Peace Movement

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Because the Treaty of Versailles fell short of the Wilsonian liberal internationalist vision, Americans were receptive to proposals to avoid future wars. In the 1920s, the organized peace movement campaigned for a reduction in military appropriations, for disarmament, and for outlawing war. Peace acitivists supported the signing of the Kellogg-Briand Pact in 1928, under which the United States, France, and eventually more than sixty other countries committed to seeking peaceful solutions to international differences. Women's peace groups conducted large-scale petition campaigns for disarmament in 1931 and 1932. Aggressive acts by Japan, Italy, and Germany in the 1930s, however, led to fears that the United States would be drawn into war, but also concern that the world was becoming more unjust, unstable, and dangerous.

Dorothy Detzer, the executive secretary of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, persuaded Senator Gerald Nye to launch his influential 1934 investigation focusing on the role of the munitions industry in the United States' entry into World War I. In April 1935, fifty thousand veterans marched in Washington for peace and 175,000 students conducted a student strike for peace. Students also campaigned against military training and took the Oxford Oath to refuse to support any war the government might conduct. The Communist-initiated American League against War and Fascism organized a peace demonstration in August 1935 that brought together fifty thousand activists from labor, women's, and religious groups. Students strikes grew even larger in the next three years and involved a majority of college students. Pacifists and liberal internationalists joined in the Emergency Peace Campaign in 1937 and allied with isolationist members of Congress in an unsuccessful effort to get the Ludlow Amendment reported out of the House of Representatives. Defeated by the narrow margin of 209 to 188 in the House, the amendment would have required a national referendum prior to war except when the United States was attacked. In 1938 Socialists joined with isolationists in a campaign to "Keep America Out of War" but found their effort eclipsed by the conservative isolationist America First Committee.

Other groups campaigning for peace included religious-based pacifist groups, such as the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and secular pacifist groups, such as the Women's Peace Union and the War Resisters League. Moderate, nonpacifist peace groups included the League of Nations Association and the Carnegie Endowment for Peace. The National Council for the Prevention of War, led by pacifist Frederick Libby, had numerous affiliated organizations and a significant Washington presence. Carrie Chapman Catt initiated the National Committee on the Cause and Cure of War, which included women's organizations with a total of five million members.

Peace groups divided over the issues of strict versus flexible neutrality, whether to embrace collective security against fascist aggression, particularly in the case of Spain, and how to respond to Nazi anti-Semitism and events such as the Nazi-Soviet Pact and the fall of France. As the United States moved toward war, the broad peace coalitions disintegrated and membership in all but the absolute pacifist peace groups declined significantly. The latter groups played important roles in assisting conscientious objectors during the war, while other peace groups increased their activity only after the war.

See Also: MUSTE, A. J.


Alonso, Harriet Hyman. Peace as a Women's Issue: A History of the U.S. Movement for World Peace and Women's Rights. 1993.

Chatfield, Charles. For Peace and Justice: Pacifism in America, 1914–1941. 1971.

Cohen, Robert. When the Old Left Was Young: Student Radicals and America's First Mass Student Movement, 1929–1941. 1993.

Eagan, Eileen. Class, Culture, and the Classrooom: The Student Peace Movement of the 1930s. 1981.

Wittner, Lawrence S. Rebels against War: The American Peace Movement, 1933–1983.1984.

Martin Halpern

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Peace Movement

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