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70 years ago: It's still the same

The distinguished physicist, astronomer and mathematician, Arthur Eddington, was a First World War conscientious objector and life-long pacifist (and a keen cyclist, devising the Eddington Secondary Number which measures a cyclist’s achievements; his own E-number was 84). One of the pieces Peace News published to mark his death on 22 November 1944 looked at what he’d written to explain his continuing pacifism during the Second World War.

In 1940, the Ministry of Information published a leaflet containing extracts from articles or statements by Dr CEM Joad, Bertrand Russell, Dr Maude Royden, and AA Milne, under the title ‘It’s different now’. The leaflet suggested that pacifists should abandon views they held previously and join the war effort.

Sir Arthur Eddington was one of the four equally prominent pacifists who explained in Peace News on Nov 8 1940, under the heading ‘It’s still the same’, why they had not abandoned their faith. The four contributions were also published in leaflet form by the PPU. Here is Sir Arthur’s statement:

‘I have found in the events of the last twelve months no ground for any weakening of my pacifist convictions. It has become clearer than ever that the choice is between pacifism and a drastic militarisation of the nation (continuing in peace-time) such as few would have contemplated two years ago.

It is those who thought an intermediate course was practicable who have been disillusioned. They have seen that nowadays war-preparedness is a peril rather than a security, if it is not carried to such a pitch that the resources, the liberties, and the whole mind of the nation are surrendered to it as in the countries against whom we pit our strength.

The faith of a pacifist must, I think, continue to rest on idealism or religious conviction rather than any claim to political foresight; at least it is not for me (more familiar with thee orderly ways of the stars than the vagaries of men) to say what would have been, and may yet be, the outcome of a pacifist policy.

But now we see more definitely to what end the alternative is leading, there is less reason to doubt that the idealist policy is also the most practical policy.’

Selected by Albert Beale, author of Against All War: fifty years of Peace News 1936-1986, from the 1 December 1944 issue of Peace News.

Topics: PN-related