The War Resisters League

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The War Resisters League, an American pacifist organization, was founded in 1923 by Jessie Wallace Hughan, New York City teacher and socialist. Hughan believed the League should encourage the growth of pacifism and provide a home for secular pacifists who could not fit into church‐based peace groups.

In literature and street meetings, the War Resisters League spread the message that “wars will cease when men refuse to fight.” In the 1930s, increasingly alarmed by the rise of fascism and Nazi brutality, the League demonstrated against anti‐Semitism and worked to rescue its victims. During World War II, Evan Thomas, himself a resister in World War I, and the brother of Norman Thomas, Socialist Party leader, chaired the League when many of its male members were enrolled in alternative civilian service or incarcerated for resisting conscription. Imprisoned members used work stoppages and hunger strikes to protest prison injustices such as racial segregation.

After World War II, the League led demonstrations against continued conscription and for amnesty for conscientious objectors. It also opposed the militarization of America, especially the nuclear arms race. In the 1950s and 1960s, its members included the writer Grace Paley, folk singers Joan Baez and Pete Seeger, the former Pentagon scholar Daniel Ellsberg, and the poet Allen Ginsburg.

The League is affiliated with the War Resisters International (WRI), founded in 1921, with current headquarters in London. The WRI has more than seventy affiliates in at least thirty countries. During the 1960s, the War Resisters League allied with other organizations in the civil rights campaign, and it played an important role in the Vietnam antiwar movement, organizating demonstrations and training participants in nonviolent activism for peace and justice.
[See also Conscientious Objection; Peace and Antiwar Movements.]


War Resisters League , History of the War Resisters League, 1980.
Lawrence S. Wittner , Rebels Against War: The American Peace Movement, 1933–1983, 1984.
Scott H. Bennett , ‘Pacifism Not Passivism: The War Resisters League and Radical Pacifism, Nonviolent Direct Action, and the Americanization of Gandhi, 1915–1963. Ph.D. diss., Rutgers University, 1998.

Larry Gara