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Articles from the Peace News log: War and peace

Articles from the Peace News log.
For articles in this category from the whole site, look here


In some ways it is hard to believe it has now been over a century since the guns of the First World War fell silent. The 'war to end all wars' is so deeply engraved on our national consciousness that even now, when there is no living memory of the conflict, people gather to speak, remember and reflect on that awful, bloody war.

I observed the two minute silence at 11am in front of my television at home, unable to face the militarism (not to mention the crowds) taking place down the river at the Whitehall Cenotaph. The service in Tavistock Square, politely timed at 1pm for those who wished to attend both services in person, is far more my speed. Here there is no marching, no saluting, no talk of the glorious dead. Instead there is quiet reflection, poetry, and a deep sadness that far from ending all wars, 'The Great War' sowed the seeds for the next major conflict, and the Cold and proxy wars that followed. There was a theme this year at Tavistock Square, and a pledge – 'No More War – Let's Make Peace Happen'.

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If British peacemakers of the early twentieth century had been listened to, we could have avoided the rise of many destructive movements.

Each year, around Remembrance Day, people all over the UK uphold the memory of those who have died in war. Some people wear red poppies to remember allied soldiers. Others wear white poppies to remember civilians and soldiers killed in war and to express their hope for a culture of peace.

Frank J. Stevens, a Friends Ambulance Unit ambulance driver, with his vehicle in Wolfsburg, Germany, ?1945

This year, the St John Ambulance volunteer first aid group announced it would allow its members to wear the white poppy on their uniforms. This is consistent with the group's history, as St John Ambulance was one of the bodies under whose auspices the pacifist Friends Ambulance Unit risked their lives to tend the wounded in both world wars.

However, any hope that the national conversation about remembrance might be becoming more tolerant were quickly dashed. When the Peace Pledge Union’s coordinator Symon Hill was invited to ITV’s _Good Morning Britain_, he was barely allowed to speak by the show’s presenter. Piers Morgan took issue with the idea that anyone other than allied soldiers could be included in remembrance, shouting: 'WOULD YOU INCLUDE ISIS SOLDIERS?' 'WOULD YOU INCLUDE NAZIS?' After the encounter, Hill revealed that he’d had so many messages saying he should be killed that he stopped counting them.

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Renowned US author to give talk on the courageous men and women who opposed the First World War.

Image7pm, Friday 17 January 2014, London: Award-winning author Adam Hochschild [2] will be speaking about his history of the First World War To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914 - 1918 – the only recent history of the conflict to foreground the anti-war movement – at a talk at Friends House in London on Friday 17 January [3].

This will be his only talk in the UK in 2014, the War's centenary year. He will be available for a limited number of media interviews on Thursday 16 January: please contact Peace News on promos [at] peacenews.info to find out if there are still slots available.

Winner of the 2012 Dayton Literary Peace Prize and a finalist for the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award, To End All Wars is a unique history of the First World War, featuring a 'cast of characters ... more revealing than any but the greatest novelists could invent', including 'generals, trade unionists, feminists, agents provocateurs, a writer turned propagandist, a lion tamer turned revolutionary, a cabinet minister, a crusading working-class journalist, three soldiers brought before a firing squad at dawn, and a young idealist from the Midlands who, long after his struggle against the war was over, would be murdered by the Soviet secret police' [4].

The talk, which is co-hosted by Peace News [1] and Quaker Peace and Social Witness[5], is also the launch event for a series of ten new posters by artist and Peace News co-editor Emily Johns, celebrating 'the people and movements that opposed the First World War' [6].

Adam Hochschild said: "The First World War changed the world for the worse in every conceivable way, but despite its folly and devastation people in Britain have one thing they should feel proud of. From 1914 to 1918, this country had the largest and most outspoken antiwar movement of any of the Western Allies, filled with brave, remarkable and largely unknown men and women who deserve to be remembered as national heroes."

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PN invited activists from around the movement to record what they were doing when Peace News turned 75.  Our birthday was on 6 June 2011.

Looking back, looking forward

So Peace News was first published on 6th June 1936.  6th June was also, as it happens,  the date of  other momentous events – the D-day landings in 1944, the publication of  George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1949, the bombing of Haiphong during the Vietnam War in 1972.

2011 seems to be a year of  significant anniversaries: 75 years of Peace News… 50 Years of Amnesty International…  and good grief, very nearly 10 years  of our local peace group,  Bangor & Ynys Môn Peace & Justice.  Still meeting every week, still attracting new members, and most importantly still part of a lively network of independent groups campaigning across Wales for peace and justice, many of them set up during the tumultuous autumn of 2001.

On the agenda for our Bangor meeting on 6 June 2011 were plans for a poetry reading for the Shaker Aamer campaign, as well as options for a public meeting to consider the Arab Spring in relation to the situation in Palestine.  There were discussions about Bradley Manning, about the use of depleted uranium weapons and about the next Gaza flotilla.  Also discussed was an inspiring letter from Bustan Qaraaqa, a community permaculture project established in Palestine by former Bangor Students.

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Virginia Moffatt on the "p" word ...

Chris’ recent  stay in Wandsworth Prison has led to some interesting conversations lately. And that’s got me thinking about when I became a pacifist and why I still am one.

I’m not sure I can pinpoint an exact moment in my life when pacifism made sense to me. But I know the milestones. The first was reading the World War 1 poets – particularly Wilfred Owen - whose  lines in Dulce et Decorum Est still resonate  with me today: “My friend, you would not tell with such high zest/To children ardent for some desperate glory, /The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est/ Pro patria mori.”  (The old lie being, ”It is sweet and fitting to die for your country.”) Then there was the terror of growing up in an age where a nuclear war seemed a real possibility. I was an over-imaginative teenager, and spent many a night thinking planes overhead were Russian bombers. Finally, the Falklands War terrified me in a different way, as I realised many friends were turning 18, old enough to join up if the war escalated.

I never did much about it as a teenager. I vaguely thought war was wrong, but most of my reasoning was due to the pity induced by poetry and my own self-interest in imagining the effects of war on me.  Anything more than that was squashed my Dad’s stern warning that MI5 monitored CND protesters, and the sense that the War he’d fought in (World War 2) must have been OK because it got rid of Hitler didn’t it? I certainly never thought about it in the light of  my Christian faith, and at University proudly considered myself apolitical. (In fact, I was anything but, being involved in a variety of community groups, Amnesty International and the student newspaper, I just had a narrow view of politics at the time.)

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A paper submitted to the Movement for the Abolition of War

Zimbardo suggests that just as the trial of Nazi official Adolf Eichmann demonstrated the ‘banality of evil’, so a survey of known good actions demonstrated the ‘banality of heroism’. He suggests that most people seem to be capable of heroism, which includes a willingness to risk social sacrifices (in terms of ridicule or ostracism or harm to one’s career) as well as physical danger, and long-term, enduring, considered action as well as spontaneous responses to unforeseen events.

What people committed to the abolition of war need to do, as well as dismantling military policies and institutions, is to increase the capacity of people both inside and outside the military to stand up for their values even in the face of ridicule, disapproval, ostracism, and damage to one’s career. What many of us find most difficult is that taking a stand on serious matters can involve status and economic losses not only for ourselves, but for our families and loved ones.

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A paper submitted to the Movement for the Abolition of War

This violation of conscience may occur as much in the pacifist society as in the munitions factory or the research laboratory.

Having said this, different institutions and different social frameworks make different kinds of behaviour more or less likely. In professor Philip Zimbardo’s famous Stanford Prison Experiment, college students were randomly allocated the roles of guard or prisoner in a mock prison. Zimbardo wrote later: ‘We selected only those judged to be emotionally stable, physically healthy, mature, law-abiding citizens.’ The two-week experiment was terminated after six days and nights because of the escalating abuse of the prisoners, and the evidence of unbearable psychological distress. Zimbardo wrote in his book The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil (2007) that the Stanford Prison Experiment was ‘a powerful illustration of the potentially toxic impact of bad systems and bad situations in making good people behave in pathological ways that are contrary to their nature.’

An extremely important study into war was carried out by anthropologist Douglas P Fry, in his book Beyond War: The Human Potential For Peace (2007). Fry investigated the historical evidence for war, finding that though anatomically modern humans have existed for 200,000 years or so, the earliest possible evidence for war came only 14,000 years ago. (Evidence could consist of unambiguous fortifications, specialized weapons such as clubs and daggers not used in hunting, depictions of martial scenes in art work, substantial number of burials with projectile points either embedded in bones or lying within the frames of skeletons, massive fires followed by change in cultural artefacts, reduced number of male remains in cemeteries, suggesting significant male death elsewhere.)

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A paper submitted to the Movement for the Abolition of War

It turns out that it is quite hard to train soldiers to kill.

Former US army ranger, and later professor of military science at Arkansas State University, lieutenant colonel Dave Grossman has written two books dealing with the psychology of inflicting lethal violence: On Killing – The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society (1995); and (with Loren Christensen) On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace (2004).

Grossman started with a startling historical fact. US brigadier general SLA Marshall, a US Army historian during World War II, found through interviews with thousands of soldiers immediately after they had been in close combat with German or Japanese troops that, of every hundred men along the line of fire during a period of encounter, an average of only 15 to 20 soldiers “would take any part” with their weapon. The others would not fire at the enemy; they would not run or hide, and many would take great risks to rescue comrades, get ammunition, or to run messages.

Though Marshall’s work has come under sustained attack, Grossman found a wide range of other studies that confirmed this finding, pointing to something that he later termed ‘the universal human phobia’ against killing another person. (Grossman also found evidence that the phobia had declined over the decades among US soldiers, as the rate of solders shooting to kill increased to 90% during the Vietnam war; Grossman also believes that violent video games – which he calls ‘murder simulators’ – also erode the phobia against killing.)

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A paper submitted to the Movement for the Abolition of War

The argument of this paper is that for a long time we in the peace movement have been looking in the wrong places when we’ve been looking for the deepest roots of war. This has led to misdirection in creating strategies for abolishing war.

The common argument against the effort to get rid of war is that violence is innate in human nature, and that therefore there will always be war.

I would like to suggest that arguing against this position is the wrong move.

If we as abolitionists allow ourselves to be trapped arguing about violence-as-part-of-human-nature, it will be very difficult to move forward.

The first thing we need to do, I suggest, is separate ‘violence’ from ‘war’.

The most constructive way of responding to the argument that ‘violence is inherent in human nature’, I suggest, is to point out that: ‘War is not primarily about violence.’

Our starting point should be that, whether or not violence is inherent in human nature, war can and should be abolished. To put it in stronger terms, even if we are ‘inherently violent as a species’, that is not the reason wars happen, and it does not pose an obstacle to the abolition of war.

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