A decade-by-decade look at some people and events in the world-wide struggle against war and violence.


 Selected by Margaret Melicharova

  peace action worldwide


1950-1959 Against the Bomb. For Social Change

1951 A group of members of the Peace Pledge Union organised a sit-down in front of the UK War office building, the first demonstration of its kind and soon to become a standard form of protest.

CHANGING SOCIETY FIRST Gandhi’s political and economic ideas were spread in Britain by a number of followers. One of these was the pacifist Wilfred Wellock, who said ‘Our economy is a war-producing economy’, and sought to change society from one based on competitive conflict, exploitation and violence to a system of small communities doing ‘human-centred’ and meaningful work. ‘Western economies plundered the earth of irreplaceable resources, and violence against the earth all too easily became violence against people. A non-violent economy would emphasise not conflict but co-operation.’
   One man who listened to these ideas was Ernest Bader, a Quaker who in 1951 transformed his chemicals company into the Scott Bader Commonwealth, based on principles of democracy and co-operation, and committed to doing no business connected with war.
  The idea caught on. By 1985 1000 co-operative businesses were trading.

1952 A group of members of the Peace Pledge Union demonstrated outside the Atomic Weapons research establishment at Aldermaston.

ALBERT SCHWEITZER (1875-1965) was a German medical missionary, musician and philosopher, famous for his work in Africa with people suffering from leprosy. His work was based on the principle of ‘reverence for life’. In 1952 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In his Nobel speech in 1954 he said:
‘We have tolerated the mass killing of men in war (about 20,000,000 in the second World War), the reduction to nothing by the atomic bomb of whole towns with their inhabitants, the transformation of men into living torches by incendiary bombs. While we avowed that these deeds are the result of inhumane action, the avowal is accompanied by the reflection that the fact of war condemns us to accept them. By resigning ourselves without resistance to our fate we make ourselves guilty of inhumanity.
‘What is important is that we should recognise jointly that we are guilty of inhumanity. The horror of this experience should shake us out of our torpor, so that we turn our will and our hopes toward the coming of an era in which war will be no more. That will and that hope can have only one result: The attainment, by a new spirit, of that higher reason which would deter us from making deadly use of the power which is at our disposal.’

1955 When a black woman in Montgomery, Alabama, refused to give up her seat in a bus to a white passenger, she was arrested. The young pacifist pastor Martin Luther King organised a boycott of buses in protest; the boycott lasted 382 days and marked the beginning of the non-violent Civil Rights Movement in America, led by King. At the end of 1956 the laws demanding segregation on the buses were declared to be unconstitutional, and black and white people were at last able to ride the buses as equals.

MARTIN LUTHER KING (1929-1968) was a black American Christian pacifist and theologian, who took up his post as pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, in 1954. He was already a leading figure in the struggle for black equality. After the Bus Boycott of 1955-6, King became president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a Civil Rights Movement organisation. Its ideals were Christian, and it adopted Gandhi’s non-violence techniques; ‘We must meet violence with non-violence, we must meet hate with love.’ King organised the massive protest in Birmingham, Alabama, that caught the world’s attention, and the peaceful Great March of 250,000 to Washington DC in 1963 at which he made his famous speech ‘I have a dream’. The Civil Rights Law was passed in 1964. King firmly opposed the Vietnam War. He was assaulted several times, arrested 20 times, awarded 5 honorary degrees, and was named ‘Time’ magazine’s Man of the Year in 1963. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. In 1968, at Memphis, Tennessee, he was assassinated. [more]

1955 Scientists including Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell signed a manifesto urging an end to nuclear weapons: ‘such weapons threaten the continued existence of mankind’.

PACIFIST RADICALS, RADICAL PACIFISTS: ‘To understand the significance of Gandhi for American pacifists’, wrote one of them, ‘it is necessary to look at the conflict between two fundamental ideas and orientations in the peace movement: the idea of non-resistance, and the idea of non-violent resistance... The shift from one to the other represents a change from conservative, individually-oriented pacifism to a radical social action pacifism.’

1956 US Pacifist A J Muste co-founded a new pacifist journal called ‘Liberation’, supporting non-violent direct action to bring about social change.

A J MUSTE (1885-1967) was a Dutch-born American whose life was spent working for peace and social justice. He opposed both World Wars; he supported the US trade union movement. He was a churchman; yet for a time he was a supporter of Marxist communism, because its policies included liberation of the working classes. During World War 2 he gave conscientious objectors practical assistance; and he provided intellectual arguments defending the theory of Christian pacifism. From 1940 to 1953 he was Secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. After 1953 he became the leader of America’s Committee for Non-violent Action, whose members ran physical risks in their efforts to block nuclear tests and weapon manufacture. A J Muste was a close friend and advisor of Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta Scott King. He was also associated with the emerging liberation movements in Africa. In his last, even busier, years, his energies were devoted to co-ordinating the movement to end the war in Vietnam. It was said of him: ‘Few people have been so deeply committed at the same time both to peace and to social justice.’

1957 The first annual Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs, held in Nova Scotia, at which scientists of many nationalities met to discuss anti-nuclear issues, with a view to influencing policy changes in their home countries. The Pugwash Conferences, and their founder member, physicist Joseph Rotblat, shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995.

1957 Civil disobedience actions by the newly-formed ‘Direct Action Committee against Nuclear War’ continued in this, the year in which the UK exploded its first hydrogen bomb.

1957 In America, SANE (‘National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy’) was set up by a group of pacifists and non-pacifists sharing the desire for multilateral nuclear disarmament.

1957 In America, the Committee for Non-Violent Action (CNVA) was established, to co-ordinate direct anti-nuclear action, supporting unilateral disarmament as a first step.

THE GOLDEN RULE AND THE PHOENIX In 1958 members of the US Committee for Non-violent Action tried to sail their boat, the ‘Golden Rule’, into the atomic test area in the Marshall islands. The captain was an ex-naval officer who had become a Quaker. The boat was stopped and the crew were tried and imprisoned in Honolulu. Earle Reynolds, an American anthropologist, was sailing home across the Pacific with his family in their yacht, the ‘Phoenix’; he heard what had happened to crew of the ‘Golden Rule’, and determined to carry on where they had been interrupted. He managed to get into the restricted area, but also ended up in jail. The ‘golden rule’ of Gandhian non-violence is preparation for voluntary self-sacrifice in the pursuit of what is true and right: the arrests – which also brought publicity – were not a sign of failure. What did happen was that world-wide anti-nuclear opinion began to develop noticeably.

1958 The UK Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, in which a number of pacifists took an active part, was founded. The first annual Easter march to (subsequently from) the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston took place. By the early 1960s hundreds of thousands of protesters were taking part in the marches.

DOROTHY DAY (1897-1980) was an American journalist and worker for social reform, a Catholic and a life-long pacifist. As a journalist she covered the 1932 Washington Hunger March, and was deeply troubled by the sufferings of the poor. The following day she met former French monk Peter Maurin, who suggested she should start a newspaper promoting the peaceful transformation of society. Soon the first copies of ‘The Catholic Worker’ were being sold in New York for a dime each; within six months the print run had increased to 100,000. In less than a year ‘Catholic Worker’ had also become a national movement, providing accommodation for the homeless; by 1936 there were already 33 Catholic Worker houses across the country.
    The Catholic church accepted war; Dorothy Day did not. Her newspaper consistently maintained a pacifist position, throughout the Spanish Civil War and World War 2, and after that in the Cold War. In 1955 an annual Civil Defence drill for civilians was imposed in preparation for nuclear attack, and Dorothy Day was among the group of dissidents who refused – ‘We will not be drilled into fear ‘ – and arrested. Her civil disobedience, she said, was an act of penance for the bombing of Hiroshima. She repeated the act in succeeding years, suffering imprisonment three times, until the Drill was abandoned in 1961. By then the crowd of dissidents had grown; and the police deliberately ignored Dorothy Day, reluctant to give her further publicity. Honoured by many for her achievements, Dorothy Day received one university’s medal with thanks for ‘comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable’ – an aspiration of socially conscious pacifists world-wide.





Iain Crichton Smith (1928- . Teacher, writer and poet) From poem (1957) ‘For The Unknown Seamen Of The 1939-45 War’:
They fell from sea to earth from grave to grave
And, griefless now, taught others how to grieve.

Dwight D Eisenhower (1890-1969. US President 1953-1961), from a speech in Washington 1953: ‘Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.’
From a broadcast discussion in 1959: ‘I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.’

Martin Luther King (1929-1968. Pacifist and civil rights activist): ‘Non-violence is a powerful and just weapon. It cuts without wounding and ennobles the person who wields it.’ [more]

A J Muste (1885-1967. Pacifist activist for non-violent change): ‘There is no way to peace. Peace is the way'




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