Imagining Other


Power and Protest (social movements) in the 20th Century:

(4) The peace, anti-war and anti-nuclear movements:




Links to other documents:

Imagining Other Index Page                 

Section 2 The Anti-Nuclear Movement.                       

Section 3 (Non-Violence – not completed)

Section 4: Peace and War Today         

Section 5: Conclusion and References

Section 6: updates       

Social Movements Contents                   


Bookmark in this sections:



Bombing in World War II         Buddhism (and human nature: violent or non-violent?)   

CAAT Campaign Against Arms Trade Christianity                   Conscientious Objectors 1 (definition)   Conscientious Objectors 2 (WWI and today)

Conscientious Objectors 3 (WWII)


Lenin                Nonviolence 1 Nonviolence 2

Pacifism 1                     Pacifism 2          Philosophers    political objection to war                       PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)                      PPU                 Pressure Groups          


Religious objection to war        

Shell-shock                  Socialism 1                   Socialism 2



Outline of this section:


1. Introduction: the different “strands” in the movement. Link

2. Reasons for opposing war: Link

(i) Examples of religious opposition to war:

(ii) Politically, or ideologically-based opposition to war: Link

3. The history of the opposition to war: Link

(i) before the 20th century

(ii) the 20th century Link

World War I (1914 – 18):

World War II (1939 – 45): Link

Other Conflicts Since World War II that affected the peace movement. Link

1. Introduction: the different “strands” in the movement.

(Much of this material is to be found in April Carter’s very useful book: Peace Movements, Longman 1992).

It seems to me that the peace movement, like many social movements, is a complex entity, with many strands, and even within these “strands” there are further differences. The movement also, as I hope to show, has links with other social movements that we are dealing with in these notes (anti-colonialism, the environmental movement, feminism, anti-globalisation). More detail on each of these strands is given later in the notes.

I would identify the following three main strands within the peace movement:

1:         Pacifism - opposition to all war, and the refusal to take part in war. Through much of history there has been opposition to war and to organized violence Note: pacifists are only human, and a pacifist may deliberately resort to violence if the circumstances demand it – e.g. to stop someone inflicting harm on someone else. Most of us are capable of losing our temper as well… What pacifists object to is the cold, systematic organization of violence by whole groups of people against others. Pacifism is often based on an individual’s conscience, or their religion, and nowadays, individuals who refuse to fight are known as Conscientious Objectors.

It is also based on the view quoted above, that “wars will cease when men refuse to fight” (Peace Pledge Union see below). However, because the refusal to fight is, for many, a difficult principle to live by, the pacifist movement has remained small, and doesn’t easily, of itself, form a social movement. I see pacifism as part of a wider peace movement.

Some who call themselves pacifist because they believed war was not the right way to deal with a particular issue, have found that when it “came to the crunch” they had to support war. This was particularly the case in World War II, when Nazism was seen as such a threat that any means should be used to defeat it (see below). Pacifist organizations would insist that opposition to war must be absolute.

2:         Opposition to nuclear weapons – probably the most noticeable part of the movement, and clearly involving many more people than pacifism. Opposition to nuclear weapons is based on the scale of the destruction they cause, but many anti-nuclear supporters will be also anti-war. Even though some who oppose nuclear weapons are by no means pacifist, I would still include the campaign against nuclear weapons as part of the wider peace movement.

3:         Non-violence. It is unusual for anyone opposed to war not to have ideas as to alternative ways of solving conflict. Non-violence goes beyond the “passive” refusal to fight, and non-violent activists have developed many techniques for resolving conflict or righting social or political wrongs without the use of force or violence. For example, Gandhi (perhaps the best-known example) used non-violence (ahimsa – non-harm) in the struggle against the British for independence for India; Martin Luther King and his followers used non-violence to oppose segregation and discrimination, and to claim civil rights for blacks in the USA).


2. Reasons for opposing war:

There are different bases (grounds, reasons) for opposing war. That is, unless a pacifist is going to maintain that he or she “just knows” that war is wrong, pacifist views are usually based on some set of beliefs or kind of reasoning.  The grounds for opposition to war may be expressed in religious terms, or as part of a political outlook:

(i) Examples of religious opposition to war:

- Christian pacifists: in the Sermon on the Mount Christ said we should “turn the other cheek” when violence is done to us, and that we should “love our enemies”, and one of the Ten Commandments is: “Thou Shalt Not Kill”.  Carter (1992) identifies Christians (such as Quakers, Unitarians, freethinking Protestants) as the first to advocate non-violence. Among Christian groups the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) - founded in the 17th century - hold very strongly to a pacifist position, and individual Quakers have been conscientious objectors, as well as activists in the movement against war. In 1947 the Quakers received the Nobel Peace Prize. They also have consultative status (as a NGO) at the United Nations.

William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania in the USA, was a Quaker, and in the 1640s he proposed a plan for a league of states to preserve international peace (Carter op cit).

Ken Weller, in his 1985 book ‘Don’t be a Soldier!’ describes the Brotherhood Church and its involvement in opposition to the First World War. The church was a gathering point for many Christians opposed to the war, including Quakers. The main church was in Southgate Road in North London, but there were also associated churches in Croydon, Harrow Road, Forest Gate and Walthamstow, several co-operative shops, and communities (or communes) such as the one at Stanford-le-Hope. A church still exists at Stapleton, near Pontefract in Yorkshire, and this is descended from one at Purleigh in Essex. In 1907, the Brotherhood Church was the meeting place for the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party: Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Plekhanov, Gorky, Zinoviev and Rosa Luxemburg all attended this historic meeting.  Later, in 1917, Bertrand Russell witnessed an attack on the church by pro-war crowds (including soldiers) when great damage and much injury was caused, whilst the police stood by.

But some, while still regarding themselves as Christian, maintain that the Sermon on the Mount represents an almost unattainable ideal; and the Commandment is often interpreted as meaning not to murder. Another common view amongst Christians – a view derived from St Augustine – is that some wars are “just wars” (wars of defense, and to remove a great evil – such as Nazism). So when two Christian countries are at war, we then have the (to me ludicrous) situation where God is “backing” both sides in a war!

The Romans, of course, (not long before St Augustine’s time) were quite candid: “If you want peace, prepare for war!” and it seems to me that most national politicians today (and some are Christian) believe that we have to remain armed to deter the enemy from declaring war on us. An obvious pacifist response might be that having no arms is a better way of forestalling war: if we have no arms, how can anyone carry out a war or fight with us? To which the reply might be: in such circumstances we would be forced into doing others’ will. Here is where non-violence comes into play of course (see below).

- Buddhists: the central Buddhist principle of compassion should lead to non-violence (sadly in Sri Lanka there have been Buddhists engaged in violence). In Vietnam, as part of the protest against American involvement, Buddhist monks burned themselves to death (the supreme non-violent sacrifice? What a contrast to today’s suicide bombers!).


‘The Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa used to speak of “basic goodness”, the notion that human virtue is primordial and un-damageable; it can be occluded but never destroyed.’ (Oliver Burkeman, Guardian Weekend, 5th May 2012 []).

The Cambodian Buddhist leader Maha Ghosananda died in 2007, and these notes are taken from the Guardian Obituary March 28th 2007:

Between 1976 and 1979 the Khmer Rouge killed all but 3,000 of Cambodia’s 60,000 Buddhist monks; despite losing his entire family Ghosananda was at the forefront of efforts to reconcile opposing factions and encourage forgiveness by their victims; as a youth he attended a Buddhist University in Bihar, India, and met the founder of a Japanese Buddhist sect who had stayed in Gandhi’s ashram and studied non-violence; he also studied (in 1965) with the Thai Buddhist Bhikkhu Buddhadasa; when the Khmer Rouge atrocities commenced he wanted to return to Cambodia, but was urged to make himself peaceful first, through self-mastery, in order to be able to bring peace to others;  when the Vietnamese expelled the Khmer Rouge in 1978, refugees from Cambodia flooded into Thailand; Ghosananda set up “shack temples” to minister to the refugees, teaching them that “hatred cannot be overcome by hatred but only by love”; he went on to launch many humanitarian programmes and temples, and assisted the United Nations Economic and Social Council; though appointed supreme patriarch of the Cambodian Buddhists, he moved to the US; he inspired yearly peace walks (dharmayeitras) starting in 1992, starting with a walk accompanied by refugees through guerilla territory back into Cambodia; he was a key figure in the “engaged Buddhist” movement, and was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Peace four times; he believed that “From deep suffering[Buddhists believe that just being alive inevitably involves suffering] comes deep compassion. From deep compassion comes a peaceful heart. From a peaceful heart comes a peaceful person. From a peaceful person comes a peaceful family … communities… nation…and a peaceful world.”


See also: new ways of seeing and alternatives

[Note: all the above, on Buddhism and non-violence, seems to me to be quite close to Carl Rogers’ approach to therapy... notes to follow...]

-  Jain: part of Hinduism, Jain monks will not kill anything, even insects. This had quite a strong influence on Gandhi who advocated ahimsa (non-harm). Yogis also advocate ahimsa: when practicing yoga you should take care not to harm yourself, as well as living a life in which you do not harm others.

- Jehovah’s Witnesses (and some other small sects derived from Christianity) believe that at the end of the world, Christ will return and there will be a final battle between His followers and non-believers: until this day the Witnesses will not get involved in earthly wars. In Britain the position of the Jehovah’s Witnesses has been recognised as acceptable grounds for conscientious objection.


(ii) Politically, or ideologically-based opposition to war:

Political philosophers have made proposals for peace in the past: e.g. Rousseau (who saw social conflict and war as originating in private property), and Kant, who proposed that disputes be solved by international law and international institutions. In the study of international relations, those who argue that peace is obtainable and war should be avoided are part of the “idealist” (or “rationalist”) school of thought. They are in opposition to the “realism” of, for example, Thucydides, Machiavelli, and Hobbes, who argued that war is inevitable (or even desirable, to encourage a strong state and noble national character).

Socialist: the “classical” Marxists argued that war is fought between centers of capital, and by the bourgeoisie, not for the workers (moreover, the workers are cannon-fodder!). However, when war arrives it seems to sweep people up despite their socialist (or other) principles: Lenin was almost alone amongst Marxists in opposing Russian involvement in WWI (see also below: Imperialist rivalries). Stalin at first formed a pact with Hitler, for strategic reasons, and then fought him when he had to. Russia and China, two supposedly communist countries, have had border skirmishes. And so on! In Britain, the Independent Labour Party has been fairly consistent in its opposition to war, though even here the Second World War made many change their minds.

Anarchist: since anarchists reject “power from above” and especially the power of the state, they have been opposed to state-sponsored warfare – if not always to violence. Bakunin is a good example, since he participated in the Socialist International and the Peace Congress of 1871. As an example of non-violent anarchism, there was Tolstoy, who also (along with Jain beliefs) influenced Gandhi. Tolstoy was a Christian, and both he and Gandhi stood for non-violent resistance: this is not the same as passivity, but rather it means active moral resistance to evil, using means other than physical violence (see Nonviolence below). On the other hand Kropotkin (on whom I have written some notes: Kropotkin) supported the First World War and was very anti-German. 

Liberal-capitalist: there have been a few (what we would now call “libertarian”) capitalists who have argued that the free trade that capitalism is supposed to bring should mean that violent conflict between traders would be counter to their desire to make money. They argued therefore that there is a strong economic interest in peace. The movement was strong in the 1840s, and was led in Britain by Richard Cobden and in America by Charles Sumner and William Ellery Channing. Free Traders helped to finance a number of international peace congresses, starting in London in 1843 (Carter op cit p 4).

Differing political points of view also lead to different analyses of the nature of war, and especially of the factors that cause war (Carter, 1992):

Imperialist rivalries - this is a “classical” socialist view: the nation-state is the “centre” of capital , and nation-states then have to compete with one another for

markets, and this leads to conquest of other lands (i.e. imperialism). For Lenin (Imperialism, 1916) imperialism was the “highest stage of capitalism”, and socialism could only come about once this stage had been reached, provided that workers saw the true causes of international conflict. A more recent formulation of this view stresses another consequence of capitalism’s tendency (as a result of ever more intense competition among producers) to over-produce goods: because workers’ pay must be kept down, and workers are also the main consumers, they will not always be able to buy the goods that they have themselves produced! The immediate consequence is a slump, but war may also serve to find a way out of this, and to “divert the people” (Michael Barrett Brown 1984).


The capitalist system - there is another way of expressing the socialist/Marxist perspective that the production of arms is, economically, essential to capitalism: capitalism is bound to produce a surplus of goods, and the problem then, according to ‘under-consumptionist’ Marxists (Brown 1984) is how to use up this surplus. The production, and sale, of arms is a means of doing this: military equipment rapidly becomes obsolete and more money has to be spent (using up the surplus) in replacing it. This view has been formulated, by Michael Kidron (1968) and others as the theory of the “permanent arms economy.” Defence expenditure is also something the public can easily be convinced is necessary (especially if propaganda is constantly put out about an ever-threatening “enemy”, as during the Cold War). Brown points out that it has been estimated that defence expenditure takes up around 8% of world output. In some countries it accounts for a third of all government spending! In the USA and UK, half of all expenditure on R & D goes into defence!!! It can also be argued that war is a useful way of destroying surplus military hardware…. 

The military-industrial complex - a phrase coined by Dwight Eisenhower, but which is based on the work of C. Wright Mills (especially The Power Elite, 1956). Mills wrote from an “elitist” perspective i.e. suggesting (but not approving of the fact!) that elites are the source of power in modern society. Mills described a phenomenon that is surely even more pertinent today: the links between industrialists, the military, and politicians. This is perhaps more true of the USA than of Britain: think of Halliburton in Iraq – see and  But also think of BAE…! (See Section 4). Others suggest that there is a “revolving door” through which leading military, political and industrial figures move and change places: the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), according to George Monbiot (Guardian 24.08.06) says that 39% of all the senior public servants who go to work in the private sector are employees of the MoD moving into arms firms. In return, scores of arms dealers are seconded to the ministry. The man who runs the DESO, for example, previously worked for BAE, selling arms in the Middle East!

Arms manufacturers’ vested interests - the sheer scale of the sale of arms throughout the world is astonishing (see Section 4 ) and given its important economic role, it is argued, politicians are bound to protect the arms trade. Although arms manufacturers may claim they are opposed to war it seems to many of us that war is more likely the more weapons there are around! It is surely not unfair therefore to say that war serves the interests of arms manufacturers. This view would be upheld by socialists and by liberal opponents of war.

The arms race - this is a similar view to the previous one, but it emphasises the power of technology rather than the intentions of arms manufacturers: that is, technological innovations drive policies: we use new weapons because we have them. The current revelations about the updating of Trident could support be used the point of view that technology has a momentum of its own, even if we do not end up by using Trident! However, this seems to me to be a rather pessimistic view of the relation between humans and their inventions, since it suggests the power of the human agent to influence events is limited by the determining power of technology.

Nationalism - liberals and internationalists, as well as some socialists might take this view. Certainly nationalism has played a large part in war in the past, and much of today’s conflict is around the defining of national boundaries (especially after the break-up of larger entities such as the Soviet Union).

3. The  history of the opposition to war:

(in addition to Carter (1992) I have found “Non-Violence” by Mark Kurlansky (2006) very useful here)

(i) before the 20th century

(note: although the main focus of these notes on social movements is on the 20th century, for me personally the anti-war movement holds a special interest, and I feel it is important to be aware of its history):

In terms of beliefs (dealt with above), as Carter (1992) points out, the origins of (European and American) opposition to war go back to the humanism of ancient Greece, and to Christianity. Philosophers have sometimes advocated alternatives to war – especially during the 18th century (Age of Enlightenment).  In the 19th century, paradoxically, both the supporters of the free trade movement and socialists opposed war, for quite opposed reasons.

However, these ideas usually arise in reaction to the horrors of war. Despite Kurlansky’s (2006, p 5) provocative point that there is “in every major language” no positive word for “non-violence” (it is the opposite of “violence” – which therefore seems to be the norm), there is a word for the opposite of war, of course, and that is peace. 

Organised peace groups first arose (Carter 1992) after the Napoleonic wars (which lasted for 25 years until 1815). As Kurlansky also notes (2006 p 112), the suffering caused in these wars horrified many, and peace societies started forming in Europe and America. The Spanish painter Goya reflected the horrors of war in his series of etchings “The Disasters of War.”

The first pan-European peace organization, according to Kurlansky, was established in Geneva in 1830, but it lasted only nine years, until the death of its founder, Jean-Jacques Sellon. Carter suggests (1992 p 2) that these movements were part of the movement for more democracy, (following the French and American Revolutions). She also points out that peace societies flourished in countries which were mainly Protestant in belief, and which were liberal, i.e. with an emphasis on individual freedom, democracy, and a free enterprise economy. This is controversial, and I doubt Carter would subscribe to the neo-con view that democracies do not cause war! However, while these (liberal and democratic) aspects may hold for these particular peace societies, I would simply add that the horror of war and the desire for peace is a deep-seated feeling that runs through most of human history (even in the midst of war, the combatants’ aim is to restore peace!). Opposition to war is not simply an outcome of liberal democratic values, I would argue.

We can see from many aspects of different cultures that it is the norm to try to avoid taking life, and often great lengths are taken to save lives. Witness, in our own culture, the way that the media make big stories out of murders, the number of stories of heroes and heroines who save peoples’ lives, the lengthy debates over abortion, euthanasia, and medical advances that prolong life.  Kropotkin, in his Mutual Aid identifies tendency to mutual support (as against conflict) in many different human tribes and at many different points in time. (See Kropotkin and Anarchism). Many religions (not just Christianity) hold life to be “sacred” - Buddhism in particular, for example, is based on compassion - but non-believers do not automatically regard life as disposable! So surely there is something “hardwired” in human nature that wants to preserve life and avoid life-threatening conflict. When it comes to inter-state conflict, however, many seem to assume that violence is the only way… 

In the 19th century there seems to have been a movement for peace. For example, 36 already existing peace societies merged in 1828 to form the American Peace Society (see also Kurlansky 2006), which also called for a Congress of Nations to deal with the issue. In other words, these societies argued that differences between states could be resolved without recourse to war. They were a minority voice, though.

In the mid-19th century a significant part of the movement in opposition to slavery was non-violent (see on William Lloyd Garrison, in Carter 1992, Kurlansky 2006).

(See also my forthcoming notes on Civil Rights). Much of this opposition to slavery was based on Christianity. The slaves and those who wanted to free them faced appalling persecution, but many of them still stood by non-resistance – influencing Tolstoy and through him Gandhi.  (See forthcoming chapter on the anti-colonial movement).

By the mid-nineteenth century there were differences between, on the one hand, the British and American peace groups – with their emphasis on international congresses – and, on the other, the Europeans, who looked to a United States of Europe as the solution to war. In 1848 disarmament was added to the aims of the second Universal Peace Congress (Carter, 1992 p 4). It is interesting to note, as Carter points out, that The Times newspaper denounced the Peace Congress in very strong terms, regarding the idea of the abolition of war as a “delusion”.  On the other hand, Kurlansky (loc cit) points out that the conferences never discussed complete disarmament or even arms reduction.

However, support for the European revolutions of 1848 - 56 meant that non-violence was replaced by violent rebellion, and when Garrison abandoned non-violence in the struggle to abolish slavery, and the American Civil War broke out, what Carter calls “the first international peace movement” collapsed. 

However, despite the wars that took place in Europe in the last half of the 19th century (Crimean war, Wars of Italian and German Unification), the peace movement did survive, and new groups sprung up.  The International League of Peace and Freedom was established in Geneva in 1867. The date and venue were chosen so that delegates to the First Socialist International in Lausanne could go straight on to the peace conference, but as Kurlansky argues, the International – prompted by none other than Marx himself – opposed any official involvement in the Peace League.

Despite this several delegates from the Socialist International did attend the conference – among them Bakunin (though he was no pacifist, being in favour of violent revolution) and William Randal Cremer (who would become the first blue-collar worker to win a seat in the House of Commons). Cremer won the third Nobel Peace Prize in 1903. (Kurlansky, loc cit).

There were 20 such conferences between 1889 and 1914, and by 1900 were 425 peace societies, mainly in US and North-west Europe.

Now the main division (according to Carter 1992) was between the middle-class peace organizations, with their belief that war would be removed if governments were democratic and if they conferred together, and the more radical socialist and anarchist groups who sought fundamental political and social change.  Kurlansky (2006) notes what might be called a third tendency – though it hardly constitutes a grouping – and that is individuals, such as Tolstoy, who believed that men must simply refuse to fight and war would cease.

The former was represented by Universal Peace Congresses, held annually after 1892, and the setting up of the International Peace Bureau (which still has a secretariat in Geneva ) The IPB grew out of the London Peace Society, set up by Quakers in 1816, and it helped to create the League of Nations. It was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1910, and its members have won 13 Nobel Peace prizes. Inter-governmental conferences for peace were held at The Hague, in the 1890s, and these issued conventions against inhumane weapons such as dum-dum bullets and poison gas. A 1907 convention sought to prevent the killing of civilians in war. (Carter op cit p 6). Two examples are given by Kurlansky to illustrate the extent to which there was a broad middle-class movement for peace:

- in 1889, Baroness Bertha von Suttner (an Austrian writer and former secretary to Alfred Nobel) wrote a popular novel Die Waffen Nieder (Lay Down your Arms), which was translated into many languages and even made into a film in 1915. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1905.

- the Scottish-American industrialist Andrew Carnegie set up a $10 million fund to abolish war. (See also Philanthropy (CSR Ch 1) and Carnegie (CSR Ch 2)).

In 1896 the Dreyfus affair, in which a Jewish army captain had been unjustly convicted of treason by anti-Semitic members of the army, made many on the left (especially in France) begin to see a link between right-wing ideas and militarism (Kurlansky loc cit). Socialists and others met intermittently in the Socialist Internationals (see notes on the Labour Movement etc). Sadly, when it came to war in the early 20th century socialists were divided: some argued that victory for a powerful capitalist state such as Russia or Germany would set back the cause of socialism, so they supported the war. Others such as Lenin opposed the war and advocated “revolutionary defeatism” in the hope that out of defeat of their own country, Russia, the workers would be able to build socialism. The Second International was so divided, that it collapsed.

Also at the end of the 19th century two developments in America damaged the peace movement:

-         In 1897 the Senate rejected a proposal which had been successfully brought before Parliament by the British MP Cremer (see above), that Britain and the USA should sign a treaty handing over any future disputes to international arbitration

-         In 1898 America went to war with Spain, largely (according to Kurlansky) for the acquisition of colonial territories – notably the Philippines, where 70,000 American troops crushed local opposition. President McKinley argued (in 1903) that they had a duty to “uplift and civilize and Christianize” the Philippines. The famous American writer Mark Twain, on the other hand, opposed the American action. He was a leading figure in the Anti-Imperialist League, against the American-Spanish war, and he wrote that praying for victory is praying for killing. He also said:

“We have pacified some thousands of the islanders and buried them. And so by these Providences of God – and the phrase is the government’s not mine – we are a World Power.”

(ii) the 20th century


At the start of the 20th century there were, according to Carter (1992) 425 peace societies, mainly in the US and north-west Europe.


World War I (1914 – 18):

“A bayonet is a tool with a worker on each end.”

As Kurlansky argues (op cit p 118) the war started because all the things the peace movement had warned against had been happening: “a buildup of armaments, secret negotiations, and excessive flag-waving nationalism”. To this I would add the prevalence of the phony argument that there could be a “balance of power” between nation-states, which would keep the peace.

Socialists would say that the nationalism (or, for Lenin, imperialism) was driven by capitalism: competition for markets and resources. In the end, at least 10 million people died and 20 million were wounded in the “war to end all wars”.

Despite the widespread support for the war, there was still opposition, especially when conscription (obligatory war service) was introduced.

The war was opposed by:

- intellectuals such as the Bloomsbury Group, which included art critic Clive Bell (who wrote a pamphlet Peace at Once, in which he argued the war was between the ruling classes of Britain and Germany), and the economist John Maynard Keynes (who, after the war, warned in vain that Germany should not be punished too harshly lest the resentment caused provoked more hostilities). Lytton Strachey (author of Eminent Victorians) lost his position on The Spectator because of his anti-war views. Others such as Bertrand Russell who opposed conscription were imprisoned. Bertrand Russell had collected the signatures of more than 60 Cambridge fellows calling for British neutrality in the event of war – most of them withdrew once war was declared. In 1917 Russell was denied a passport to prevent him going to lecture at Harvard, and he was removed from his lectureship at Cambridge. In 1918 he was sent to prison for six months for writing an article against the war, and opposing a US base in Britain. Nearly 50 years later he was to be – briefly – imprisoned again for opposing nuclear weapons.

- since many of those conscripted were educated and literate, a group of poets were able to express the horrors vividly in their verse. The “War Poets” Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, and the songs of the composers George Butterworth (killed on the Somme in 1916) and Ivor Gurney are also powerful condemnations of the pointless loss of young lives.

- pacifists, whose organisation the Peace Pledge Union ( had gained strong support in the years leading up to the war, though much of this faded with the actual outbreak of war. Some were Christian pacifists, and an organization representing these was set up in Britain and America, in 1914/15, called the Fellowship of Reconciliation, it still exists: see (The International Fellowship Of Reconciliation, IFOR, was set up in 1919 according to Carter.) 

- conscientious objectors. There was strong opposition to conscription: in Britain in 1916 there were 16,500 conscientious objectors (COs), of whom 6,000 were court-martialled and 800 jailed for at least two years - a few were even threatened with execution (Carter op cit p 7). For more details on COs in World War I, see The public attitude to COs was hostile: “white feathers” were distributed to indicate the public attitude that these men were cowards. In America the attitude (according to Kurlansky) was even more hostile: laws were suddenly passed “equating the expression of anti-war sentiments with espionage. Those who denounced the war could be sentenced to as much as 25 years in prison, yet 142 were sentenced for life and 17 were sentenced to death, although the sentences were never carried out”. Many thousands were badly beaten, and gangs would “tart and feather” them. At the end of the war about 4,000 had stood fast and refused to serve – about a third of those who started out as objectors. President Theodore Roosevelt described conscientious objectors as “sexless creatures”. It is not uncommon for nations to try to compel their citizens to fight, but most countries have eventually been persuaded that individuals have the right to conscientious objection - although there are surprising exceptions such as Switzerland. For details on different countries’ position in regard to COs since the two world wars, see: There is also an organisation that supports the conscientious objection to taxes being used for war/arms: “conscience” the peace tax campaign. It says that “our taxes pay for high-tech weapons and the soldiers who wield them on our behalf. This is financial conscription with no legal right to object.”   See:


- conscientious objectors update: 2014 sees the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of war... here is an article on those who tried to stop the war: by Adam Hochschild.


The article contains a useful summary of the costs: More than nine million troops were killed, and, depending on how you count them, as many as 10 million civilians. In Turkey, Russia, the Balkans and elsewhere, unprecedented millions of people became homeless refugees. Some 21 million soldiers were wounded. In Britain, 41,000 men had one or more limbs amputated; in France, so many had mangled faces that they formed a National Union of Disfigured Men. The toll was particularly appalling among the young. Of every 20 British men between 18 and 32 in 1914, three were killed and six wounded.


            Adam Hochschild's most recent book, To End All Wars: How the First World War Divided Britain, is available as a Pan paperback

- socialists and anarchists. In Britain there was a rich variety of such groups which opposed the war – see Ken Weller’s fascinating study of the anti-war and workers’ movement in North London: ‘Don’t be a Soldier’, 1985. As Ken points out, the war split the left (much as the Iraq war has done today), but this was not a “neat and tidy” split. Ken’s book portrays the wide range of groups and individuals involved in a struggle which also over-lapped between opposition to the war, demands for better social conditions, feminism, and even birth control! The other important point to make here is that these groups were most consistently anti-war when they operated at a local level: several large socialist organisations at a national level supported the war.


- an interesting example of revolutionary socialist or syndicalist opposition to the first world war is the poet Marcel Martinet (a book on him by George Paizis was published 2008, and reviewed [G 020208] by Michael Rosen: Martinet’s novel: La Maison a l’Abri reflects many views on the war, his play La Nuit can be seen as a precursor of Brecht, and his poems are like Sassoon, giving the horrors of war, but also criticizing the international socialist leaders who could have prevented the war. He also works on themes that were later to be written about by Sartre (in Les Mains Sales, and What is Literature?). 

- a minority of members of the (Second) Socialist International, who met at Zimmerwald in Switzerland in 1915 – many socialist parties supported the war, arguing that it was being fought for national survival. At a meeting of the Second Socialist International in Zimmerwald, the parties agreed to oppose the war. The majority took a simple anti-war stance, and called on workers to oppose the slaughter. Lenin and others on the left argued that the war was in fact imperialist, and it was aimed at subjugating poorer countries, as well as killing millions of workers.  This split marked the emergence of the left wing that was to become the Third (Communist) International – whilst the right remained social-democrats.

For more details see, for example: 

- as the war went on and on, and thousands were slaughtered in the trench warfare, opposition grew, even among soldiers. In some armies there were mutinies, (see Dave Lamb: Mutinies 1817 – 1920 (1979), and Andrew Rothstein: Soldiers Strikes of 1919 (1985). A significant number of “deserters” were executed (shot). Some of these probably were suffering from what is now recognised as shell-shock (*).  The mutinies are a rather hidden aspect of the war – except perhaps in the case of Russian soldiers, whose “voting with their feet” contributed to the Russian Revolution. (See Russian Revolution: desertions).  Another colourful saying of the time among socialists - see the top of this section - was: ‘a bayonet is a tool with a worker at each end’….


            (*) I am very pleased to see websites devoted to the atrocity of men being shot for cowardice when they were almost certainly suffering from shell-

shock. See, e.g.: 


See also: Hundreds of first world war soldiers were shot for cowardice. Chloe Dewe Mathews's photographs of their execution sites provide a poignant

memorial, writes Sean O'Hagan (a book will be published, there will also be a Tate exhibition):



[Note: there is also much discussion these days about PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) – see: - where there are very disturbing figures concerning the number

of returning soldiers who have either PTSD or who are violent. My own reaction is that, as someone says in the article, the military train you to be violent, so

what can anyone expect, unless there is a re-training on returning to civilian life.]

- it is interesting to note how the feminist movement was affected by the war: at this stage, the movement’s main concern was extending the vote to women (women’s suffrage). Some members put their patriotism above their feminism perhaps, and supported the war. Others set up the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, after a conference at The Hague in 1915. The original meeting brought together over 1,000 women opposed to World War I, and the organization now has 50,000 members in 26 countries, including several Nobel Prize winners. (See also Weller 1985).

- to illustrate the overlap between many of these groups and movements, Clara Zetkin organised women within the socialist movement with an International Women’s Socialist Conference in Switzerland in 1915. This actually brought together women from both the warring and neutral countries. For many feminists, war was - is - regarded as a masculine activity.

Other international organizations were set up:

-         the War Resisters’ International (WRI) was formed in 1921, (and originally called PACO, which is Esperanto for peace).  At its first “proper international conference” there were representatives from 20 countries (Carter op cit p 9), at one point including the Soviet Union, Japan, Hong Kong, Mexico and Canada. Its main aim was to assist conscientious objectors. Although it was supported by some famous people, including Einstein at one point, it opposed alternatives to military service, and consequently put itself apart from other peace groups.

-         the League of Nations was set up after the war, and – Kurlansky says – “successfully averted war between Sweden and Finland in 1921 and between Bulgaria and Greece in 1925” (op cit p. 128). The Permanent Court of International Justice at The Hague was also opened in 1922.

World War II (1939 – 45):

The Build-up to War, and Resistance to the War:

In the inter-war period, as noted, anti-war sentiment was high: leading scientists, in particular Albert Einstein, were pacifist; so were many church figures; and organizations such as the Peace Pledge Union and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom grew larger (rounded in 1915, the latter had 120 branches around America).

On the other hand fascism was also growing: Hitler came to power in 1933 (as Kurlansky notes, this was four years after the publication of All Quiet on the Western Front, the anti-war novel by Erich Maria Remarque – which Hitler promptly banned, ordering the novel to be burned. Its author fled to Switzerland). General Franco led an attempted coup in Spain in 1936, with military assistance from Hitler and Mussolini.

The reaction of other governments was not to get involved in Spain, but many civilians joined the resistance, to support the Spanish Republic. Of course, this was not a pacifist movement, but the experience of the fighting, and especially of the in-fighting between communists, anarchists and communists convinced one student, David Dellinger, that there had to be a “better way of fighting, a nonviolent way” (Kurlansky op cit p 129). Dellinger, influenced by the socialist Eugene Debs and his opposition to World War I, went to Germany, and found that many Germans believed that America supported Hitler because of the role that American companies such as General Motors, Ford, and ITT were playing in Germany.  To the leaders of these corporations the enemy was communism not fascism.

Some prominent British politicians also took this view. Lord Halifax, Foreign Secretary in the Conservative Government led by Chamberlain, wrote in his diary how he had told Hitler that he “was not blind to what [Hitler] had done for Germany, and to the achievement… of keeping Communism out of his country.”  Chamberlain himself believed, (as did the economist John Maynard Keynes) that Germany was suffering from the terms imposed after World War I. Chamberlain thought that because of this Hitler could be persuaded to negotiate. The Munich agreement – to allow Hitler to take over the Sudetenland (a German region of Czechoslovakia) – made without Czechoslovakia’s involvement! – was expected to keep the peace. Subsequently it has been condemned as “appeasement”, but Kurlansky claims that at the time it was widely supported.

Political and business leaders did nothing to oppose Hitler in the decade before the Munich agreement, says Kurlansky, and the general feeling in the west only turned against fascism when Hitler and Stalin signed their notorious 1939 pact. “Antifascism was a temporary condition that only lasted through World War II.” After the war, de-Nazification only lasted a few years, as “Numerous former high-ranking Nazis were left to assume important roles in the rebuilding of what became West Germany.” (op cit p 132)

Chamberlain was however opposed at the time, and this was not only by pro-war figures such as Churchill and Eden, but also by some pacifists (e.g. Garrison Villard, writing in The Nation in 1938). 

As is well known, it took the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to sway many Americans out of their opposition to war. During the war there were more conscientious objectors in America (42,973) than there had been in World War I (three times as many, with four times as many going to prison) (loc cit). In fact, one in every six inmates in federal prisons was a conscientious objector, and whilst there they undertook struggles against racial segregation (among the first acts of the American civil rights movement – see forthcoming notes: civil rights movement).

In Britain 60,000 men and 1,000 women applied as COs. Conscientious Objectors would be called before a Tribunal to explain their reasons, and had to argue their case, often against hostile criticisms. The Tribunal then decided if the CO might be made to do alternative service such as ambulance work, or they might be - as many were - put in prison. Of the 60,000, 18,000 were turned down, and 3,000 were given unconditional exemption. The rest were given either conditional exemption - i.e. they had to do work such as in the ambulance service, as an alternative to military service - or they were put on the military register as non-combatants. At the end of the war 5,000 men and 500 women had been charged with offences against the conscription law and sent to prison. Likewise, among those registered for military non-combatant service, 1,000 were court-martialled and sent to prison. (See the PPU references given above for more details).

It is too easy to see this war in retrospect as a war to save the Jews, and as a “just war”. In reality it was, like all wars, a consequence of inter-state rivalry/geopolitics, nationalism and economic factors (especially the slump in Germany after the First World War).  Mark Kurlansky points out that whilst World War I propaganda was vicious in its portrayal of the Kaiser as a “lunatic” and monstrous – and German soldiers were said to rape nuns and murder children, and there was even a story in the Times of a factory that turned bodies into munitions… yet during the Second World War there was no such propaganda, even though the atrocities being committed were as bad as any of those fantasized during the previous war. Moreover, and it is hard to believe but true, there was hardly any mention during the war of the Holocaust in which 6 million Jews died.

More controversially, it can be argued that the war hastened the mass extermination of the Jews. As late as 1940 the Germans were considering moving the Jews to Madagascar (which would have required the agreement of Britain and France – impossible in the midst of a war). Concentration camps became death camps only in 1941, after the invasion of the Soviet Union, when the Germans had East European Jews to “deal with” – and the “final solution” (Die Endlösung) was not posited until 1942 (at a secret conference in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee). (op cit p 136)

It is also probable that the Allies knew about the death camps as early as 1942/3, having deciphered documents and intercepted German communications – as well as receiving information from a Polish agent, from the World Jewish Congress in Geneva, and from the Polish government in exile. Nothing was done. Even when representatives of the Jewish Agency for Palestine met Churchill in the summer of 1944 and urged him to bomb railway lines to stop deportations, they were told nothing could be done (we could apparently design bombs to bounce on the water and hit a dam, but not to hit railway lines?)

A Brief Note on Bombing in World War II:

Kurlansky quotes Ralph DiGia: “in war one becomes what the enemy is accused of being.” Of course, the Allies did not operate mass extermination camps (though we did have POW camps, and camps for Germans on the Channel Islands). But one of the controversial aspects of our conduct of the war was the mass bombing of German cities. Ever since Guernica in 1937 (when German planes bombed a Basque town) and even before, in 1914 when the German zeppelin attack on London killed 127 people, the British political leadership has spoken out against the bombing of civilians.

All this changed in World War II: in late 1940 the Germans bombed Coventry (it took all night) killing 600 residents and destroying the cathedral. In retaliation, British Bomber Command was ordered to raid German cities – the aim being to demoralize the population (even though the inhabitants of Coventry and London had not been domoralised!). The bombing went on to the end of the war, killing 300,000 German civilians, and wounding almost 800,000. Of these, some 100,000 died in Dresden, bombed towards the end of the war (1945). The fire-storm created by the bombing meant that many victims were burned to death. Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse Five, which describes this, is one of the most powerful anti-war literary works I know of.

Shortly after Dresden the Americans firebombed Tokyo, killing about 100,000 – and of course the final atrocity of the war was the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (see Section 2).


Other Conflicts Since World War II that affected the peace movement:

Along with the concern over nuclear weapons, in the 1960s the Vietnam War helped to revive the peace movement. In 1968 there were 500,000 US troops in Vietnam, and because of the widespread availability of television, and the good coverage given by reporters, people at home in the US could see the nature and effects of the conflict – a significant change in the way war was understood. There were massive demonstrations, and civil disobedience, in the US and other countries.

It has to be said however, that not all this protest was based on straightforward anti-war sentiment: the New Left, which arose when western communists became disillusioned with the Soviet Union, especially after 1956, had campaigned against nuclear weapons. Some “hard leftists” - a vocal minority - were actually pro-communist or Maoist, (the cry “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh” was common), and the focus of their opposition was on American military activity, because it was American (and imperialist) and not because it was military!

Eventually the Americans were forced to withdraw, and in my view this was due to a combination of factors: public opposition; the ongoing economic costs of the conflict; and awareness that the war would probably not be won. Of course, the Vietnam experience left its mark on US administrations, and on the American public ever since – hence the unease that is provoked when the current Iraq war is compared to Vietnam. (For example, Mike Marqusee [G260108] remembering the Tet offensive of 40 years ago: 45,000 soldiers of the NLF of South Vietnam and the North Vietnam army attacked military installations, police stations, prisons government offices etc in the south – shifting the war from rural to urban areas. The Americans fought back ferociously, destroying Ben Tre “to save it”. The chief of South Vietnam’s police was filmed shooting a bound prisoner in the head. Attitudes to the war changed from then on – and the American sense of superior fire-power was damaged in the public mind. Perhaps a half of the NLF/North Vietnam soldiers were killed, and they failed to bring about uprisings in the south, but two months later Johnson offered to open negotiations with the North. Marqusee says the student riots of 1968 took off “in the wake of Tet” – in Germany and Italy, then the US, France, Mexico and Pakistan.  Though American casualties began to decline, the toll rose on the other side: “perhaps half the 5 million killed in the war, according to Vietnam government figures, perished during these post-Tet years”. Marqusee warns that “there are few things as dangerous as an imperial power in retreat.” Unless the Americans leave Iraq swiftly, we could see “prolonged devastation.” See

The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, in 1968, was met with strong non-violent popular resistance – as were other Soviet incursions into countries regarded as within their sphere of influence (e.g. Hungary). Later, in the 1980s, independent peace movements began to spring up in Eastern European countries. The existence of these organisations, it could be argued, indicated that communism was breaking down; certainly the communist movement was split over such issues as disarmament. In Czechoslovakia, for example, which was subject to a repressive and authoritarian regime after the defeat of the 1968 attempt at liberalization, Charter 77 called for disarmament and détente, as well as for human rights and democratic reform (Carter 1992 p 112). By this time the peace movement was primarily concerned with nuclear weapons, and this meant that movements that started up within a particular country, and in response to that country’s problems, nevertheless inevitably came to link up with the wider movement. Carter (1992) deals in some detail with the reaction of organisations such as Charter 77 to the growth of the European Nuclear Disarmament movement, END. See below: END.

Other disputes, such as between Israel and Palestine, or within Northern Ireland, led to the growth of peace movements - such as Peace Now in Israel, some tendencies within the Palestinian intifada (see Carter 1992 p 237, Ackermann and Du Vall 2000 Chapter 11), and the Peace People in northern Ireland. But their aims were not so tied in with the global movement. European peace groups have also been involved in trying to resolve conflicts such as Israel-Palestine (e.g. the International Solidarity Movement, see, and more recently Iraq (e.g. Voices in the Wilderness, see and It is surprising in how many disputes across the world non-violence is being applied!

The Role of Pressure-Groups.

Within any broad social movement pressure-groups are frequently established (see Chapter 7: Youth and Counter-Culture). In the case of the peace movement, these groups flourished in the context of opposition to nuclear weapons – most notably CND, Committee of 100, and END. See further: Section 2.

As mentioned above, the extent of the world-wide arms trade has led to the setting up of an active and effective pressure group – the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT):

It may well be that these groups, since they are established and have a long-term objective, are at least as effective as large-scale demonstrations, or direct action. The key does seem to be to find ways of persuading governments to change their behaviour. This conclusion might not be to the liking of anarchists or some pacifists, but it is surely the most realistic? I leave further appraisal to: Section 2, which focuses on the effectiveness of anti-nuclear protest, and Section 5 (Conclusion).



Main References this section (see also Section 5):


Peter Ackermann and Jack Duvall: A Force More Powerful: a century of non-violent conflict, Palgrave (2000)

April Carter: Peace Movements, Longman (1992)

Michael Barratt Brown: Models in Political Economy, Pelican (1984)

Michael Kidron: Western Capitalism Since the War, Penguin (1968)

Mark Kurlansky: Non-Violence, Cape (2006)

Dave Lamb: Mutinies 1817 – 1920 (1979) (Solidarity pamphlet)

C. Wright Mills: The Power Elite, (1956)

Andrew Rothstein: Soldiers Strikes of 1919, Journeyman (1985)

Ken Weller: ‘Don’t be a Soldier!’ Journeyman/London History Workshop (1985)