By Jan Oberg & Johan Galtung*
Lund and Kuala Lumpur, July 2014
He was a tall man and a great man, a visionary, pacifist, civil resister, educator and philosopher. He took life more seriously than most and he could be playful and fun like a child. His life’s guiding principle was ”Engage in your time!” and while he wrote and talked a lot he also did it. His name was Aage Bertelsen, he was born in Denmark in 1901 and died on August 15, 1980.
Bertelsen’s imprint on history is two-fold. First, with his wife Gerda he was a prime mover of one of the groups, the Lyngby Group, which organised the rescue of altogether 7.220 Danish Jews into safety in Sweden in October 1943 during the German occupation of Denmark – more here. The Lyngby Group – Lyngby is north of Copenhagen – got about 1.000 of these in safety by organising their nightly transport onboard small fisher boats over the Sound between Denmark and Sweden.
In this he deserves a place in international contemporary history for its humanity, civil courage and as an example of non-violent struggle against occupation.
Secondly, Bertelsen was an educator of and for peace. His life work educational efforts included his family and friends, his pupils over 22 years at the Aarhus Cathedral School in Aarhus, Denmark, the general public as well as national and international leaders.
He lived in pre-Internet times and very little is publicly available today about this renaissance man. From two rather different, but compatible, perspectives we’ve taken it upon us to remind the world about him – friends and colleagues of his as we happen to be.
Why now, over 30 years after his death?
October 2013 marked the 70th anniversary of the rescue operation of about 7000 Danish jews to safety in southern Sweden. It’s a piece of world history and world humanism; it is an important example of the history of civil disobedience and non-violent resistance to occupation. And summer 2014 marks the 45th year since Bertelsen retired after 22 years of service as headmaster.
Aage Bertelsen was – together with his ever-supportive wife, Gerda – in the leadership of that operation and, in 1952, published the book (in Danish) Oktober 43 (latest 5th edition published by Gyldendal Publishers, Copenhagen 1993), that can be read in its entirety here: American edition 1954). The Danish edition carried a foreword by then Danish prime minister Hans Hedtoft and, on the back, warm recommendations by Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr.
But there is another book (only in Danish) by Bertelsen that stretches over a much larger time and space than October ’43. He titled it ”Here Is Your Weapon” and that weapon was non-violence – non-violence in life and politics in the midst of the time in which he wrote it: the Cold War with US-dominated NATO (and Denmark in it) pitted against the Soviet Union-dominated Warsaw Pact.
The title referred to Norwegian poet, novelist, playwright and soldier, Nordahl Grieg’s poem “For The Youth” (1936) set to music by Danish composer, Otto Mortensen in 1952 that has been classical for peace people ever since (here an English version).
On the title page Bertelsen quotes one verse from it – “Fearful your question, Defenceless, open – What shall I fight with? Where is my weapon?” And he dedicated the book to “To Our Children” – combining both his compassion for children, including his own three, and concern for the world in which they will live.
The book consists of a series of his own articles, reflections, essays and speeches interspersed with translations of excerpts by important thinkers and peace writers and activists. It was published in 1962, the year after the Berlin Wall had been built by the German Democratic Republic.
This presentation of Bertelsen doesn’t pretend to be a deeply researched work. It is based on the two mentioned books, on an interview with two of his children, daughter Inger Bentsen and son Hans Peter Bertelsen conducted in 2007 and – not the least – on our own personal work and friendship with him in the 1960s and 1970s.
Naturally, our perspective is that of peace researchers and thus we focus on his life and actions for a more peaceful world in a Gandhian sense while we have not engaged in deeper studies of his life, family and relations beyond what is essential for and understanding of his life as a peace philosopher, activist and educator.
What follows deals slightly less with October 43 for the reason that that book is already available in English and has been analysed and debated by quite a few others – including in Lennart Bergfeldt’s doctoral disseration (Uppsala University, 1993): Experiences of Civil Resistance: The Case of Denmark 1940-1945.
Here Is Your Weapon exists only in Danish and appears as a much broader treatise on peace, security, on what it means to live in the Nuclear Age and to be an educator in the larger sense of the word.
Bertelsen’s life work meets every criteria in Alfred Nobel’s will while many others who have received it don’t. We strongly feel that Aage Bertelsen’s and what he stood has a strong message in today’s world – whether that world knows it or not. Bertelsen was an internationalist and deserves to be heard also far way from the tiny place in which the Danish language is understood.
How the authors knew Aage Bertelsen?
Bertelsen and Galtung (born 1930) got acquainted in the 1960s because of Bertelsen’s deep interest in the emerging academic discipline of peace research in the Nordic countries. He was looking everywhere for peace perspectives to be introduced in the curriculum at the high-school (gymnasium) of which he was a headmaster from 1947 to 1969, Aarhus Cathedral School in Jutland (Jylland), Western Denmark.
Among other things he did was to invite Galtung to give a lecture at the school in 1968. It was a tradition at the school that all the pupils were exposed to interesting public figures from many walks of life – politicians, scholars, philosophers and people of culture. Bertelsen believed firmly in education for life and not just for the sake of learning, even less rote learning, or making a career. He often quoted Confucius‘ dictum that learning without thinking is a waste of time and to think without learning is dangerous.
This is the only time Bertelsen and Galtung met in person but Galtung’s writings obviously left it marks on Bertelsen’s thinking given the numerous references to them in Here Is Your Weapon.
One of the pupils at the school of the time was Oberg (born 1951) and, so, that day in 1968 was the first encounter between Galtung and Oberg. It took another 6 years until 1974 when we began a more systematic co-operation about various issues; Galtung was then the director at the Inter-University Center in Dubrovnik in then Yugoslavia and Oberg attended courses as a student at the center.
After 1969 when Bertelsen had resigned as headmaster and Oberg passed his school leaving examination, Oberg worked with Gerda and Aage and daughter Inger as board member of the October 43 Foundation in Copenhagen, established in 1973, the purpose of which was to support Jewish and Arab children at schools and hospitals in Israel/Palestine.
There is no doubt that Oberg’s three years at Aarhus Cathedral School under Bertelsen’s inspirational learning for life pedagogy exerted a major influence on his later choice to become a peace and conflict researcher. What follows should be seen also as an expression of Oberg’s admiration and deep gratitude to Bertelsen for those years and their influence on his later work as peace researcher.
Aage Bertelsen – short overview
Bertelsen’s life had many influences and dimensions but one stands out: the educator of pupils and the wider society, the persuading character who could not waste even a short meeting or dinner on small talk. It was important to talk about important things such as world affairs, nuclearism, existential ethics and what it means to educate each other.
Bertelsen was an only child and educated at the Th. Lang High-School in Silkeborg, Jutland and took his exam there in 1920. He became a Master of Arts in Danish language and literature as well as Christianity in 1927 and began teaching at the Academic School in Copenhagen.
Between 1928 and 1938 he taught at the Th. Lang College which was also a college of education. He taught at Lyngby State School north of Copenhagen 1938-1947. Because he was engaged in the October 43 rescue operation and was threatened on his and his family’s life, he fled to Lund, Sweden in 1943 and became the headmaster of the Danish school there 1944-45.
Finally, from 1947 to his retirement in 1969 he served as headmaster of Aarhus Cathedral School (with a history dating back to 1195) and devoted himself to the October 43 Foundation and a less public life until his death by heart failure on August 15, 1980.
He earned an honorary doctorate from The Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1957.
In 1931 he married Gerda Thorlund (born 1911) and they lived together for 47 years until her death in 1978; she’s known to have been a very devote wife caring for all the practical things, Aage being incompetent at practically matters and allegedly unable to even boil potatoes.
One could sometimes get the impression that Gerda, a very gentle personality, found Aage’s indefatigable engagement in global affairs and sometimes lengthy philosophising over the human condition a bit too much.
Bertelsen authored or co-authored other books than the two mentioned above, among them a guide to the Old Testament; he was engaged in a new translation of the New Testament. He lived his last years in the countryside of Resenbro outside Silkeborg where he had been born.
Only a few in his closer circle would know that Aage Bertelsen was a brilliant dancer and step-dancer, skater (with Gerda), tennis player and swimmer and that in spite of being a pacifist he was very good at shooting – which he demonstrated by outcompeting his company at shooting down moving bears at Bakken, a fun fair outside Copenhagen.
He had no particular enjoyment from good food or wine and he detested whisky; however there seem to have been a few occasions at which he drank everybody else under the table.
It deserves mention that he was, undoubtedly, a rather complex personality: an fine listener but also a man who gave sermons; principled but also flexible; stern and at times paternalistic but also playful; a deeply moral and serious man who loved to tease and play games. He could come across as pompous at one moment only to be highly self-ironic the next. A child of his time but much more so of the future and perhaps therefore not quite fitting, meeting resistance in some of his visionary endeavours.
Students at Aarhus Cathedral School – a general upper secondary school – will remember him also as a good piano player able to play all Danish psalms and secular songs by heart. Now and then he would make fun with the music – perhaps with some inspiration by another great Dane, Victor Borge.
He loved to gather the whole school, teachers and pupils, around lectures, singing and music. And there was a funny tradition – certainly not that appreciated by the college of teachers – that with intervals he would let everybody go home a lesson earlier than scheduled in the afternoon if all 600 pupils had gathered in the school yard below his window and sang ”Frihed er det bedste guld” – Freedom Is The Finest Gold – texted by Thomas af Strängnäs in the 15th century with music composed by Carl Nielsen in 1920.
After intense and ever louder singing verse by verse, he would finally appear in the huge old main door to the school, give a little speech about some larger issue and argue that today there was absolutely no objective reason why school should end earlier – only to summarise it all with something like: ”Well, given it is such a beautifully sunny day you may now all go home.”
Bertelsen certainly loved teasing and being in the centre and not only for this type of tradition but also for his passion and his deep humanity.
He was loved by the young generations – whereas local and national politicians and the bourgeoisie in the town of Aarhus looked to him with quite some suspicion: left-leaning, ”pro-Soviet” and a dangerous peace monger who gave those young people strange ideas.
Preaching Gandhi, Einstein, Schweitzer and reporting on peace and anti-nuclear weapons conferences around the world as well as tirelessly writing and speaking publicly about global matters with an anti-imperialist touch was, by definition, very controversial in the midst of the Cold War, in NATO member Denmark.
At the broad old wooden door of the school’s main building was a portrait of Albert Schweitzer – who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952 – donated to the school by himself and with his personal greeting to the students and the words ”reverence for life”.
Furthermore, the school’s main walls were filled with art – not only old religious figures and former headmasters as one would expect but by contemporary Danish abstract artists such as Richard Mortensen, Olivia Holm-Møller, Henry Heerup and Sven Engelund.
Indeed, Aage Bertelsen had a broad palette and agenda – but through it all ran humanism, teaching for life, public education, nonviolence and as very deep concern for the future.
Aage Bertelsen’s time and space
Let’s try to place his life activity in a larger framework in order to be able to structure the rest after the above introduction.
His time was, first and foremost the early Nuclear Age. It was ”the Bomb” that had been used over Hiroshima and Nagasaki that, literally, kept him sleepless and writing in the nights. Very closely related to that was, of course, that he lived in the midst of the tension-ridden Cold War era.
Third, it was the age of de-colonization and the new world order emerging.
In other words, the issues he grappled ceaselessly with was: Nuclearism, Militarism and Maldevelopment. And he didn’t do so as an intellectual exercise only, he felt them deeply inside, as personal issues he had to face morally and also – in spite of a feeling of powerlessness – do something about.
His space was fluid to some extent but encompassed always micro, meso and macro.
His micro space focused on the meaning of individual life, responsibility, moral dilemmas and the – as he saw it – ignorance of ordinary citizens vis-a-vis the big issues that he had made his. He would also emphasise the meaning of learning, teaching and education in general and peace education in particular. After all, Bertelsen was a school man, a school teacher and headmaster as well as public educator who also saw it as every citizen’s duty vis-a-vis society to be active in terms of democracy and opinion formation – dialoguing as he did constantly.
His was a responsibility ethics – reverence for life – not without similarities with, say, Hans Jonas many years later as expressed in his book The Imperative of Responsibility (German edit 1979, English 1984). He wasn’t afraid of taking some kind of moral lead and at least sometimes would come across particularly to those who did not follow him as slightly pompous. Lesser minds tended to dismiss him as ”a prophet” who spoke dangerously about things publicly that went way beyond the normal role of a school master.
At the meso level Bertelsen addressed his own country, Denmark, placed as it was in the European sphere and intellectual traditions, but – more importantly – in NATO, as part of the Western military machine, poised to fight a future war (which he said could no longer be called war because it would spell the end of civilisation).
He constantly appealed in articles and personal letters to politicians and diplomats out of an urge to fulfil a citizen’s moral duty to speak up, to Engage in you time! – and, you may add, your space too.
Thus he advocated a program – squarely against the mainstream at his time, to say the least – of a new security and peace politics: Denmark should leave NATO, shut down its own defence, give the saved money to the developing countries and the work for a new more peaceful world order, place Denmark under UN protection and do its utmost to facilitate global dialogue informed by the knowledge that could be derived from philosophers, towering individual thinkers and peace research.
The macro level meant basically the rest of the world.
Bertelsen was not only a pacifist, he was also a globalist and he saw racism, colonialism, white Western dominance and militarism as much larger threats to the world – and his Denmark – than the Russians rolling in their tanks and occupying Western Europe.
But he went further, albeit not in a systematic manner, when he pointed to humankind’s ignorance about Nature’s boundaries, our consumerism, pollution, depletion of scarce resources and our lack of sense of partnership with nature. War, of course, could be seen as the peak point of such ignorance: What would be left to love and defend if those mega weapons were ever released, he asked?
The teaching mission – diverse and holistic
In another key, time was important to him: In almost all his writings we find a remarkable sense of urgency as if shouting in despair ”Wake up, fellow citizens, time is so short to save the world, to solve the problems we have created ourselves!”
Teaching youth basically all his life was so much more than teaching facts and knowledge or learning history by field battles and years and dates; it was a moral commitment to stimulate – never impose – a sentiment for what it means to be not only local or Danish but to be a world citizens and caring for permanence, if not eternity.
His space was multi-dimensional. His deep-seated sense of what it meant to live under the fundamentally new conditions created by the Nuclear Age, implied that the continuation of the large space – the world as we know it – was a precondition for the smaller space, individual life, school life, North-South, the West and the rest, so to speak.
One could certainly say that Bertelsen was a globally oriented, holistic thinker; he knew intuitively the Gaia-kind of thinking that became prominent about two decades after “Here Is Your Weapon”. A much later slogan like ”think globally, act locally” could easily have been coined by him although he also, within the limitations of his time, acted globally.
And at the human level, he argued with no shaking voice that the world is now one and there is no solution for just some but only solutions for all. The caring and carrying philosophy would have to be based on elements such as humanism, dialogue with – even love of – the official opponent as well as other races throughout the globe and, above all – non-violence and reverence for life.
On the opening page of “Here Is Your Weapon” Bertelsen makes it clear that he sees himself neither as a professional researcher nor as a philosopher; there is no attempt at building a cohesive thought system. Humbly he calls himself an amateur. In the tradition of Gandhi he practised eclecticism and he was a seemingly insatiable reader of great minds of his time.
Inspirational thinkers and early, classical peace research
That comes through vividly when you check who populates his books and his personal universe? The answer is – without necessary priority: Albert Einstein whom he had met in 1954 shortly before Einstein’s death and Einstein’s last words had been to the effect that Gandhi was the only thinker who had understood what it meant to live in the nuclear age (despite the fact that he was killed 15 years before it started). Bertelsen kept one particular sentence by Einstein close to his heart and quoted it hundreds of time: ”Go home to Denmark and tell your people this: Don’t forget Gandhi”.
So, obviously, the second often quoted figure is Mohandas K. Gandhi, his life and work. And it is Albert Schweitzer with, among other things, his resistance to nuclearism and war and his principle of reverence for all living creatures.
Bertelsen had met Martin Buber in Israel and was generally deriving much of his non-violent ”ammunition” from existentialist thinkers, including Jean-Paul Sartre – Bertelsen was deeply angered by the French war in Algeria and by fascist states such as Spain, Portugal, Greece and Turkey at the time being members of a presumed democracy-protecting NATO.
Here and there Bertelsen also quotes Bertrand Russell because Bertelsen himself was deeply involved in the anti-Vietnam war movement as well as the Russell Tribunal, an investigative body set up in the wake of Russell’s book, War Crimes in Vietnam in 1966.
When it comes to North South affairs, it was Georg Borgström and Winfried Böll who served as main inspiration for Bertelsen.
Concerning nuclear weapons and defence it is British Stephen King Hall and French general Pierre Gallois who advocated radical alternatives at the time.
Bertelsen is frightened by a young Henry Kissinger’s and also Herman Kahn’s ideas about nuclear war and contrasts them with a psychological understanding of warfare derived from Charles Osgood’s writings. He had also read Austrian philosopher Günter Anders’ ”Der Mann auf der Brücke” and ”Diary From Hiroshima and Nagasaki” – all of which made a lasting impression on him.
Interestingly, Bertelsen was also quite familiar with early peace research and related writings – beyond some of the above -mentioned. The list of literature on which he based “Here Is Your Weapon” contains the works of, among others, Finnish peace researcher Göran von Bonsdorff, Johan Galtung, C. Wright Mills (on the Third World War), Joan V. Bondurant (on Gandhi), Arne Næss (on Gandhi), Gandhi’s own works, Martin Luther King, Gene Sharp, Eric Fromm, Karl Jaspers, Clark & Sohn, Robert Jungk, Linus Pauling and Arnold Toynbee.
He manages eloquently in his school work as well as in his writings to bring down these often high-level and abstract thoughts to the everyday level where their implications have to be understood.
Bertelsen had also drawn upon concrete historical situations and figures. He was keenly following the legal process against Adolf Eichmann who sent millions of Jews to the gas chambers but saw himself as fundamentally non-guilty and by no means a Jew-hater; he had only operated on orders given from above.
Another historical figure that Bertelsen keeps coming back to is Claude Etherly, the pilot who took part in the mission that dropped the atom bomb over Hiroshima and was haunted by guilt afterwards to such an extent that he was declared mentally ill.
These were cases that appealed to Bertelsen’s existentially philosophical mind: What can be said to be the moral obligation in times of war and peace? What would I have done? How can people justify genocide by nuclear weapons? How do I live up to my moral obligations? And when to stand up against the law when higher moral norms are at stake?
When it comes to his thoughts about education and schooling, one looks almost in vain for great sources of inspiration. Bertelsen seems to have had an extremely independent philosophy in those fields.
His school and his own classroom teaching was very different from anybody else’s a the time. In 1959, on his initiative, Aarhus Cathedral School started two experimental, globally oriented three-year educational programs or ‘lines’ (dis-continued by the Ministry of Culture and Education three years after) that aimed at internationalization and a new balance between theory and practise – one could say several decades before anything similar happened in Denmark at that and university level.
In summary, there was a time and space – and there were some influences upon an extremely concerned and receptive man who lived in interesting times – through the Second World War and its persecution of Jews, the death of 25 million Russians and millions of others, a post-war Cold War structure and the famous Damocles Sword hanging over the world, over Denmark and over his school children’s future.
Many lived simultaneously but felt none of it, or were in denial. Bertelsen tried to face them head on, to be a sort of alarm clock to his fellow citizens.
We shall now go a bit more in depth with his – indeed remarkably – visionary thinking there in the middle of the preceding century. In “Here Is Your Weapon” (1962) with its enigmatic relevance even today – he made a brilliant, broad but precise Diagnosis of humanity’s calamity and dilemmas – North-South, East-West. He also managed to produce fairly precise Prognoses and to devise Treatment that is of considerable relevance even today, a good 50 years later.
Bertelsen and the Nuclear Age
Aage Bertelsen’s existential devotion par excellence focussed on themes like these:
What does it mean to live in the Nuclear Age?
How does the nuclear age fundamentally challenge old domain assumptions about everything from the issue of global development (and not merely survival) over national defence to personal ethics, human responsibilities – indeed obligations
How can a democracy – understood as based on a well-educated, enlightened public conducting dialogues – be developed that match the global development and security challenges?
Bertelsen was – neither as a citizen nor as a school headmaster – a man who defied tall orders. But he did feel that many around him were in denial and conveniently refused to see his times’ larger issues and their interconnectedness. He felt, strongly, that as a man of education – public in a large sense and vis-a-vis young students – he had more responsibility than most.
He was deeply worried about what he found to be the apathy and ignorance of his fellow citizens of his time, politicians in particular. He wrote numerous letters to leading personalities and interacted face-to-face with them when he had a chance. Lesser minds of his time often thought that by doing so he overrated his own importance, that he was taking himself too seriously and ought to mind his own, smaller, business.
His daughter, Inger Bentsen, tells that at his death bed he had a certain anxiety; it was less about dying than about finishing the writing of an open letter to then Israeli prime minister Menachim Begin concerning the occupied territories.
Bertelsen also wrote letters to ambassadors in Denmark and to the Kremlin at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 – in which the world came very close to the possibility of nuclear war. He gave many speeches at international conferences as well as in Denmark and used radio lectures and interviews to promote his cause.
However, he didn’t own a television set and seems to also not have understood its features as a public media. A TV debate between him and the Danish foreign minister at the time, Per Hækkerup, did not go in his favour. He was a brilliant speaker and writer and an engaging, skilled polemist – but Bertelsen was not a man who wanted to make an opponent look like a loser and certainly not a man of short punchy sound bites.
From his writings over the years it is clear that his attitude to violence and non-violence was influenced not only by thinkers he had read – and he read a lot. It was shaped very strongly by his participation in the rescue operation of the Jews to safety in Sweden, by his meeting with Albert Einstein and by opponents in the Danish society with whom he was more or less constantly debating publicly. While he was interested in theory and concepts, his intellect flourished in his encounters with real people and real issue.
The program of the Peace Political People’s Party
Aage Bertelsen fought for a change in Denmark’s defence, security and foreign policy. He did so in articles, speeches and – for a short while – in a political party, Fredspolitisk Folkeparti, that managed to get one MP in the Danish parliament in 1964 but otherwise had no influence; it got 9.000 votes or 0,3%. Background in Danish here. His thoughts about another Denmark became the basis of the party program but it is not known whether he himself wanted a party to be formed on that basis. He had been a member of the Danish parliamentary parti “Radikale Venstre” – Danish Social Liberal Party but had left it in protest against the party’s acceptance of the West German/Danish United Command of NATO in 1961.
The main elements of its political program were:
• Denmark returns to a basic policy of neutrality.
• Nuclear weapons in the West and East have made warfare as we know it obsolete. War is a deceptive word; if used these weapons will destroy whatever we want to defend and, thus, they are absurd. Since NATO is nuclear-based, Denmark must leave NATO.
• Denmark establishes a highly developed police corps that is equipped to maintain law and order effectively inside the borders and can observe what happens should a foreign power manage to occupy Denmark.
• Denmark disarms completely in military terms.
• Conversion: the costs saved from leaving NATO and from Denmark’s disarmament shall be used, in full, for development assistance to developing countries.
• This aid shall include Denmark’s own colony, Greenland, and aim at making it possible for the developing countries to help themselves. No ideological or other political conditions shall be attached to Denmark’s aid.
• The development aid is transferred, in parts or fully, through the UN system.
• Denmark places itself under the protection of the United Nations. It is assumed that the rest of the world will sympathise with a small country that conducts a new type of policy like this and that that in and of itself will decrease the likelihood of a military attack on Denmark.
• A Ministry of Peace is established in Denmark.
• An international peace research institute shall be established in Denmark.
• A Nordic people’s college shall be set up in Denmark, as a public educational facility it is expected to be an integral part of other Danish peace endeavours.
• An extensive educational effort shall be implemented throughout the Danish school system; its aim is to educate the young generations about the essential nature of our times, including the dimension that ours is a nuclear age – and what that means in a broader sense.
• Denmark shall develop further the idea of a welfare state that cares especially for people who are victims of diseases, handicaps, unemployment etc and which also cares for the elderly.
• A public education effort aimed at the Danish people in general shall be started; its main component shall be to help citizens understand what it means to live in the nuclear age and instil an interest in Gandhian principles of non-violence and alternative forms of defence; here Stephen King-Hall’s book, ”Defence In the Nuclear Age”, shall play a particularly important part.
• Denmark’s foreign policy must be adapted to show openness in all directions – West and East as well as North and South. Global dialogue is of utmost importance and can be integrated into school education and through international conferences and seminars.
• Denmark should not join the Common Market (later the European Union), at most there could be an association with parts of it. The reason is that the Common Market could develop into an association merely for the rich and build high custom walls around itself which will have detrimental consequences for the developing world at large. Further, it is believed that a united Europe will be dominated by Germany and France and will be fundamentally influenced by the type of capitalism practised by the United States of America – in short, anti-socialist and all in all leading to increased tensions in the region as well as in the world.
• If Denmark follows such a policy there are reasons to believe that its implicit positive effects and the courage shown will favourably impress many other countries. Denmark would, through that, gain further security and protection in moral terms – not the least from the developing world – but it would also free resources, solidify democracy and inspire others. In summary, these points would make a contribution to a better, more peaceful world way beyond the country’s small size and attract positive attention and sympathy in wide circles.
These are the main elements of a Danish peace policy as Bertelsen put them down in the last chaper of “Here Is Your Weapon”. While it was the program of the mentioned political party, it is also a summary of Bertelsen’s thinking and undoubtedly he was the main ”ideologue” (a word he would not have accepted) of that party.
It is worth noticing that these elements carry a lot of inspiration from Gandhi and other classical peace thinkers and activists and that several of the central elements are still a high priority among peace people – such as nuclear disarmament, nonviolence, the need for reducing North-South income gaps, the negative view of NATO, the idea of Peace Ministries and, also, a sort of equidistance and openness – dialogue – in all directions instead of the formation of antagonistic camps pitted against each other. In this sense Bertelsen’s philosophy and the practical coversion of it to a political program is indeed remarkble and associate easily with the best peace intellectualand political traditions that has been kept alive ever since.
Dilemma with NATO
It deserves mention that Bertelsen was, to the surprise of many including the author, supportive of Denmark joining NATO in 1949. Given Denmark geographical position at the Baltic Sea and its obvious affinity with Western culture and democracy in contrast to the Soviet Union’s authoritarian profile, he thought it was acceptable albeit not desirable. That this is a deviation from Bertelsen’s otherwise staunch pacifist beliefs, is one of the enigmas in his thinking at the time.
However, when the Soviet Union also acquired nuclear weapons – the first test of a device took place in August 1949 – and established the Warsaw Pact in 1955, he found the whole construction outdated and dangerous and advocated that Denmark leave NATO and NATO be dissolved. His basic arguments were:
– in the new situation – the nuclear age – the next war will not be a war but extermination, indeed the end of the world;
– no political goal could justify extermination of the whole globe or parts of it;
– should the worst come to worst it is better to be occupied and survive than to be exterminated as part of a worldwide extinction of life on earth;
– the ”all for one and one for all” clause of NATO’s Treaty paragraph 5 may have had some relevance before the nuclear age. But in the nuclear age no country on earth will be willing to commit suicide (through the use of or retaliation with nuclear weapons) in order to come to the rescue of another country that has become the victim of aggression; in short, there is no realistic guarantee for any country in the alliance;
– then the ethics of the deterrence philosophy: He could see no human or political purpose or goal that would legitimize mass terror, potentially millions of deaths and the ensuing destruction of what was meant at the outset to be defended. No one has a right – or duty for that matter – to take the responsibility on him to press buttons and create a genocide – and a genocide it would be.
– the only genuine answer to the nuclear age was to think up and implement a fundamentally alternative defence system based upon non-violence and public education.
While Bertelsen was well acquainted with strategic debates and deterrence, one will note that his arguments against nuclear weapons and NATO predominantly stands on an ethical and existential ground – and from there devise, as he did n the book and party program – a comprehensive alternative thinking.
Visionary holistic thinker well ahead of his contemporaries
Much can be said about Bertelsen’s philosophy and political program. Re-visiting it about 50 years later (1962 – 2014) one is struck by its amazingly precise diagnosis of the fundamental challenges humankind is still grappling with. His foresight and vision is indeed remarkable, bordering on the prophetic.
Secondly, he had a grasp of complexities that is unusual for his time – he was, de facto, a global thinker some 30 years before global thinking became commonplace. And he was a holistic thinker too. Development, security, peace and democracy was tied together at the individual, the national and global level.
From some elements of his writings one can see that he invested very much hope in the United Nations and its Charter and he believed in the necessity of some kind of world democracy – global government perhaps, but at least global governance. Each country would have to practise not only foreign policy for its own interests; it would have to think and act globally – conduct a global-oriented national policy for what must be believed to be global common good.
And at the same time, he managed to translate the big vision and the global framework to the smaller setting: Aarhus Cathedral School, its pupils and the necessity of transforming – nay, revolutionising – what education was all about. And he found time to care for each individual student at his school and often his or her family too.
Third, there are only very little traces of criticism or anger in his voice, he doesn’t point fingers at guilty groups, individuals or countries – he operates more with a general “we”, human folly, narrow-mindedness and egoism.
All this is very compatible with his strong belief in dialogue, debate and democratic citizens’ activism. But it is more than that – it is also a forceful evidence of Bertelsen’s never-failing belief in Gandhi’s constructive program: Don’t only criticise, come up with good ideas and concrete political plans – tell what to do instead and let’s debate the future constructively rather than getting stuck in quarrelling about the past!
It must be pointed out here that the times in which he wrote were also the heyday of the Anti-Nuclear Marches throughout Europe, stimulated by much debate in Social Democratic (Labour) circles in England and left-wing politics in general. So too in Denmark. By and large all these were protest movements in the good sense of the word – like those that took place again a good 30 years later in the 1980s – resulting in the end of the Cold War. However, then as well as today, the peace movement remains more of an anti-violence and anti-war movement than a pro-peace movement.
It is obvious that Bertelsen was intellectual light years ahead of his time. While thousands protested – which is rather easy – he sat down and read hundreds of books and reports, did a good deal of thinking during quite a few sleepless nights and aimed his arguments and publications at a better future in thought, action and plans – rather than merely protesting.
Bertelsen was a pacifist and saw himself as one. And indeed he was against war and killing. He was for a non-killing world and life – Schweitzer’s ”reverence for life”. But his vision and actions throughout life were in no way passive or only argumentative. He was a man who allowed himself to doubt and who – in the Gandhian tradition – experimented in order to find out what worked and what didn’t.
Dilemmas of pacificsm – principles versus practical experience
Bertelsen found himself faced with a dilemma when it came to pacifism. We’ve seen it in relation to his acceptance of Denmark joining the military alliance NATO in 1949 while turning around a few years later when nuclearism took hold and the next war would be not a war for good or right versus wrong but would imply annihilation, omnicid.
But he faced this dilemma too during the rescue mission of Jews to Sweden in October 1943. In October 43 he mentions that he had been a pacifist from his earliest youth and that he had, once upon a time, filled a whole issue of the journal of the Danish chapter of War Resisters’ International – although he was not a member of it.
A discussion had emerged in the circles that organised the transports over the sound between Denmark and Sweden: Should the organisers accept an offer from the armed Danish resistance groups against the German occupation to accompany and protect the cars that carried the Jews to the places of disembarkation of the jews to Sweden.
In “October 43” Bertelsen tells how, in a conversation with another organiser of these transports, he reasons in merely rational – rather than principled or moral terms: If we accept armed escort and end up using revolvers, the Germans will increase their monitoring and forces along the coast and we shall thereby have increased the risks that some or all of these Jewish refugees will be shot. He further emphasises that he is more concerned about the lives of those refugees – for whom he and other organisers felt totally responsible – than about his own life.
His conversation partner then turns to him and says with a smile – ”I agree but what happened to the pacifist in you, dear Bertelsen?” And Bertelsen feels it like a revelation: he had not given his principled pacifism one thought in that situation. He writes: ”For as long as I live, I will remember this conversation; it taught me the extent to which our thinking is influenced by our experiences and situations that faces us throughout our lives – much more so than theoretical considerations and viewpoints.”
What one can put together from both his book and other materials, Bertelsen advocated that an informer/traitor (in Danish a ”stikker”) – i.e. a pro-Nazi Dane who had infiltrated the rescue workers’ group with the aim to inform the German occupation administration about the transports – ought to be liquidated. As a matter of fact, this informer caused the end of the Lyngby Group that organised the secret transports.
In conjunction with this episode, Bertelsen writes about another informer that he would have felt ”a sense of satisfaction” should this man have been liquidated and adds that ”I would probably not have shun away from shooting him myself if the occasion had emerged, if I had had a minimum of knowledge about the use of revolvers – and if I had had the courage to involve myself in a shooting exchange.”
And then he adds: ”What really had happened to me in those October days? Was it that a normal peaceful and humanely thinking person under the influence of difficult circumstances totally changes his character? Or was it this feeling of powerlessness when confronting the almost inhuman responsibility…” by which he refers to the responsibility for getting the Jews transported safely over to Sweden in small boats without losing any of them in the dark of night.
He states that during the German occupation he had wanted this man liquidated. This attitude obviously came to the ears of the German occupiers who immediately put a price on Bertelsen’s head for which reason Bertelsen himself had to flee to Sweden.
After the liberation he is called to appear at a police station to try to identify whether a man there was identical with the informer who caused the dissolution of the rescue group. Bertelsen is told by the local police that the man is likely to be condemned to death. He meets him and gets acquainted with his personal story, and Bertelsen remembers that he felt relieved when, somewhat later, he was informed that the traitor is sentenced only to lifelong imprisonment. And then he adds with no more comments that ”he is after all a human being and one ought not kill human beings! There are several who have told me that they cannot find the logics behind this.”
It deserves mention that Aage and his wife Gerda had to go underground thanks to this informer. It happened at the end of October and they fled from Lyngby north of Copenhagen to Stevns at southern Zealand (Sjælland). After some days there, Gerda returned with their children to Lyngby while Aage went to Sweden. She returned on November 6 only to be arrested by Gestapo (the secret German state police in Denmark) as a hostage.
In spite of various types of pressure she did not reveal her husband’s location and on November 18 she was released from prison. The two were not united until 10 month later, in Lund, Sweden and the whole family 20 month later at the liberation in May 1945. She tell this story in her own chapter in “October 43”.
It feels right to summarise that Bertelsen’s pacifism was genuine and rooted in both his intellect and his heart. To understand how he could simultaneously wish somebody liquidated, it must be remembered that Bertelsen a) never used violence himself, b) refused to accept the offer of armed protection of the Jews to their points of disembarkation for Sweden and c) that he never carried any weapon to protect himself, his wife or children.
Above all, however, Bertelsen must have related the question of liquidation to the responsibilities he so strongly felt vis-a-vis the Jews to be rescued by the Lyngby Group. If an informer would succeed, it could mean death for hundreds, if not thousands of them. In a way, we are back to the classical never-solved and perhaps never-to-be-solved problem: Can one, under very special circumstances, accept morally that one person is killed if it can be made credible that his death will save hundreds or thousands of lives?
Secondly, Danes who co-operated with the Nazi occupiers were certainly to be blamed in moral terms and knew, when they were co-opted to inform or joined Gestapo, that it amounted to risking one’s life.
Bertelsen’s open presentation of this existential dilemma must be appreciated. Everything else he did in life was based on the Schweitzerian concept of reverence for life and one life long advocacy of non-violence with repeated references to the principle of both Jesus and Gandhi – love thy enemy as yourself.
The book October 43 contains an epilogue about anti-semitism. Understandably Bertelsen – who was not a Jew – was pre-occupied with this phenomenen given his experience of Nazi Germany and his life-risking participation in trying to rescue at least some of them from ending up in concentration camps in Germany.
The 6 million exterminated Jews amounted to 1,5 times the population of his native Denmark. Who could understand that? How could such barbarism be understood, if at all? Only by understanding the underlying mechanisms could one hope that a repetition would be avoided.
Bertelsen personally knew a lot of Jews but hardly any Arabs or Palestinians, be it in Denmark or elsewhere. In the mentioned Epilogue (the book was published in 1952) he writes that one must hope that with the establishment of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948 pogroms would be prevented in the future. He reports that Israel’s first President Chaim Weizmann whom Bertelsen had met personally was of the opinion that anti-semitism, in the best of cases, could be reduced but that it would always be a possibility. It was, as Weizmann believed, rooted in the very existence of the Jew.
As a more hopeful vision at the time, Bertelsen refers to Arthur Koestler’s book “Promise and Fulfilment. Palestine 1917-1948”. Koestler seems, according to Bertelsen, to be of the belief that the Jews through their free choice of either settling in the new state or assimilate with other nations and populations around the world might increase their probability of survival and avoid pogroms.
In this Epilogue and elsewhere, Bertelsen roots the problem of anti-semitism in the larger psychological phenomenon of xenophobia, on the one hand, and in that of minority status – everywhere outside Israel Jews were minorities – on the other. And he adds with emphasis the third element of an explanation – that of culture. “It is always a question of culture when anti-semitism rears its ugly head,” – he argues. Whenever the Jews is persecuted and we let it happen, we undermine our own Western values.
So, in summary, he sees anti-semitism as a complex construct of psychology (xenophobia), politics and law (minority status) and culture (values, norms and ethics). He adds that the psychology of hatred against a group can be as strong as instincts and questions whether such an instinctual, unconscious, reaction has ever hit himself and responds with a yes. We are all to some extent prone to react negatively to what is foreign, to the stranger, to those who are fundamentally different in some aspects from ourselves.
It goes without saying that such impulses had to be faced and discussed as part of education in a broad sense. Undoubtedly, this was one reason he worked so intensely to change the educational system that he was part of (see next section) and also operated as a public educator.
He then continues to ask: Is there something special about Jews? Can one say something general about them as a group? No, he replies – based on his own experience with them: there are good and evil Jews, there are Jews with good characters and not so good. As he formulates it: “The Jew” as a generalisation is a cliché, a term, he simply doesn’t understand.
But then, what do we do with the argument that Jews have certain negative sides – as many people argue? And he answers rhetorically: Why should the Jews be the only ones of whom we demand that they must have no bad sides? With what right do we expect that the Jewish people should consist of angles only? That they have these negative traits that we don’t have?! Here he introduced the “them” and “us” and moves on to – pedagogically – stand the whole issue on its head:
“Couldn’t it be that the stated particular faults about the Jewish people have been developed by the milieus in which they have been placed – by the influence of centuries of exile under the scourge of xenophobia, marginalisation as inferior people by bourgeois societies, humiliating and mentally crippling ghettoisation, limitations of their life possibilities to a few low-level jobs, persecutions, pains and bloody pogroms – all incurred on them by us? Us, the self-righteous non-Jews and Christians?
“And if so, who is responsible for the faults of “the Jews” if not “we” ourselves who through the mentioned mechanisms have created them? The generalisation about how the Jews are is dangerous and unfair. It can also be very unpleasant: Suddenly we see ourselves with blood on our hands.” (Quotations translated from October 43, Danish edition p. 175-179).
We see here how Bertelsen is painfully aware of the relational aspects of the discrimination, of any discrimation. The Jews are not just like this or that by birth or culture or religion and different from “us”; they are part of a relationship over time for which the “we” – non-Jews – must also bear responsibility.
Bertelsen here applies a responsiblity ethics and a social-psychological approach which would be needed even today when xenophobia and anti-Semitism rears its ugly head once again in both his native Denmark and in Europe as a whole.
Today, however, opinion polls such as Pew Research Global Attitudes Project show that the strongest negative feelings in selected EU countries towards other groups are directed first against Roma and then against Muslims and, third, against Jews. In the 1990s strong negative feelings were expressed against the Serbs and in 2013-2014 against Russians – with very few asking, like Bertelsen, how much of these negative attitudes are rooted in the relationship, in what “we” have also done ourselves to “them”.
One problem that Bertelsen did not raise at the time is the connection to the then young state of Israel.
With his deep-seated belief in non-violence, he was strongly but diplomatically critical of the Israeli military machine and militarist society but of course he didn’t see the Israel we know today, some 60 years later, which has been defined as a Jewish state and is a nuclear weapons power, a long-term occupying power (since 1967), and one of the most highly armed states in the world – a ‘barrack state’.
If he had lived in today’s world, he would undoubtedly have been deeply saddened. Quite probably he would feel for the Palestinians what he felt back then in October 43 for the Jews who were occupied, forced to flee, persecuted and treated as “Untermenschen.”
With the above-mentioned analytical tools employed in his discussion of anti-semitism, Bertelsen would not have generalised anything about the character of the Jewish people from the behaviour and policies of the Israeli state but presumably he would have raised his voice against the Zionist project and the Israeli leadership had he lived today – perceiving Palestinians as the ones who were ghettoised, persecuted and as the weak party to an extremely a-symmetric conflict.
Israel has developed ad absurdum its self-designated role as “exceptional” – like the United States. Thus, open democratic debate and dialogue has become ever more difficult. Israel’s globally-organised media influence as well as advocates of Israel’s policies regularly turn down criticism of the Israeli policies as being anti-semitic in spite of the fact that such criticism has nothing to do with the Jews as a people.
Indeed, scores of Jewish intellectuals – including e.g. international law professor Richard Falk who has served as the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy for the Occupied Territories but was not allowed to enter Israel and deported – are now designated “self-hating Jews”.
Non-Jewish scholars, including Johan Galtung, are also attacked for being anti-semitic and thus barred from various universities too. The method is well-known: manipulation of texts and words out of context while ignoring a life-long commitment to nonviolence, independent academic analysis, recognition of the state of Israel and production of peace plans.
Richard Rubinstein, in a discussion in 2012 of this intellectual-political decay and the case of Galtung has formulated the trend eloquently: “An anti-Semite used to be someone who didn’t like Jews. Now it means someone Jews don’t like.”
Given the massive, much more sophisticated war propaganda today than in the days of Bertelsen, one wonders whether he would not be called an anti-semite too if he had been active in today’s debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wider Middle East region?
The school man
In terms of profession, Bertelsen saw himself first and foremost as a teacher and headmaster, a man of – and for – education. And an educator at all levels at that: from statesmen, politicians and diplomats over the general citizenry and to his pupils.
Due to his personality as well as passion, he would often come across as a preacher – and he would jokingly refer to it himself now and then. He had a message that he dearly needed to bring out in the public domain and challenge people around him to respond to or at least reflect on.
In what would, now 50+ years later, be seen as a slightly paternalistic attitude he would talk about educating citizens and ”bringing up” (opdrage) citizens and pupils. Education was education for life, for active participation in one’s society. No wonder he saw his own learning, the books and people he had met and his commitment to non-violence at all levels as the most important element in such a public education.
As mentioned, Jan Oberg was a pupil over three years 1967, 1968 and 1969 – the last three years of Bertelsen’s headmastership – at Aarhus Cathedral School. He deepened his knowledge and friendship with Bertelsen also after these year as member of the October 43 Foundation that Gerda and Aage Bertelsen established in support of Palestinian and Jewish children in Israel.
Oberg vividly recalls that Bertelsen’s visionary talk at the school was both a welcome break from all the more traditional learning – fact swotting and rote learning – but, more importantly, hit a deep urge not unusual for the high-school age youngsters to find meaning, form opinions on existential matters and shape a personality in a wider sense.
When, say, a teacher of mathematics was ill, Bertelsen would take over at least some of her/his lessons. He would enter with a warm smile and his huge white hair on end from after the walk across the school yard, place himself sitting on the teacher’s desk, dangling his legs and say, not without a twinkle in his eyes – “Well, I know you were supposed to deal with mathematics today but I would rather like to talk a bit with you about …” – and then would follow Einstein, Gandhi, an existential issue or an international political event of the day.
Not a minute was lost! Not only were the students free from math, they were exposed to a story teller by the grace of God who understood the craving among youngsters for some kind of existential meaning, something bigger than the day-to-day teaching. Some of course found him tedious and didn’t share his political views but the fact that he wanted dialogue, challenges and was quite open to counter arguments commanded their respect. There was never an attempt at manipulation or of pressure.
Oberg sees Bertelsen as the first personality to inspire him to, later, devote himself to peace research – but also readily admits that it was only years later on that he could fully appreciate Bertelsen’s values, views and visions as advanced as they were for a 16-18 year young man.
Bertelsen’s general thought about the meaning and practise of education has been touched upon above. It wasn’t the pedagogy of the oppressed à la Paulo Freire although there were connections as we shall see.
Aarhus Cathedral School were populated with pupils from predominantly middle and upper class, more or less bourgeois, families and situated in the midst of the town of Aarhus, known for its culture, industry and university.
Bertelsen was no revolutionary, rather a generalist humanist. Quite a few people would see him as – dangerously – left-leaning and ”pro-Soviet” but he appealed to a larger humanity in everyone. One likely reason that he did was that his values constantly carried references to world renown humanists in the classical sense – be it Einstein, Gandhi, Schweitzer, Eric Fromm as well as Jesus. Another undoubtedly was that he was so strongly oriented toward the future, not the past – to constructive actions and plans rather than attacking or pointing fingers at anyone.
He wasn’t a strategist soliciting support or establishing a movement. He advocated experiments inside the system, and we shall now take a look at two of them – the Russian Line and the UNESCO Line, two educational experiments during which selected students passed through a totally different experience from the rest of the school (and other schools).
The Russian Line and the UNESCO Line
The Russian Line aimed at fostering international understanding. Russian language and culture would be the main subject, relations would be built with pupils in Russia and Russian teachers would come and teach for periodsin Aarhus and also in that manner establish friendly people-to-people relations through educational processes.
The overarching idea behind it was of course that mutual understanding and people-to-people communication, even co-operation, would eventually undermine official images of each other as enemies.
It was essentially the same thinking that inspired the UNESCO Line (see below) and addressing issues at three inter-connected levels: local, national and global.
Bertelsen was convinced that his school should educate young people for life, prepare them well for going out into the society outside the school and broadly to live responsibly in one’s age – which was the nuclear age: ”Engage in your time!”
His more traditional teacher colleagues certainly respected him but, with few exceptions, disagreed with his wider conception of what a school was all about.
Like the pupils in general the teachers’ college admired him in all his outstanding-ness – Aarhus Cathedral School was a place you were proud to be part of, its philosophy was excitingly different from other similar schools and it was a school about which there was an ongoing debate, inside as well as outside. Indeed, it was never boring!
It must be remembered that this was also the times of great changes and controversies.
The Vietnam War was raging; the student rebellion – May 1968 in Paris – hit Denmark too, not the least the nearby Aarhus University which many attended after Bertelsen’s school. It was the time when the meaning of education and professor-student relations were fundamentally challenged, quite often creating total chaos. Nuclear weapons were on the political and media agenda – one only has to think of the Bristish Aldermaston Marches against nuclear weapons and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament which had a parallel opinion, supported by Bertelsen, in Denmark.
The cry was loud for ”society-relevant” teaching, teaching for change and teaching with more or less Marxist and critical studies in the centre – fighting the old ‘positivist’ ideals within educational philosophy and social sciences.
Interestingly Aarhus Cathedral School had already gone through somewhat the same process about 10 years prior to all that.
The so-called UNESCO Line at the school lasted from 1959-63. Its basic idea was to take the school out into society. Students would seek out their own handbooks and learn about a sector or problem and then go to school at, say, factories, farms or social institutions – in short, field studies combined with prior knowledge and theories.
Bertelsen’s pedagogy was built on at least three pillars, namely radical changes in the educational system’s:
• Goals – away from non-engaging filling up the ‘empty‘ students with facts and knowledge and towards an ethics-based education in service of the common good and the future of all humankind.
• Methods: away from memory-based learning of the content of textbooks towards deepened studies that awake interest in existential issues and learning through dialogues across many and different borders.
• Materials: new books and sources of knowledge that served the goal formulation. The point was to make more scientific – including peace research – materials available in adapted form but also to infuse peace and global affairs in existing themes such as history, math (for statistics), language, geography etc. He also argued for introducing new subjects in the third year, the history of ideas.
Bertelsen doesn’t seem to have advocated that global affairs, the nuclear age, peace or development should be taught as independent subjects anywhere.
Rather, he wanted such themes to give perspective, to train holistic thinking and – above all – to push everybody in the direction of knowing more about the present and future as well as constructive possibilities in proportion to studying (only) the past.
So, if students study the history of all the wars and battles – fine, but why not also the history of peace-making and non-violent change? Studying Christianity – fine, but why not also Buddhism, Islam etc.? Let’s look into them all and study how other peoples live and think – to prepare the young generations for a world that globalises!
Bertelsen also wanted to challenge the idea of in-class learning and classroom teaching split up in 45 min sessions. Why only study in a room inside a school when society is right out there and there are places, institutions and people from whom the young can learn how it all ”really” is?
The point was not to abandon reading – Bertelsen knew very well the essential treasures of reading and knowledge – but to combine book knowledge/classroom with practical knowledge/real society. Thus, his philosophy was always additive, inclusive or both/and – it was not to kill entirely what was. In spite of his visionary and sometimes “unrealistic” ideas, he was quite realistic as to how far he could go without antagonising the more traditional teachers among the schoool’s staff.
These were the ideas on which the UNESCO Line – a three-year educational experiment – was based. And it was accepted by the Ministry of Education, the Minister of which was Kresten Helveg Petersen, one of modern Denmark’s most visionary, humanistic politicians who later – as Minister of Culture – also brought about innovation to the concept of cultural politics. For a short while he also served as disarmament minister.
“Here Is Your Weapon” explains all this experiment in details. What it also contains is a chapter which consist of an newspaper article by 5 students who followed this experimental line for three years until the Ministry – seemingly without any reasonable explanation – announced that the experiment would not be allowed to continue.
The students – clearly writing in an unusually mature and well-argued manner for their age – explain how much they have learned and how exciting they feel it has been and asks the minister why he is suddenly so negative and decides to stop it. They raise the hypothesis that there is ”politics” behind it – including that the ministry was planning to start its own experimental education a few years later in 1967? Could it be that the minister did not want competition from a success such as that at the Aarhus Cathedral School?
Secondly, they feel strongly that the decision is motivated by the fact that it is Aage Bertelsen who is the philosopher behind their new educational line. They maintain, touchingly, that many of them and their fellow-students strongly disagree with Bertelsen, his pacifism and left-wing orientation – not expressed in those words but by pointing out that many of them are political conservatives.
But they cherish the very high degree to which he has inspired them at school and way beyond it and emphasise that never has he imposed his views on anyone.
This speaks volumes of Bertelsen’s respectful pedagogy and the humanity that his students associated with him and his daily work at the school. It was OK to disagree, Bertelsen actually loved debate and challenges. He wanted the students to learn, think, learn more and think again. He wasn’t out to impose one set of values that should become theirs while he also did not cover behind some fake ”objectivity”.
There probably never was a student at Aarhus Cathedral School who did not know what Bertelsen’s views were.
It can’t be seen in the book whether the minister ever replied. Evidently, Aage Bertelsen was deeply disappointed at this ministerial decision against, as it seems, all common sense. And it is not at all unlikely that the two reasons advanced by the students were spot on: Bertelsen was a personality way ahead of his contemporaries; he had challenged politicians again and again concerning peace and development and he was very difficult to debate with. What was more easy than just send him a directive that the experiment must end?
As is well-known, most prophets don’t become prophets in their own town or country.
The last active years and the October 43 Foundation
Aage Bertelsen retired from Aarhus Cathedral School in 1969, at the age of 68, a position he had held for 22 years. The closing down of his experimental education was a blow and there were trends of “the roaring 1960s” that he seemed to not appreciate.
Oberg is reminded of one episode at the school that made him a victim to some extent in the public eye. It was a tradition that all teachers and students gathered in the large meeting hall and listened to lectures, panel discussions, music etc. Bertelsen felt that these all-inclusive meetings were an important part of the school community – of his idea to Engage in your time!
At one of them some young people had asked to make a performance with music and dance but in the midst of it, a young man on stage began to take off his shirt, continued to open his trousers and seemingly aimed to strip nude. The performance was stopped but Bertelsen was visibly dismayed. Understandably, he felt betrayed; this was about as far as it could get from the purpose he had in mind with these meetings.
This sort of things happened in the West at the time as part of a wider liberation encompassing the student uproar at universities, rock music, experiments with hashish, new ways of living, free sex, liberalisation of pornographic publications, challenging of all authorities, etc. – highly controversial in conservative, bourgeois circles, of course. Regrettably, the episode hit the local media and tainted the image of the Cathedral School, at least for a while. It was used against Bertelsen that “things” were going on at his school or that he seemed to have lost control.
The October 43 Foundation
It was established in March 1973 – months before the Yom Kippur/Ramadan/October War of October that year – and its larger aim was “through social and humanitarian activities to reduce tension and promote good neighbourly relations between the inhabitants of Israel and the areas administered by Israel as well as between Israel and its neighboring countries. In its work toward these aims no considerations shall, under any circumstance, be taken to national, race-related or religious aspects.”
The foundation’s resources came, above all, from the library fees and sales of the October 43 book. Due to the fact that the foundation would not dispose of larger sums, it was decided to let children hospitals in Israel benefit and divide the resources equally between Israeli and Arab children. A local committee consisting of Israeli and Arab members was set up in Israel to give advise on how the funds would have the largest positive impact. However, most of the funds were allocated by the board in Copenhagen. It must be recognised that it was difficult to solicit support based on events that had happened 30 years earlier, no matter how noble and historically important. US$ 1000 were dispatched to Israel annually. One of the main beneficiaries at the time was the Beit Uri home for Jewish and Palestinian with multiple handicaps. More about Beit Uri today.
The foundation’s work provided Gerda and Aage Bertelsen an opportunity to visit Israel and continue their engagement with international and humanitarian affairs based upon their earlier affiliation with the Jewish community, now deeply concerned with the state of Israel’s occupation policies and its victims.
Gerda – until her death in 1978 – and Aage Bertelsen spent their otium at Resenbro close to Silkeborg in Jutland (Jylland) where he had been born. Gerda Bertelsen who served as board member of the October 43 Foundation died in 1978. Bertelsen involved himself in local matters including road and town planning, something that earned Aage the titel of “Silkeborg’s Provo”.
In an interview in the Danish daily, Jyllands-Posten of November 6, 1976, at his 75th birthday, he tells that he wanted to learn to play Beethoven Sonatas which he had played on grammophone during his sleepless nights when he wrote Here Is Your Weapon and that he was writing on a follow-up to that book. The fact is that Bertelsen was already an excellent piano-player and interpreter of Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Brahms and others because he had played piano from his youth and taken lessons for years.
In the interview he also reveals that Here Is Your Weapon which had been published by Denmark’s largest and most respected publishing house, Gyldendal, did not receive a single review anywhere in Denmark and comments that “the press obviously had the same attitude to it they had to pornography – something you don’t talk about, something that is taboo.”
Bertelsen asserts that he has lived a very happy life – full of challenges and opportunities to become a mature human being. He’s worked with young people and been able to connect that with a passion for global issues and nonviolence. “In spite of the controversies, I’ve never sought attention to my person; actually I have done my utmost to avoid it. And I find my 75th birthday an utterly boring event…”
Aage Bertelsen: “Here Is Your Weapon” – Her er dit Våben, 1962
By Johan Galtung
The book, published 50 years ago, has a freshness as were it today. It not only questions the insanity of nuclear arms and the arms race but comes up with constructive and concrete alternatives; the litmus test of good peace research. Bertelsen, a pioneer in Danish peace studies, collected texts and wrote much himself.
Being Norwegian, by birth more than conviction, I will comment on the three Norwegians: Nordahl Grieg, Edgar Schieldrop and Arne Næss on Gandhi. Secondly, I shall look into some aspects of Gandhian theory and practise and, third, present a list of conflict-resolution elements that we use in my organisation, TRANSCEND.
At the end the reader will find an application to three basic problems of peace theory and peace practice: a) How shoa, the holocaust against European Jews could have been avoided, b) how to fight anti-Semitism and how Israel could have secure and recognized borders. These were major concerns for Aage Bertelsen who did such a wonderful job to help Danish Jews in October 1943.
The very title of Bertelsen’s book is taken from our great poet Nordahl Grieg. He asks the rhetorical question of somebody without any cover, defenseless, “with what shall I fight, what is my weapon? My defense against violence?” Bertelsen’s answer is nonviolence, Here Is Your Weapon, the book’s title. But that was not Nordahl Grieg’s answer.
His answer, his sword, was faith in life, in the value of human life–“if we create human dignity, then we create peace and the arms will sink powerlessly down” – Bertha von Suttner’s “Lay Down Your Arms!” Says Grieg: “That is our promise, we will care for the beauty and the warmth – as if we carried a little child, with great care, in our arms”.
Grieg writes about structural violence. He was a communist; capitalism his enemy more than war. He picked up the other side of the violence plague, the violence built into structures.
Bertelsen was more concerned with the direct, intended, grotesque violence and compared brilliantly the Nazi death camps and their functionaries following orders with the nuclear killing fields planned by NATO functionaries following orders. But the latter are fighting for democracy? Even so, what is the value of that with all democrats dead and covered with radioactive ashes?
There is no contradiction between Grieg and Bertelsen; they complement each other. And Grieg’s poem has attained anthem status in Norway as the final word against a terrorist’s killing 76 on Utøya on 22 July 2011.
Edgar Schieldrop, once my profesor in physics-mechanics at the University of Oslo, has an historical approach. He takes the reader back to 1687 when a French journal admonished all the world’s engineers not to use exploding gun-powder in the terrible canons with cylinder barrels; remove the gunpowder from the canons and use it in engines serving peace. He and the readers know what happened.
But he might have mentioned that the Chinese did exactly that, used the gunpowder for fireworks instead, and were brutally punished by British – precisely – gunboat “diplomacy”. Imagine a Prince Charles using the occasion when Hong Kong was handed back to its rightful owners in 1997 to apologize, or at least take some distance to that beastly asymmetry.
No, just as little as the Americans have apologized for the genocides caused by exploding the nuclear bombs over two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Anglo-American self-righteousness knows no equals in the world.
Schieldrop’s basic point is the a-symmetry between the technology of war and the technology of peace: the former advances with the huge jumps mentioned, the latter seems to be at close to a standstill. And he envisions, with horror, the end of human life with Earth circling, barren, and joining Mars and others as lifeless planets.
Schieldrop is right, of course. And yet, let’s not ignore that there are some signs of peace on the planet. They are not due to any kind of peace technology or to Marx’ means of production, but to the means of transportation and communication. We are coming ever closer and are interlocked in relations of mutual rights and obligations. When hitting others, we also hit ourselves. And yet we continue to do so. Often.
More equity in those relations would have brought us much further. And just a little money for peace studies, seen as a major threat to the Anglo-America military-industrial-research establishment and to those following in their wake.
Bertelsen also picked up Arne Næss‘ book Gandhi and the Nuclear Age, a follow-up to his and my joint book Gandhi’s Politiske Etikk (1955).
And Næss was philospher, highly brain-, not capital-intensive, fascinated with Gandhi. At the age of 18 he encountered Indian students in Paris. Their devotion to Gandhi made their anti-colonialism different from that of the students from the French colonies. Næss was particularly impressed with Gandhi’s empathy with good aspects of the English tradition and its carriers, people in general and politicians in particular, while at the same time rejecting colonialism as such.
When Næss for the first time read Romain Rolland’s “Mahatma Gandhi: The Man Who Became One With the Universal Human Being” is not known, but the subtitle is indicative of Næss’ focus on Gandhi’s universalism.
Næss’ participation in the resistance movement in Norway during the German occupation was nonviolent, as was his attitude to “traitors” after the war: he wanted to understand how they understood themselves. (See above some parallel to Bertelsen’s account of his own views of the traitor).
Nonviolence was picked up by the Norwegian anti-war movement and the peace movement, but it never became a government concern. This was not so much because authorities perceived nonviolence in general, and nonmilitary defense with non-cooperation and civil disobedience in particular, as inefficient. Rather the contrary: they saw the possibility that nonviolence could be turned against themselves in connection with controversial policies.
Hence, any training of the population in nonviolent resistance to occupation could lead to anarchy, the disappearance of authority, before any occupation.
Gandhi and the Nuclear Age presents Næss’ peace studies program: Gandhi studies. The book reviews Gandhi’s experience and political ethics, and compares Gandhi with Lenin, Luther, Hobbes, Nietzsche and Tolstoy (later also with Jaspers).
The fourth part, “Gandhi and International Conflicts of Today” is Næss’ political program. His basic problem formulation was “Can nonviolent defense replace military defense?”, with five programs points as answers (p. 122-130):
First, clarification of national commitment, based on numerous dialogues, use of multiple loyalties, and contact with potential “enemies”. In other words, depolarization and humanization to counteract mobilization for violence when governments so decide.
Second, international service, “relieving human poverty, and threats to personal dignity and integrity”; removing important causes of conflicts and wars /through/ peaceful “man to man” interaction between potential “enemies”. With no “strings attached” development in other countries of a positive attitude toward its sponsors is possible; valuable training can also be used in one’s own country, and friendly ties are useful should there be conflict.
Third, improving our own society, “a nonmilitary defense program would give us a society far more worth defending”, for instance through decentralization, autonomous decision-making.
Fourth, non-military resistance in case of an occupation, combined or not with military defense, also after military defeat.
Fifth, research, not assuming we already know all the answers.
Gandhis politiske etikk was written for the general public, and so was Gandhi and the Nuclear Age. Gandhi and Group Conflict was at a much deeper theoretical level, for readers with some philosophical training, and is today the key source to Næss’ work on Gandhi.
A fairly typical quote may serve to illustrate how Næss’ work developed:
“Thus, norm N8, “Do not humiliate or provoke your opponent”, is derived from norm N14 and hypothesis H9, that is, “if you are not able to subsume any of a group of relevant actions or attitudes as in themselves violent or constructive, then choose that action or attitude which most probably reduces the tendency to violence in the participants in the struggle” and “You invite violence from your opponent ny humiliating and provoking him”. But norm N8 might as well be derived from a code of conduct concerning behavior towards others, whether participants in a struggle or not. The possibility of such circumventions is not, of course, very alarming. The historical data permit different explications of the relations between general ethics and ethics of group struggle.”
In Appendix 2 – Norms and hypothesis. A survey – he lists 25 norms (two as two sub-norms) and 26 hypotheses (one as two sub-hypotheses) as his summary of Gandhi’s political ethics and political reality. As an image of Gandhi’s world the survey is simply brilliant. But as a general conflictology-paxology it is limited, and even limiting.
At the pinnacle of this entire construction is the Universal Self, Gandhi’s belief in the essential oneness of all life (not only human).
There is the distinction between the egoistic self and the all-embracing Self, making violence against life violence against self. Much painstaking work is put into tracing these connections.
Næss’ deductivism is his strength, but also his weakness. His rational reconstruction in the form of a normative system is tstill he most accurate account available of what Gandhi stood for. It may have no, some, or many parallels in what went on in Gandhi’s mind; but that is only biographically interesting.
Næss’ concern, if not his method, went beyond a model of Gandhi and his political ethics. As the book titles indicate, he saw nonviolence as an alternative to nuclearism and to violent behavior in group conflict in general. He wanted to persuade people and countries to change their politics. The parallel to Bertelsen’s life endeavour is obvious.
Was his consistent deductivism persuasive? How important is consistency to most, many, some people? A Western concern? Could the richness of well-written texts, playing 25 + 26 = 51 norms-hypotheses against each other, be more persuasive than logical tidiness?
And second, how important is deduction from first principles in a quasi-formal approach? Næss might argue that the moral-normative power radiates from these first principles along the lines of deduction, down to the norms and the forms of nonviolence. But that makes the whole system vulnerable: if you have problems with the first principles, what happens to the normative power of the rest?
On the other hand: the less inspired by first principles, the less may it touch hearts and minds. Including those of the actors.
Gandhi was a genius of Einsteinian proportions. In a world where so many conflicts are handled violently or not at all, Gandhi went to the root: neither us, nor them, but our relation; the coupling.
If the problem is structural violence, then Gandhi’s advice was: decouple, do not cooperate, even disobey. But that is only the negative side. Then add constructive, positive action: be the change you want to see. For that reason do not decouple from persons but from the structurally defined relation, and try to generate at the person-to-person level alternative structures.
If on the other hand the problem is direct violence, then Gandhi’s advice was to decouple from violent action through nonviolence of the brave, not of the coward. Take the risks it entails. Better than cowardice, resist violently; a very troublesome “inconsistency” to many Western students and followers of Gandhi. He was not a Western pacifist.
Here a glimpse into Gandhi’s hinduism may be illuminating.
On the one hand there is caste, varna, which Gandhi did not reject, but he wanted an egalitarian caste (and gender!) system. For Gandhi the heroic warrior, from the kshatriya caste who would sacrifice himself for something beyond himself, was iconic.
But then, on the other hand, there was nonviolence. I do not know what inspired Gandhi most, the wisdom of the rishis, the sages favoring nonviolence, or the tragedy of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, the most important resistance against Western colonialism before the final battles after, and inspired by, the Second World War. The British revenge included maybe 50,000 executions.
At any rate, out came Gandhi’s icon: the heroic nonviolent warrior as model for himself – as well as for those inclined to follow him.
In the fight for swaraj, self-rule, independence, Gandhi used both approaches, both against colonialism as structure and against the violence of both sides; by and large amazingly successfully even if other forces were also at work. And, as Næss pointed out: the great thing about Gandhi is not only his philosophy, but that he practiced it, and in addition to that his contagious optimism: It works!
It did, but the history is ambiguous. Gandhi was at the top of the Congress Party, today still a ruling power in the sub-continent. But revisionist historians find evidence to show that the Congress was against the British not so much because of colonialism as because of the persistent British critique, not only of suttee (widow burning) but of the whole caste system.
They wanted to get rid of the British to preserve the caste system, and used Gandhi, passionately against colonialism, with his own approach to caste, for that purpose.
Gandhi did the job, but found no space in independent India after 15 August 1947. On 30 January 1948 he was killed by a top ranking Brahmin for reasons with which the Congress government under Jawaharlal Nehru agreed: Gandhi was against a modern, industrialized India, in favor of his oceanic circles of self-sufficient, spiritual villages.
Conflict resolution continues to develop
I have no problems with Gandhi’s approach to structural violence, but with his approach to direct violence. It may be too risky, too many lives may be lost. My own research and practice has been in the direction of peaceful conflict transformation, trying to mediate conflicts before violence, reconcile if that fails, and build peace structures to transform conflicts with empathy, nonviolence, and creativity.
Thus, in Gandhi and Næss there is no search for a new reality beyond the parties’ goals, only for common (meaning compatible) goals. That is – long on empathy, long on nonviolence and a little short on creativity.
The following is a summary of where my research has led me over some 60 years. I feel sure that Aage Bertelsen would nod in recognition to most of it.
The TRANSCEND Approach to Conflict Resolution
 What’s next in peace research methodology? Practice. Peace researchers can observe and analyze the practice of others, but physicians, engineers and architects testify that much better is to combine theory and practice in the same person: the communication between the two modes of approaching reality flows better.
 As violence and war start in relations that have gone wrong among parties, it is in better relations that peace has to be built. Some change in parties may be useful, but the relations are primordial.
 Basic axiom: underlying violence are unresolved conflicts.
 Conflict – parties related by incompatible goals – is a relation wrought with the danger of violence and the opportunity to transcend.
 In a conflict goal-pursuit by any party blocks the goal-pursuit by other parties, leading to frustration, then to aggression, expressed mentally as hatred and socially as polarization.
 Conflict resolution is an accepted-sustainable process whereby the goals become compatible by creating some new reality; frustration is no longer there and the aggression withers away. There is no substitute for resolution like working on hatred and polarization only.
 The tool of conflict resolution is mediation with all parties to know their image of what should happen, what happens, what went wrong and the worst that could happen: dreams-realism-nostalgia-nightmares.
 The mediation process is 1-on-1 for free expression, questioning dialogues for mutual search rather than debate for verbal victory; for an image of a new reality with the conflict reasonably solved and the relations reasonably improved: for both negative and positive peace.
 The process includes mapping of the conflict, testing legitimacy of the goals, and bridging legitimate goals in a new reality.
 Required of the mediator: empathy, nonviolence and creativity.
Peace studies = peace theory+peace practice; applied science, with an explicit value – peace – with practice-indicative theories and theory-testing practice; it’s much like health studies, unlike social sciences.
The model is this: peace to violence like health to illness; Diagnosis-Prognosis-Therapy (D-T-P) produced health by weakening pathogens and strengthening sanogens; try the same for peace by weakening bellogens and strengthening paxogens. The mantra is: go for interdisciplinary, international, interlevel research!
 Like illness violence = suffering of body-mind-spirit, also of the bereaved; unlike illness an intended act of commission, a perpetrator-victim relation, a crime, epitomized by aggressive war.
Body wounds may be healed but stigma, shame, humiliation, hopelessness, hatred, fear, revenge may settle in mind and spirit as trauma. To judicial approaches, sentence and punishment – against theft of cherished property, violence to the body and sexual violence – add victim and context-oriented approaches like having less property, more company, no provocation and context-oriented approaches like un-uniformed citizens as vigilantes in public space, etc.
But the antidote to violence is peace: a structure of positive interaction, a culture of non-violence, focus on the positive in the yin/yang of others and on change from violent to peaceful relations rather than on party attributes as relations carry more causal weight and are irreducible to attributes: see relation Logics-Buddhism-Daoism.
 Peace was liberated from the state focus to cover five levels:
• peace with nature, environmental peace;
• micro level: within, and among persons in families, at school, work;
• meso level: among groups, generations-genders-races-classes-nations;
• macro level: among states, nations and nations-and-states;
• mega level: among regions, civilizations; within the world.
Peace divided into negative and positive peace – the absence of violence and the presence of cooperation and harmony. Synonyms: security; and convivencia in Spanish, kyosei in Japanese (in English?). Thesis: a context of positive peace contributes to negative peace like a context of body-mind-spirit-social balance-wellness reduces illness.
Violence divided into direct and structural violence, the unintended acts of omission that maintain structures of inequality, overload, isolation, underload; economically, militarily, politically, culturally; generally killing-wounding much more than direct violence; adding to this cultural violence legitimizing direct and structural.
 Peace Formula: paxogens/bellogens (health sanogens/pathogens); positive peace/absence of negative peace. Key paxogens are Equity (cooperation for mutual and equal benefit) and Empathy (for harmony, suffering the suffering and enjoying the joy of others); key bellogens are unreconciled Trauma and unsolved Conflict = incompatible goals:
This implies four major peace tasks: Building Equity, Educating for Harmony, Reconciling Trauma and Solving Conflict; all relational, all maxi-3C, constructive-concrete-creative, avoiding moralism-criticism.
Based on a holistic view of systems with contradictions, aiming at their transcendence through mediation based on dialogue, the mutual search for a new reality in the future.
In contrast, peace theory based on Negotiation, Rule of Law, Human Rights, Democracy assumes that the sum of domestic peace(s) is global peace, and that compromise is sufficient, when world law, global rights, UN democracy and new realities may be needed.
In short, a peace culture with five components: dialogue-equity-empathy-conciliation-solution. The negation is a violence culture; like an illness culture negates a health culture of hygiene, avoiding dangers, good nutrition, exercise and solving dilemmas and conflicts.
 Building Equity. Equalizing the side-effects, externalities of interaction; peace business being an effort.
 Education for Harmony. Awareness of own and other world views and goals; peace education being an effort.
 Reconciling Trauma. Clearing the past, wishing violence undone and cooperating for a better future; peace journalism being an effort.
 Solving Conflicts. Creating new realities making legitimate incompatible goals compatible; peace journalism being an effort.
Let us try it out on a concrete case: the relation of the Jewish nation – with the immense suffering – to the rest of the world:
Peace is spelt out as reducing violent behaviour and attitudes and securing an Israel with Jewish attributes (Jewish state = only Jews?). The diagnosis is based on rank discordance with a minority high on economic-cultural and majority on political-military power which is a recipe for disaster; on a frequent prejudice; and on “facts on the ground” (settlement = colonialism). The prognosis is based on similar cases.
Therapy removes causes of violence, building peace on 1-2-6-20, possibly with Israeli cantons on the West bank and Palestinian in Northwest Israel (whence much of the Naqba originated). A MEC, Middle-East Community, would include Israel and the five Arab neighbors, modeled on the European Community of 1 January 1958, and OSCWA (Organisation of Security and Co-Operation in South Asia) would include their neighbors and neighbors’ neighbors, modeled upon OSCE.
Peace studies add to analysis forecasting and visions of therapy; and add practice to theory; for negative as well as positive peace.
* Jan Oberg has authored this article to where Galtung’s analysis of Here Is Your Weapon and nonviolence begins.
About the authors
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© Jan Oberg & Johan Galtung & TFF 2014.
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