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Billy King


Nonviolence News



November 2006

[Go back to related issue of Nonviolent News]

'Readings in Nonviolence' features extracts from our favourite books, pamphlets or other material on nonviolence, or reviews of important works in the field (suggestions welcome).

Adam Curle, a pacifist man who struggled for peace in a militarised world

By Clem McCartney and Roberta Bacic

It seems relevant this month to use this space to refer to Adam Curle as he died early October. I would like to stress that my interest in bringing him into our pages resides in the fact that as a pacifist he moved in circles far beyond pacifism and was able to make his contribution in that context. I met him for the first time in Croatia in 1997 when he was already 80 years old. We were trying to support a group of village people in finding out the truth of rumours of a mass grave that was the consequence of the Balkans war. It was a difficult situation where many people wanted to organise and direct us and in this context he was open and trusting but never lost sight of himself and what he thought was important. This was the period during the confusion after the break-up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, when he began to lose hope in achieving change through negotiations between political leaders and he valued more the impulses of individuals to work for better societies. An obituary by Tom Woodhouse from the Peace Studies Department at Bradford, reproduced below, captures the Adam well. When he refers to Adam inspiring the Osijek Centre for Peace, Non-Violence and Human Rights, my sense is that he was more stimulated by the people involved in that centre and similar efforts elsewhere in the Balkans than that he felt he inspired them. They learnt from each other.

In 1981, when asked how it was possible to address effectively the issue of making peace in a militarised world he said:

“ I have often been asked how we handle the fact that peacemaking involves having a relationship, often a close relationship, with people who are committed to violent solutions to their problems. Do we tell them we disapprove of what they are doing or urge them to repent and desist? And if we don't, how do we square this with our principles? For my part I reply that I would never presume to criticise people, caught up in a situation I do not share with them, for the way in which they are responding to that situation. How could I, for example, preach to the oppressed of Latin America or Southern Africa? Nevertheless, I explain that I do not believe in the use of violence as either effective or moral; my job is to try to help people who can see no alternative to violence to find a substitute...

I am as much concerned with the human condition in general as with specific conflicts, which often represent only the tip of a pyramid of violence and anguish... I am concerned with all the pain and confusion that impede our unfolding and fulfilment. Often, of course, circumstances force us to focus on extreme examples of unpeacefulness. However, if we were to limit our attention to these, we would be neglecting the soil out of which they grow and would continue to grow until the soil were purified. In this sense the social worker, the teacher, the wise legislator, or the good neighbour is just as much a peacemaker as the woman or man unravelling some lethal international imbroglio”.

Adam Curle
Quaker and pioneer of peace studies in Britain
Tom Woodhouse
’Guardian’, Wednesday 4th October, 2006
The legitimacy and growth of peace studies is perhaps the greatest and enduring legacy of Adam Curle, who has died aged 90. In 1973, he was appointed to the first chair in peace studies in Britain, at Bradford University, a department that is now the largest and among the best known centres for such work in the world. It has stimulated and provided a model for many other programmes. Peace and conflict research, once regarded with suspicion, is now established in universities worldwide.

Adam would not have claimed any credit for this growth, but those who knew him as friends, students, colleagues, peace activists, or simply through reading his books, were inspired by his gentle charisma to spread the values of peace through education and action. Education aside, he was also innovative and courageous as a peacemaker, pioneering citizen mediation and peace building.
Adam defined what education for peace should entail in his inaugural Bradford lecture, The Scope and Dilemmas of Peace Studies, published in 1974. Among his prolific output, two books, Making Peace (1971) and Education for Liberation (1973), signalled his move into peace studies.
Adam was born Charles Curle in L'Isle-Adam, north of Paris. Adam, the name by which he was universally known, came from his birthplace. His father, Richard Curle, was a journalist and writer and close friend of the novelist Joseph Conrad. His mother was Cordelia Fisher. One of her sisters, Adeline, married the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. Other relatives included the historian FW Maitland; Julia Margaret Cameron, pioneer of photography; Virginia Woolf, novelist and feminist; and the artist Vanessa Bell.

His mother planted the seed that led to his pacifism and his decision to become a Quaker. As Adam recalled: "She hated war, to which she had lost three of her beloved brothers, and was determined that she would instil her loathing of it in me as well."

Educated at Charterhouse school, Adam read history and anthropology at New College, Oxford. In 1939, he married Pamela Hobson, with whom he had two daughters. They divorced some years later. During the war, he served in the army, rising to the rank of major. After the war he worked at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in London, helping to resettle British servicemen who had been prisoners of war.
In 1950, he became a lecturer in social psychology in the psychology department at Oxford University, and two years later was appointed to the education and psychology chair at Exeter University. During the late 1950s he travelled widely in Asia and the Middle East and met Anne Edie, from New Zealand, who was working in community health development in Dhaka, in what was then East Pakistan. They married in 1958, and had one daughter. From 1959 to 1961 he was professor of education at the University of Ghana, where he and Anne joined the Quakers. In 1961 he became director of the Harvard Centre for Studies in Education and Development.

Problems of conflict and violence began to feature in his work, particularly because of his direct experience as a mediator during the Nigerian civil war (1967-70) and the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war. Then came the invitation to lead the new Bradford department - itself the idea of a small group of Quakers.

Adam retired from Bradford in 1978 but worked on as a peacemaker, often under Quaker auspices, putting into practice the idea that education was concerned with emancipation. This value was also embodied in the principle of "speaking truth to power" asserted by Quakers. The techniques of peacemaking (whether mediation, problem solving, negotiation, policy analysis, advocacy, or non-violent activism) are what he called "tools for transformation".

He worked to bring people together in conflict-torn areas, including India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka and the Balkans. In Croatia, when in his late 70s, he was the inspiration behind the Osijek Peace Centre, which symbolised resistance to the war and inspired a prolific peace network. He was awarded the Gandhi peace prize in 2000 in recognition of his long commitment to peace work.

It is not easy to capture in words the deep affection that people formed for this extraordinary man. He was warm, humorous, modest and wise in equal measure. Visitors were welcomed by him and Anne, whether in America, Yorkshire or, in his later years, in retirement in London. Their hospitality was legendary. Both were avid gardeners and grew the vegetables that graced the dishes cooked by Anne, to the delight of their many guests.

In his early years, Adam played the flute, and maintained a love of music throughout his life. A deeply spiritual man, remaining a Quaker but influenced also by the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism in recent years, he was never pious or doctrinaire. Just to be in his company was enough to feel a palpable and joyous sense of knowing what it means to be human. Intellectually energetic to the last, he published his final book, The Fragile Voice of Love, shortly before he died.

He is survived by Anne, his daughters Christina, Anna and Deborah, and several grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Copyright INNATE 2016