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American Friends Service Committee
Founder(s) 17 members of the Religious Society of Friends
Location Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Key people Shan Cretin, General Secretary

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is a Religious Society of Friends (Quaker) affiliated organization which works for peace and social justice in the United States and around the world. AFSC was founded in 1917 as a combined effort by American members of the Religious Society of Friends to assist civilian victims of World War I.

Background[edit | edit source]

Quakers traditionally oppose violence in all of its forms and therefore many refuse to serve in the military, including when drafted. AFSC's original mission grew from the need to provide conscientious objectors (COs) with a constructive alternative to military service. In 1947 AFSC received the Nobel Peace Prize along with the British Friends Service Council (now called Quaker Peace and Social Witness) on behalf of all Quakers worldwide.[citation needed]

History[edit | edit source]

In April 1917—days after the United States joined World War I by declaring war on Germany and its allies—a group of Quakers met in Philadelphia to discuss the pending military draft and how it would affect members of peace churches such as Quakers, Mennonites, Brethren, and the Amish. They developed ideas for alternative service that could be done directly in the battle zones of northern France.[citation needed]

A historic AFSC logo

They also developed plans for dealing with the United States Army, since it had been inconsistent in its dealing with religious objectors to previous wars. Although legally members of pacifist churches were exempt from the draft, individual state draft boards interpreted the law in a variety of ways. Many Quakers and other COs were ordered to report to army camps for military service. Some COs, unaware of the significance of reporting for duty, found that this was interpreted by the military as willingness to fight. One of AFSC's first tasks was to identify CO's, find the camps where they were located, and then visit them to provide spiritual guidance and moral support. In areas where the pacifist churches were more well known (such as Pennsylvania), a number of draft boards were willing to assign COs to AFSC for alternative service.[1]

In addition to conducting alternative service programs for COs, AFSC collected relief in the form of food, clothing, and other supplies for displaced persons in France. Quakers were asked to collect old and make new clothing; to grow fruits and vegetables, can them, and send them to AFSC headquarters in Philadelphia. AFSC then shipped the materials to France for distribution. The young men and women sent to work in France, working with British Quakers, provided relief and medical care to refugees, repaired and rebuilt homes, helped farmers replant fields damaged by the war, and founded a maternity hospital.[citation needed]

After the end of the war in 1918, AFSCs began working in Russia, Serbia, and Poland with orphans and with the victims of famine and disease, and in Germany and Austria, where they set up kitchens to feed hungry children. Eventually AFSC was chartered by President Herbert Hoover to provide the United States sponsored relief to Germans.[citation needed]

During the 1930s and through World War II, AFSC helped refugees escape from Nazi Germany, provided relief for children on both sides of the Spanish Civil War, and provided relief to refugees in Vichy France.[2] At the same time AFSC provided support in the US for Japanese-Americans during their internment, and operated several Civilian Public Service camps for a new generation of COs. After the war ended, they did relief and reconstruction work in Europe, Japan, India, and China. In 1947 they worked to resettle refugees during the partition of India, and in the Gaza Strip. Between 1937 and 1943, the AFSC built the Penn-Craft community for unemployed coal miners in Fayette County, Pennsylvania.[3]

As the Cold War escalated, AFSC was involved in relief and service efforts, often supporting civilians on both sides of conflicts around the world including the Korean War, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the Algerian War, and the Nigerian-Biafran War. Beginning in 1966, AFSC developed programs to help children and provided medical supplies and artificial limbs to civilians in both North Vietnam and South Vietnam. Unable to secure U.S. State Department approval to send medical supplies to North Vietnam, the committee dispatched goods through Canada. AFSC also supported draft counseling for young American men throughout the conflict.[citation needed]

In 1955, the committee published Speak Truth to Power: A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence, drafted by a group including Stephen G. Cary, A.J. Muste, Robert Pickus, and Bayard Rustin.[4] Focused on the Cold War, the 71-page pamphlet asserted that it sought "to give practical demonstration to the effectiveness of love in human relations."[5] It was widely commented on in the press, both secular and religious, and proved to be a major statement of Christian pacifism.

In the United States, AFSC supported the American Civil Rights Movement, and the rights of African-Americans, Native Americans, Mexican Americans, and Asian Americans. Since the 1970s AFSC has also worked extensively as part of the peace movement, especially work to stop the production and deployment of nuclear weapons.

Programs and projects[edit | edit source]

Today AFSC programs address a wide range of issues, countries, and communities. AFSC describes the programs as united by "the unfaltering belief in the essential worth of every human being, non-violence as the way to resolve conflict, and the power of love to overcome oppression, discrimination, and violence." [6]

AFSC employs more than two hundred staff working in dozens of programs throughout the United States and works in thirteen other nations.[7] AFSC has divided the organization's programs between 14 geographic regions, each of which runs programs related to peace, immigrant rights, restorative justice, economic justice, and other causes.[8] AFSC's international programs often work in conjunction with Quaker Peace and Social Witness (formerly the British Friends Service Council) and other partners.

AFSC also provides administrative support to the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) in New York City. This office is the official voice of Quakerism in the United Nations headquarters. There is a second QUNO office in Geneva, Switzerland; support for that office is provided by European Quakers. QUNO is overseen by the Friends World Committee for Consultation.

AFSC carries out many programs around the world. The organization's 2010 annual report[9] describes work in several African countries, Haiti, Indonesia, and the United States. Recently AFSC opened a traveling art exhibit called Windows & Mirrors, examining the impact on the war in Afghanistan on civilians.[10]

Cost of War project[edit | edit source]

Cost of War are real-time cost-estimation exhibits, each featuring a counter/estimator for the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War. These exhibits are maintained by the National Priorities Project.[11] As of June 1, 2010 both wars had a combined estimated cost of over 1 trillion dollars, separately the Iraq War had an estimated cost of 725 billion dollars and the Afghanistan War had an estimated cost of 275 billion dollars. The numbers are based on US Congress appropriation reports and do not include "future medical care for soldiers and veterans wounded in the war".[12]

The exhibits[edit | edit source]

Based on National Priorities Project Cost of War concept, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) launched an exhibit title titled "Cost of War" in May 2007, at the close of the National Eyes Wide Open Exhibit. It features ten budget trade-offs displayed on 3x7 foot full-color vinyl banners. AFSC uses to cost of the Iraq War estimated by economists Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz in the article "Economic Costs Of The Iraq War: An Appraisal Three Years After The Beginning Of The Conflict", written in January 2006 that estimates the total daily cost of the Iraq War at $720 million.[13] AFSC uses The National Priorities Project's per unit costs for human needs such as health care and education to make budget comparisons between the U.S. budget for human needs to "One Day of the Iraq War".[14] The ten banners read:[15]

  • One Day of the Iraq War = 720 Million Dollars, How Would You Spend it?
  • One Day of the Iraq War = 84 New Elementary Schools
  • One Day of the Iraq War = 12,478 Elementary School Teachers
  • One Day of the Iraq War = 95,364 Head Start Places for Children
  • One Day of the Iraq War = 1,153,846 Children with Free School Lunches
  • One Day of the Iraq War = 34,904 Four-Year Scholarships for University Students
  • One Day of the Iraq War = 163,525 People with Health Care
  • One Day of the Iraq War = 423,529 Children with Health Care
  • One Day of the Iraq War = 6,482 Families with Homes
  • One Day of the Iraq War = 1,274,336 Homes with Renewable Energy

There are currently 22 Cost of War exhibits located in Northern and Southern California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas/Missouri, Maryland, Massachusetts/Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York/New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, West Virginia.

Current issues[edit | edit source]

For its anti-war, pro-immigration, and anti-capital punishment stances, the AFSC receives criticism from many socially conservative groups. Often the criticisms allege that the AFSC has supported Communist activities.[citation needed]

Throughout much of the group's history the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and other government agencies have monitored the work of this and many other similar organizations.[16][17][18]

Since the 1970s, criticism has also come from liberals within the Society of Friends, who charge that AFSC has drifted from its Quaker roots and has become indistinguishable from other political pressure groups. Quakers expressed concern with AFSC's abolition of their youth work camps during the 1960s and what some saw as a decline of Quaker participation in the organization. The criticisms became prominent after a gathering of Friends General Conference in Richmond, Indiana, in the summer of 1979 when many Friends joined with prominent leaders, such as Kenneth Boulding, to call for a firmer Quaker orientation toward public issues.[19] Some Jews have accused AFSC of having an anti-Jewish bias.[20] Jacob Neusner calls the Committee "the most militant and aggressive of Christian anti-Israel groups."[21]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Origin of AFSC by former AFSC Archivist Jack Sutters
  2. All in the Same Boat: Non-French Women and Resistance in France, 1940-1944, Hillary Mohaupt, Spring 2010.
  3. "National Historic Landmarks & National Register of Historic Places in Pennsylvania" (Searchable database). CRGIS: Cultural Resources Geographic Information System. https://www.dot7.state.pa.us/ce/SelectWelcome.asp.  Note: This includes Louis Orslene and Susan Shearer (February 1989). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form: Penn-Craft Historic District" (PDF). https://www.dot7.state.pa.us/ce_imagery/phmc_scans/H092343_01H.pdf. Retrieved 2012-01-29. 
  4. Wendy Chmielewski, “Speak Truth to Power: Religion, Race, and Sexuality, and Politics During the Cold War”
  5. Speak Truth to Power from AFSC's archives
  6. AFSC's Our Work page; afsc.org
  7. AFSC's Where We Work page; afsc.org
  8. AFSC's structure page; Afsc.org
  9. Building Peace One Community at a Time: Annual Report 2010
  10. The official Windows and Mirrors information page.
  11. Official Site; National Priorities Project
  12. The Cost of War -- How we got the numbers at the Wayback Machine (archived June 1, 2003)
  13. Bilmes, Linda; Stiglitz, Joseph E. (January 2006). "The Economic Costs of the Iraq War: An Appraisal Three Years after the Beginning of the Conflict". Digital object identifier:10.2139/ssrn.832646. KSG Working Paper No. 06-002. 
  14. "Cost of War to the United States". http://costofwar.com/en/. 
  15. Cost of War -- How would you spend it? at the Wayback Machine (archived August 14, 2007)
  16. Washington Post article, Monitoring America
  17. Documents released under the freedom of information act are hosted on the FBI's website
  18. In recent years AFSC has worked with the ACLU on several efforts to end spying by local police, the FBI, the Pentagon and the NSA targeted at AFSC and other organizations.
  19. Chuck Fager, ed., Quaker Service at the Crossroads: American Friends, The American Friends Service Committee, and Peace and Revolution, Kimo Press, 1988.
  20. H. David Kirk, The Friendly Perversion: Quakers as Reconciliers: Good People and Dirty Work, Americans for a Safe Israel, 1979
  21. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, Jacob Neusner, Garland, 1993, p. 17

Further reading[edit | edit source]

  • Austin, Allan W. Quaker Brotherhood: Interracial Activism and the American Friends Service Committee, 1917-1950. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2012.
  • Mary Hoxie Jones, Swords into ploughshares: an account of the American Friends Service Committee, 1917–1937. New York: Macmillan, 1937.

Archives[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

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