Preparing for Peace
The website of the Westmorland General Meeting 'Preparing for Peace' initiative
THOMAS PAINE (1737-1809), the QUAKERS, and the ABOLITION of WAR
1991 the distinguished Oxford historian, Alan Bullock, published his powerful,
double biography on, “Hitler & Stalin”. Bullock, in his concluding
analysis, noted the common view held by most people in Europe as they emerged
from the horrors of the Second World War, only twenty years after the awesome
brutalities of World War 1.
age of Hitler & Stalin”, he wrote, “represents one of the blackest
periods in Europe’s history, which many at the time believed meant the end of
an off-chance remark, it was Hitler himself who had explained why Europe had
been driven to the brink of such disaster. As if to excuse his own bizarre
excesses, he once said, “How fortunate it is for rulers that men don’t think
Paine, one of the most complex & enigmatic of men, born in 1773 to become
the apprenticed son of an impoverished corset maker, a citizen of the second
& third Georges of England, & having been in early life, a lowly excise
officer, is the quintessential epitome of the “man who thinks for himself”.
Paine offers a model as to how & why free women & men should always
“think for themselves”. No authority in church or state, in politics or the
media, in science or law, in education or culture, offers a substitute for
thinking & reasoning for oneself.
the Englishman who ignited the American Revolution with his pamphlet, “Common
Sense”, wherein he contrasted civil society with the State, the man who
inspired Jefferson’s draft of America’s Declaration of Independence &
then, on his return to London wrote one of the most influential books of modern
times which he called, “ The Rights of Man”, & which frightened the
English establishment beyond measure; who then set off for Paris & the
French Revolution where he was elected to the Convention as the Deputy for
Calais, & who, in 1793, helped to write the new Constitution of France, but
then, on being incarcerated in the infamous Luxembourg prison for trying to
restrain the violent excesses of Robespierre, was moved to write, “The Age of
Reason” – this astonishing, self taught man, Tom Paine, was & is without
recognition in England.
French erected a gold statue to him in Paris; the Americans printed his head on
their postage stamps & hung his portrait in Independence Hall in
Philadelphia, but the English withheld recognition & continue to deny
tribute. His proper place, of course, is alongside Cromwell within the perimeter
wall of our Palaces of Westminster.
let us consider this man & his Quaker roots - despite the fire in St Louis
over a century ago, which destroyed so many of his personal papers.
we know for certain is that his father, Joseph, was a convinced Quaker at a time
when only one Englishman in every five hundred was a Quaker, & when the
Society of Friends was in decline as it slipped into “quietism”, erecting
what it called “a Quaker hedge” between itself & the rest of British
the year 1800, out of a total population of six & a half millions, Quakers
numbered some 24,000 members in England & 32,000 in G.B. They comprised,
therefore, only 0.5% of the population, but they had a seminal influence on the
evolving nature of British society.
Joseph had married an Anglican woman called, Frances Cocke (June 20th, 1734).
She came from a privileged family of lawyers. Tom’s most recent biographer,
John Keane, considers that baby Tom was baptised an Anglican, although there
remains a mystery because the event is not recorded in the parish register.
Tom’s baptism - if it happened - would have dismayed the Thetford Quakers
& probably would have led to local disquiet. Despite being born of a mixed
marriage however, Father’s Quaker influence, & his way of handling
conflict through inner quietness, would have impressed the growing boy. So would
silent grace before meals, regular bible reading, & silent meditation
reinforced by the teaching through example of Quaker insights in a hundred &
one different instances.
Paine’s family friends, including visitors to the house, would be mostly
Quakers. We know Tom attended & worshiped in the Quaker Meeting House at
Thetford from the age of six. At least 6 hours each week were given over to
meditation & learning the art of listening to the inward voice of God. Tom
would be taught not only that, “there is that of God in each person”, &
that what was variously called the “Spirit”, or the “Light”, or the
“Spark”, or the “Seed”, would help him to reach out to that of God in
every person - he would also learn that women are self-evidently equal to men,
that justice & integrity are the natural fruits of a good life, that liberty
should be the goal of social evolution, & that freedom in all things is a
right - rather than a gift bestowed by those who rule. “Privilege”, in
Tom’s opinion was the key flaw in the governance of his time. “The idea of
hereditary legislators is as ……absurd as an hereditary author”. From the
outset, a hundred years earlier, George Fox had insisted on his revolutionary
insight of equality – not just in respect of male & female, but as between
husband & wife, servant & master, commoner & aristocrat, priest
& worshipper – all were equal to one another. This had never been said
before, let alone practised. Such
powerful, Quaker insights would influence Tom throughout life. They were
balanced by a keen, personal sense of “responsibilities”.
paid tribute to those influences when he wrote, “My Father being of the Quaker
profession, it was my good fortune to have an exceedingly good moral education,
& a tolerable stock of useful learning.”
time the impact of such powerful Quaker insights absorbed in childhood &
adolescence would contribute to the shaping & moulding of Tom not just as a
revolutionary, but something of a Quaker revolutionary.
Keane challenges this deduction & you must make up your own mind. Like most
commentators who stand outside Quakerism, Keane tries to assess the traditional
beliefs of the Quaker to make his point. He finds these wanting for hard
evidence in Tom’s adult life. Yet such beliefs are definable despite the
Quaker’s rejection of doctrine & dogma. They include our peace testimony
& our total, or qualified, rejection of violence for settling political
disputes; the assumption of our common equality regardless of birth, race,
gender, politics or religion; the need for simplicity in all things, but
particularly in dress, speech, adornments including titles, language &
possessions including wealth; a commitment to doing good reinforced by a
willingness to “speak truth to power”; clarity as to the gross injustice of
divisions between rich & poor; &, of course, hitching one’s star to
the dissenting tradition which puts the King & his court, the High Court
Judge, the General, the priest, the aristocrat & the emerging men &
women of science, on exactly the same level as the common man or woman – the
“Third Estate”, as Tom originally called us.
characteristics are the fruits of the Spirit & are not, of course, in any
way limited to Quakers. But they are Quaker characteristics par excellence. Do
they spring from any common root? The
answer, I feel, will be found in the Quaker’s search for “insightful
understanding”. Or, in the language of the day, the insight that true religion
requires each person to be a “seeker” after the truth, & to follow the
inward Light, through a mix of conscience & reason, & always
experientially – even if it leads to the rejection of the church with its
doctrine & theology, or of the state with its social code, class divisions
& self-reinforcing laws, designed to protect & enhance those divisions.
what Quakers called “discernment”, “clearness” & “convincement”
were key words. They still are. Creed & dogma were to be replaced by an
experiential search for truth, which in the fullness of time becomes a way of
living. Quakerism cannot be defined, therefore, as a set of coded beliefs, much
less of dogma or canonical instruction. It is a way of life, an attitude towards
life &, in so far as it is essentially experiential, it is by definition,
personal & deeply individualistic.
Tom this life-long journey showed itself in his commitment to what I would call
his “evolving humanitarianism” – a consciously disciplined commitment to
“seek the truth” in each of life’s situations – but with “freedom”
as a high index of that truth. Always you should ensure that your “nay” is
seen to be “nay”, & that your “yea” always means “yea”.
personal integrity does seem to motivate & distinguish the genuine social
pioneers which Quakerism throws up from time to time. It seems to have inspired
Tom, irrespective of his multifarious attachments in later life which, at one
time or another, included, for example, acting for John Wesley as a Methodist
local preacher, being a polemicist, an educator, a banker, a writer, a thinker,
a farmer, a ship’s hand, an inventor, a war correspondent, a revolutionary,
& even a soldier of sorts.
married twice. His only daughter died at 9 months & her mother (nee Mary
Lambert) was soon to follow her. Tom married again – only to separate amicably
from his new wife, Elizabeth Ollive, in 1774, but without issue.
was more. To his commitment to “seek the Light”, he decided early in life to
embrace the great dissenting tradition, rampant not least in Norfolk – his
home territory. His first job, as a Customs Officer – where he was largely a
failure - had brought him face to face with the abject poverty & misery of
the slums of London. Like everyone else he was obliged to reflect on the
Wilkes’ controversy with its Commonwealth ideology focusing on the protestant
ascendancy of England. Later, he would note with some feeling, “Rich men make
bonny traitors”. He ruminated on the entrenched class system nurtured by the
Kings of England & their privileged aristocracy. “The contrast”, he
wrote, “of affluence & wretchedness continually meeting & offending
the eye, is like dead & living bodies chained together.” (Agrarian
intellectual impact of eighteenth century Whiggery also helped to shape Tom. He
became convinced of the imperative “to extend the rights of Englishmen to all
mankind”, to freedom of thought, to religious toleration & to the
classical form of a republican government under the English theory of a mixed
constitution. (cf. Wm Kashatus iii. 1984.)
America, in mid life, (1774), Tom now 37 years old, fell in with William Penn
& the Free Quakers of Philadelphia. This led him to modify his absolute
pacifism to one of conditional pacifism. Commentators, including Keane, are
wrong to assume that because Tom was not now an absolute pacifist, he could not
be a Quaker. It is inconsistent with Quaker tradition to reach such judgments.
Quakers did not disown or “read out” conditional pacifists like Isaac
Pennington, or William Penn, or for that matter Tom Paine.
a less well known Friend of good standing, who lived at much the same time as
did Tom Paine – the Quaker doctor John Coakley Lettsom. Lettsom’s father was
the wealthy owner of a Caribbean plantation, who sent his son to England for his
education & the study of medicine. When his father died in 1767, Lettsom
returned to the Caribbean to face the prospects of a life dedicated to the
accumulation of wealth. Instead, his first act was to free all the
plantation’s slaves, thereby bankrupting him – as an act of deliberate moral
imperative. He returned to England to become a successful medical doctor with a
strong bent for philanthropy. In 1770 he set up, for the poor, the first
“General Dispensary” in Aldersgate Street. Four years later he helped to
found the (Royal) Humane Society to pioneer techniques to save people from
drowning. To his credit there followed a convalescent home for those with T.B.,
the Royal Bathing Infirmary at Margate, & the Medical Society of London. In
Camberwell, Lettsom laid out a museum, library & botanical garden. He
embraced the “new” sciences & became their knowledgeable advocate. He
wrote extensively on poverty, prostitution, infectious illnesses & penal
reform – the latter in concert with John Howard. He provided soup kitchens out
of his own pocket for the poor, advised on education, & physical fitness via
diet, exercise, games, attire & cleanliness. He even campaigned for 50,000
bee hives to be maintained in & around London for “ornament &
utility”, as well as for small-pox vaccination. The whole of his life,
therefore, was a testimony to the best in Quakerism. But in 1803 he became
physician to the Camberwell Voluntary Infantry, declaring, “May I fall by the
sword rather than live to see this free country the domain of a Corsican
murderer & usurper”. Friends
did not disown Lettsom, nor, do I think he was a lesser Quaker for his decision.
(Porter. “Enlightenment, Britain & the Creation of the Modern World”.).
today, through the record of “Quaker Faith & Practice”, Quakers, whilst
rejecting “all forms of war” & violence, continue to agonise over the
moral dilemmas of pacifism. During their Meetings for Worship, Quakers still
remind each other of the words of Isaac Pennington written in 1661 – “I
speak not against any magistrate or peoples defending themselves against foreign
invasions; or making use of the sword to suppress the violent & evil-doers
within their borders – for this the present estate of things may & doth
require, & a great blessing will attend the sword where it is borne
uprightly to that end, & its use will be honourable……. But yet”, he
then goes on, “there is a better state, which the Lord has brought some into,
& which nations are to expect & to travel towards.” Pennington then
urges individuals to seek this “better state” – in what Tom was to call,
“God’s season”, that is, “When the power of the Gospel spreads over the
test, it seems, is not so much pacifism, but one’s willingness to seek the
light in humility, & to follow it in faith. If that journey leads to
conditional pacifism - as it does for some Quakers in times of conflict - that
may be a source of disappointment for the Quaker who has been led to embrace
absolute pacifism, but it does not lead to automatic disownment by the Society
today remember with humility that George Fox had worn a sword for long enough
& had sided explicitly with Cromwell in the Civil War. They recall that
redoubtable, Quaker pioneer,
Margaret Fell, who eventually married George Fox & who is sometimes called
“the mother of Quakerism”, but who described Cromwell’s army as, “the
Battle-Axe in the hand of the Lord”. Edward Burrough, (1632 – 1663), another
early Quaker, told Cromwell that it was God working through the army, who,
“overthrew that oppressive power of kings & lords.”
Recent research confirms that of the first 33 men, excluding priests
& JP’s, appointed by George Fox, 20 had military rank or had army
connections. (“Gerrard Winstanley & the Republic of Heaven”. David
Boulton, 1999.). Early Quaker pacifism offers at best a somewhat blurred picture
on this point. It does not, however, detract from the broad vision of the moral
wisdom of non-violence for people & their communities.
first major political statement in 1776 - “Common Sense” - triggered the
American Revolution. It has been described as “the corner-stone of American
democracy” (Keane). It critiques the monarchy, draws a clear distinction
between civil society & the state, argues for colonial independence, &
offers wise advice on the nature & structure of representative, democratic
governance. It ran to 150,000 copies - not one of which brought a penny into
Tom’s bank account. That, too, is very Quakerly. Whilst clearly the work of a
genius, “Common Sense” reflects a typically Quaker view of life & its
values. Nor would Quakers expect a fellow Quaker to make a profit from his or
her spiritual insights.
year earlier in July 1775, Tom had made his position in respect of pacifism
explicit. It was one the Society of Friends would understand. He begins his
pamphlet, “Thoughts on Defensive War”, subtitled, “a lover of peace”
(1775), with his celebrated cri de coeur – “These are the times that try
men’s souls”. In his pamphlet, “The American Crisis” (1778), he was to
write, “If there is a sin superior to any other it is that of wilful &
offensive war.” As the revolution gathered momentum he confessed that,
“…violence is a difficult horse to ride”, concluding, as a realist, that
the defence of liberty was the only cause that could legitimise the use of State
directed force. Tom recognized that those who live by the sword are likely to
die by the sword, but also he understood that those who deny the sword may be
crucified on the Cross, or may themselves be the cause for others having to
sacrifice their lives.
he wrote plainly, “ I am thus far a Quaker, (in) that I would readily agree
with all the world to lay aside the use of arms, & settle matters by
negotiation: but unless the whole will, the matter ends & I take up my
musket & thank heaven he has put it in my power”. (“Thoughts on
Defensive War”, 1775). In a word, force must serve liberty, or it is
indefensible. Quakers who joined the British army in 1914 or in 1939 would echo
that point of view.
also think that commentators who argue that Tom’s move
deism in later life, when he was 57 years of age, best articulated in his final
pamphlet, “The Age of Reason” (1794), but already apparent in “Common
Sense”, somehow denies his Quakerism – are too simplistic. Modern Quakers
would entirely understand Tom’s celebrated claim that “my own mind is my
church”. Tom embraced deism because it confirmed his experience of the ordered
beauty of the natural world. Today, I suspect the majority of Quakers in Britain
are Deists, rather than Theists - experiencing the presence of God in creation,
& in the ongoing history of the world. But even in the eighteenth century,
when English religion was Christo-centric, provided your honest response to the
inner light led you down a different path – say that of the emerging idea of
deism – the Religious Society of Friends of the Truth – to give Quakers
their full name - would be reluctant to disown you as a member.
the end of his life (1809) & given his brilliant record of service to
humanity, it is heart-rendingly shameful that a handful of American Quakers
refused Tom’s gentle, but urgent, deathbed plea to be laid to rest in a Quaker
burial place. Only six mourners attended the funeral of one of England’s
greatest of men. Not one was Quaker. That is a commentary not on Tom, but on
19th century Quakerism. In the end it was left to his admirer William Cobbett to
transport Tom’s bones to England, where, tragically, they were lost.
you judge his Quakerism, Tom certainly had the strengths & weaknesses of the
common man. John Keane summarizes these neatly in the Prologue (page xvii) to
his excellent biography, “Tom Paine. A Political Life” (1995). Keane notes,
“He loved oysters, cared little for money, despised hypocrisy, & suspected
men who lived richly. He liked stirring things up, rarely knew love or sex,
considered hypocrisy the homage vice pays to virtue, & did all he could to
keep his life private. He was humble & conceited, generous & dogmatic,
ironic & serious. He faced dilemmas, failed to resolve problems, made
misjudgements, & rarely pleased everybody”. What a man!
this biographical thumb nail sketch, let us ask the question, “Had Tom been
reborn 200 years later, let’s say, in 1930, what might he have said & done
in our time?
think that post 1945, he would have opposed the idea of national
“sovereignty”, & its handmaiden modern war, as the twin determinants of
the millennium age. That would be his principle focus. Being Tom he would commit
himself to various contemporary issues including, I suspect, modern slavery, the
arms trade, & the transparency or opaqueness of modern democracy; but war
& sovereignty would surely be his principal concerns.
it was the Romans who decided that the source of the law must be above the law.
The Emperor was unimpeachable. He maintained his supreme authority by the sword.
By the end of the first century this Roman idea had supplanted the older &
wiser idea fostered by the Greeks who understood how important it was to
restrict their rulers by law. Plato in his Republic, & Aristotle in his
Nicomachean Ethics had argued that the law was more valid than either the ruler
or the community. Once Pax Romana had asserted its power that idea was lost to
the known world.
power of the state from the first century onwards, therefore, rests on the
assumption that some person or some office, is above the reach of the law, or of
any other restraining principle. That person is usually the King. Now this King
should not be confused with the God Kings of ancient India or the east. They
also had great power, but they governed by the grace of the Gods to whom they
were accountable, & hence subordinate. This, by virtue of the laws of the
universe - the “dharma”. Those God Kings were, & are, closer to the
Greeks than to the Romans.
historians date the emergence of the modern, sovereign, nation state, from the
Treaty of Westphalia, which closed off the Thirty Years war in Europe in 1648.
Historically, therefore, sovereignty is a recent formulation. Culture is not
dependent on it. Westphalia separated the powers of the mediaeval church from
that of the state. But in doing so it transferred to the nation state the
mystical, godlike features of church authority. That is a fatal flaw, which
would be readily recognised as such by a modern Tom Paine.
& Weiss make the point well in their paper, “Sovereignty Is No Longer
Sacrosanct” (1992. “Ethics & International Affairs” Vol. 2). They
write, “Nation States inherited the pedigree of sovereignty & an
unassailable position above the law that has since been frozen in the structure
of international relations”. Yet the family, the tribe & the City State,
throughout history, have progressed perfectly adequately without reference to
sovereignty. It appears today that the modern state needs sovereignty as a
crutch. Whilst the idea of sovereignty is an abstraction, it also has the power
to become absolute & therefore untouchable. It is this unassailable position
which allows dictators or corrupt regimes to deny human rights without
interference, in all sorts of ways - from war to famine, from terror to torture,
from assassination to racial or ethnic suppression. Sovereignty prohibits
intervention; without intervention cruel rulers prosper whilst abusing human
the UN itself reflects the unassailable power of its nation states pay- masters,
the entire international system is dangerously close to being a hindrance,
rather than a help, to the cause of liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Tom
would have no difficulty in recognizing his old enemy.
last fifty years have seen spectacular erosion in the power of the nation state
as a viable tool for decision-making. Modern sovereignty struggles to maintain
the fiction that it is all-powerful - but it is a fiction, allowing us to
conclude that, “sovereignty is no longer sovereign”.
The Emperor has no clothes.
some of the forces which have eroded sovereignty in our time.
The first lies in the realm of international law. The most important step
was the Nuremberg trial following the Second World War. Despite state
sovereignty, the allies decided to use international law to bring the German
leaders to account for their crimes against humanity. This was a defining moment
in the development of international human rights law. As Geoffrey Robertson
writes in his scholarly book, “Crimes Against Humanity” (1999, page 202) -
“its Charter defined crimes against humanity & its procedures proved by
acceptable & credible evidence that such crimes had been instigated by some
of the defendants”.
poignantly describes the tribunal, “The spontaneous drama of the courtroom
provided the defining moment of de-natzification on the afternoon when the
prosecutor showed newsreels of Auschwitz & Belsen & the defendants,
spotlit for security in the dock, averted their eyes in horror from the ghastly
screen images of the emaciated inmates of their concentration camps. Some
sobbed, others sweated, or put their heads in their hands; they sat in stunned
silence until the court rose, their individual & collective guilt &
shame brought home to them for ever & beyond reasonable doubt. This was the
moment……. of absolute truth, but it came after months of meticulously
translated documentary evidence, showing the defendants’ signatures on
“night & fog” decrees, on orders for the extermination of “useless
eaters”, & of “lives unworthy of living” - a record the judgment
accurately described as one of “consistent & systematic inhumanity on the
in 1948 came the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Tom Paine, I suggest,
would have campaigned for Nuremberg; and I can well imagine him drafting the
Declaration itself. What was happening was that diplomacy - the offspring of
sovereignty - was being forced to give way to justice. Gradually we begin to
understand that only the law should be sovereign. (Robertson). The first Article
sets the tone - & how Tom would have rejoiced – “All human beings are
born free & equal in dignity & rights. They are endowed with reason
& conscience & should act towards one another in a spirit of
3 goes on to assert, “Everyone has a right to life, liberty & security of
person”. And the Charter then lists 28 other Articles, all of which would have
brought deep satisfaction to a modern Tom Paine. Slowly, progress was made. Over
five decades an impressive raft of new international laws came into being, from
the 1949 Geneva Convention to the 1998 decision by 120 nations to approve the
setting up of the International Criminal Court – designed to consider,
genocide & crimes against humanity.
1949 Geneva Convention built on the Hague Conventions of 1899 & 1907. In
1988 the decision of the Inter American Court that Honduras had a legal
obligation to investigate & prosecute the phenomenon known as the
“disappearances” opened the way to a new future. There followed the 1989
Convention on the Rights of the Child, the 1995 Nuclear Non Proliferation
Treaty, the 1997 Ottawa Convention on banning anti-personnel land mines &
the 1998 decision by 120 nations to approve the Rome Statute for the
International Criminal Court.
last men & women were beginning to think for themselves. They begin to
recognize that the real determinant in human history is not sovereignty, which
divides this family from that family, but human “inter-dependence” & our
common “inter-relatedness”. That is the rock on which to build.
some of the typical factors that make a mockery of the nation state & its
sovereignty. Electronic communications bring the malnourished African child into
our family homes. Unshackling the energy of the atom makes war untenable, for
the destroyer is destroyed by his own weapon. By flying into outer space &
by putting a man on the moon, we can no longer extend the idea of sovereignty
into space itself. Already, it’s a broken tool. By globalising the market
place through the electronic chip, we cannot protect either our currency, or our
economic way of life, from the so-called “unfriendly” movement of capital.
The IMF has identified at least 69 off-shore, tax havens through which rich
people avoid tax imposed by sovereign states. Capital moves across sovereign
borders electronically & without benefit of passport. So do computer
viruses, which can paralyse a nation. When Chernobyl melted down, within three
days we had to declare large parts of agriculture in Wales, Cumbria &
Scotland as “hot spots” from which no food could be eaten. They remain in
place today & we are powerless to do anything about them.
are the new threats explicit in environmental change which make nonsense of
sovereignty. Our sea defences under global warming are powerless against the
more extreme danger of the rising oceans, with some nation states like Vanuatu
disappearing altogether. The whole of Europe has already lost two thirds of its
protective ozone layer despite sovereignty. The legitimate movement of people
around the world ensures the transgression of state boundaries by powerful
diseases like HIV/ AIDS.
change in the nature of war – the most fundamental since 1945 - whereby the
civilian is now ten times more at risk than the full-time soldier, must sooner
or later have a profound impact on the nature of politics & even, perhaps,
re-direct the evolution of our culture. The ability of “smart” weapons,
including Star Wars, decided unilaterally by a mere 200 self selected Americans,
to hit the enemy, now defined as the civilian population, from outer space,
without the intervention of the soldier, makes sovereignty ridiculous – for
all of us.
faced with such powerful, political realities Tom would use one of his favourite
words – “absurd”. Sovereignty, now as porous as a sieve, is an
“absurd” concept, on which to base political decisions, or on which to base
the life, happiness & prosperity of the British, or any other, people.
Better that our common humanity should take centre stage in our decision-
UN - for that is the only global structure we have - has to be one of our chosen
instruments for stimulating a quantum shift in our concept of the value of the
nation state. Janus like the UN offers two unacceptable faces. Tom, who first
conceived the idea of what he called an “Association of Nations”, &
regularly referred to himself as, “a citizen of the world”, would attack
he would recognise that the UN is itself a projection of the notion of
“sovereignty”. It is controlled by “sovereign states”, for their own
convenience. It talks of the violation of “state rights”, even when it is
“human rights” that are violated. “Some of its classic doctrines -
sovereign & diplomatic immunity, non intervention in internal affairs, non
compulsory submission to the International Court of Justice, equality of voting
in the General Assembly - continue to damage the cause of human rights”.
whilst the power of the veto, vitiates the sovereignty claimed by all other
member states of the UN, this so-called right, nonetheless, cascades down the
decision making process enabling each nation to deny the will of the
international community as each shelters behind its own sovereignty.
hours of directing the eruption of the land war in Zimbabwe, President Mugabe
reminded the UN, that this was an internal, sovereign issue, in which no one had
authority to interfere. Tom would recognize the falsity of Mugabe’s position
just as he recognized the falsity of Farmer George’s posturing when faced with
Anglo-French invasion of Suez in 1956, China’s action between 1958 & 1962,
when she starved to death at least 30 million of her own peasants in a vain
attempt to prove that Chinese Marxism was economically superior to Russian
Marxism, America’s wars in Vietnam & Cambodia in the sixties &
France’s war in Algeria, President Pinochet’s reign of terror in Chile, or
the hatred unleashed in South Africa under the late apartheid system which
included, as the Tutu Truth Commission revealed, scientific experiments designed
to create bacteria that would kill only black people - are representative of the
unacceptable half-face of the international system we have tried to sustain
since the 1930’s. Each crime is a product of “sovereignty”, because each
shelters behind the terrible fiction that in the eyes of the law as presently
conceived & practiced, individuals do not exist independently of nation
idea”, Tom would say, in another of his favourite comments, “needs to be
blown out of the water”.
Paine today, I suggest, would have written & campaigned tirelessly to fight
injustices through international law based on justice. He would have rejoiced at
the decision of the Law Lords in 1998, & supported two years later by the
Chilean people, to put President Pinochet into the dock for his crimes against
humanity in Chile. He would welcome the prosecution of Milosevic at The Hague,
regardless as to whether the Court judges him guilty or not guilty. One can
imagine Tom advocating that Dr. Kissinger might be arraigned for crimes in
Vietnam & Cambodia, Mrs. Thatcher for her personal decision to sink the
retreating Argentinean destroyer, the “Belgrano” during the Falkland’s
war, Mengistu for his crimes against his fellow Ethiopians, UN representative
Khieu Samphan for his part in the killing fields of Cambodia, Ariel Sharon for
his merciless war against the civilian population of Palestine, & Osama bin
Laden for directing terrorist activities around the world.
second unacceptable face of the international system is the concept of
“neutrality” in international relations, not only in respect of the decision
making machinery of the UN, but of leading NGO’s like the International
Committee of the Red Cross, or the Save the Children Fund. This is a difficult
point especially for adherents to non-violence. Tom Paine would point out,
however, that when evil is deeply entrenched & seductive, neutrality can
become a prime hindrance to justice & to commonsense. In due course it
becomes an ally of the evil it is designed to oppose. With his common sense
& plain speaking a modern Tom Paine would campaign against neutrality when
it shields the gross violation of basic human rights.
can imagine him recalling Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence & which,
in paragraph two, states, “whenever any form of government becomes
destructive… it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, & to
institute new government, laying its foundations on such principle &
organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect
their safety & happiness”. How can this vision be applied to the UN &
its charter for daily decision-making?
the other hand, Tom would support, I think, the growing consensus, first
articulated in 1992 by the then Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs
- Barbara McDougall - that in all
areas of modern conflict at least one of three factors are at play - & more
often than not all three. Namely, the abuse of human rights, the absence of a
developed system of democratic institutions at national & local levels,
& the absence of good governance. The latter expresses itself, primarily, as
rampant corruption in the highest levels of public life, as in Cambodia or
Zimbabwe. Western aid & defence policies should be redesigned, therefore, so
as to be conditional on the removal of each of these threats to human dignity.
Paine, I suggest, would support the UN Secretary General’s, “Preventative
Diplomacy” policy, & the UN’s need for an effective, independent, early
warning system for anticipating conflict. He would want the training of UN
officers in preventative diplomacy to be properly funded. He would encourage the
UN to define what really constitutes a threat to international peace; how it’s
own, international surveillance capacity, including an independent UN satellite,
could be established so as to monitor its work efficiently. This might include
an international fund for the exploitation of modern technology in pursuit of
freedom & liberty. The UN should have the ability to monitor every radio
station in the world to alert it to trouble brewing, instead of the eight hours
a day currently afforded. This would include the ability to understand &
interpret the meaning of low intensity conflict arising from ethnic &
religious developments around the world, which increasingly lie at the heart of
modern conflict. (1995 report, “How to Abolish War” by “The International
Commission on Peace & Food”).
regionalisation would be encouraged so as to de-fuse local conflicts. Tom would
encourage the attempt to understand the dynamics of the preventative deployment
of UN forces in the early stages of conflict - a difficult area for any peace
making body. The question of how to use the powers of intervention under Chapter
vii of the UN charter, & which erupted after the intervention of NATO in the
Balkans, would be debated with rigour. By definition, so would the UN rules of
engagement. He would ask us to be fearless in addressing the need for a UN
permanent & professionally trained army, with both peace-keeping &
peace-making responsibilities. The restructuring of the Security Council &
the role, if any, of the veto, would tax Tom’s dissenting instincts. So would
the urgent need to find effective ways of raising revenues for the UN.
Paine would recognize the defining moment today - although now with hindsight -
of the French revolution which released “the passions of the people” - as
Clausewitz put it, & which thereby changed the nature of war. He would
accept the definition of modern soldiers offered recently by the Oxford
historian Michael Howard (“War Against Terrorism”, RUSI conference,
30.10.01.) as, “specialists in violence”. In this new, borderless scenario,
Tom would argue that our “common humanity” should become the sole touchstone
for replacing the old but obsolete formulations aimed at explaining, justifying
or curtailing conflict.
would recognize that at the beginning of our new millennium we live in a kind of
“no-man’s land”. We are neither community based as Northern Ireland,
Rwanda & Zimbabwe illustrate, nor are we internationally based as the
Falklands, Bosnia & Afghanistan indicate. We know how to get into wars for
what appear to be good reasons – but we don’t know how to get out of them.
We have no reliable “exit” strategy.
approach, foreshadowed by Tom in “Common Sense”, is to explore & develop
the concept of “a civil society”, as a viable alternative to the
nation-state. Civil society is a “good”. Government or the State is not.
Edwards in his paper, “Civil Society & Global Governance” (UN
University, Tokyo, 19-21 January 2000), offers the following definition -
“civil society is the arena in which people come together to advance
the interests they hold in common, not for profit or political power, but
because they care enough about something to take collective action. It includes
all networks & associations between family & state, except firms”.
can imagine Tom considering these words in the light of his own response to
Edmund Burke in his “Rights of Man” - “The world is my country, to do good
me turn briefly now to the third theme in my subject – the abolition of war.
points seem incontrovertible. First, is the demonstrable fact that accelerating
social change on a global scale leads inevitably to increasing complexity &
therefore poses escalating risk to humanity.
is the reality of change in the technology of the “engine of war” & the
threat this poses to the human species. Both trends, I think, are self evident.
What is new, however, is that as the complexity deepens, so does the inherent
threat to the future stability of humanity. Sensible men & women will
conclude, therefore, that war has already become obsolete as a tool of
diplomacy. It is redundant now in the same way that slavery, or the guillotine,
or treating women as chattel, are redundant. It has outlived any usefulness it
may ever have had.
modern war cannot achieve its objects, as Afghanistan has illustrated. The
political & social outcome of alleged “success” in war is entirely
unpredictable - as the Americans found in Vietnam, (“In Retrospect”, Robert
S. McNamara, 1995), & as the French & British discovered in Suez.
& because of the unpredictable nature of modern war, war can neither be
controlled nor contained in any meaningful way. Truth still remains the first
casualty, hate & irrational behaviour are promoted, wealth is destroyed, the
side effects on the environment are likely to be catastrophic, and the spread of
so-called “collateral” violence to the front line civilian population as on
the West Bank, or in Rwanda, or in Cambodia, ensure the unreliability of war as
a sensible tool for resolving conflict.
the human, economic & environmental costs of modern war, which include the
potential destruction of all life on our planet, are now incalculable. If
embarked upon they will leave a legacy of hatred which malign influence will
persist for generation after generation as we have surely discovered in our own
war in Northern Ireland. War, in a word, is “unsustainable”, just when the
realization has sunk into the human consciousness, that “sustainability”
should become the template of all human decision making in the 21st century.
the consequence of these three factors lie in the manifest imperative to evolve
a new ethics which distinguishes force from violence, reduces the concept of
sovereignty, elevates the authority of International Law, & which is
designed to replace the Christian doctrine of the “Just War” & its
Muslim, Hindu & Chinese equivalents. International law & the definition
of crimes against humanity are the keys to this new dispensation.
summary, war in the first instance needs to be rejected from minds of ordinary
people as a viable tool of diplomacy. The idea – that war today is redundant
& hence obsolete - should be introduced into young minds, as well as old
minds, so that at some point in this 21st century, war at last, will be no more.
me close with two quotations. First, Tom’s own response to Benjamin
Franklin’s proud assertion that, “Where freedom is there is my country”.
To which claim Tom replied quietly, “Where freedom is not, there is mine”.
finally, a twentieth century vision of society, which recaptures much of Tom
Paine’s vision. Maxim Gorky wrote it, between the two world wars.
will come a time when people will take delight in one other, when each will be a
star to the other, & when each will listen to his fellow as to music. Then
free men & women will walk upon the earth, people great in their freedom.
They will walk with open hearts, & the hearts of each will be pure of envy
& greed, & therefore all humankind will be without malice, & there
will be nothing to divorce the heart from reason. Then we shall live in truth
& freedom & in beauty, & those will be accounted the best who will
the more widely embrace the world with their hearts, & whose love of it will
the profoundest; those will be the best who will be the freest, for in them is
the greatest beauty. Then will life be great, & the people will be great who
live that life.” (“Mother”).
which Tom Paine would say, “Amen”.
Brian W Walker