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90-Plus for Peace: Hal Thornton

With a sharp mind and an open heart, this man's peace policy is based on questioning the militarist approach.

Editor’s Note: This is one in a series of stories by Steven Crandell to introduce readers to extraordinary Santa Barbara peace leaders. All of them are older than age 90. Although their lives are very different, one thing binds all of them: They take individual satisfaction from contributing to the greater good.

Hal Thornton is a man who calls himself a “grumpy old sourdough” but, in fact, is a warm-hearted person.

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Hal Thornton

Honest, caring and blunt, this man found business success in the wilderness of Alaska and wrote all about it in his 2003 book, Alaska Odyssey. At age 92, he combines a sharp, skeptical mind with an open heart. He has been a generous benefactor of Santa Barbara City College and many other local organizations. Above all, he is a family man – full of love and appreciation for what he calls “the ultimate security blanket.”

His peace policy is based on questioning the militarist approach to international relations. Thornton is inspired by none other than President Dwight Eisenhower, who had this to say in 1953: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”

Thornton calls life “a journey into the wilderness” and believes strongly in always having a contingency plan.

In his book, he tells a story that exemplifies his approach. “In training to be a bush pilot, I learned that if you are lost, call the tower and admit that you are lost. ‘What if there is no tower?’ I asked. ‘Circle in place and think. If thinking doesn’t help, search for an open field and pray for a soft soft landing.’ Then pick yourself up, hike out of the woods and start over.”

Flexibility. Honesty. Resilience. An ability to laugh – at life and at one’s self. And beneath it all, solid ethics and values supported by family and friends. What a wonderful recipe for peace, for life.

Steven Crandell is the director of development and public affairs for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

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