starting in his boyhood, set on his path by deep family roots, he has been singularly committed to working for peace and social justice through non-violence for more than fifty years. In loose chronological order, the fourteen chapters of the book, describe his experiences in different decades in different parts of the world. Waging Peace serves as autobiography, but also as a history of many of the people and social movements who worked to make the world a better place in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century.

David Hartsough and Joyce Hollyday’s writing is lucid and engaging throughout the book, but more, in most chapters there are scenes that are so loaded with emotion, tension, and historical significance that they become cinematic and jump off the page. Here is just one example:

In 1960 David was 20 and a student at Howard University. He and his fellow students were participating in lunch counter sit ins in Maryland and Virginia

“Late in the evening of the second day, I was reading from a pocket New Testament I had with me. I had turned to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount…Do good to those who hate you.

I was meditating on those words when I heard a voice behind me say, ‘You nigger lover. Get out of this store in two seconds, or I’m going to stab this through your heart.’ I glanced behind me at a man with the most terrible look of hatred I had ever seen. His eyes blazed, his jaw quivered, and his shaking hand held a switchblade—about half an inch from my heart.

Loving my enemy was suddenly more than just a discussion in Sunday school… For a fleeting moment I doubted that Jesus meant to include a man so hateful among those who deserved to be loved. I had just seconds to respond to him, and I was grateful for those many hours of role playing and practice the previous two days.

I turned around and tried my best to smile. Looking him in the eye, I said to him, ‘Friend, do what you believe is right, and I will still try to love you.’ Both his jaw and his hand dropped. Miraculously, he turned away and walked out of the store.”

For readers of NicaNotes, David Hartsough’s reporting on Central America will hold a particular interest, including a detailed description of a wonderful conversation with Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann:

I spent six weeks in Central America in February and March of 1985, as part of a U.S. peace delegation sponsored by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and Witness for Peace…

In July 1979, a popular, broad-based revolution in Nicaragua overthrew the repressive Somoza regime. The Sandinistas, who assumed power, launched social reform through a national literacy campaign, construction of health clinics, and the organization of agricultural cooperatives. They created space for political pluralism. They brought great hope to those who had suffered so grievously for so long…

One of the great blessings on one of my trips was a long visit with Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, Nicaragua’s foreign minister, who was a Maryknoll priest who would later serve as president of the United Nations General Assembly. D’Escoto has been a strong and persistent proponent of nonviolence. He explained, ‘Creative, active nonviolence is not to be confused with quietism or resignation in the face of evil. Rather it is active, persistent opposition to violence in all its forms. This is the core of the message Jesus brings to us.’”

D’Escoto understood well the risk of renouncing injustice, exploitation, and violence. ‘What happened to Jesus is what happens when one order is being challenged by another,’ he said. ‘The cross is the inevitable consequence of following the teachings of Jesus. To fulfill our responsibilities as Christians, we need to risk our lives.’ That requires grace and courage, according to d’Escoto, who advised, ‘Start by reflecting on the message of Christ and then pray for the strength to live it.’

David Hartsough writes about being in both Cuba and Nicaragua very shortly after the people had taken up arms and successfully rid themselves of murderous dictators. While he clearly supports the results of the revolutions, he does not comment on their violent means. This seems like an omission, given his dedication to non-violence. I would have liked to hear what he had to say.

I am about the same age as David Hartsough. I lived through the history he describes and I spent time in many of the places he writes about. I have been involved in some of the causes he has dedicated his life too, but in a much more peripheral manner. The trajectory of my life has been anything but a straight line. My response to reading this book included some “what if” questions. What if I had been more dedicated to the causes I cared about? What if I had been willing to put my physical safety more at risk? What if I had had a more single minded process of deciding what I would do next? Since I am about as happy with my life as an old guy can get, I don’t contemplate these questions with any sense of sadness or regret or jealousy. Rather, I feel a bit of melancholy at the recognition that when we choose one path, we, of necessity, leave another unexplored. These are the thoughts of someone with more past than future upon reading “Waging Peace.” What if the reader were twenty rather than seventy, I wondered. What would they think?

My granddaughter Sophie Ahava is a nineteen year old freshman at University Mary Washington in Virginia. She is involved in an organization called Students Helping Honduras. In March she will spend ten days in Honduras helping construct an elementary school. I messaged her on Facebook and told her I was working on a review of Waging Peace. I said I was enjoying the book, but “I keep thinking it would be a very different experience to read this book at your age than at mine.” I asked her if she would be willing to read it and share her thoughts with me. She said she would. In a series of texts and phone conversations, Sophie had this to say about David Hartsough’s book: “I’m awe struck. I can’t imagine doing it. What he did is so powerful. In that day and age more people were involved and wanted to understand what was going on. Now people don’t understand and don’t want to understand. Part of my dilemma is that there are things going on in my own country that need to be fixed. I know I want to help, but I don’t know how.”

A day later, I got another Facebook message from Sophie that said, “Does David Hartsough have an email? I have some questions for him.” I gave her the email and said, “I’m curious about your questions. Would you be willing to send them to me, too?” She wrote back, “I am just trying to make a difference in this world and I want to work with kids that don’t have the same opportunities that I do and I just want to know as one single person how can I make as big an impact as he did… I just want to know how to get involved in the issues of today and where to start.” I said, “Thanks, Sophie. I think he would love getting that email.”

So here is my suggestion: buy two copies of the book. You get to keep one, but give the other to someone in high school or college and get them to tell you what they thought of it.


  • In the first public opinion poll taken since the United States sanctioned Supreme Electoral Council President Roberto Rivas Reyes, 58% of those polled said he should be removed from his position and only 20% thought he should remain in office. Rivas was sanctioned for corruption by the Trump administration under the Magnitsky Law. He is also under investigation in Costa Rica for his financial dealings. The most popular Nicaraguan public figure is boxer Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez with an 81% favorable score followed by Vice-President Rosario Murillo at 72% and President Daniele Ortega at 71%. Next came National Police Commissioner Aminta Granera and Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes with 61% and 56% favorables respectively. Rivas ranked tenth out of twelve personalities with only 26% favorable and a 48% unfavorable rating. Last week the National Assembly passed an amendment to the Electoral Law giving added power to the Vice-President of the Electoral Council. The CID-Gallup poll had a margin of error of 2.8% and confidence level of 95%. (El Nuevo Diario, Feb. 14)
  • The same poll found that a higher percentage of parents of school age children support mandatory sex education in the schools than in most other countries. 76% support sex education in elementary school and 87% in high school. 91% support it in higher education. Only 14% reject sex education in the schools. The poll of 1,202 people nationwide was conducted Jan. 9-16 (El Nuevo Diario, Feb. 14)
  • Nicaragua needs to irrigate more agricultural land according to Luis Rivas, head of Banpro Promerica Group speaking at aconference entitled “Trade and Business Opportunities in Central America 2018.” Rivas said that in order that to improve short-term productivity by increasing crop yields Nicaragua should increase irrigation. “It’s also a sustainability issue. Nicaragua has water basins, probably the best in Central America, and the land that is in use in the Pacific, which is one of the most productive in the country, only has 3% irrigation. If we increase that to 6%, we would double production with the same areas,” explained Rivas. He said banks have US$40 million available to expand irrigation but an unanticipated problem is that much of the agricultural land on the Pacific side of the country is farmed by tenants. The owners don’t have an incentive to put in irrigation and the tenants don’t have an incentive to improve someone else’s property. He said that a way to share the risks and the profits between those who own the land and those who farm it had to be found. (El Nuevo Diario, Feb. 16)
  • US Ambassador Laura Dogu called the recent changes to the electoral law “a missed opportunity.” The US diplomat thought Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) President Roberto Rivas should have been removed from office. Instead, the National Assembly, led by the Sandinista caucus, stripped Rivas’ office of administrative and legal powers and transferred those to the CSE Vice-President while leaving Rivas in office. Dogu also said that the Nica Act could come up for debate any day now in the US Senate and that “many people in the US are monitoring Nicaragua.” [To send a letter to your Senators asking them to oppose the Nica Act, here . (El Nuevo Diario, Feb. 16)