Peace movement

Peace movement in Europe

In the Past

A world-wide movement aiming at the abolition of war, more especially international war. While fighting has always been one of the chief occupations of mankind; while ideas of national greatness are largely associated with battles, campaigns and sieges; and while the heroes of poetry, history and monumental art are mostly famous soldiers; in modern times, nevertheless, the opinion has rapidly gained ground all over the world that war is a terrible evil which ought to be prevented as far as possible, and sooner or later to be done away with altogether. Some writers, notably in Germany, defend it as a biologic necessity, contending that it is a phase of the universal struggle for existence and hence a part of natures plan for securing race hardihood and keeping the growth of population within bounds. Others, again mainly Germans (particularly Prussians), even glorify it as the noblest of human activities, a divinely ordered means of preventing the inhabitants of the world from becoming effeminate, pleasure-loving and morally flaccid. To this argument, however, the opponents of war reply that co-operation is just as much a part of nature’s law as fighting, and that inter-tribal slaughter is a human specialty virtually unknown to the lowers animals, among whom individuals attack and kill one another only for food. As for the moral benefits of war, moreover, it is urged that these come also from fire, flood, famine, earthquake and pestilence, which nobody thinks of listing among the good things of life; to a certain extent, also, good by-products come from dueling and private brawling, which almost everybody admits it is well to have got rid of.

Aside from the few extremists who extol war as a good thing, and those at the other pole who denounce it as the sum of all villianies and something to be avoided at any cost, the great mass of thoughtful men regard it as indeed an evil, but as sometimes a necessary and praiseworthy alternative to still greater evils. They hold that slaughter and destruction on a large scale, with all of the attendant soldering and misery, constitute ethically the most inhuman, rationally the most absurd, and economically the most expensive mode of settling international conflicts of opinion and interest. Accordingly, they are working to bring about a form of world-organization in which the nations shall co-operate to abolish this ancient scourge and at the same time find a moral equivalent for its valuable by-products. In’ the year 1910 the well-known philanthropist, Mr. Andrew Carnegie, whose generosity rendered possible the creation of the great institution known as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, summed up the present-day attitude toward war by calling it “the foulest blot upon our civilization” — a characterization amply warranted by the colossal struggle of the World War, unless that struggle shall eventually prove to have been indeed a war against war.

This new attitude of aversion toward war is a part of the great humanitarian movement which set in shortly before the French Revolution. War violates the Rights of Man — the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Its immediate effect is the destruction on a large scale of life itself, which has come to seem more precious than it used to seem, and also of many of the values, both material and spiritual, which ennoble life and make it worth living. It replaces the orderly constructive processes of society with an orgy of destruction, treating the common man as mere cannon-fodder, while its immediate benefits fall to only a few leaders who get their reward in “glory” or increased wealth and power, that is, in the gratification of their vanity.

In spite of all that, however, it is generally recognized that a brief frenzy of successful war may avert from a whole nation a long era of dependence, oppression, humiliation and economic misery. Hence war, particularly defensive war, sometimes justifies itself to the humane and philosophic mind as a preparation for a better time to come — it is a paroxysm in which the men and women of a particular nation and epoch sacrifice themselves for the sake of their descendants. Consequently sensible and conscientious peace-workers have no sympathy with the doctrine of “peace at any price,” but look upon peace rather as a by-product of freedom and justice, a state of affairs rendered desirable not merely by the absence of war, but by the presence of conditions that make for human welfare and happiness — conditions oftentimes not to be established by any other means than war itself. In his book entitled ‘A World in Ferment’ Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler expresses himself regarding peace as follows: “Peace is not an ideal at all; it is a state attendant upon the achievement of an ideal The ideal itself is human liberty, justice, and the honorable conduct of an orderly and humane society. Given this, a durable peace follows naturally as a matter of course; without this, there is no peace, but only a rule of force until liberty and justice revolt against it in search of peace.” It is necessary to distinguish, therefore, between the practically minded workers for international peace, who seek definite remedies for definite dangers and evils, and the radical pacifists, who condemn and denounce all war under all circumstances. In 1918 the sentiment of the influential and far-sighted peace-workers of the nations allied against Germany was almost unanimous in favor of a vigorous prosecution of the war to a victorious conclusion, that being considered the shortest and surest road to an enduring peace.

In view of the fact that war is only a means of overcoming a difficulty that exists between two more or less powerful groups, its abolition of course presupposes the substitution of some other means to that end. For we have no reason to expect that controversies between nations will ever entirely cease to arise, any more than we have reason to suppose that quarrels between individuals will ever come absolutely to an end. The fact of the matter is, indeed, that man is naturally a fighting animal; his instinct impels him to attack any fellow-being who provokes him or stands in the way of the realization of his desires or the obtainment of what he considers his rights. History and experience prove, moreover, that destructive wars, no less than private quarrels, sometimes originate in trivial causes which might have been removed.

Thus the International Peace Movement takes it for granted that controversies between nations are inevitable, and concerns itself with creating a state of affairs wherein nations will not hastily resort to war for the purpose of settling their disputes or achieving their ends. Its aim, in other words, is to gain time for discussion and the cooling of passion, and then to provide peaceful, legal and therefore honorable ways of adjusting differences. This is frequently done by diplomacy, many imminent wars having been happily averted by peaceful negotiations conducted by duly authorized representatives of the opposing groups. But diplomacy usually involves compromise, which, in turn, implies it willingness on the part of the disputants to make reciprocal concessions in the interest of peace. When a compromise cannot be effected and diplomacy is unable to bring about a settlement, the opposing groups have but three alternatives to choose from: (1) they can leave the question(s) at issue unsettled; (2) they can go to war; (3) they can submit the question(s) to an impartial court of arbitration for a decision in accordance with the principles of justice and reason. The first is always unsatisfactory, sometimes dangerous and not infrequently impossible; the second is coming to be considered more and more a hideous anachronism; and the third is the primary object of the movement under consideration.

The sentiment of the world at large against war is by no means of recent origin, although it has been greatly quickened during the past generation by reason of the fact that armed conflicts between nations involve no longer relatively small numbers of fighting men, but whole vast populations, combatants and non-combatants alike, with the result that they are more destructive and calamitous than ever before. It is true, however, that there have always been individual writers, Utopian dreamers, who were opposed to the settlement of controversies by force, not only because they were shocked at the suffering thus caused, but also because they saw that war outraged justice and substituted might for right. But while denunciations of war on these and other grounds have come down to us from the earliest days of recorded history, and are of comparatively frequent occurrence in ancient, mediæval and early modern literature, suggestions as to efficacious means of avoiding it, that is, as to acceptable substitutes for it, are relatively few and far between. The idea of resorting to arbitration has been envisaged by many high-minded and public-spirited men, but only here and there do we find feasible schemes for putting that idea into practice. Moreover, even if a few projects not altogether hopeless were proposed, they could not be put into effect until a large public sentiment was created in their favor. For as long as the popular masses remained ignorant of or indifferent to the evils of war, regarding it as glorious or as concerning a comparatively small number of leaders and fighting men, it was impossible that sporadic proposals looking toward the peaceful settlement of controversies and emanating from a few enlightened leaders of thought should lead to any practical results.

It is not strange that mankind has been very slow to realize that any controversy or difficulty which can be settled at all can be settled by law as well as by force. It has taken countless ages to do away with private brawling, and the world is by no means entirely rid of it yet. The truth is that war, in a certain sense, is a “time-honored institution,” that is, nations have always been in the habit of attacking one another whenever they have considered such action either necessary or desirable, whenever the war-passion has been aroused. Ancient action-patterns have developed in the nerve-substance of the human animal, so that when a stimulus is offered in the form of a real or imagined danger, or an insult, or a provocation of any kind whatsoever, we clench our fists or seize our weapons and get ready to fight, just as another sort of stimulus will move us to eat, or to tremble with fear of ghosts, or to seek the gratification of our sexual instinct. It has been shown that most wars, historically, result from land-crowding, need of expansion-room, but according to modern conceptions of right and wrong a nation which seeks to acquire territory belonging to another nation by force commits a crime analogous to that of the individual who steals his neighbor’s corn and justifies the theft on the ground that he was hungry. However that may be, it is not to be denied that fighting is an ingrown habit and not a rational activity, and that the impulse to fight can be counteracted only by a long and slow process of education; at the same time, however, that education must provide a moral equivalent for war, lest enduring peace shall result in converting men from lions into sheep.

However we explain the phenomenon or account for its development, the fact remains that the sentiment against war has of late become more general and more insistent, with the result that at the present time the advocates of peaceful settlement are found in all classes of society and are becoming numerous enough to exert an important influence upon national and international affairs. Not only are enlightened peace-workers of many kinds (statesmen, philosophers, juris-consults, economists, journalists, historians, poets, scholars) constantly giving oral and written expressions to their views all over the world, but whole parties and sects have adopted tho abolition of war (universal disarmament) as one of the main planks in their platforms. Moreover, constructive minds are everywhere engaged in advocating, measures and developing plans for bringing about the substitution of a peaceful and legal procedure for war as a means of settling differences that threaten to involve nations; and the increasing number of international congresses and conferences held for the purpose of effecting a general agreement concerning all sorts of economic, commercial, political and social questions bears witness to the success of the efforts that are being put forth to the end of removing the causes known to be responsible for disastrous conflicts resulting in the wholesale destruction of life and property.

Since the beginning of the 19th century numberless peace societies of one kind and another have been created in different parts of the world, most of them without sufficient resources at their disposal for carrying on very extensive propaganda, but some of them large and wealthy enough to make their influence felt in the counsels of world politics. These peace societies, the first of which was founded in New York in 1815, and the second in London in 1816, may be called the mainspring of the International Peace Movement, since their membership includes the most prominent workers in all countries, and since they are constituted for the express and exclusive purpose of dealing with questions of war and peace. To a considerable extent they co-operate with one another, and while their policies and methods differ more or less, their objects, generally speaking, are identical and may be summarized as follows: (1) to educate public opinion regarding the evils of war and the advantages of peaceful settlement; (2) to advocate friendly agreement and co-operation in the regulation of matters affecting the family of nations; (3) to promulgate and popularize plans for the abolition of war and the perpetuation of peace; (4) to create in favor of such plans a public sentiment such as will incline responsible statesmen to apply them, with the necessary modifications, to the existing political conditions; (5) to bring about, ultimately, the establishment of an International Council or a Permanent Court of Arbitration to which all questions arising between nations shall be submitted by compulsion for adjudication on the basis of a universally accepted International Law.

It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to make out a complete list of the peace societies that have sprung into existence all over the world in the course of the last few decades, and especially since the beginning of the great World War in 1914. The fact of the matter is, indeed, that almost every little town, especially in the United States, has its peace society, so that there are literally hundreds of them. ‘The International Peace Year-book’ (1915), published hy the National Peace Council (established in England in 1905 by the Second National Peace Congress of Great Britain and Ireland “to effect a closer union of the [British] societies, and to assist them in a sincere and earnest promotion of the world’s peace”) contains a list of peace societies covering some 40 pages; most of these mentioned do not claim an international character, however, while many of those which claim it scarcely possess it. Suffice it to say, accordingly, that there are at least 10 or 12 larger organizations, of which the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace may be called one of the most important, whose membership comprises the leaders of the peace movement in all countries of the civilized world, and whose activity is therefore truly international.

The question as to whether the world will ever be entirely rid of war is one which nobody can answer. It is “a consummation devoutly to be wished,” but it is by no means a foregone conclusion. If perpetual peace ever reigns on earth, it will be, as stated above, the result of a long and slow process of education. This may take a great many years, and meanwhile the stormy passions that make for war demand immediate action. Certain it is, at all events, that acceptable substitutes for war cannot be created over-night and the habit of reporting to arbitration for the settlement of international differences cannot be generated on the spur of the moment. Every day, however, the International Peace Movement is gathering more and more adherents and acquiring more and more momentum, and it is more than possible that this will ultimately result in the creation of a world-wide public sentiment strong enough to bring about the definitive banishment of the scourge of war from among peoples.


During the Cold War (1947–89), the West German peace movement concentrated on the abolition of nuclear technology, particularly weapons, from West Germany and Europe. Most activists stridently attacked both the United States and Soviet Union. Conservative critics repeatedly warned it was infiltrated by agents from the East German secret police, the Stasi.

After 1989, the cause of peace was espoused by Green parties across Europe. It sometimes exercised significant influence over policy, e.g., as during 2002 when the German Greens influenced German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to oppose involvement in Iraq. The Greens controlled of the German Foreign Ministry under Joschka Fischer (a Green and the single most popular politician in Germany at the time). Fischer sought to limit German involvement in the War on Terrorism; he joined with French President Jacques Chirac whose opposition in the UN Security Council was decisive in limiting support for the U.S. plan to invade Iraq.

United Kingdom

Post–World War II peace-movement efforts in the United Kingdom were initially focused on the dissolution of the British Empire and the rejection of imperialism by the United States and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The anti-nuclear movement sought to “opt out” of the Cold War (see below under U.S.) and rejected such ideas as “Britain’s Little Independent Nuclear Deterrent” in part on the grounds that it (BLIND) was in contradiction even with MAD (see below).

Anti-nuclear campaigning in the early 1950s was at first focused on the small Direct Action Committee (DAC), who organised the first of the Aldermaston Marches in 1958. The DAC were later to merge into the much larger Committee of 100. The formation of CND tapped widespread popular fear and opposition to nuclear weapons following the development of the first hydrogen bomb, and in the late 1950s and early 1960s anti-nuclear marches attracted large followings, especially to the annual Aldermaston march at Easter.

Popular opposition to nuclear weapons produced a Labour Party resolution for unilateral nuclear disarmament at the 1960 Party Conference, but it was overturned the following year and did not appear on later agendas. This experience disillusioned many anti-nuclear protesters with the Labour Party, in whom they had previously put their hopes. Subsequently there was a strong anti-parliamentary current in the British peace movement, and it has been argued that during the 1960s anarchism became as influential as socialism.

Two years after the formation of CND Bertrand Russell, its president, resigned to form the Committee of 100, which was to undertake civil disobedience in the form of sit-down demonstrations in central London and at nuclear bases around the UK. Russell said that these were needed because the press had grown indifferent to CND and because large scale direct action could force the government to change its policy. A hundred prominent people, many in the arts, put their names to the organisation. Very large numbers of demonstrators were essential to this strategy, but the violence of the police, the arrest and imprisonment of demonstrators, and pre-emptive arrests for conspiracy made support dwindle rapidly. Although several eminent people took part in sit-down demonstrations (including Russell, whose imprisonment at the age of 89 was widely reported) many of the 100 signatories were inactive.

As the Committee of 100 had a non-hierarchical structure and no formal membership, many local groups sprang up calling themselves Committee of 100. This helped the promulgation of civil disobedience but it produced policy confusion and, as the decade progressed, Committee of 100 groups engaged in actions on many social issues not directly related to war and peace.

The VSC (Vietnam Solidarity Campaign) led by Tariq Ali mounted several very large and violent demonstrations against the Vietnam war in 67/68 but the first anti Vietnam demonstration was at the American Embassy in London and took place in 1965.

The peace movement was later associated with the Peace camp movement as Labour moved “more to the centre” under Prime Minister Tony Blair.

By early 2003, the peace and anti-war movement, mostly grouped together under the banner of the Stop the War Coalition, was powerful enough to cause several of Blair’s cabinet to resign, and hundreds of Labour Party MPs to vote against their government. Blair’s motion to support militarily the U.S. plan to invade Iraq continued only due to support from the UK Conservative Party. Protests against the invasion of Iraq were particularly vocal in Britain.