Peace Movements, 1946–Present

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In the United States, peace movements have long provided a forum for dissent from government decisions to wage war. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, peace movements emerged from pacifist religious communities like the Quakers, social justice communities, and the first wave of the women's movement; for example, Julia Ward Howe's call for Mother's Day was a way of protesting drafting sons to war.

From these early expressions to the present, several interlocking themes have characterized peace movement activities. Activist communities demonstrate the linkages between peace, justice, and human rights, and oppose what they see as unjust wars, or unjust preparations for war. The U.S. government's testing and development of nuclear weapons far more powerful than those dropped on Japan, the wars in Korea and Vietnam, support for covert operations in support of right-wing regimes in Central America, and military engagements in Grenada, Panama, the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, and Iraq have each precipitated criticism of U.S. foreign policy. The peace movement denounced the lethal impacts of these wars on the domestic economy and the lives of Americans, as well as their impacts on civilians in the target countries. It worked to stop these practices through the shaping of policy, lobbying efforts, and public protest expressed through marches and civil disobedience.

Many organizations have led or contributed to peace movement efforts. The War Resisters' League, the American Friends Service Committee, the Committee for Nonviolent Action, and SANE (the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy) mobilized early visible opposition to U.S. military policies and activities. Massive international and U.S.-based mobilization against the Vietnam War helped galvanize public condemnation of that war; antiwar activists helped hasten its end. In the 1980s the antinuclear movement reemerged with multiple actions against nuclear weapons testing, deployment, and storage sites, pressuring the United States to end the arms race. Precipitated by the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania, these actions included nationally based efforts like Women's Pentagon Actions, Nevada Test Site demonstrations, plowshares actions, and demonstrations against the development of nuclear power sites at Seabrook and Diablo Canyon. The antiwar organizations of the early twenty-first century brought the anti-corporate-globalization and antiwar

movements together: Code Pink, Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER), Not in Our Name (NION), and United for Justice and Peace are all key organizers of anti-corporate-globalization and peace activism.

Peace movements attempt to reveal the realities of war abroad to communities at home. To that end, they have sought access to images of war that the mainstream press or the Pentagon have withheld from public view. They have also served to develop community awareness of alternatives to war and alternative analyses of the causes and agenda of war. Internationally, peace movements have organized massive coordinated marches against the U.S.-led war against Iraq. Although these international (and domestic) forms of opposition to war are widespread, the mainstream media provide them minimal coverage. Opposition to the policies or military actions of nations from within those nations is frequently discredited as unpatriotic and peace activists have often been depicted as tools of the enemy, whether Communists during the Cold War or Saddam Hussein during the wars in Iraq.

Peace movements publicly represent many Americans' opposition to war and demonstrate the promise and possibility of a future of justice and peace through the exercise of their rights to free speech and participation in democratic processes. In this way they continue to express the sentiment of well-respected American and international leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., whose leadership was a call for justice and peace.


Burns, Stewart. Social Movements of the 1960s: Searching for Democracy. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1990.

Cooney, Robert, and Michalowski, Helen. The Power of the People. Culver City, CA: Peace Press, 1977.

Swerdlow, Amy. Women Strike for Peace. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Internet Resource

United for Peace. Available at <>.

Ilene Rose Feinman

See also:Antiwar Movement; Arms Control Debate; Churches, Mainstream; Civil Rights Movement; Communism and Anticommunism; Hiroshima Guilt; Holocaust Guilt; 1968 Upheaval; Preemptive War.

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Peace Movements, 1946–Present

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