In November 2006, after a blockade at Faslane, the nuclear missile submarine base in Scotland, I found myself sharing a cell with a gentle, erudite, bearded American called Brian Larkin. We talked pacifism, politics, and theology, and shared songs most of that night….
Born in Trenton, New Jersey, and growing up during the Vietnam War, Brian came to St Andrews university in Scotland in the late 1970s to study theology. There, he met Lindsay, a feminist and a Peace News reader, who persuaded Brian to join Student CND. Lindsay was to be his wife for 25 years.
Other influences were radical and prophetic Catholics: Richard McSorley, the Berrigan brothers, and Dorothy Day.
Brian returned to the US in 1980, as Selective Service registration for conscription was reintroduced. He refused to register, risking a year in prison – a moment which marked the beginning of his time as a pacifist. His father disapproved of his draft refusal, reported him to FBI, and even forged Brain’s signature on the registration form.
Two years later, Brian joined a blockade at Williams International, where cruise missile engines were being built. In court, when required to undertake not to repeat the action, Brian – of course – refused. He was given an indefinite sentence and spent three months in jail.
In the following years, Brian worked tirelessly for peace and justice: with homeless people at the Ann Arbor shelter, organising speaking tours for Cesar Chavez, and visiting Nicaragua on a Witness for Peace delegation.
Brian and Lindsay returned to Scotland with their children Fiona (born 1985) and Morven (1989). Brian greatly enjoyed being a father, and later grandfather to Dylan and Jackson.
It was at Faslane that Brian (now separated from Lindsay) met long-time anti-nuclear activist Jane Tallents. They lived for a time at Faslane Peace Camp and then in Helensburgh, working on anti-Trident campaigns, before moving to a cottage near Penicuik, where they enjoyed the peace and beauty of the natural world.
Brian became co-ordinator of the Peace and Justice Centre in Edinburgh, working on peacebuilding in schools, the annual Conscientious Objectors’ Memorial Day commemorations, and an exhibition of 140,000 origami cranes to commemorate Hiroshima. Close to his heart was a proposal for a CO memorial in Edinburgh.
Brian was greatly inspired by the teachings of the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thích Nhât Hanh and found mindfulness practice a vital support as he faced death from a brain tumour.
All of us who knew Brian will hugely miss his presence. We will, I hope, be inspired in our own activism by his lifelong commitment to peacemaking.