Rotary Four-Way Test and War! by Robert N. Meroney

Since 1943 Rotary Clubs have promoted and shared with others a simple and succinct ethical tool called The Four-Way Test to evaluate what it is appropriate to think, say and do. It was originally proposed in 1932 by Chicago businessman Herbert J. Taylor, who later became the president of Rotary International (1954-55). The test consists of four questions:

  1. Is it the truth?
  2. Is it Fair to all concerned?
  3. Will it build Goodwill and Better Friendships?
  4. Will it be Beneficial to all concerned?

In 2003 John W. Dean III, U.S. lawyer and White House Counsel under President Richard M. Nixon, addressed the Rotary District 5670 Conference on the topic Watergate, War, and the Four-Way Test. He examined what might have happened if he and others in the White House had thought to apply The Four-Way Test to the pending war with Iraq (2003) as well as the Watergate conspiracy (1971-74). He concluded that “the purely secular Four-Way Test cuts through a lot of hotly debated, often deeply nuance(d), theological discussion and arrives in the end at a very similar place.”… when and why should countries consider war and lies as acceptable alternatives.

Dean did not choose to give explicit answers to the conundrum of when and why are war or conspiracy acceptable. Instead he perceived The Four-Way Test to be a personal ethical outline and a private guide for each of us to find the answers for ourselves. John Dean concluded “that had those of us in the Nixon White House who were involved in Watergate stopped to apply The Four-Way Test — even if only occasionally — there would have been no Watergate.”   [1]

Between 1998-2003 a brutal civil war broke out in the Solomon Islands that involved violence and fighting between different ethnic islander groups. Thousands of islanders fled between the islands as intimidation and violence accelerated. Initial attempts at reconciliation were to no avail, and two separate peace agreements negotiated in 2000 and 2001 were unsuccessful.   One peace initiative that helped to produce dialogue among the various protagonists was based on The Four-Way Test as introduced by U.S. diplomat and former Peace Corps member, John E. Roberts. Mr. Roberts provided the script below which described his involvement:

How the Four-Way Test Helped Resolve a War in the Solomon Islands!

As told by John E. Roberts to Bob Meroney: (5/30/2018)

John Roberts was among the first Peace Corps volunteers, who joined shortly after President Kennedy’s death in 1963. He served as a Peace Corp volunteer in northern Somalia (1964-1966), then joined the U.S. Foreign Service and served the U.S. State Department for 33 years in some fourteen countries. After retiring from the Foreign Service, Roberts rejoined the Peace Corps and served in Tunisia, Malta, and the Solomon Islands. He returned to Fort Collins, CO, in 1998, taught International Studies at CSU for a decade, served as president of the Fort Collins Rotary Club (2005-2006), Asst. Governor of Rotary District 5440 (2008-2010), and founder of the Fort Collins Global Village Museum in 2008.

I served as the Director of the U.S. Peace Corps in the Solomon Islands from 1995-1998. Following my service, I returned annually to the Solomons. In late 2000, a brutal civil war (inter-island) ensued. Islanders from Malita had always been the most out-reaching and all-island engaging of the population, and many had migrated to the island capital of Guadalcanal and the capital itself, Honiara. Bitter political squabbles had long been the norm in the Solomons. Occasionally, these issues would break out in cross-island tribal and clan violence. An ”eye-for-an-eye” attitude to conflict has always existed in this island society; thus, the stage was consistently set for potential communal violence.

By 2002, conditions caused by the civil war became untenable. As I had been a Rotarian since 1985, and I had been an active member of the Rotary Club of Honoiara, I was well acquainted with many of the adversaries. During my one-week 2002 visit, nearly two years after the Peace Corps had been evacuated due to the war, I met with several individuals both within and outside Rotary and suggested that Rotary’s 4-way Test relative to Truth, Fairness, Goodwill, Friendship, and the concept of general Benefit to All might help resolve some of the issues. I convinced several individuals to try to convene a series of meetings with the leading combatants.

I returned to the Solomon Islands in February 2003, and most of the communal violence had subsided. They had also established a plan for the turning in and collection of firearms and other weapons. Several people told me that the application of Rotary’s 4-way Test in discussions among the warring parties had played a major and significant role in the peace negotiations. When I again returned to the Solomons in 2004, most weapons had been collected and reconstruction/rehabilitation of damaged buildings, roads, bridges, and schools were underway. Several friends confirmed to me that the 4-way Test was clearly instrumental.

Subsequently, I learned that the Island’s women (wives, mothers, and daughters) had taken the 4-way Test and its applications to its widest success. Through their tireless dedication and work in applying Rotary’s 100-year old code of conduct, today in the Solomon Islands there is relative peace, and hopefully enhanced mutual understanding and respect as this little island nation strives to develop and prosper.

John E. Roberts, 30 May 2018.



Bob Meroney is an Emeritus Professor of Fluid Mechanics and Wind Engineering with a long career at Colorado State University. He has been an active member of the Fort Collins Rotary Club and regularly researches a range of topics on modern life, issues and politics that serve to spark deeper conversations among friends and colleagues.

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