Peace Movements

views updated May 11 2018

Peace Movements

Robert H. Ferrell

The idea of peace is ancient, reaching back to the beginnings of organized society and perhaps even earlier; but until the Renaissance it had not passed beyond the stage of individual thought. Society was rural, save for a few towns and cities. Nationalities, while recognized, were not well formed. International relations did not exist. The relations of the Greek city-states were casual and unorganized, moving from hostilities to lack of hostilities without much of a dividing line. The very basis of international organizationexistence of different peoples, organized in states, usually speaking different languages, was not present in the Greek world. Nor was it present in the world of Rome, where a single city, through extension of citizenship, recognized no equals in the area of the Mediterranean. To the Romans the people with whom they came in touch were either to submit to the domination of the empire or forever remain barbarians. There was no such thing as interstate relations. The same lack of international relations marked medieval life, where princes and principalities might fight or not fight, for whatever reason, conducting warfare as if it were a natural state of affairs and halting it when convenient, without much or any formality. In such disorganized relations between the peoples of Europe there was, to be sure, little reason to try for a better order of affairs when all that people knew was chaos or domination. In any event, the generality of the citizens or subjects was not consulted in advance of fighting or its conclusion.

The appearance of peace movements awaited both the formal division of Europe into nation-states and a notable intellectual development often overlooked by analysts of modern European historythe division of international relations into times of peace and times of war. This latter change came during the Thirty Years' War in the seventeenth century, and did not occur so much in the statecraft of the time as in the thinking of jurists and students of law, who began to see not merely that the primitive international customs and traditions of the era must be ordered but also that the task of ordering involved division into laws for fighting and laws for peaceful existence. In this regard the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius proved most influential. A citizen of one of the major maritime states of the era, and therefore interested in the freest possible trade on the high seas, he found the military forces of his countrymen outnumbered by the professional armies of the monarchs whose territories surrounded the States-General. The convenience of trading with many European states had fascinated the Dutch, and they wanted to continue this commerce. At the same time they needed guarantees of freedom of trade. Life during the Thirty Years' War was almost insufferable for so rich a group as the Dutch burghers. Grotius was imprisoned, and friends contrived his escape in a large chest. With reason he wished to try to order the international relations of his time, and the result was De jure belli ac pacis (1625). In it he drew a sharp line between what was war and what was peace. It was, incidentally, a line that was not recognized until the nineteenth century, when there were no major European wars except the Franco-Prussian War (18701871). Grotius's distinction between war and peace would be blurred by the statesmen of the twentieth century, who through cold wars and other such undeclared conflicts pushed international relations back toward the pre-Grotian chaos. In any event, the drawing of a war-peace linehowever theoretical, and thereafter slowly accepted and eventually violatedset the stage for popular peace movements. In a real sense Grotius and his supporters among the legal theorists were the originators of peace movements.

The essentially theoretical nature of peace movements was observable from the outset, and it may well have been one of the reasons why the innumerable drawings of ideal international societies, the perfect renderings of international relations, have never been translated even approximately into reality.

The first designs of men of peace in modern times, which themselves were not characterizable as the programs of peace movements but received a good deal of attention during their periods of interest, were markedly theoretical. One of the leaders of France in the early seventeenth century, the duc de Sully, was the author of the "great design" of King Henry IV, which, though it stipulated an international force, asked for one so small that it amounted to disarmament. Much notice was taken of this hope for peace, and it was speculated upon for years thereafter. The supporters of later peace movements were also accustomed to cite the hopes of Benjamin Franklin, who was convinced that standing armies diminished not only the population of a country but also the breed and size of the human species, for the strongest men went off to war and were killed. He pointed out obvious waste in the maintenance of armies. His analysis made sense to many Americans who themselves, or whose ancestors, had come to the New World to escape the constant wars of the Old. The Farewell Address of President George Washington in 1796 was plain about the need for peace and the wastefulness of war: "Overgrown military establishments are, under any form of government, inauspicious to liberty, and are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty." Here was another rationale that would recur in the pronouncements of the nineteenth-century peace movements in both the United States and Europe.

The intellectual foundations of peace movements were laid in the years prior to 1815. Beginning in that year, with the wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon at an end, and the emperor of France on his way to St. Helena in a British frigate, it was possible to bring together the formalities of the international lawyers and the philosophical hopes of Sully, Franklin, and Washington, and to enlarge upon and systematize ideas about how American or Europeanor even worldpeace might be achieved.

The years from 1815 to 1848 saw major developments in organization of peace groups in the United States. For a while it appeared as if they might carry everything before them. Peace seemed secure between the United States and Great Britain. In the Rush-Bagot Convention (1817) the two English-speaking nations undertook a virtual disarmament of their borders upon the Great Lakes, across New York State, and along the northern borders of the New England states. Why could not such an arrangement between erstwhile enemies spread to the entire world? This was the era of the founding of the American Peace Society in 1828 and of state peace societies. It was an ebullient time, often characterized by later historians as an age of reform: the antislavery movement, prison reform, insane asylum reform, experiments in communitarian living, and the rise of reformist religions such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Members of the new peace organizations advanced their ideas with unwonted vigor and with a very considerable intellectual precision. The principal organizer of the American Peace Society, William Ladd, arranged for distribution of tracts and advocated a congress of nations, together with the riddance of war through treaties of arbitration. Elihu Burritt established the League of Universal Brotherhood in 1846, which soon was claiming an American membership of twenty thousand and a similar number of British members; Burritt's organization was largely responsible for a series of "universal peace congresses" held in European cities over the next years.

The peace groups of the first half of the nineteenth century took interest in international law, as Grotius had two centuries before, and the American Peace Society in the person of Ladd, as well as the reformer Alfred Love, founder of the Universal Peace Union (1866), looked to a stronger law of nations that, they were certain, would make war more difficult, perhaps even impossible.

As for precisely how influential the peace groups were, during the years from Waterloo to the revolutions of 1848 and the Crimean War (for Europe) and to the Mexican War and the passing of the slavery issue into national politics, and ultimately the coming of the Civil War (for the United States), it is impossible to say. The problem of analysis here is that during an age of reform there was goodwill in so many directions, often expressed by the same individuals, that its forcefulness or lack thereof cannot be easily determined. Moreover, the absence of even fairly small international conflicts was probably not a result of the peace movement, but of contemporary circumstances in the international relations of Europethe unpopularity of war after the wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon, and the momentary sense of community among the great powers known as the Concert of Europe. To many people of the time, peace nonetheless seemed a logical outcome of the peace movement; and the workers for peace tended to pursue their plans and purposesabolition of standing armies, development of international law on land and sea, organization of peace congresseswith a confidence that was unjustified by the international relations of the time.

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, peace workers began to have a new sense of urgency because of an armaments race that at first was not very noticeable but later became highly evident. By the 1860s and 1870s the stresses and strains incident to the rise of a Prussia-dominated German state in Europe began to send armament expenditures on an upward trend that continued into the twentieth century. The sharpening of nationalisms everywhere, and the increasing authority of national bureaucracies, impelled nations to increase their armaments. Weapons also began to increase in complexity and costliness. Muskets gave way to rifles. Smooth-bore cannon were replaced by rifled guns, and projectiles went farther and penetrated deeper. The navies of the world converted from sail to steam. They armored their ships. Transportfirst the railroad and then, after the end of the century, motor transport over paved roadsmade land armies mobile in ways unknown to generals during the age of Napoleon, Gebhard von Blucher, and the duke of Wellington.

The Industrial Revolution allowed nations with heavy industries to produce arms for themselves and sell arms to their agricultural neighbors in exchange for foodstuffs. Introduction of such weapons as the French 75, a new field gun, forced all the leading European states to purchase the new ordnance. By the 1890s men of goodwill everywhere were alarmed at the dreadfully costly battles and campaigns of any new war, given the new equipment. They were alarmed at the talk about military might by the leaders of Germany after Bismarck. The surge of imperialism in the 1890s momentarily took European and American energies into the Far East. Earlier the Europeans had devoted themselves to the imperial task of dividing Africa. Shortly after the turn of the century, there was no more territory to divide, and rivalries began to concentrate in Europe, as they had just before outbreak of the Napoleonic wars. It was a vastly troubled situation; and peace groups began to look for solutions, to try to do what statesmen seemed incapable of doingto contrive some kind of international arrangement of ideas and interests so that war could be prevented.

Limitation of armaments was the task of the peace movements prior to 1914, and the result was disappointing. Calvin D. Davis has justly remarked that a strange dichotomy of thought existed in the United States and Europe. International rivalries never had burned so brightly, and never had there been so much talk about national interest; yet never had there been more popular interest in peace. Peace groups received broad public support, even from statesmen, who perhaps saw them as so important, so obviously influential, that it would be best to join them, at least in appearance. Universal Peace Congresses began to assemble, the first such meeting being held in 1889. The men and women who attended these meetings favored disarmament and the advance of arbitration through treaties. The Dissenting churches of Great Britain heartily supported disarmament during the 1890s, before the British army and navy were modernized on the eve of World War I. British members of these groups looked anxiously to their American cousins, hoping that from unity of language could come unity of national purposes. The English-Speaking Union was a reflection of this hope. During the years from the turn of the century until 1914, a rapprochement became apparent between the two countries and was much remarked upon. The two countries together could join their European friends in a peace movement that would overwhelm the forces for war. It was thought by people who were interested in peace that the two English-speaking nations might well be considered impartial in urging a disarmament conference because of their separation from Europe by waternot very much in the case of Britain but a vast expanse in the case of America.

The preWorld War I years seemed to promise a great peace reform. Baroness Bertha von Suttner in 1889 published a book titled Die Waffen Nieder (Lay Down Your Arms). It was perhaps the greatest peace novel of all times and was translated into almost every known tongue. The British journalist W. T. Stead reprinted it in English in 1896, and sold the book at the nominal price of one penny. The Russians appeared to be interested in world peace, or at least it was clear that the great novelist Leo Tolstoy was fascinated by the idea. At the suggestion of Baroness von Suttner, the inventor of dynamite, Alfred Nobel, became devoted to the peace movement. Nobel, who believed that he could cooperate with the baroness through making dynamite, wrote to her on one occasion, "Perhaps my factories will put an end to war even sooner than your Congresses; on the day when two army corps may mutually annihilate each other in a second, probably all civilized nations will recoil with horror and disband their troops." Little did Nobel know that this day to which he looked mystically, albeit seriously, would arrive in the latter twentieth century, but civilized nations not only would fail to recoil with horror and disband their troops, but also would prove willing to allow the weapons of destruction to proliferate.

Nobel characterized the hopes of his generation by endowing a peace prize that was to go annually "to that man or woman who shall have worked most effectively for the fraternization of mankind, the diminution of armies, and the promotion of Peace Congresses." This was the spirit that produced the most notable product of the peace movement of the turn of the century, the Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907.

Unfortunately, the first conference did little for peace. The czar of Russia called it in the vain hope that it would limit adoption of French 75 rifles by the armies of Europe, so that the Russian government could put available funds into modernizing its navy. This purpose was well understood by representatives of the nations meeting at The Hague, and nothing came of it. Evidence of how little the administration of President William McKinley expected from the First Hague Peace Conference could be seen in the composition of the American delegation, which included Captain William Crozier of the U.S. Army and Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, who had recently retired from the U.S. Navy. Crozier was coinventor of an ingenious disappearing gun carriage, and Mahan was the philosopher of a large American navy; neither was about to let the czar's government get away with anything. The first conference did, however, define the rules of civilized warfare. It arranged for an international tribunal that nations thereafter promised to use, albeit excepting so many of their national interests that such use was virtually a symbol of the court's uselessness.

The Second Hague Peace Conference was delayed until after the Russo-Japanese War, by which time the European armaments race was so far developed that the conference's prospects were almost zero. President Theodore Roosevelt knew that 1907 was not a good year for peace, yet felt that he had to do something, for many of his Republican friends in New England were members of peace societies and anxious for achievement. He sent the American fleet around the world that year, and later wrote that the voyage was the best thing he had done for peace. He considered doing more, and urged the British government to limit the size of battleships to fifteen thousand tons displacement. Apparently he was seeking to halt the naval arms race begun by the British with the launching of the battleship Dreadnought the preceding year. But then Roosevelt's idea disappeared, as naval architects pointed out to him that fifteen thousand tons was too small a platform for the best combination of the essentials of fighting shipsguns, armor, and propulsive machinery. Neither the British nor the German government wished to do anything serious about disarmament at the Second Hague Peace Conference, and so the idea languished and the conferees contented themselves with tidying up the projects for judicial settlement and international law advanced at the initial conference. The Third Hague Peace Conference was scheduled just about the time World War I broke out; and the Hague idea, as it was called, then blended into the larger notion of a League of Nations.

The American peace groups in these years concentrated not merely on congresses and conferences but also on a national program of bilateral treaties of arbitration and conciliation. Secretaries of State Richard Olney, John Hay, Elihu Root, Philander C. Knox, and William Jennings Bryan sought to negotiate such treaties, and Hay, Root, and Bryan concluded several dozen. The only way that this program of the American peace groups could have ensured world peace was for the United States to have signed up every nationand the other nations would have had to arrange their own treaty networks. Because of the outbreak of World War I there was not enough time for so many instruments to be signed and ratified. Although the American network remains on the statute books, nothing came of the hope for peace through treaties of arbitration and conciliation.


World War I marked the end of the program of the peace movement of preceding years. The war was a chilling experience. Although statesmen had anticipated the war, they and people everywhere were shocked when it did not end quickly, like the Franco-Prussian War, and lasted more than four years. The United States intervened. It became necessary, so it seemed, for the New World to redress the balance of the Old. It was necessary, Americans believed, to get the Europeans off dead center, to move them toward peace.

The principal accomplishment of peaceminded Americans during the war and in the months of negotiations afterward in Paris was to draw up the constitution, or Covenant, of the League of Nations. Participation in the war convinced many Americans that they had not merely repaid their debt to the marquis de Lafayette but that their country, as President Woodrow Wilson said, comprised all nations and therefore understood all nations, and American organization of the peace would ensure a decent future for mankind.

But then came another shock for the millions of Americans who looked forward to world peacerejection of the Treaty of Versailles and thereby of the Covenant, which constituted the first twenty-six articles of the treaty, by the Senate in 19191920. President Wilson had told everyone who would listen that Article X, which promised international action to prevent war, was the "heart" of the Covenant. To the millions of League of Nations supporters in the United States, it seemed that the Senate had broken the heart of the world.

The American peace groups of the interwar era divided over the wisdom of establishing a League of Nations, and perhaps the best way to understand the division is to characterize it as pro-league and anti-leagueor conservative and radicalbecause of differing outlooks on the organization of peace. Most conservative peace groupsincluding the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the World Peace Foundation, the League of Nations Association, and the Woodrow Wilson Foundationhad originated in the eastern portion of the country. They possessed financial strengthat its foundation in 1910 the Carnegie Endowment received $10 million in bonds of the United States Steel Corporation. Those bonds had been insured by the profits of World War I, a situation presenting the odd picture of a peace organization operating on the profits of war. The World Peace Foundation had also begun its work in the same year, with $1 million. The Woodrow Wilson Foundation, created in 1923, received initial contributions of nearly $1 million.

The work of the conservative wing of American peace organizations varied, for their members realized that all sorts of activity could come under the general heading of peace. The Carnegie Endowment annually spent $500,000 sponsoring such projects as a monthly bulletin, International Conciliation, and "international mind alcoves" in small libraries throughout the United States. Its publishing program included the monumental Economic and Social History of the World War in one hundred volumes. It financed smaller peace organizations in the United States and abroad, maintained the Paris Center for European Peace, rebuilt the library of the University of Louvain in Belgium, endowed university chairs in international relations, and advanced codification of international law. The World Peace Foundation worked in favor of the World Court and distributed League of Nations publications in the United States. The Woodrow Wilson Foundation worked to perpetuate Wilsonian ideals.

Radical peace organizations of the interwar era were far less staid and restrained. Almost all had come into existence as a result of World War I. Names of these groups changed as finances and memberships waxed and waned, but altogether there were perhaps forty operating at the national level, with many more local organizations. These were groups of believers in world peace, filled with hope for their programs. Often their purposes were revealed in their names: the American Committee for the Outlawry of War, the American Committee for the Cause and Cure of War, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, the National Council for the Prevention of War, the Committee on Militarism in Education, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Parliament of Peace and Universal Brotherhood, the Peace Heroes Memorial Society, the War Resisters' League, the Women's Peace Society, the World Peace Association.

Operating procedures of the radical peace organizations, the evangelists among the peace workers, varied markedly. Some were virtually one-man operations, such as the American Committee for the Outlawry of War, financed by the Chicago lawyer Salmon O. Levinson, who spent $15,000 a year to spread the idea that war should not be permitted under international lawit should be outlawed. The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom had as many as six thousand members and thousands of dollars each year for expenses, much of the money provided by friends of the Chicago social worker Jane Addams. The National Council for the Prevention of War was the creation of the Congregational minister Frederick J. Libby to work against arms manufacturers during the Washington Naval Conference of 19211922, and after the success of that meeting Libby continued his group in support of other causes. It acted as a Washington lobby for peace groups, but always reflected the pacifism of its founder. It spent $100,000 a year; in 1928 its office roster included twelve secretaries and eighteen office assistants. Among other radical groups the Women's Peace Society had two thousand members; the Fellowship of Reconciliation, forty-five hundred; and the War Resisters' League, four hundred. Their financial situations were relatively modest.

How, one might ask, could even substantial groups (in terms of finances) like the conservative organizations, or small groups such as the radical peace organizations, hope to influence the millions of American citizens in the years after World War I? How can one speak of the peace movement in America when the organizations for peace, affluent or otherwise, were composed of such disparate groups and often of committees dominated by a few persons or even one individual?

An important reason for their influence was their ability to act through a maze of supporting peace groups and interlocking committees. Membership of the radical peace organizations was astonishingly small, and within it the core of full-time peace workers was less than one hundred individuals in Washington and New York. But individuals could join more than one group or otherwise obtain cooperation between peace organizations. And the ardent peace worker Carrie Chapman Catt federated organizations not primarily interested in peace; she brought together as many as a dozen of these national organizationssuch as the American Association of University Women and the Young Women's Christian Associationinto the American Committee for the Cause and Cure of War.

Peace organizations were influential because of their frequent claim to represent the female voters of the United States. After World War I the franchise had been extended to all American women. Their voting preferences were highly uncertain, and Catt was able to threaten the nation's political leaders with a unified female vote in support of whatever she was advocating.

Still another reason for the extraordinary influence of American peace groups during the 1920s and 1930s perhaps needs to be explained. Elected officials of the time were sensitive to pressure from voters advocating a program. Of course there has always been pressure upon officials. But to leaders of the postwar period a new force, an aroused public opinion, seemed to be at work. Participation in the war had brought interest in propaganda, and in turn produced much learned and unlearned speculation about public opinion. Walter Lippmann published a book on the subject during the early 1920s. The science of persuasion, as applied to mass consumption, came into vogue, with advertising taking on the proportions of a national industry. Political leaders felt that they were being watched, their actions scrutinized, as never before. Any individuals or small groups who could claim to represent larger groups or great organizations received instantaneous attention. It was a nervous, rather unsophisticated era in which claims to importance, carefully advanced, could propel their bearers toward success in whatever they were advocating.

American peace organizations indulged in a pressure politics that for years proved far more successful than it should have beenbecause of the hypersensitive political climate. They did everything possible to give the impression that their programs represented the thoughts of the American people. In their letter-writing campaigns to members of Congress, workers for peace learned early on that it was advisable to make each letter appear different, even if it was for the same purpose and said the same thing; the technique was to have separately written appeals, individually signednever should there be forms that, apparently, had been signed without much thought or purpose. They also engaged in the tactic of presenting petitions, and in the time-honored activity of interviewing members of Congress. In the latter work Catt was an expert; she warned one of her workers that she never believed a senator's attitude was sincere unless he had been interviewed by several people and said the same thing to each one.

As for the ideas of American peace workers during the period from the Armistice in 1918 to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in December 1941, ideas about world peace, or peace for the United States, proliferated but most Americans interested in peace found a reason for advocacy of one of several major plans or purposes. The League of Nations was the greatest source of hope for peace, and many Americans looked to the future, if not immediate, membership of their country in that organization. The force of the league idea owed a great deal to its novelty. The United Nations has never captured the imagination of Americans in the way that the League of Nations did. The idea of a league had not been a part of earlier American peace programs, which had looked either to the codification of international law, including treaties of arbitration and conciliation, or to a working out of more diplomatic arrangements through periodic congresses like the Hague Peace Conferences.

Only during World War I did the idea of a more political League of Nations find favor in the United States. Interest had risen to a considerable height by the summer of 1919so far, indeed, that Senator Henry Cabot Lodge found himself forced to temporize during hearings of the Foreign Relations Committee until popular sentiment lessened. During passage of the Treaty of Versailles through the tortuosities of Senate maneuver, Lodge always avoided criticism of the league idea; if he criticized, it was because the League of Nations was Wilson's league, not because of the idea itself. As the years passed, it became evident that American membership in the league was, practically speaking, impossible, because the league seemed too concerned about the smaller points of European politics. But many AmericansWilsonians, they frequently called themselvescontinued to feel that the Senate amendments of the League Covenant had broken the heart of the world and that the turning of the world toward war during the 1930s was a direct result of failure of the United States to join the League of Nations.

A second program for American peace workers during the 1920s and 1930s was membership in the World Court. Advocates of the League of Nations often were advocates of the court, which, though technically separate from the league, was actually one of its organs. The World Court reflected the traditional American concern for codification of international law. Its protocol stated, in classic form, that among the sources of this law (in addition to treaties, decisions of international conferences, and writings of publicists) were decisions of jurists. It seemed sensible to assist in codification in this way, just as municipal law was organized through daily work of the courts. Yet connection of the league with the World Court, the proviso that the court could give advisory opinions to the league's council, encouraged the league's enemies in the Senate to affix so many onerous conditions to membership in the World Court as to make it impossible. Peace organizations did their best to secure membership, but failed to anticipate the importance of the league connection.

Disarmament was a popular program, and at least in the realm of naval disarmament (a better term would be "limitation" of armaments) there was some progress. As is now fairly evident, limitation of American, British, Japanese, Italian, and French naval arms was a useful activity during the 1920s. In the next decade it made less sense. It was not a major support of peace, for the peace of Europe was conditioned upon the size of armies, not navies. Germany and the Soviet Union were unaffected by the naval conferences sponsored by the allies of World War I. Germany and the Soviet Union attended the World Disarmament Conference held at Geneva in the early 1930s, and the Soviet spokesman, Maxim Litvinov, was eloquent in support of proposals for peace. But these two powers placed little trust in disarmament. Peace workers in the United States never really understood the peripheral importance of disarmament. It seems safe to say that they attached far too much meaning to it, spending too much time and energy working for it. Like the World Court, disarmament acted as a magnet, drawing their attention away from German and Japanese aggression that in the 1930s brought the collapse of world peace.

Another fascination of Americans interested in peace after World War I was the Kellogg-Briand Pact (1928), in which almost all nations of the world promised to renounce and outlaw war. The pact was the crowning achievement of American peace groups in the interwar period. Despite Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg's initial and private feeling that peace workers were "a set of God-damned fools" and "God-damned pacifists," the groups managed to coerce and then convert Kellogg to support the Pact of Paris. The secretary received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1929. Unfortunately, the Kellogg-Briand Pact was too ethereal a creation, too impossible in terms of practical world politics, to assist world peace. It was an illustration of the traditional American liking for pronouncement, for doctrine and dogma. Peace movements, by their nature doctrinaire, were much attracted to formulas officially announced. Insofar as American groups occupied themselves with Kellogg's pronouncement, they failed, as in other programs, to work realistically for peace.

In the interwar years Americans continued to adhere to their traditional faith in freedom of world tradein a trade largely unrestricted by tariffs, quotas, and other regulations. The American peace groups frequently championed this path to peace, although the idea of freedom of world trade failed to attract them in the manner of such programs as the League of Nations, the World Court, naval disarmament, and the Kellogg-Briand Pact, for it seemed to be a less direct attack on war. Secretary of State Cordell Hull was fascinated by the problem of lowering tariff barriers. An old Wilsonian, he received much favorable public comment by promoting what to his mind was almost a substitute for American membership in the League of Nations, the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act (1934).

In the late 1930s, with war beginning to be talked about in Europe and then becoming a reality, many Americans interested in peace restricted their concerns to their own country's neutrality. The idea of neutrality flourished, an ancient American hope embodied in belief in a New World and an Old. There was a desire to restrict the merchants of death, the dealers in the international arms trade. Another belief of the time was that President Wilson's interpretation of neutral rights to include the right of Americans to travel aboard belligerent ships had taken the country into World War I; and if this interpretation and other latitudinarian views of neutrality were avoided, with the nation seeking only the most narrow of rights upon the sea, then the forthcoming European war would not touch the United States. The series of neutrality enactments beginning in 1935 attracted immense attention from American workers for peace. Congress eventually changed this legislation to permit American trade with the democratic nations of Europe, but the changes were made in gingerly fashion so as to avoid offending the predominantly isolationist peace organizations.

AFTER 1939

To speak of an American peace movement in the years after 1939 is to look to a far more complicated effort to preserve the peace of Europe and the world than had been made in the years before. Americans interested in peace realized the need for much more organization and much more money. The number of peace groups proliferated beyond the imagination of workers during the 1920s and 1930s. A survey of peace groups in 1988 found that there were 500 with budgets of more than $30,000 annually, and 7,200 groups with budgets of less.

The programs to which the new and old peace groups turned were remarkably diverse. Most groups took interest in the United Nations, notably the surviving conservative groups of the interwar era, which easily changed their support from the League of Nations to the United Nations. During World War II the country concentrated on victory, but there was much interest in the Department of State's plans for a United Nations, which were well advanced by 1944, when the Dumbarton Oaks Conference met to draw up a draft of the United Nations Charter. Undersecretary of State Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., carefully encouraged the formation of a network of committees and organizations across the country that was to give advice on the structure of the new world organization. He provided for public representation at the San Francisco Conference (1945). The resultant charter and the constitutions of its many supporting organs showed that the people of the United States this time considered the maintenance of peace to be more than a political task, and that it comprised social, economic, and intellectual concerns.

In the immediate years after World War II, peace groups found an almost dizzying group of issues to focus upon, but principally their concern was the developing Cold War with the Soviet Union. This turned attention to the American and Soviet buildup in armaments, both conventional and nuclear.

After such foreign policy developments as the Truman Doctrine and support of Greece and Turkey against the Soviet Union; Soviet explosion of a nuclear test device in 1949; the Korean War; the Suez crisis of 1956, involving intervention in Egypt by Britain, France, and Israel; and continuing troubles in the Middle East, notably American occupation of Lebanon in 1958, there came the intervention in Vietnam, which for a dozen years in the 1960s and early 1970s, until withdrawal in 1975, brought a coalition of American peace groups in strident opposition.

When the issue of the Vietnam War arose, could it be said that the many youthful dissenters represented a revival of the older peace movements, which were generally against war rather than advocating special causes? Some of the anti-war protesters generalized their feelings about Vietnam to include all wars. In the 1960s young people everywhere, not merely in the United States, found war distasteful. It might have appeared that they were reconstituting the world peace movement of the interwar years. Or perhaps they were harking back to the views of Tolstoy and other philosophical pacifists at the end of the nineteenth century. Yet in the United States the antiwar protesters focused on involvement of the country in Vietnam. Their special cause set them apart from older peace movements. Their tactics also were markedly different; they took inspiration from the Indian protest movement of Mohandas K. Gandhi, a generation and more earlier, against British imperialism. Gandhi's movement had been a means of registering dissent and forcing change. In the United States the civil rights protesters in the South were employing civil disobedience, with marked success. The Vietnam protesters similarly employed it to persuade the American public to stop supporting the Vietnam War.

Americans interested in peace after World War II were necessarily attracted to the problems of nuclear disarmament, but here the technicalities proved so complex that no single assemblage, such as another Washington Naval Conference, and certainly no campaign by private individuals, could hope to resolve them. The contentions of the 1920s over gun calibers and tonnage and the thickness of armor plate now appeared to represent an antediluvian age. In the years after 1945 much initiative passed to the federal government, which sponsored nuclear disarmament programs and organized the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. Private organizations assisted in its work. The atomic physicists organized themselves through the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and through the Federation of Atomic Scientists.

Such efforts tended to attach to aspects of nuclear disarmament, and in the early years after World War II peace groups in America concentrated on an end to nuclear testing, once the dangers of tests became evident. The limited test ban of 1963 appeared to be the initial resultalthough it might be argued that for the nuclear powers testing by that time no longer was of advantage. Another factor, seldom mentioned, in passage of the test ban treaty through the U.S. Senate was an arrangement for Republican support in exchange for a promise by President Lyndon B. Johnson not to undertake an investigation of the income tax returns of President Dwight Eisenhower's chief of staff, Sherman Adamsa deal negotiated by former president Eisenhower.

In the early 1980s the groups in the United States concentrated on limitation of intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Europe, and the success of this endeavor raised a question as to what tacticsthose of the movement in America and Europe, or the competitive rearmament sponsored by the Ronald Reagan administration vis-àvis the Soviet Unionwere successful. The administration sponsored the B-1 bomber, the MX missile system, and the Strategic Defense Initiative ("Star Wars"). The last sought a defense against Soviet missiles by an antiballistic missile system. The movement cited the enormous cost of competition over many years, and it was easy to show all the alternatives, peaceful alternatives, available for the same price: construction of schools, of roads and dams, of rail lines between cities, of new or improved airports; better health care; housing for the poor. Groups cited the risk of destruction of cities and national infrastructures, not to mention the millions of people who would die in a nuclear war.

The attack against the nuclear programs of the Reagan era led to the nuclear freeze campaign, an issue that appeared on ballots in many states during the November 1982 elections, and 11.5 million people, 60 percent of those voting on the freeze issue, voted in favor. State legislatures, city councils, and national labor unions declared themselves in favor of a freeze on testing, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons. All this resulted in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with the Soviet Union in 1987. Not long afterward the Soviet Union collapsed, and with it a considerable part of the world's nuclear competition, although the remaining nuclear powers constituted a considerable threat to peace and a very real complexity in negotiating further arms cuts.

Continuing concerns meanwhile were arising over threats to peace of a conventional sort, including American actions in scattered places around the world. Each threat or action gathered its groups in opposition. Here one speaks of interventions in Grenada (1983), Panama (1989), and Somalia (1992), the last two occurring during the George H. W. Bush administration. The Reagan administration's support of the contras in Nicaragua led to clashes with peace groups opposing sponsorship of right-wing partisans against a left-wing government.

In 1990 another opportunity arose for protesting intervention, again in the Middle East, where the U.S. government and the United Nations sought to press the regime of the dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, whose troops had invaded and occupied the neighboring country of Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia. The immediate concern of the movement during the time of negotiation, prior to the UN military attack, Desert Storm, was to give sanctions time to work rather than rushing to war. Some American groups supporting the need for time believed that it was also an opportunity to spread their message and recruit new members. Most groups simply desired more time than President Bush and his increasingly supportive UN allies were willing to offer.

The older generation of peace movement supporters, one should remark, was not altogether pleased with the diffuse concerns of the younger generation, and beheld weakness rather than strength in the much larger numbers of American groups and their far larger finances. Their criticisms perhaps had a point, and are worth mentioning. The historian Arthur Ekirch, who had been a conscientious objector during World War II, was disgusted with the postwar peace workers. He wrote of the factionalism, self-examination, and debate over alternatives after 1945. He thought that the only purpose of a peace movement was opposition to militarism and war.

And what to say of this criticism? Of the factionalism there could be no question, for each of the bewildering number of American groups, numbering into the thousands, had its purpose. A Canadian group in the 1970s began publication of a periodicala digest of peace books, articles, and conference paperson the principle that chemists and other scientists possessed such digests, and so should the peace movement. The span of the books, articles, and papers was almost unlimited, displaying the way in which the postWorld War II groups had edged into subjects never hitherto deemed of much, if any, interest to a peace movement. One conference participant advocated tourism, because seeing other cultures would produce tolerance, and therefore understanding, and maybe peace. The confusion of purposes, the welter of what Ekirch described as factionalism, was evident in the categories of the digest's editors, who changed their categories every few years, to the confusion of readers.

In the factionalism of the post-1945 movement it was evident that only two general distinctions, which might be described as organizing principles, marked the new movement. The authors of the survey of peace groups in 1988 wrote that pacifist groups tended to lead the entire movement; in times of slumps of interest in peace, they tended to stay together and offer new ideas. Pacifist groups served as "halfway houses" to ensure the movement's survival during the doldrums. They were especially persistent during troubling experiences, as when in Iran they sought to "do peace" but found the task difficult in the midst of violence. Their task of testimony was also difficult. How could they be heard when the United Nations engaged in peacekeeping, and its proposals and programs dominated public attention?

According to the analysts of the movement, the nonpacifist groups sought to change foreign policy by working within the political system. In the United States this entailed proposing legislation to halt development of particular weapons or generally cut spending for programs, creating support for such efforts through lobbying, and making positions known during elections.

Another point made in the survey, somewhat countering the accusation of factionalism, was that constituents of groups were not themselves divided into a few factions: women, students, and professionals. Constituents were more diverse than expected, among both pacifist and nonpacifist groups. With the exception of religious persons, the often cited constituent groupings were small proportions of any of the peace groups. Students were found in small-budget groups and professionals in nonpacifist groups, but differences otherwise were not large.

Self-examination also was a characteristic of the postWorld War II American groups. Interviewers of "persistent peace activists" developed a theory of sustained commitment that included creating an activist identity, integrating peace work into everyday life, building beliefs that sustain activism, bonding with a peace group, and managing burnout. Ekirch's third criticism, that the American peace advocates were fond of debate, was undeniable, as all readers of the Peace Research Abstracts could see.

But in retrospect one might concludedespite present-day factionalism and self-examination and debate over issues, and the failure of peace movements of the pastthat groups everywhere have done much good. In the United States they have had public support based on the nation's history. The resort to colonies in the New World was in part to escape the incessant wars of Europe, including enforced military service. Through experience involving the exploitation of a great new continent, Americans became hopeful people, and the age-old hope of peace naturally appealed to them. The very success of the American experiment in democracy raised the possibility of changing the ways of other peoples. E pluribus unum has succeeded beyond all expectation in the United States, and Americans have expected this motto to have meaning for Europe and the world.

Another factor has entered into support for the peace movement in the United States that was not present in earlier years. The American people have come to realize that the bounties of geography and the rivalries of other nations have given their country protection for many decades longer than they could have expected, and it is time now for them to take part in the organization of world order. Jules Jusserand, France's ambassador to the United States (19021920), was fond of saying that America was bordered on north and south by weak nations, and on east and west by nothing but fish. During the American Revolution, and throughout the nineteenth century, the United States benefited from what President Washington described as the ordinary combinations and collisions of the European powers. The noted twentieth-century historian of American foreign relations, Samuel Flagg Bemis, was accustomed to write regarding this era that "Europe's distress was America's advantage." C. Vann Woodward aptly labeled it a time of "free security." Beginning with World War I, this remarkable period was no more. After World War II most Americans realized that fact. When the nuclear age opened, the problems of world peace became so omnipresent, so persistent, that they no longer were possible to ignore.


Alonso, Harriet H. The Women's Peace Union and the Outlawry of War: 19231942. Knoxville, Tenn., 1989.

. Peace as a Women's Issue: A U.S. Movement for World Peace and Women's Rights. Syracuse, N.Y., 1993.

Brock, Peter, and Thomas P. Socknat, eds. Challenges to Mars: Essays on Pacifism from 1918 to 1945. Toronto, 1994. Half of the twenty-eight essays are on the interwar period.

Buckley, Thomas H. The United States and the Washington Conference: 19211922. Knoxville, Tenn., 1970.

Chatfield, Charles. For Peace and Justice: Pacifism in America, 19141941. Knoxville, Tenn., 1971.

. The American Peace Movement: Ideals and Activism. New York, 1992.

Cooper, Sandi E. Patriotic Pacifism: Waging War on War in Europe, 18151914. New York, 1991. Emphasis on the peace movement between 1889 and 1914.

Curti, Merle. Peace or War: The American Struggle, 16361936. New York, 1936.

Davis, Calvin D. The United States and the First Hague Peace Conference. Ithaca, N.Y., 1962.

. The United States and the Second Hague Peace Conference: American Diplomacy and International Organization, 18991914. Durham, N.C., 1976. Relates the history of "the Hague idea" until World War I.

DeBenedetti, Charles. The Peace Reform in American History. Bloomington, Ind., 1980.

Doenecke, Justus. Discerning the Signs: American Anti-Interventionism and the World Crisis of 19391941. Lanham, Md., 2000.

Early, Frances H. A World Without War: How Feminists and Pacifists Resisted World War I. Syracuse, N.Y., 1997.

Ferrell, Robert H. Peace in Their Time. New Haven, Conn., 1952.

Foster, Carrie A. The Women and the Warriors: The U.S. Section of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 19131946. Syracuse, N.Y., 1995.

Howlett, Charles F. The American Peace Movement: Reformers and Resources. New York, 1991. Annotated, 1,600 entries.

Joseph, Paul. Peace Politics. Philadelphia, 1993. Peace movement of the 1980s.

Kleidman, Robert. Organizing for Peace: Neutrality, the Test Ban, and the Freeze. Syracuse, N.Y., 1993. Covers the years 19361937, 19571963, 19791986.

Marullo, Sam, Alexandra Chute, and Mary Anna Colwell. "Pacifism and Nonpacifist Groups in the U.S. Peace Movement of the 1980s." Peace and Change 16, no. 3 (July 1991): 235259.

Patterson, David S. Toward a Warless World: The Travail of the American Peace Movement, 18871914. Bloomington, Ind., 1976.

Peace and Change. Vols. 116 (19752001).

Peace Research Abstracts Journal. Vols. 138 (19642001).

Schott, Linda K. Reconstructing Women's Thoughts: The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom Before World War II. Stanford, Calif., 1997.

Small, Melvin, and William Hoover, eds. Give Peace a Chance: Exploring the Vietnam Anti-war Movement. Syracuse, N.Y., 1992.

Tracy, James. Direct Action: From the Union Eight to the Chicago Seven. Chicago, 1996. Half the book addresses racial conflict.

Wells, Tom. The War Within America: America's Battle over Vietnam. Berkeley, Calif., 1994.

Wittner, Lawrence S. Rebels Against War: The American Peace Movement, 19331984. Philadelphia, 1984.

. One World or None: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement Through 1953. Stanford, Calif., 1993.

. Revisiting the Bomb: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement, 19541970. Stanford, Calif., 1997.

Ziegler, Valarie H. The Advocates of Peace in Antebellum America. Bloomington, Ind., 1992.

See also Arbitration, Mediation, and Conciliation; Dissent in Wars; Gender; Ideology; Internationalism; International Law; International Organization; Isolationism; Neutrality; Pacifism; Peacemaking; Public Opinion; The Vietnam War and Its Impact; Wilsonianism.


"The president of the German Reich, the president of the United States of America, his majesty the king of the Belgians, the president of the French Republic, his majesty the king of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the seas, emperor of India, his majesty the king of Italy, his majesty the emperor of Japan, the president of the Republic of Poland, the president of the Czechoslovak Republic,

"Deeply sensible of their solemn duty to promote the welfare of mankind;

"Persuaded that the time has come when a frank renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy should be made to the end that the peaceful and friendly relations now existing between their peoples may be perpetuated;

"Convinced that all changes in their relations with one another should be sought only by pacific means and be the result of a peaceful and orderly process, and that any signatory Power which shall hereafter seek to promote its national interests by resort to war should be denied the benefits furnished by this Treaty;

"Hopeful that, encouraged by their example, all the other nations of the world will join in this humane endeavor and by adhering to the present Treaty as soon as it comes into force bring their peoples within the scope of its beneficent provisions, thus uniting the civilized nations of the world in a common renunciation of war as an instrument of their national policy;

"Have decided to conclude a Treaty. and for that purpose have appointed as their respective Plenipotentiaries who, having communicated to one another their full powers found in good and due form have agreed upon the following articles:

Article I The High Contracting Parties solemnly declare in the names of their respective peoples that they condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another.

Article II The High Contracting Parties agree that the settlement or solution of all disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them, shall never be sought except by pacific means."

Peace Movements

views updated May 29 2018

Peace Movements






In scholarly literature and public discourse, the term peace movement is often used as a synonym for pacifism. But in discussing peace movements, it is helpful to differentiate between the periods before and after 1945. Since World War II, peace movements have had distinctively new patterns of mobilization and organization, and many of them have been protests against certain wars or armaments, but not necessarily against violence or the military per se.

In sociological terms, peace movements can be defined as social movements that aim to protest against the perceived dangers of political decision-making about armaments, military alliances, and war. They stress the possibly violent fallout from these decisions (which the decision makers perceive as mere risk ), and advocate nonviolent solutions. For these purposes, they use a variety of communication media and public performances of both an instrumental and a symbolic nature. It is one of the distinctive features of peace movements in the contemporary media society that their capacity for mobilization depends to a large degree on their resonance in public opinion and in the mass media, and that many of their protests are primarily calculated with regard to public reaction. As social or protest movements, peace movements evolved at least since the 1960s together with environmental and womens movements, often including considerable overlap and cross-fertilization in terms of aims, ideologies, institutional networks, and individual supporters.


According to Thorsten Bonacker and Lars Schmitt in their 2004 study, both historical and sociological research on peace movements reflects the conceptual changes within the social movement-approach from the 1970s to the present. Frank Parkins 1968 study was one of the first interpretations of the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Here he analyzed it in terms of its social constituency as a form of middle class radicalism. This focus on the social characteristics of protest actors ties in with the concept of a value change from materialistic (i.e., working-class) to post-materialistic (i.e. middle-class) values as a key prerequisite for peace movement mobilization. The empirical validity of this concept has been repeatedly challenged.

During the 1980s many studies relied on the resource mobilization concept and tried, with a focus on the organizational capacities of protest elites, to identify the successes or failures of peace movement mobilization. Much historical research in this fashion tended to conceptualize the history of armaments and warmongering in the simplifying dichotomy of doves and hawks, and to exaggerate the impact of peace protests on decision-making processes, without putting this issue under careful scrutiny. Peace movements since 1945 have, in fact, yielded their most substantial results not in opposition against any particular war, but in turning forms of civil unrest and nonviolent disobedience into a legitimate means of political mobilization. They have thus broadened, together with the feminist and environmental movements, the scope of democratic participation in American, European, and some Asian societies.

Since the 1990s constructivist approaches have gained currency in both sociological and historical research on peace movements. These concepts do not focus on the social resources of collective actors or on the political system as an external variable for movement mobilization. Rather, they stress the importance of the protests themselves as communicative events and the capacity of these events to construct reasons for protest through the attribution of possible dangerous consequences to political decisions. According to Michael S. Foley in his 2003 book Confronting the War Machine: Draft Resistance during the Vietnam War, characteristic elements of peace movements are in this perspective performative forms of protest, particularly those that use the bodies of the protesters to display their personal commitment and consternation, as in the draft resistance movement against the Vietnam War.

Another important feature is the moralistic codes of protest communication with its stark, sometimes eschatological or bleak dichotomies, which accentuate the difference between risk/danger, either/or. Constructivist approaches stress the importance of framescollective semantic patterns that provide a coherent interpretation of social realityfor the transformation of latent conflicts into manifest peace protests. In a 1992 article Jürgen Gerhards and Dieter Rucht differentiate between diagnostic frames (what is the problem?), prognostic frames (how can it be solved?), and motivational frames, which trigger and channel the protest communication. According to this approach, masterframes are necessary to make the identity of protest communication plausible and visible and to determine its place in the context of society.


Peace mobilization after 1945 was mainly triggered and influenced by the dangers and the unprecedented destructive potential of nuclear technology, unleashed for the first time in the atomic bombings of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Particularly during the first postwar decade, mobilization against atomic armaments fell prey to the emerging cold war confrontation between the military blocs in the East and West. Communist parties worldwide were quick to seize the opportunity. The World Congress of Intellectuals for Peace met in the Polish city of Wrocław in August 1948 and was the first in a string of carefully orchestrated meetings meant to demonstrate the genuinely peace-loving policies of the socialist countries and to launch vitriolic attacks against the United States.

Toward the end of the 1950s, non-aligned protest movements against the possession, proliferation, testing, and employment of nuclear weapons gained momentum in various Western European countries. CND was founded in February 1958 by leading left-wing intellectuals such as the philosopher Bertrand Russell (18721970) and the historian A. J. P. Taylor (19061990). Its basic tactic was to renew the pressure on the parliamentary Labour Party to advocate unilateral disarmament with the means of extra-parliamentary public protest. From the early 1960s CND also adopted the aim of Britains exit from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO, a military alliance of countries in Europe and North America). CND and subsequent movements in other countries professed a concern for peace as a global issue and for humanity as its subject. But in its rhetoric and commitment, the respective nation state remained the focal point. Antinuclear peace activism was thus an international, but not a strictly transnational, movement, as were later the campaigns against the Vietnam War and the Euromissiles.

CND invented and employed an annual march from the nuclear weapons facility in Aldermaston, England, to London during the Easter weekend as the major form of public protest. This example was subsequently added to the symbolic repertoire of peace movements in various European countries, as was the symbol of a circle encompassing a broken cross, representing the semaphore signals for the n and d of nuclear disarmament. The tactics and symbols of CND were copied and emulated in many Western European countries, but also in southern Europe, for example in Greece.


Both Catholic and Communist circles in France had already protested against the attempts of the French military to regain control over the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (which was founded in 1945 in the northern part of the former French colony) since 1946. But the fate of the Vietnamese people became a focal point for massive antiwar mobilization in western European countries, Japan, and the United States only after the U.S. army had started massive attacks against the operations of the communist guerrilla NFL in South Vietnam and a systematic aerial bombing of North Vietnam in 1964 and 1965. The Norwegian Solidarity Committee for Vietnam established in December 1965 was among the first concerted efforts to organize material support for the people in North Vietnam and to call for a peaceful solution of the conflict. As similar committees and movements in other countries, it demanded an immediate stop of the American aerial bombing and the strict application of the Geneva Accords of 1954, which had divided Vietnam with a demilitarized zone around a demarcation line along the seventeenth degree of latitude. Whereas these aims could still be supported by pacifist groups such as the War Resisters International, they remained distant from the subsequent radicalization of antiwar protests, particularly its relation to the use of violence. With a peak during the years from 1967 to 1970, the anti-Vietnam War movement attracted a large, but also highly volatile, group of followers particularly among the student population in Europe, Japan, and the United States, which was involved in parallel protests against the system of higher education, the establishment, and the anti-Communist postwar consensus in their respective countries and U.S. imperialism in the Third World.

The radicalization of the movement made its position with regard to the use of violence ambivalent. A growing number of antiwar protesters not only supported a military victory of the NFL, but showed also a readiness for the use of violence in clashes with the police during rallies. More generally, confrontational tactics and the calculated use of spectacular protest forms such as sit-ins, the locking of persons to buildings, or the burning of national flags were almost without precedent in the history of peace activism. Only the Committee of 100, a group of radicals that had separated itself from CND in 1960, had already practiced spectacular sit-downs of protesters in Whitehall, England, or at missile sites and had attracted a lot of media coverage with these actions. With the trend toward only loosely coordinated and more disruptive forms of public protest, the mobilization against the Vietnam War indicated a major shift in the organizational patterns and tactics of peace movements in the United States, Europe, and Japan. It thus marked a major change in the history of peace movement mobilization.


In December 1979 NATO finalized its double track solution for intermediate range nuclear missiles, which combined an offer to the Soviet Union to negotiate a reduction or elimination of nuclear missiles in Europe with the announcement to deploy cruise missiles and Pershing II missiles in five Western European nations in the autumn of 1983. This decision offered, paradoxically, an unprecedented window of opportunity for peace movement mobilization, which gained momentum in all Western European countries by the spring of 1981. France was the only exception, due to the domestic consensus about the need to maintain its own nuclear weapons arsenal. The protests against the Euromissiles were not organized or orchestrated by some of the established or freshly mushrooming organizations of peace activistsaccording to an estimate about 2,300 local, national, and international groups in 1982but only loosely coordinated in a network structure. A major attempt for transnational coordination on the European level was European Nuclear Disarmament (END), founded by the historian E. P. Thompson and other veteran members of the British peace movement in April 1980. Mobilization against the Euromissiles reached its peak between June 1982 and October 1983, when the movement organized protest marches with several hundred thousand participants each in various European capital cities. Even during this climactic period, though, the peace movement was not able, with the one exception of Greece, to gather a majority of the population behind its major aim, a unilateral nuclear disarmament of NATO.

The tactics of the Euromissiles movement included two distinctive features. In contrast to the antinuclear protests of the 1950s and 1960s, this wave of mobilization did not so much employ famous novelists or intellectuals as popular figureheads and symbolic icons, but brought a new generation of experts from the sciences to the forefront. Physicians and physicists in particular briefed the mass media about the dangers of nuclear weapons and about their environmental consequences. This gradual shift from a moral to a more cognitive approach went together with a policy orientation of the Euromissiles movement. More than earlier peace movements, these new activists tried to engage in a dialogue with the respective governments about possible alternatives to existing defense policies. The public discourse of the Euromissiles campaign was highly gendered and contrasted the male power craziness of Reagan-Haig-Weinberger (then the U.S. president and two of his leading cabinet members) with the need for a more feminine empowerment in favor of peaceful solutions, encapsulated in the slogan Petting instead of Pershing. Both as a cultural current and a political aversion, anti-Americanism provided a masterframe for the peace movements of the 1980s in Western Europe and Japan. American peace movements since the 1950s made, on the other hand, much effort to describe their activities as the embodiment of the genuine progressive tendencies of American identity and popular culture, to avoid accusations of being un-American.

Starting in the late 1970s, an independent peace movement emerged also in the Warsaw Pact countries (those in Eastern Europe), although only on a limited scale and in constant fear of police repression. Groups such as the Moscow Trust Group in the Soviet Union, Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia, and the Protestant peace groups assembled behind the slogan swords into ploughshares. They organized meetings and distributed unauthorized literature. Their basic aim was to restore elements of an unregulated civil society by nonviolent means and to foster a détente from below, after the Helsinki Agreement on Security and Cooperation had ratified détente, or an easing of tensions, between the Eastern and Western bloc countries in 1975.

SEE ALSO Colonialism; Diplomacy; Disarmament; Imperialism; Left and Right; Militarism; Pacifism; Passive Resistance; Peace Process; Protest; Radicalism; Social Movements; Vietnam War; Weaponry, Nuclear


Bonacker, Thorsten, and Lars Schmitt. 2004. Politischer Protest zwischen latenten Strukturen und manifesten Konflikten. Perspektiven soziologischer Protestforschung am Beispiel der (neuen) Friedensbewegung. Mitteilungsblatt des Instituts für soziale Bewegungen 32: 193213.

Foley, Michael S. 2003. Confronting the War Machine: Draft Resistance during the Vietnam War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Gerhards, Jürgen, and Dieter Rucht. 1992. Mesomobilization: Organizing and Framing in Two Protest Campaigns in West Germany. American Journal of Sociology 98 (3): 555596.

Giugni, Marco. 2004. Social Protest and Policy Change: Ecology, Antinuclear, and Peace Movements in Comparative Perspective. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Kaltefleiter, Werner, and Robert L. Pfaltzgraff, eds. 1985. The Peace Movements in Europe and the United States. London: Croom Helm.

Nehring, Holger. 2005. National Internationalists: British and West German Protests against Nuclear Weapons, the Politics of Transnational Communications and the Social History of the Cold War, 19571964. Contemporary European History 14 (4): 559582.

Parkin, Frank. 1968. Middle Class Radicalism. The Social Bases of the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Wittner, Lawrence S. 2003. Toward Nuclear Abolition. A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement. 1971 to the Present. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Ziemann, Benjamin. 2004. Peace Movements in Western Europe, Japan and USA since 1945: Introduction. Mitteilungsblatt des Instituts für soziale Bewegungen 32: 519.

Benjamin Ziemann

Peace Movements

views updated May 23 2018


PEACE MOVEMENTS. Aspects of peace culture existed in North America before European colonialism and settlement. The Iroquois had modes of mediation, as did the Quakers later on. William Penn's peace plans preceded organized political movements for peace, which were very much a post-Enlightenment, post-industrial phenomenon. Immigrant peace sects such as the Amish, Hutterians, and many others had religious peace doctrines, often refusing military service and leading nonviolent lives. Nevertheless these groups did not constitute social movements in the way that the term is used in the social sciences: mobilized public groups that take action for social change.

Such peace movements emerged as a response to the Napoleonic wars of the early nineteenth century as the members of various economic and social classes engaged in political debate and publication. Usually taking the form of specific organizations (for example, labor or peace societies), these groups in the United States were often initially linked to similar groups in Europe. Although the first local peace society was formed in New York in 1815 by David L. Dodge, expanded in 1828 into the American Peace Society by W. Ladd (both were reformist, liberal pressure groups that opposed standing armies and supported worldwide peace), firmly establishing a starting date or founding leaders is difficult. The United States has never had a single mass movement or an overarching, unified peace organization.

Not until the later decades of the nineteenth century did broad-based social and political mass movements concerned with peace arise. Earlier, individuals like Ladd, Dodge, the itinerant blacksmith Elihu Burritt (who had popular backing and a broader base as well as an English branch for his League [1846]), and later Alfred Love, who formed The Universal Peace Movement in 1866, and William Lloyd Garrison, as well as individual peace prophets like Henry David Thoreau were the main promulgators of the peace message, the latter introducing ideas of civil disobedience. Churches espousing pacifism, such as the Society of Friends (Quakers), Mennonites, and the Church of the Brethren, were already well established and utopian societies with pacifist views grew in the mid-nineteenth century. Although all these elements were often informally in touch with one another, they did not constitute a true social movement (compare the abolitionist movement).

U.S. peace movements, like those of other industrialized democracies, were composed of overlapping groups, organizations, and individuals that formed temporary coalitions and alliances. The peace movement did not have a single unifying principle, although opposition to war appears to be an obvious one; however, such opposition was often based on isolationism, national chauvinism, economic self-interest—motivations that had little to do with peace. The various peace groups, rooted in a variety of traditions, methods, and ideologies, regularly disagreed—especially on the issue of pacifism or about ideologies such as socialism, communism, feminism, or religious doctrines.

Not until about 1900 did several parallel social movements against war and militarism and for pacific inter-nationalism emerge. These included organizations such as the American Union Against Militarism, the Emergency Peace Federation, and the Women's Peace Party, all formed after 1914 to keep the United States out of the European maelstrom. Together with socialist and syndicalist agitation, this represents the first genuine peak of mass peace and antiwar movement activity (1900–1915). Yet with the exception of Jane Addams (who was a key founder of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom in 1920) and Eugene Debs, head of the Socialist Party, there were no prominent founders of the movement, although Randolph Bourne, Norman Thomas, and Emma Goldman were important critics of war. Out of this activity emerged such organizations as the inter-denominational Fellowship of Reconciliation and the largely secular War Resisters League. This activity also spawned the U.S. Communist Party with its ever-shifting peace fronts; the Communist Party's relationship with the peace movement was problematic and often disruptive, though undoubtedly individuals held genuine antimilitarist views. A. J. Muste, who later became a major pacifist leader, was an active Trotskyist in the interwar years.

Ebb and Flow

Like many major social movements, peace movements worldwide are cyclical, often responding to the build up to, conduct of, and aftermath of major wars. In addition, peace movements have tried to forestall war and stop or decelerate arms races. Before 1917 and 1936, the United States had several peace groups working to prevent war or American entry into war. American women helped organize an international women's conference in The Hague in 1915 to try to promote an armistice to end World War I, and by 1936 the League against War and Fascism had a large and stable base, especially on U.S. college campuses. After 1940, however, the U.S. peace movement experienced a long and dramatic decline, with both internationalists and pacifists becoming isolated.

Peace movements have also tried to prevent U.S. entry into wars on other continents and have worked to achieve ceasefires or armistices. Additionally, peace movements have been involved in trying to bring about reconciliation and, especially at the end of the world wars, the establishment of institutions, such as the United Nations, that would provide a venue for settlement of conflict and differences between nations that did not involve going to war. The peace movement in the United States was influenced in character and organization by the late entry of the United States into World Wars I and II and its early ventures in Indochina.

Peaks of peace activity can be seen in U.S. history. The first stretched from the late nineteenth century to the United States' entry into World War I; the second was in the early 1920s, fueled by disillusionment with the outcome of the "war to end wars" and associated with the failure of the League of Nations and other international organizations; the third came in the 1930s in response to the accelerating arms race. The fourth, beginning in the late 1950s was concerned mainly with nuclear weapons and served as the base for the fifth, which arose in the mid-1960s in response to the escalation of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The antiwar peace movement of the 1960s and 1970s included massive demonstrations and mass draft refusal with many young men emigrating to

Canada and other countries to avoid the draft. The sixth peak of peace activity came after 1979 and focused on preventing nuclear war; it also included feminist and ecological concerns from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s. At first nuclear energy was a key issue; but by November 1982 the campaign to stop the nuclear arms race had organized strong local groups and could mount large demonstrations and get referenda on local ballots. This coalition formed the "Nuclear Freeze" campaign, led by Randall Forsberg and Randy Kehler; prominent spokespersons were Benjamin Spock and Helen Caldecott. It was at this time that distinctive women's peace movements emerged. Since this final peak, the peace movement continued episodic patterns, and overlapped with the anti-globalization movement of the 1990's and beyond.

At all times the interaction between U.S. and European peace movements was important. From Burritt's League of Universal Brotherhood(1846), which sponsored two European congresses (1848 and 1853) to the Hague Appeal of 2000, peace movement members in the United States have supplied financing and strongly influenced European movements and meetings. American industrialist Andrew Carnegie's gift of the Peace Palace at The Hague as the seat for the International Courts of Justice symbolized the continuing role and influence of the United States. Equally significant was the importation of peace ideologies and strategies into the United States with the migrations of the later years of the nineteenth century.

Post–World War II

At times in the post–World War II years, when peace movements could have given significant support to Eleanor Roosevelt and Ralph Bunche in their work with the newly established United Nations, the movements became isolated and were stigmatized as "Red Communist" or traitorously pacifist. Often, as in 1918, peace movement leaders were imprisoned. After 1940, many peace movements found that their organizational supports had evaporated. However, a viable remnant in the form of small organizations and key activists, speakers, and organizers remained. Termed the "prophetic peace minorities," they resurfaced in key roles at the start of each new phase of peace activity, sometimes as initiators.

In the mid-twentieth century, small pacifist groups raised the issue of nuclear weapons and conducted non-violent direct action at military bases; these groups also engaged in peace marches in Cuba and Moscow and sailed into nuclear testing areas. These groups tended to be strongly reinforced by the Japanese movement in the early 1950s and, after 1959, by their European counterparts. The emergence of the opposition to the Vietnam War after 1965 strongly influenced the rise of similar radical (often student based) movements in Europe and the rest of the world. In 1979, however, as opposition to the development of a neutron bomb and to placement of intermediate nuclear weapons in European nations grew in Europe, the peace movement in the United States again lagged that of Europe; the character of the U.S. movement was much more moderate, endorsing gradualism and shunning unilateralist policies.

Peace Movement Defined

What then defines the peace movements, given their individualistic and largely discontinuous character? Peace movements appear to be independent of states or governments, they are autonomous groupings of civil society, and though nonaligned with any nation's foreign policy, they are not necessarily neutral in conflicts. In addition, their methods are actively nonviolent. What then are their goals?

Peace movements have tended to coalesce around goals related to preventing or stopping specific wars, abolishing certain weapons or weapons systems, or opposing military conscription. Peace movements have always had a pacifist dimension, opposing all war. They have also had a radical, socialist, or liberal dimension that critiqued the links of capitalism to imperialism and militarism. Often there was a commitment to refusing to participate in specific wars. The political left—anarchist, syndicalist, social democrat, Marxist—has often taken an antiwar and antimilitarist stances, often in alliance with more traditional peace groups.

Until World War I, refusing military service was motivated primarily by religious belief, but the reasons for conscientious objection grew more secular in the years after 1917. Conscientious objection on nonreligious grounds evolved during and after World War II; by 1970, pacifism was a major force within American society in general. Peace movements, however, had found a new religious constituency: Roman Catholic peace activity following the 1970 papal encyclical, Pacem in Terris, ranged from opposing death squads and intervention in Latin America to actively opposing nuclear weapons. The Roman Catholic group, Pax Christi, evolved from a tiny pressure group in 1960 to a significant part of the overall peace movement.

From World War I onward radical pacifists used the social gospel to advance political change. Also inspired by Gandhi's use of nonviolence, active pacifists such as A. J. Muste and Bayard Rustin engaged in direct action against military bases, racial injustice, and civil defense, advocated for Civil Rights and the nonviolent transformation of a militarized and often unjust society, and supported positive peace (for example, racial justice).

At times radical pacifists adopted anticapitalist and anti-imperialist positions. In the 1960s, socialist critiques reemerged in the New Left in organizations like the Student Peace Union and the Students for a Democratic Society. At times large peace coalitions were infiltrated, manipulated, or even led by members of left-wing political groups. At other times, in the two decades before 1917, for example, socialist agitation against militarism was largely separate from other peace activity. (Such isolation left socialists very vulnerable to repression; the International Workers of the World and the Socialist Party under Eugene Debs were savagely suppressed.) In the 1920s and 1930s communists and Trotskyists often practiced "entrism" (covert participation) in peace organizations, moving peace alliances into an antifascist or later even isolationist or pro-Soviet position. After 1946, pro-Soviet "peace fronts" helped stigmatize the rest of peace movements. Thus, the massive 1950 Stockholm Peace appeal, which involved millions of noncommunists, was made less effective by its support of the Soviet Union.

By the early 1960s, however, growing political nonalignment, or a "third way" position, in peace coalitions allowed transnational linkages with other independent movements to grow. After 1959 these linkages were encouraged by A. J. Muste, Dave Dellinger, and Liberation Magazine. By the 1980s, these coalitions included groups opposed to communist regimes in Russia and Eastern Europe.


Boundaries of the peace movement are hard to establish. It has played a key role in disseminating the theory and methods of nonviolent action and conflict transformation; many peace movements were broadly programmatic and its members participated in community organizing and civil rights campaigns. The American Civil Liberties Union emerged from the defense of the freedom of conscience and speech during and prior to World War I. Much of the inspiration for the civil rights movement came from peace leaders and activists from World War II and the decade following.

What kind of relationship to have with oppressive governments and violent liberation movements has always vexed peace movements. Pacifists have been divided on the issue of just wars. Although at moments of mass peace mobilization those in disagreement have joined together in large demonstrations or days of action, the ideological differences remain. Some peace lobbying groups prefer educational or pressure group work and conferences as methods to achieve peace.

Success and Failure

What criteria can we use to assess the successes and failures of the American peace movements? While few stated goals have been achieved, their support has significantly aided international peace organizations. Cultural dimensions of peace have entered mainstream culture, not so much politically as in music, literature, art, theater, and film. The growth of peace research, peace studies, and peace education in schools, colleges, and universities since the 1970s has started to legitimate the interdisciplinary fields of peace and conflict studies as an area of inquiry and pedagogy. More peace programs exist in the United States than anywhere else in the world; most of them reflect concerns of the early 1970s (Vietnam) and early 1980s (nuclear war). Without a peace movement such programs almost certainly would not have been developed. In the 1950s, for example, a "conspiracy of silence" and censorship surrounded the nature of nuclear war—peace groups took on the role of public education. The peace movement has also brought to light and into question U.S. military or paramilitary intervention in various parts of the world.

As for specific impact on government policy, domestic successes include the expansion of the legal right for individuals to declare conscientious objection to participating in war and the humane treatment of conscientious objectors. They also include the signing of a partial, atmospheric nuclear test ban treaty of 1963,the decision to end the ground and then air wars in Vietnam, the suspension of the peace time draft, and the increasing reluctance to incur casualties in combat by the United States.

Over the years the peace movement has accumulated ideas, organizations, and traditions while rarely having more than 10 percent of the public supporting its positions. The peace movement, however, has succeeded in weaving its ideas, symbolism, and styles of action into American culture. Following the acts of global terrorism in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, a transnational peace strategy may begin to make sense to a far wider constituency.

Such traditions as religious pacifism and conscientious objection, Gandhian nonviolence, liberal and socialist internationalism, and anticonscriptionism have been enhanced by the special role of women's peace activity, conflict resolution, mediation, and dispute settlement as well as a growing belief in international law, justice, and arbitration through transnational bodies and nongovernmental organizations. All these have become an accepted, if sometimes contested, part of normal political life in America even if they are often minority positions. The peace movements of the past one hundred and fifty years have made this transformation and evolution possible.


Brock, Peter, and Nigel Young. Pacifism in the Twentieth Century. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1999.

Chatfield, Charles. The American Peace Movement: Ideals and Activism. New York: Twayne, 1992.

DeBenedetti, Charles. The Peace Reform American History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980.

Peterson, H. C., and Gilbert Fite. Opponents of War, 1917–1918. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1957.

Wittner, Lawrence S. Rebels against War: The American Peace Movement, 1933–1983. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1984.

Nigel J.Young

See alsoAntiwar Movements ; Arms Race and Disarmament ; Conscientious Objectors ; Peace Conferences ; Utopian Communities ; Women and the Peace Movement ; andvol. 9:Peace and Bread in Time of War ; Statement by Committee Seeking Peace with Freedom in Vietnam .

Antiwar Movements

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ANTIWAR MOVEMENTS. Peace and antiwar movements provide a means to focus pacifist sentiment into organized, domestic expressions of dissent toward American foreign policy. Antiwar sentiment has usually been the attitude of the minority, and antiwar movements have traditionally struggled to be seen as representing a thoughtful and respectable critique of U.S. foreign policy rather than the radical fringe. Although peace movements have often existed in times of peace, it has been in times of military conflict or the increased risk of such conflict that the movements have thrived.

Antiwar sentiment dates back to the colonial period. Pacifism was one of the central tenets of the Quakers (Society of Friends). But in the early nineteenth century peace movements flourished as the result of two converging developments. First was an increasing disposition toward human development in a reform-oriented age when temperance, antislavery, and women's rights campaigns were also flourishing. More immediately, it was in reaction to the Napoleonic Wars at the beginning of the nineteenth century and most particularly to the unpopular War of 1812 against the British that the first organized movements dedicated specifically to pacifism came into being. Federalist opponents to the War of 1812 had labeled themselves "Friends of Peace" during the war's duration, and after it had finished, in 1815, the Massachusetts Peace Society and a New York equivalent were formed. Several other bodies were also formed; among them the American Peace Society (APS), founded in 1828 by William Ladd, proved one of the most enduring and influential even though it primarily campaigned for the abolition of slavery.

Early movements approached the challenge in different ways, some through legalistic arbitration, some through enforcement, some through military reductions, and some used an approach championed by the temperance movement, abstinence. The American movements' interaction with their European counterparts proved important, and a series of international peace congresses convened in Europe in the late 1840s and early 1850s provided the opportunity for reciprocal learning and exemplified the growing tendency toward arbitration as the means to ending military conflict.

The APS supported the North during the Civil War. It continued its activities after the war, walking a line between the public's apathy and the radical's dissatisfaction with its compromising tactics, a viewpoint that found expression in the Universal Peace Union (UPU). Led by Alfred Love, the UPU called for immediate disarmament, an international treaty substituting arbitration for war, and an end to imperialism. Toward the end of the nineteenth century organized religion began to voice its opposition to war. The Women's Christian Temperance Union and advocates of women's rights declared for peace. As the conflict with Spain over Cuba intensified, the APS felt that any attempt to resolve the crisis would be futile, while the UPU worked tirelessly to avert war. Peace found another ally in the Anti-Imperialist League, founded in 1898, which included some prominent American politicians and capitalists.

In the years immediately preceding World War I, over sixty peace societies were in existence. The American Society for the Judicial Settlement of International Disputes, the World Peace Foundation, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and a series of peace congresses were paralleled by peace leagues and associations in secondary schools and colleges and the expression of peace sentiments in the business world and by the American Federation of Labor. The outbreak of war in Europe in 1914 triggered the formation of the Woman's Peace Party, feminist led; the American Union against Militarism, anti-interventionist and antipreparedness; and the League to Enforce Peace, an international organization. But few of these groups could withstand the surge of patriotism that came with the war years. During the 1930s pacifism received a surge of support that manifested itself in the formation of a myriad of peace-inclined groups. In 1933 thirty-seven peace organizations formed the National Peace Conference, but within two years the movements were dividing into isolationists and collective security advocates.

Because few questioned the righteousness of the war against Nazism, Fascism, and the perpetrators of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and also because many subscribed to the view that the pacifism of the 1930s had led directly to the appeasement of Hitler, during and immediately after World War II the peace movement was small, disorganized, and largely silent. By mid-1954, however, that was changing as the campaign for nuclear disarmament propelled a resurgence of the peace movement. In the context of Cold War tensions, the nuclear arms race seemed a dire threat to human survival. Peace advocates now campaigned for disarmament and a reduction in United States–Soviet tensions, and more immediately for a ban on nuclear testing. Two groups that emerged in 1957, the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE) and the Committee for Nonviolent Action (CNVA), provided the organizational focus of the peace movement until the emphasis shifted from nuclear weapons to Vietnam. Both organizations were loosely structured and their ranks were filled with people from varied backgrounds who came together under the general moniker of "nuclear pacifists." Their methods were varied, but most often they attempted to focus the public's attention through public discourse rather than action.

The most organized, politically powerful, and politically and socially divisive antiwar movement of the twentieth century was the campaign against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Beginning as early as 1955, the anti-Vietnam War movement grew in parallel to the growth of U.S. involvement, reaching its peak in the mid-1960s to the early 1970s. Early dissent was focused on college campuses, where professors and students criticized U.S. policy publicly, staging teach-ins, and used the tools of the academic trade to articulate the dissent movement. By now two words were used to describe the spectrum of views on pacifism—"doves" described the pacifists and "hawks" described those inclined toward military solutions; both terms became labels of derision.

By the early 1960s the antiwar campaign received a major boost through its commonality of interests with the civil rights movement. As well as benefiting from mutual support, from the civil rights movement the antiwar movement learned the tactics of dissent, ranging from militant radicalism to nonviolent protest. Of common concern to both movements was the principle of self-determination, but more immediate and tangible concerns related to the racial inequities of the military draft and the disproportionate numbers of casualties suffered from among the ranks of African American men. Prominent civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bayard Rustin were early critics of the war but ultimately the antiwar campaign split the civil rights movement into factions.

President Johnson's 1965 escalation of the American involvement in Vietnam provoked many, who had previously harbored private concerns about American policy, to express themselves for the first time. The result was that the movement expanded beyond college campuses. Initially, the peace movement generally aimed at building public consensus, but by 1967 some activists were resorting to increasingly drastic methods and civil disobedience gave way to urban unrest punctuated by violence. Over the weekend of 21–22 October 1967 approximately over 55,000 antiwar protesters converged on Washington, D.C., threatening to escalate their expressions of opposition from dissent to resistance by disrupting the U.S. military machinery itself. For the first time since the 1932 Bonus March, U.S. troops and marshals were deployed in Washington, D.C., to protect against domestic protesters. Similar mass protests were staged in San Francisco and New York. After Richard Nixon's promise during the 1968 presidential election campaign to end American involvement in the conflict, the peace movement temporarily subsided. When, in the spring of 1970, Nixon announced that U.S. troops would fight in Cambodia, the antiwar movement became reinvigorated. The division of the nation was graphically and violently demonstrated on 4 May 1970, when National Guard units opened fire on antiwar protesters at Kent State University in Ohio, killing four unarmed students. After 1975, following the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, the antiwar movement rapidly and drastically subsided.

During the 1980s the primary focus of the peace movement once again became nuclear disarmament. The resurgence began in Europe and quickly spread to the United States in reaction to the Reagan administration's defense policies. Sharing a commonality of interests with the growing environmentalist movement, the disarmament campaign became a powerful political force. In the wake of the Cold War, the peace movement for the most part lacked a coherent and sustained target and became largely subsumed by other movements such as environmentalism and antiglobalization.


DeBenedetti, Charles. An American Ordeal: The Antiwar Movement of the Vietnam Era. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1990.

Hixson, Walter L., ed. The Vietnam Antiwar Movement. New York: Garland, 2000.

Wittner, Lawrence. The Struggle against the Bomb. 2 vols. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1993.

David G.Coleman

See alsoDoves ; Pacifism ; Peace Movements ; andvol. 9:Peace and Bread in Time of War ; Statement by Committee Seeking Peace with Freedom in Vietnam .

Peace Movements

views updated May 17 2018


Efforts to retain and regain peace during the Civil War (1861–1865) were uniformly unsuccessful. The earliest of these efforts took place in Washington in the winter of 1860–1861 as the outbreak of war threatened. Kentucky Senator John J. Crittenden drafted a series of initiatives, including an irrevocable constitutional amendment protecting slavery, protection of slavery south of the Missouri Compromise line, and compensation to owners for fugitive slaves. The Republican Party immediately rejected these proposals. Shortly thereafter, a peace convention of Unionists from the upper South met to try to find an alternative plan to prevent war. The convention adopted a modified form of the Crittenden plan that both the Republicans and the newly formed Confederate States of America rejected.

The initial organization of purely voluntary armies by both governments and the overwhelming martial spirit in both sections temporarily silenced peace advocates after April 1861. Individual pacifists, especially the Quakers, announced their opposition to the war on moral and religious grounds and were allowed to avoid participation in the bloodshed. Peace advocates became more outspoken when the Confederacy imposed conscription in 1862 and the Union did so in 1863, and when Abraham Lincoln announced his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862. By 1863 one wing of the Democratic Party had become advocates of an armistice to end the fighting, and they expected peace negotiations would follow. Their most active spokesperson was Clement L. Vallandigham, a gubernatorial candidate in Ohio. Although there was substantial support for this policy in the North—particularly among farmers in the lower Midwest—peace candidates lost most of the major political races in the North in 1863.

Peace movements began to appear openly in the Confederacy in the summer of 1863. These movements appeared to be motivated by the economic challenges facing lower-class whites and a decline in morale that developed after major Confederate defeats at Vicksburg and Gettysburg in early July. The most significant of these efforts took place in North Carolina and was headed by newspaperman William W. Holden. More than 100 public meetings were held throughout the state, and participants demanded that the administration of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, seek an armistice and negotiate a peace. As a result of this popular clamor, three peace candidates were elected to the Confederate Congress from North Carolina.

By 1864 revulsion against the heavy losses suffered by both armies led to renewed efforts to end the hostilities. On the Union side, secret groups called the Sons of Liberty and Knights of the Golden Circle formed in the Midwest. They called for an end to the fighting and supported the Peace Democrats. The Peace Democrats controlled their party's national convention in August and called for an armistice and a convention of states. Although the Democratic presidential candidate, George M. McClellan, repudiated the peace plank, many Democrats supported the party platform throughout the campaign.

In the Confederacy, public disillusionment with the Davis administration also created an organized opposition. Clandestine groups—particularly among yeoman farmers in the Appalachian Mountains—worked to end the war and to bring about reunion. Among these organizations were the Peace Party in Alabama and the Heroes of America in Virginia and North Carolina. William Holden ran for governor of North Carolina in 1864 as an avowed peace candidate but was soundly defeated.

As the military defeat of the Confederacy became more obvious in the winter of 1864–1865, several individuals and groups in the South sought to end the fighting. Legislators in Virginia, Georgia, and North Carolina introduced initiatives calling for an end to the fighting, but these were defeated by a majority of members. Senator William A. Graham of North Carolina reported that some members of the Confederate Senate were encour-aging the states of Virginia and North Carolina to withdraw their troops from the Confederate army. In February 1865 President Lincoln and his secretary of state, William H. Seward, agreed to meet Confederate representatives at Hampton Roads, Virginia. The three Confederate officials—Vice President Alexander Stephens, Senator Robert M. T. Hunter of Virginia, and Davis's assistant secretary of war, John A. Campbell—sought an armistice and a joint foreign policy initiative by the two governments. Lincoln rejected the Confederate overtures, and peace came only with the surrender of the Confederate armies in April.

The Civil War peace movements failed for two major reasons. First, the majority of people in both sections rejected compromise on the key issues of reunification and slavery. Second, both Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln, and their advisors, refused to consider any peace terms other than those unacceptable to the other. Thus, the peace movements of the Civil War never had a chance to succeed.


Auman, William T. and David B. Scarboro. "The Heroes of America in Civil War North Carolina." North Carolina Historical Review, LVIII (Autumn 1981), 327–363.

Curran, Thomas F. "Pacifists, Peace Democrats, and the Politics of Perfection in the Civil War Era," Journal of Church and State, XXXVIII (Summer 1996), 486–506.

Junk, Cheryl Fradette. "Good Soldiers of Christ: A Case Study of North Carolina Quaker Resistance to the Civil War." Southern Friend, XV (Spring 1993), 21–57.

Gordon B. McKinney

See also:Davis, Jefferson; Lincoln, Abraham; Peace Movements.

Antiwar Movements

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