Farewell, Howard

From left: David Cortright, Father Theodore Hesburgh, Howard Brembeck, Dan Holefca

Howard Brembeck died this week at his home in Goshen, Indiana. He was 100 years old. He was a highly successful businessman and philanthropist and was the founder and chair of the Fourth Freedom Forum. He was my boss for 16 years when I served as president of that organization.

Howard was like a father figure to me, although in some respects we were an unlikely duo: he the conservative Republican businessman, I the activist peace campaigner. When we first met I know that he had some doubts about my activist leanings. He called a mutual colleague for a reference and wondered if perhaps I was too radical. “You’re pretty radical yourself,” the colleague replied, “with your ideas about ending war and eliminating nuclear weapons.” That captured it perfectly. We were both unconventional in our commitment to creating a more peaceful and secure world. Over time we steadily gained confidence in one another (he respecting my judgment about issue advocacy, I appreciating the wisdom of his business principles), and the relationship blossomed into a bond of genuine friendship and partnership.

Howard truly was a radical. He wasn’t content with arms control, he wanted to abolish nuclear weapons altogether. He thought the UN was inadequate and wanted to replace it with a system of binding international law. He believed in the right of self defense but felt that wars such as the invasion of Iraq are ruinous folly.

Howard founded the Fourth Freedom Forum to promote international cooperation through the power of trade. The name derives from Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s vision of the four freedoms. The fourth is freedom from fear, freedom from the threat of war and weapons of mass destruction. Howard said of creating the foundation, “My basic thought was that economic power, not military power, is the power that rules the world.” He believed that economic interdependence and the use of sanctions and incentives could be used to help create a future without nuclear weapons, where nations work together to uphold international law.

Howard left an indelible mark on my life. I will miss him, but I know he lived a long and productive life and contributed greatly to making this a better world. His ideas and influence endure in the work of the Fourth Freedom Forum, and in the insights and values he imparted to those of us who were fortunate enough to know him.

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