A Peaceful Protest: Horace Champney’s Active Pacifism
Rediscovered Radio returns to the Viet Nam war period – when a Yellow Springs resident, inspired by his Quaker beliefs, took part in a dramatic war protest. The Quaker community he was a part of continues a tradition of active pacifism.
Forty nine years ago this spring, the war in Viet Nam was escalating. Nearly half a million American troops were in South Viet Nam at the time, supporting the government in its war with the North.
In the midst of this – a group of protestors – mostly Quakers – set sail in a fifty foot boat – heading for North Viet Nam. Among them, 61 year old Horace Champney.
Media from around the world covered the voyage. A Universal Newsreel from 1967 offered this description: “The yacht Phoenix, a selfordained mercy ship manned by a crew of 7 determined American pacifists. It’s mission? To bring medical supplies to the North Vietnamese port of Haiphong. Despite Red Cross warnings and without State Department clearance.”
In an interview in the WYSO Archives Champney talks about the impact of their mission – which included revealing facts that were not reported by the mainstream press.
“When one of our press releases got to Washington the next day the Pentagon came out admitting that for the first time that they were using these antipersonnel missiles but describing them as aimed at military objectives.” Champney said in the interview. “And we saw the the vicious things that they did to people, the kids in the hospitals one little girl paralyzed from the waist up for the rest of her life having been struck by shrapnel bits from one of these anti-personnel bombs.”
Horace Champney’s audacious participation in the voyage of the Phoenix was not a surprise. His activism went back to his days at Antioch College. In the mid 1920s he was among a group of students who encouraged racial integration of the college. During World War II, he counseled Quaker students who were grappling with the issue of conscientious objection.
Horace Champney was part of an on going peace vigil at Wright Patterson Air Force Base during the Vietnam war. By the time of the January 1973 recording, protests to the war had become widespread and were including veterans and active duty military personnel.
“If one country’s honor is being degraded because of the kind of leadership we have and because instead of making peace even as promised our president, our commander in chief is giving us orders to bomb civilians with obliteration carpet bombing.” Champney stated on the recording.
Every Saturday at noon at the corner of Limestone Street and Xenia Avenue in Yellow Springs, a peace vigil takes place. Horace Champney’s granddaughter Peg holds a sign that reads “peace is patriotic.” Pat DeWeese is also at the vigil, part of a core group associated with Yellow Springs Friends Meeting
“We hold a testimony of non violence and we are historically a peace church—that’s been an important part of what Quakers feel is important to witness in their faith. “
DeWeese said there were many Quaker actions during the Vietnam war.
“Quakers also held a medical mission to build prostheses for people who lost limbs during the war. So they had a very ongoing peace mission within Vietnam during the entire war in addition to of course organizing in the United States against the war.”
Sean Tulecke is at the vigil standing next to his 91 year old grandmother Hazel. He believes that the message of peace tends to get lost in the coverage of war.
“The peace message is not equally represented in the media and so people who are pro peace are led to believe that there’s not a lot of us. So when we come out here we realize that there’s a lot of people out there that feel the same way we do.
Hazel Tulecke is in a wheelchair in windy, 14 degree weather. She cofounded the vigil with her partner Bill Houston over 15 years ago.
“ It seems obvious to me that war is antihuman.” Tulecke says, “We’ve gotten so accustomed to the notion that war has to exist.”
Horace Champney spent most of his 85 years involved in radical pacifism. He died in 1990.
To read more about Horace Champney, the voyage of the Phoenix and its ties to Antioch College, visit the Rediscovered Radio blog.
Rediscovered Radio is made by possible by generous support from Ohio Humanities.