4.2 Through peacemakers
Collective opposition to war. The Western peace movements of the late 20th century can trace their origins to the pacifists of the 19th century and conscientious objectors during World War I. The campaigns after World War II have tended to concentrate on nuclear weapons, but there are numerous organizations devoted to peace, some wholly pacifist, some merely opposed to escalation.
Among historians it is not unusual to speak of the ‘Long 19th Century’, which ended not in 1900, but in 1914, with the outbreak of the First World War. During that long 19th century two tendencies could be seen. The first one was an ever-growing bellicism. It showed itself in various forms of warfare, nationalism, militarism, arms races etc. The second one was a humanitarian tendency. Private citizens were struck by the evils of war, the treatment of slaves, the suffering of the wounded, and women, children, and even animals who needed protection. Both tendencies can be followed as they evolved over time. In the first part of my lecture, I’m going to expand on the history of the peace movement.
Throughout the ages, church-leaders, philosophers, writers, reformers and other thinkers voiced protests against the use of coercion, violence, war, and/or killing. For example, in the Classical world dramatist Aristophanes wrote a comedy Lysistrata, in which the women of Greece used a sex strike to force their men to the peace table and end the Peloponnesian War. In the beginning of the 16th century Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam used arguments as well as satire against worldly and spiritual leaders who thought they could use war as an instrument of politics. The humanist denied that there was glory in war, which injures or kills people on both sides and destroys cities. Instead Erasmus pleaded for peace through justice, tolerance and the use of reason. These were isolated voices.
According to peace studies, the end of the Napoleonic era, in which huge national armies of conscripts had fought, marked the genesis of the peace movement. In the second half of 1815, private citizens formed three local peace groups in New York, Warren County and Boston. When this news arrived in London, William Allen and Joseph Price called for a meeting where in June 1816 the Society for the Promotion of Permanent and Universal Peace, ‘the Peace Society’ for short, was formed. Three months earlier, another peace association had been formed in London that probably was called the Society for Abolishing War. We’re not completely sure about that name.
In the first peace societies Quakers played an important role. For moral and religious reasons they rejected violence on principle and preached the gospel of non- resistance. Only like-    minded citizens could become member. The one from Boston tried to reach a larger public by admitting persons who abhorred violence but nevertheless believed that under circumstances defensive wars might be allowed. In 1828 the by then fifty local peace groups were united into the nation- wide American Peace Society. In Britain, the Peace Society slowly developed into a national peace organisation. The society made it clear that it was anti-war, Christian, Quaker- backed and quietist. At the same time, its leadership allowed non-Christian arguments against war provided that these were admitted to be secondary; it tried to appear as ecumenical as possible; and despite its quietism it showed some interest in the political and international issues of the day. On the continent, the first peace society was formed in December 1830 in Geneva, Switzerland.
The 1840s started with the well-attended and quite successful World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. Its success encouraged the ‘Friends of Peace’ to seek and develop international contacts. As a result, in 1843 the First General Peace Convention was held in London. Some of the issues the more than 300 delegates discussed were arbitration; armaments; a High Court of Nations; and the excessive force the colonial powers used in Tahiti, Afghanistan and China to submit the local population. Then, in 1848, the first of what would become a series of international peace conferences, was held in Brussels. Its agenda was dominated by liberal political economics, especially free trade. Under the influence of the debate in Great Britain over free trade, the British Peace Society had embraced the ideas of Richard Cobden. War was not only condemned on religious and moral grounds, but for economic reasons as well. Warfare disrupts the free flow of goods and so prevents the increase of prosperity, and standing armies and weapons cost money. From then on, every year an international conference was held.
The series came to an end as a result of the Crimean war (1853-1856), in which the great powers fought each other for the first time since decades. The British Peace Society had always put its faith in public opinion. Now it turned out that the British public was in a warlike mood and chauvinistic thanks to the news sent home from the battlefields by so called ‘war correspondents’. No wonder that the international conference in Edinburgh, the last one of the series, received a bad press. Many of the rank and file left the peace societies.
The period of 1859 to 1871 saw fierce fighting whose outcome were, amongst others, a new German Empire, a unified kingdom of Italy, a Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary and the triumph of centrality in the United States. During those years, the Friends of Peace were in many countries the object of slander. But it was not all sorrow and misery. There were also new peace societies formed, for instance in Paris, Geneva and here in the Netherlands. The origin of the Red Cross Movement deserves special mention. The suffering of wounded left untended on the battlefield of Solferino in 1859 and the devastation and horrors he witnessed there inspired Henry Dunant to issue a humanitarian appeal on behalf of the victims of combat. The book A Memory of Solferino touched the heart and stirred the conscience of Europe and formed the origin of the Red Cross.
In the last quarter of the 19th century European culture showed a Janus face. Bellicism was clearly on the rise. The Great Powers formed all sorts of alliances with secret military stipulations, nationalism and militarism grew profusely, there was a scramble for colonies, an armaments race and always the looming threat of a local war turning into a general European one. At the other end, the number of peace activists and their societies also increased. Especially religious communities, women and members of parliament were receptive to the message of peace. In 1889, the Interparliamentary Conference was launched by British and French parliamentarians to meet and discuss peace and arbitration initiatives. The same year, a Universal Peace Congress was organised by private peace activists. It was the first of twenty-one held until 1914. Both Conference and Congress created a permanent bureau that took care of daily affairs and the organisation of activities. The peace movement was now slowly developing into a transnational lobby.
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