A man of peace pens a book about peace

Ray Cun­ning­ton says we can change our ways

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - JEFF MA­HONEY jma­honey@thes­pec.com 905-526-3306

He’s 96 now and Ray Cun­ning­ton likes war per­haps even less than he did when he was 19 and he cer­tainly didn’t like it then.

Think of the 19-year-olds you know. Maybe, like I do, you have a child that age. Can you con­tain, in your idea of the tol­er­a­ble, their el­i­gi­bil­ity for con­scrip­tion? To fight a war, a hellish war al­ready in hellish progress? Against Nazi Ger­many? Re­quired not just to be ready, so freshly alive, to die ... but also to kill? And to kill some­one, maybe 19, like them­selves, with whom they have no per­sonal quar­rel?

Ray knew even as a child some­thing was wrong, at the very root, with a cul­ture that em­bed­ded bul­ly­ing and vi­o­lence in the build­ing of “char­ac­ter” in youth.

“I won­dered why cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment was con­sid­ered the cor­rect and nec­es­sary path to man­hood,” Ray writes in his new book, “To­wards Less Ad­ver­sar­ial Cul­tures.”

“I did not think it f air that grown men should hit young boys.”

“The young have a nat­u­ral sense of f air­ness,” Ray says to me, and his eyes, still bright with that orig­i­nal vi­sion, seem (like much about him) a cor­ri­dor to all the ages he’s been, to the near­ness of the lad he was, keep­ing the man he is al­ways young ... and on point.

He wears shirts of colour­ful pais­ley and pur­ple sun­burst and wears his hair in a kind of mod­i­fied Prince Valiant, with­out which he can’t be im­aged. These are not a protest against what’s ex­pected of a man near­ing 100 but the nat­u­ral flow­er­ing of a prime of life that he ap­pears, at every stage, just to have reached.

“I’ve al­ways con­sid­ered my­self as car­ry­ing a peace ban­ner qui­etly in­side,” says Ray, of the seeds in youth of his ac­tivism in later life.

So, at 19, al­ready re­pulsed by cul­tures of vi­o­lence, Ray did not wait to be con­scripted. He vol­un­teered. “One part of me wanted to be a con­sci­en­tious ob­jec­tor,” he re­calls, “but I didn’t think it (lan­guish­ing in prison) a use­ful thing. But I also didn’t see how killing Ger­mans would help. I’d been told if I vol­un­teered, they might give me a choice.”

And they did. He be­came a nurs­ing or­derly in In­dia, serv­ing from 1941 to 1945. Never car­ried a gun.

“I came home (London, Eng­land) and thought we’d be al­lowed to re­build the city in a new way, and I felt the world had to change and of course it changed only a very lit­tle.”

After the war, he was an ac­tor in London. “But I got that out of my sys­tem. I don’t think I was very good,” he says mod­estly, “but it helped me un­der­stand some­thing of hu­man na­ture.”

He and wife Joanne (al­most 70 years mar­ried) moved to Canada, partly be­cause there’s no con­scrip­tion here and they’d just had a son (now a Hamil­ton doc­tor). Ray worked in film, theatre, ad­ver­tis­ing, teach­ing and ul­ti­mately coun­selling and hu­man re­la­tions, in­clud­ing work with pris­on­ers on do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

Through his ca­reer, Ray en­cour- aged peace aware­ness (sup­porter of Ein­stein and Rus­sell’s Ban the Bomb move­ment; par­tic­i­pant in peace car­a­vans in the 1980s, for in­stance). But it’s since re­tire­ment that he stepped up in a prodi­gious way. He was a found­ing mem­ber of the UN Cul­ture of Peace Hamil­ton and helped de­velop the Peace Dol­lars pro­gram.

He’s worked with En­vi­ron­ment Hamil­ton, the Gandhi Fes­ti­val, McMaster Cen­tre for Peace Stud­ies to make the city a safer and (with the city’s Peace Gar­den) more beau­ti­ful place. In 2015, he won the pres­ti­gious YMCA Peace Medal.

The new book, dis­til­la­tion of a life­time, is 90 pages of el­e­gantly sim­ple clar­ity and, to my mind, unas­sail­able wisdom. And its time­li­ness could hardly be more em­phatic.

Page 69: “Though demo­crat­i­cally elected gov­ern­ments may be less will­ing to use vi­o­lence than dic­ta­tor­ships, the act of cast­ing bal­lots does not elim­i­nate the pos­si­bil­ity of putting some­one ruth­less in power.”

The book’s ease of ac­cess is all the more im­pres­sive for the com­plex­ity of cul­tural un­der­stand­ing and breadth of his­tory that Ray has kneaded smooth for the reader. From Ray’s win­dow you can see down to the rush of a beau­ti­ful creek slick­ing over stones on a bright cold morn­ing, and I ask if it ever to­tally freezes. He an­swers, no.

(Con­tact Bryan Prince Book­seller or most book stores to or­der “To­wards Less Ad­ver­sar­ial Cul­tures.” Pro­ceeds to UN Cul­ture of Peace Hamil­ton Fund.)


Ray Cun­ning­ton, 96, in the living room of his Dundas home. He saw ser­vice in In­dia dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.


Ray Cun­ning­ton’s book “To­wards Less Ad­ver­sar­ial Cul­ture.”

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