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19th July 2003

 A Quaker’s View of 21st Century War.

Brian Walker

 Norman R. Morrison was a young, Quaker peace activist. He was a member of the Stoney Run Preparative Meeting, Baltimore, USA.


 On 2nd November, 1965, in protest against America’s war in Vietnam, Norman walked up the steps of the Pentagon in Washington. D.C. There he immolated himself - to death. Afterwards, his wife explained that our Friend had decided to take his own life because, “He felt that all citizens must speak their convictions about our country’s action.” (1)


 The cultural institution we call “war” is an ugly, degenerate, immoral & unsustainable phenomenon.


I chose those epithets with care, contending they apply to all wars, but especially perhaps in antiquity, & certainly in our own segment of history which dates from the Treaty of Westphalia.


We need neither religious nor spiritual insights to justify their use. Common sense & a deep commitment to humanity are cause enough. Signed in 1648, it was Westphalia which had ushered in the new idea of the sovereign state – just after George Fox had begun his life’s work.


War inevitably produces profound, although often unintended effects at the level of personal suffering - principally of innocents who suffer most. When nuclear weapons are deployed, damage is transferred genetically to unborn generations.


Modern war represents a serious rupture in collective human relationships. It epitomizes a lamentable failure to cope peacefully with political, economic or diplomatic crisis, especially when such crises are obdurate, self contradictory, or complex. The precious gifts of heart & brain tend to be underused. I say this not in the context of, “What shall we do?” in the days leading up to the outbreak of war – for that is always too late - but to the years which precede war.


In modern war the declared aims of the conflict are rarely attained.  Vietnam, Suez, the West Bank, India/Pakistan, Afghanistan & Iraq - each testifies to this stern judgment. 21st century war, on the whole, simply doesn’t work. It is redundant as a reliable tool, if only because it is not a sustainable process - this just as the concept of “sustainability” has sunk into the public consciousness as the touch-stone against which all human activity ought to be measured if we & our planet are to survive.


It was in support of this clear indictment that last year I was asked by PfP to consider the three most violent wars in the last 50 years. I started with World War Two, & Anthony Beevor’s scholarly analysis entitled, “Stalingrad”, then Robert McNamara’s cri- de- coeur on Vietnam, called “In Retrospect”, &, thirdly, the official UN analysis of the asymmetrical conflict in Rwanda in 1994. I called the resulting text, “The Anatomy of War”.  Quoting exclusively, & fully within context the actual language of those charged with making & conducting war, the text illustrates, beyond argument, not only how inhuman is war, not only how its objects are rarely attained, but devastatingly how the planning & management of modern war is so contradictory, muddled & confused, as to verge on the unbelievable & even, were it not so tragic, the farcical. I hope this analysis will be made available to Friends in support of our traditional peace testimony.


Modern war posits a new grey area between old fashioned war - if I may use that term - & criminal activity. Was the recent war in Sierra Leone, or today’s war in the Congo, which is nearly 5 years old, involves 9 armies & has caused the deaths of 4.7 million people, to say nothing of cannibalism, really war? Or are they actually organised, hi-tech banditry pursued for personal gain? Are the wars in Chechnya or in Northern Ireland, really war, or extreme police action against a highly organised, motivated & armed mafia? If Friends have learned to live with an armed police force in Britain, do we deny the same for Russia, & if so, why?


If Friends condemn all conflict regardless of its purpose, shape, content, or roots, then we cannot avoid the moral obligation to define with equal truth how we would remove inhuman tyrants when peaceful ploys have failed - as in Burma, Cambodia, Chile, the Balkans, Afghanistan or Iraq.


Does the challenge posed by the concept of the “greater good” fall in the face of resolute pacifism? If it does, who remains responsible for the killings & the deaths of innocents? If warring factions have been separated, & to that degree pacified, as in Bosnia Herzegovina today, do Friends recognise any role for armed UN peace-makers & peace-keepers?


I don’t know how to answer these questions for anyone except myself. You, of course, must answer for yourself.


Nevertheless, I judge war, in the round, to be the prime social “cancer” within the body politic. It may have diverse roots in poverty, greed, perverse ideologies, or in the vain posturing of self - or class - or national - aggrandisement. But, whatever its roots, it is a social cancer with lethal potential.  Such judgement is strengthened when we project our analysis into the 21st century. Modern war offers no redeeming features to the human species, or its prospects. We should call it for what it is; morally wrong & capable of generating hell on earth.


Wilfred Owen, by far the best of our war poets, understood this. With hundreds of thousands of fellow soldiers from both sides in the First World War he suffered monstrous privations on the front line. In 1918, at about 5.45am on the 4th November he was ordered to take a handful of men from the Manchester regiment, so as to man-handle a wooden pontoon across the Sambre & Oise canal. He crawled through the mud before swimming through a hail of German bullets. He was hit & killed. A week later his parents living in Shrewsbury celebrated the Armistice, unaware that their son was dead. The fatal War Office telegram arrived as the church bells were still ringing.


Owen’s finest poem, “Strange Meeting” - which Sassoon was to call his “passport to immortality” -  speaks for itself.


“It seemed that out of battle I escaped

Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped

Through granites which titanic wars had groined.

Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,

Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.


Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, & stared

With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,

Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless,

And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall, -

By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.


With a thousand pains that vision’s face was grained;

Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,

And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.

“Strange friend”, I said, “here is no cause to mourn”.

“None”, said that other, “save the undone years,

The hopelessness. What hope is yours,

Was my life also; I went hunting wild

After the wildest beauty in the world,

Which lies not calm in eyes, or braded hair,

But mocks the steady running of the hour,

And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.

For by my glee might many men have laughed,

And of my weeping something had been left,

Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,

The pity of war, the pity war distilled.

Now men will go content with what we spoiled,

Or, discontent, boil bloody, & be spilled.

They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress.

None will break rank, though nations trek from progress.

Courage was mine, & I had mystery,

Wisdom was mine, & I had mastery:

To miss the march of this retreating world

Into vain citadels that are not walled.

Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels

I would go up & wash them from sweet wells,

Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.

I would have poured my spirit without stint

But not through wounds: not on the cess of war.

Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.


“I am the enemy you killed, my friend.

I knew you in the dark: for so you frowned

Yesterday through me as you jabbed & killed.

I parried; but my hands were loath & cold.

Let us sleep now…..”


Time & again millions of men have known that they have been forced to endure what Wilfred Owen & his fellow war poets called, a “hell” on earth. That is - war. They knew, too, what was the “truth untold” by those in authority. It was the sheer pity of war, the pity war distilled, which foot soldiers are amongst the first to understand. Yet, as Owen confessed in the preface to his poems - “All a poet can do is to warn”.


300 years earlier, George Fox & his faithful few had also warned that war was an immoral method for resolving disputes between individuals, or between collectives of individuals representing nations or ideologies, including the absurd posturing of Protestants & Roman Catholics. The resolute conviction of the first Quakers was neither easy, nor straightforward – nor is it now. Modern Friends would do well to remember that moral absolutism produced the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Taliban, the militant Islamic Brotherhood, & since 1969, 34 years of civil war in Northern Ireland.


Michael Sheeran in his thoughtful analysis of the origins of Quakerism, (“Beyond Majority Rule”), quotes Rufus Jones (2) who had declared that in the beginning the “central idea was the complete elimination of majorities & minorities; it became the Quaker custom to reach all decisions in unity.”  Here in Westmorland all kinds of “masterless men” & women, had responded to the preaching of Fox & his followers. This motley array, drawn from the Seekers, Ranters, Levellers, Diggers, Baptists, Muggletonians,  Fifth Monarchy men & the like, numbering about half the population of England, but who held little or no power, rallied to Fox’s call to “walk in the light of Truth”. (3) They were called, “the Children of the Light”.


Fox’s central message that men & women could find, & then foster within themselves the “light” of truth, had a profound impact on the development of spiritual insight - first for the Religious Society of Friends of the Truth, then for the nation, & eventually the world, not least - the United States of America, (through William Penn & John Woolman, especially). By “truth”, early Friends meant either a synonym for “Christ”, or the complex of Quaker ethical teaching - what has been called “the Quaker Gospel”.


 By mid century the Valiant Sixty, 12 of whom were women, had reduced Fox’s teachings to four cardinal principles - not dogma, certainly no cannon, but a way to be experienced in life – a commitment to discernment as to the meaning of truth with discernment giving way to clearness, & clearness to the leadings of the inward spirit, & so to the light itself. Such inward experience would temper the whole of life.


First, they said, there is “that of God in every person”; secondly, a “universal grace” is available to every person; thirdly, there is a universal call to moral perfection & religious union with God; & fourthly the convinced believer would discover “a progressive revelation of God’s will through the ages”. (4) Meanwhile, silent worship & prayer would provide the framework within which such experiences would be felt & understood. Personal integrity would become the outward & visible hallmark of that inward experience.


In 1661 as a consequence of the Fifth Monarchy uprising against the new King, “several thousands” of Quakers according to Fox (5), were arrested & clapped into jail. This led Fox & our own Richard Hubberthorne – “dear, innocent Richard”, as Fox christened him (6), to issue a declaration against “plots & fightings”. It would be presented to the King. However, the printing presses were seized by order of the King, & destroyed. Ten other Quakers promptly joined Fox & Hubberthorne to re-issue the Declaration. It advised the King that, “All Bloody principles & practices, we as to our own particulars, do utterly deny, with all outward wars & strife & fightings with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretence whatsoever. And this is our testimony to the whole world”. (7)


Michael Sheeran describes this as a “curious document”. (8) The twelve signatories had no authority from the rest of Quakers to issue their declaration in favour of pacifism. They acted alone. Two of them – Friends Howgill & Hubberthorne - “had advocated the use of force as late as 1659”. And although Fox had refused an army commission in 1651, he still felt free six years later to urge, “the inferior officers & soldiers” of the army to conquer Rome & Turkey. (9) Two years later during that terrifying period called the Year of Anarchy (1659), a number of Quakers were chosen as Commissioners for the Militia. Fox told them, “You cannot well leave them, seeing ye have gone amongst them: ….” (10) (11).


Part of the dilemma, Sheeran suggests, was one of pragmatic, political necessity. The first Quakers simply had to distance themselves from the Fifth Monarchy uprising. This would also explain the uncharacteristic absoluteness of the language they used. Later, Barclay would summarise the consequences in more temperate language, “….there is no greater Mark of the People of God, than to be at Peace amongst themselves: whatsoever tendeth to break the Bond of Love & Peace must be testified against”. (12)


Whatever our precise origins, for 350 years Quakers have advocated the rejection of violence as a way of life. We adjure one another, in the context of our personal behaviour, to live “in the virtue of that life & power that takes away the occasion of all wars”. When “speaking truth to power”, we reject wars & rumours of wars as a tool for nation building, either for the State or the citizen. Many Friends strive to be absolute in their pacifism; others, with equal sincerity perceive the attainment of absolute pacifism in modern society to be unachievable. They follow the no less difficult path of conditional pacifism. We should not exaggerate differences between honest Friends, but watch over each other, tenderly, & devoid of judgement.


Here then is the corner-stone of our witness against war - then, now, & in the future. We believe the moral argument against war & violence, nurtured by the inward, contemplative experience of stillness, love & peace, is unimpeachable. “Preparing for Peace”, springs out of this rock; it is rooted in the same soil.


Before considering war in the 21st century, I want to make three further points.


First, Britain Yearly Meeting Quakers in the 21st century are a dwindling minority of rather less than 10,000 members plus perhaps the same or possibly more attenders. This is hardly a sustainable population. Yet at the same time the opportunity of persuading our fellow citizens to embrace peaceful ways has never been more potent. In April 2003, 58% of the adult population opposed the illegal occupation of Iraq & the illegal deposition of the tyrant Saddam Hussein. (13) This was neither a casual nor an emotional accident. Our protest was part of a thoughtful, measured, world-wide phenomenon. It represented a yearning for peaceful solutions to seemingly intractable problems. That potential remains available - perhaps for the first time in human history. We cannot, & must not, fail at this critical juncture in our witness. Our most effective role lies in being a catalyst for non-violence.


Secondly, pacifism per se, as distinct from non-violence, does not seem at the start of the 21st century to be the central issue. Friends have no prospect whatsoever of converting some 6 billion human beings to pacifism in the foreseeable future. Prof Gene Sharp, currently the President of Harvard’s Albert Einstein Institute, who has spent his entire career working for the abolition of war, declares that, “Mass conversions to pacifism are not going to occur”. (14) The opportunity we have instead is to secure the pragmatic abolition of war as a reliable political tool, &, as its natural corollary, witness a mass turning away from a violent response to disputes as first option, towards non-violent, coping solutions, which may include a measure of force, but which eschew violence.


The new tool, for the 21st century, is the evolution of International Humanitarian Law & its consequences. This has been the focus of Preparing for Peace. We recall Josef Rotblat’s opening words when he addressed us on the 15th of July, 2001 – “I am not a pacifist, but……”  He then spoke from the heart & the mind with such transparent insight that we recognised immediately the essence of our traditional Quaker testimony. He urged us to clarify the moral difference between “force” & “violence”. That particular task - conflict specific - is far from easy.


It was in this context, as I discovered late in life, that we may take a measure of comfort from the fact that many Generals are the first to insist that war must always remain a last resort. It is one they enter with considerable hesitation & doubt. The former Chief of Staff to the UN peace-keeping force in Cyprus, (UNFICY 1966-68), the late General Michael Harbottle, was instrumental in 1984 in founding what he called “Generals for Peace & Disarmament” (now the “Worldwide Consultative Association of Retired Generals & Admirals”). He spoke to many Quaker meetings & we became good friends. Michael & his colleagues sought from within their own experiences during the Cold War to find political & humanitarian solutions to world problems instead of military solutions. He tried to define what might be the civil role, within society, of the armed forces, as the first step towards disarmament. (15) Friends today need allies like Michael if we are to understand & influence events leading to war.


Israel & the West Bank, for example, is the focus of one of today’s most intractable of conflicts. The only serious opposition to Prime Minister Sharon & his violence based policy, comes from 24 retired Israeli Generals. Maybe they should be the focus of our Middle East work for peace. George Fox & the early Quaker leaders including the Fells, James Naylor & William Penn, provide the clear precedence. (16)


For most people of good will, war, in its strictly defensive mode, is considered to be morally different to aggressive attack. Are Friends sensitive to this distinction? Hugh Beach reminded us of the terrible civil war in Rwanda, in 1994, when ¾ million people were killed, & 2 millions were displaced in a period of only 12 weeks. The Canadian UN Commander - General Dallaire - called for additional peace keeping troops to prevent the pending slaughter. He was refused. Genocide followed. Was that morally the same as aggressive war, or different? Did Dallaire’s plea for more troops have moral resonance? I believe it did – provided his exit strategy was robust & realistic.


Thirdly, the God given strength of Quakerism lies in each Preparative Meeting where, first, the spirit moves.  When PM’s experience clearness, things happen & other structures including Yearly Meeting & Friends House play their proper role. If we try to function the other way round the spirit is too often & too easily thwarted. When we surround Britain Yearly Meeting with 65 sub committees, I fear we tax the spirit & distort the light. Structure, today, is more likely to be heretical than belief. Is there a case for Friends identifying, therefore, 4 or 5 insights which we have come to understand over three & a half centuries, the first of which would be our peace testimony, & then focus our strictly limited skills & assets in exploring those insights? Under the leadings of the spirit we need to re-capture the catalytic role we used to have in respect of our traditional peace testimony. That said, our peace witness can only be as effective as our clearness is grounded in love & peace & the diversity of truth within each Preparative Meeting. We need, I believe, a huge stirring on the Meeting House bench if we are to live up to our calling as Quakers.


I would like now to consider two ideas. First, how do the emerging characteristics of 21st century war add urgency to our traditional testimony? I shall make three points in that context.  Secondly, I shall attempt to identify the sure signs of hope, nationally & internationally, upon which we might fasten catalytically so as to realise our clearness that we can abolish war in the 21st century.


First, are the emerging characteristics of 21st century conflict. Two trends seem obvious. On the one side is the impressive science & technology of war & its effect on our peace testimony. The “engine of war” experienced by Wilfred Owen in 1918, has advanced with astonishing speed & far reaching complexity. Weapons of mass destruction are now thought to be available to some 34 of the world’s 200 countries. Hence, the entire planet is volatile, & to that degree, unstable. America’s unilateral withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty exacerbates our fragility. Danger escalates in response to changes in science & international politics. Because we live in a global economy we cannot avoid either phenomenon.


Perhaps even more serious, a significant measure of thoughtless fatalism in the body politic has persuaded many people that the human animal is a creature of violence & war. Warlike policies feed off that assumption. Violence, it is widely believed, is programmed into the human animal heralding in extremis the end of civilisation & the demise of our species. This pessimism is entertained even by some scientists, many politicians, civil servants, the media, & countless, ordinary people. It is neither true nor scientifically rigorous. Quakers should never tire of saying so, individually & collectively.


In May 1986 at their world conference in Seville, eminent scientists, including biologists, anthropologists, psychologists, neuro- scientists, biochemists & the like, & including our own PfP friend, Robert Hinde, issued, “The Seville Statement on Violence”, (17) categorically denying the conventional, but unscientific, assumption that humans inherit from their animal ancestors a predisposition to make war & to behave violently. I quote, “It is scientifically incorrect that war or any other violent behaviour is genetically programmed into our human nature.” “It is also scientifically incorrect”, they continue, “to say that in the course of human evolution there has been a selection for aggressive behaviour more than other kinds of behaviour”. Next, they assert that, “it is scientifically incorrect to say that humans have a “violent brain”. Finally, they note that, “It is scientifically incorrect to say that war is caused by “instinct” or any single motivation.”  After attaching their own signatures to this statement as consistent with standard practice, an impressive range of eminent Scientific & Academic Societies also signed the statement during the following year. Finally, it was endorsed formally by UNESCO.


As every amateur botanist or gardener knows, co-operation & symbiosis are widespread amongst living things & Homo sapiens is no exception. Humans are not biologically doomed to violent behaviour. The indisputable fact that the culture of war is developing so fast, means that it is a product of culture & not of inherited, irresistible animal behaviour. Culture could just as easily teach non-violence - as it does in a handful of so called primitive tribes, where ritual mechanisms replace killing. Friends, surely, need to communicate these ideas in the wider community, in season & out of season. Hippocrates (470BC - 410BC) hit the nail on the head with a mere four words - “First, do no harm”. Perhaps that should be our slogan for the 21st century.


Supporting evidence is also emerging from the analysis of letters sent home from the front line & of diaries kept by front line soldiers. (18) It seems that whatever triumphant rhetoric politicians may use, many soldiers neither enjoy nor particularly want to kill their fellow human beings. Letters home often maintain a bright outlook - for obvious reasons. But, in the main, there is neither pride nor joy in the act itself. Rather the opposite. Nor is there any deep, personalised hatred of the enemy soldier.


Consistent with this, were the reports in the eighties of young Israeli troops sent to fight in Lebanon, who marched with youthful panache, but who, in the event, used their mobile telephones - available for the first time in war - to ‘phone home, urging parents  to get them out of Lebanon because war was so awful. This became so serious to Israel’s war aims that eventually the Israeli cabinet had to ban the possession of mobiles by troops on active service. In each of these scenarios there is hope for non-violence & the Quaker testimony.


If science & technology have created circumstances which strengthen our vision of the wisdom of working for a violent free world we would be wise to note, secondly, how the single most important change in the nature of war is that it is the civilian who is now in the front line. In fact, civilians in 21st century war are ten times more at risk of being killed than soldiers. Our lecturer, Paul Grossrieder, formerly Director General of ICRC, expressed this grisly fact in a slightly different way when he said, “Since 1945, 84% of the people killed in wars have been civilians”. (19)  To reinforce the point he reminded us that, “the average annual number of deaths has been over half a million”. (My italics).We cannot, should not, & need not, sustain an annual haemorrhage of half a million men, women & children, in modern war. That is altogether too bizarre.


These ratios hold broadly true in our own war in Northern Ireland where 3,007 civilians & para-militaries (who may call themselves soldiers) have been killed since 1969, compared to 498 British soldiers. (20) In the nasty little war fought by America in Somalia in 1993, it is estimated that out of the some 25000 soldiers committed by America, 18 were killed, 75 were wounded, & one was captured. Some 500 Somali’s, however, were killed in one night (October 3rd, 1993), & usually reliable estimates set Somali losses at +1,000 civilians. In the 2003 Iraq conflict provisional estimates advise that some 200 coalition soldiers have been killed (June 2003), compared to an estimated 20,000 civilians. In the parallel, but longer & more deadly war in the West Bank, over 500 children have now been slaughtered.


As the engine of war advances, the statistics of civilian deaths, I fear, are likely to increase not de-crease. In his treatise “On War”, (“Vom Kreige”; published posthumously), von Clausewitz (1730 – 1831) advised military leaders that attacks are most effective when directed “at the enemy’s centre of gravity”. (21)  In a modern, democratic society the centre of gravity is no longer the King, or the President, or the Prime Minister & his cabinet, it is the civilian population upon whose stability rests the governing party &, therefore, the security of the state. That is precisely why al-Qaeda destroyed the World Trade Centre. It is why American bomber pilots, individually pumped up with amphetamines, rained death on Yugoslavia in the recent Balkans war from the relative safety of flying their aircraft three miles high in the sky, killing unsuspecting civilians rather than soldiers. When the same tactic was used in Afghanistan the UN’s World Food Programme reported that over 3 million people fled their homes as winter set in. Politicians call this, “collateral damage” – a euphemism for hiding the ignoble death or displacement of defenceless civilians in modern war.


Another dimension of “collateral damage” generated by war lies in the economic damage sustained by society itself. Originally, taxes were introduced to pay for war. During the Cold War the allies spent trillions of pounds sterling simply “to keep up our guard”, as Prime Minister Thatcher called it. That is serious money by any measure. For the UK, one of the world’s top four arms suppliers, recent estimates reveal that British taxpayers subsidise the UK arms trade by some £240 millions per year. (22) That would pay for many new hospitals & schools, year on year. Friends, therefore, would do well to support the UN in its attempts to set up a tightly controlled, detailed, arms register of all arms sales by the world’s top four arms suppliers. It should be transparent & published annually as the necessary prelude to drastically curbing that trade, consistent with International Humanitarian Law. Friends could work to that end by supporting the 1997 initiative launched by a number of Nobel Laureates who, with Oxfam & Amnesty, will from October next, campaign so as to secure just such an Arms Trade Treaty, for the UN, in 2006.


Perhaps an even more serious element of collateral damage is the corrupting effect war has on society itself. We know already that “truth” is the first casualty of each war - not least when various parties, including intelligence, political & economic interests, combine to justify the declaration of war. But we should also note how violence, especially prolonged violence as in the civil war in Northern Ireland, re-shapes society along grimmer lines. That particular asymmetrical war has been largely responsible, within the space of one generation, for ensuring that the UK has now an armed police force, that telephone tapping & letter opening - from both of which I have suffered - are on the increase, that our courts have been subverted with judges sitting alone as witnesses are obscured or hidden, that identity cards are being introduced under various guises, that intelligence & the media are regularly manipulated by the government, that privately controlled Security firms proliferate, that our Palaces of Westminster are encircled by ugly, concrete blocks, & that the State is charged with colluding systematically in the secret assassination of its own citizens (Pat Finucane, Belfast solicitor). Finally, in the Province itself, which has only 1.5 million citizens, almost 2,000 murders remain unsolved & are likely to remain so. When we move from these domestic consequences to the international, we are confronted not only by the illegal war in Iraq, but by the gross illegality of Guantanamo Bay’s concentration camp, which in concept, style & execution breaks international law at every fundamental point. This is corruption run riot. Such disagreeable facts seriously subvert our civil liberties - the liberties for which Fox & his followers fought, non-violently, to secure. They represent the high, co-lateral costs of war. I wonder, therefore, whether Britain Yearly Meeting Friends would consider sponsoring, perhaps with others, a series of 10 – 15 minute television documentaries on the high co-lateral costs of war, for public consideration & debate.


Thirdly, & shortly, we should note that at the leading edge of science, escalating danger constantly proliferates. “Smart” weapons are not infallibly “smart”. To take but one example, molecular biologists are currently researching how viruses & bacteria might be genetically re-engineered through nano-technology - the manipulation of atoms & molecules - so as to bypass our natural immune systems. (23) Doesn’t that, & the trend it illustrates, make 21st century biological war utterly immoral & literally diabolical?


An important point arises from these considerations. Our speaker, Hugh Beach, discussed the Christian doctrine of the “Just War”. (24) I want to make a simple point. The final two clauses of the doctrine - clauses 6 & 7 - refer to the principles of “Proportionality” & “Non-combatant immunity”. Both clauses collapse as unattainable in modern war when civilians are ten times more at risk of death than soldiers. If two clauses fall, then all seven clauses fall in what its mediaeval authors designed as a seamless web. For Quakers, there is no doctrinal justification for modern war, & so this may be considered of no great import to us. But to millions of our fellow Christians & many other honest men & women, including our Prime Minister & his predecessors, it does matter. It enables them to support war with an easier conscience. Therefore, I would like to suggest that Westmorland General Meeting, in liaison with Britain Yearly Meeting, might set up a small expert working party composed of distinguished humanists, diplomats, scientists & fellow pacifists, to consider whether we could design a new ethical interpretation of war, to replace the outworn categories of the “Just War”, & which would aim to put war beyond reach, out of bounds, to the morally concerned politician.


Let me turn finally to consider in more detail selected aspects of the national & international setting of war.

In 1945, shortly after the peace settlement, the victorious allies declared their intention of replacing what had been perceived as the failed institution of The League of Nations by its successor, The United Nations Organisation. The primary purpose of the new institution was defined with care. It was “to protect future generations from the scourge of war”. The twentieth century had witnessed two world wars of terrifying obscenity. The number one public enemy was war itself. It had to be abolished as an international tool. The UN would be the principal agency through which the comity of nations would discard war to the dustbin of history. Henceforth, our common humanity would be the driving force of international politics. Earlier, in 1944 the Bretton Woods conference had spawned impressive bits of international machinery, including the IMF & the World Bank, to which were added the World Trade Organisation & the specialised agencies of the UN itself. These would be the supporting sinews of the new world order.


In fact, since 1945 the world has endured at least 240 wars, some symmetrical as when America fought Vietnam, others asymmetrical as in Northern Ireland or the Congo where numerous factions, tribes & governments are fighting. During the last century 160 million people were slaughtered in war. (25)


Hence, when the UN was launched it was said with conviction, that, “War begins in the minds of men”. This was repeated with unfailing regularity until it became a truism in the public mind. But it is not true & each Friend should accept the obligation to deny its truthfulness with vigour & determination. War begins not in men’s minds, but principally in the minds of men & women who are politicians. We elect those politicians & in that sense we are morally culpable - even though few candidates stand on a pro-war platform. Our expert friend Chris Williams was at pains to make the critical point in his paper, “The Minds of Leaders”. (26) The Friend on the Meeting House bench should hammer home in season & out of season that it is politicians who decide, declare & then organise modern war; it is we the people, who are conscripted to fight those wars, whose children, the elderly & infirm, are killed in those wars, & whose homes & livelihoods are destroyed by those wars. We should challenge that grim sequence constantly & vigorously. Every Friend, in every place – in the home, in the school, in the office, on the train, in the shop, over the garden wall - should take personal responsibility for demolishing the myth & pinning responsibility where, primarily, it lies - on the shoulders of our politicians. Once pinned, society might then be persuaded to elect politicians committed to the abolition of war as a tool of existential politics.


A natural consequence of such a process would be the growth & development in our understanding of the meaning of Civil Society in contra-distinction to the nation state & the potential it offers for creating a more peaceful world. For Friends who have an open vision of society which matches our universal & humanitarian tradition, this offers perhaps the most exciting vehicle for countering 21st century war. It is one we should study with vision, logic & prayer.


Traditionally, Friends support the UN. It is not a perfect institution - far from it. But it is one of the best tools we have for replacing war by humanitarian law, dialogue, diplomacy & non-violent action. Our stance, surely, is to support & develop the UN along the lines outlined for us by Crispin Tickell in his lecture on, “The UN & the Future of Global Governance”. (27) But, this also means committing ourselves to engage in all kinds of growth points which seriously erode the edges of national sovereignty. Such growth points might include, for example, the European Community, the Commonwealth, co-operative ventures like “Nepad” - The New Partnership for Africa’s Development - & the emergence of co-operative alliances like the “Nordic” Group of governments, ASEAN, the African Union, or, similarly, the International Court of Justice, & the World Trade Organisation. None of these is perfect, but each is a step in the right direction – the dawning realisation that war is already obsolete, just because we live in one world.  


Attacking the root of our vision of one, harmonious world, of course, is the serious impediment of “national sovereignty”. I have spoken (28) & written (29) fairly extensively on this theme for Friends & others, and time now does not allow me to elaborate the argument, except in its essence.


Sovereignty is the residue of mythical ideas arising from the original notion called the God King. The God King, by definition, stands absolutely outside & above all legal constraints. His successor was later enshrined in the Divine Right of Kings. Since 1648 & the Treaty of Westphalia, the residue of these mythical ideas was transferred & enshrined in the absolute power of sovereignty as applied to the nation state. For millennia Homo sapiens had managed quite well without this idea. Most Friends, I suspect, reject these notions. We place our confidence in our common humanity, certain ethical commitments, & the leadings of the spirit, which include the precious right to conscientious objection, & the emergence of international institutions, based on humanitarian law, which reflect the highest aspirations implicit in our common humanity.


Sovereignty today, we must conclude, is an unstable, unreliable, flawed, political category. Alleged sovereign boundaries are, in practise, highly porous. Certainly they are no longer sacrosanct. (30) The Hague & Geneva Conventions followed by the Nuremberg trial & the consequential development of International Humanitarian Law, including Crimes Against Humanity, & now the International Criminal Court (31) dealt national sovereignty a serious blow. Political leaders who lead their people into illegal war, or offend humanitarian laws, risk prosecution - & that is a “good”. It highlights the falsity of sovereignty. But so do a host of more mundane factors, including, for example, electronic communications, climate change, the untrammelled spread of viruses & bacteria, like BSE, SARS & HIV/AIDS, the erosion of bio-diversity & of the soil base on which civilisation depends, & the  unrestricted movement of capital from at least 69 capital tax havens - each of which ignore sovereign boundaries.


However, life is never simple & so, meanwhile, the development of Star Wars - a decision taken by some 200 unelected Americans - on the one side, & the emergence of the American Imperium with its concept of “full spectrum dominance” which when allied to its public commitment to “pre-emptive strikes”, on the other, also pose a threat to humanity’s vision of a peaceful world in the 21st century. Indeed, that country alone, since 1945, has bombed or invaded at least 22 different countries - some twice over. (32) What ought we to do? I have long held that the single most important characteristic of the UN is for it to remain honest & transparently so in all its affairs. Beyond sustaining that basic requirement, Friends might consider that the single most effective piece of technology denied the UN’s Secretary General, is to have control of his own, independent, UN satellite system, from which he could develop his own intelligence instead of relying on the selective, & therefore unsafe, intelligence provided by America. (33) Could Friends around the world, campaign seriously to correct this?


Meanwhile, of course, the UN itself is based on the nation state idea. That is its Achilles heel. The Secretary General can only act within that constraint. Whilst we work for the abolition of war, Friends, with their international experience & commitment to humanity, will promote the erosion of the nation state idea, trimming its edges & making a clear distinction between culture & nationalism. We shall want to support the enlargement of the Security Council  by some 10 new members, campaign to merge the UK veto with that of France into one European veto, allowing us to bring to the Council, say, India or Nigeria with the power of veto.  We shall continue to look to all UN members to pay their dues annually.


Finally, an issue of particular interest to Friends arises from all these considerations – the role of neutrality in situations of conflict or pending conflict.


Traditionally, many Friends try to remain what they call “neutral”, so as to be acceptable, they believe, to all parties in conflict. In that way, it is felt, reconciliation will be more easily achieved. There may be truth in this for a handful of professional reconcilers nominated by Friends & sustained by our prayers - I’m thinking of Adam Curle’s work during the seventies & eighties in the Middle East & Sri Lanka, & the late Roger Wilson’s work in Northern Ireland during the same period. But I am far from persuaded that all Friends should cultivate a life style based on neutrality. Certainly that was not a characteristic of early Friends – far from it.


Too often today Friends withdraw from the difficulties of the political process under the guise of being neutral. I experienced this acutely in Northern Ireland, & in the eighties in the context of those deadly conflicts in South America, & South East Asia. Neutrality, arising from intellectual laziness, is an unacceptable, un-Quakerly, escape route in the face of pending or actual conflict.


Neutrality is a refinement of impartiality. It is a value which rests on what people perceive to be the motivation of the person taking the action, rather than making a judgement on the nature of the action itself. It is about not taking sides in political or religious disputes; not articulating a judgement as to the rightness or wrongness of a particular piece of action or policy. Inwardly you may make a clear judgement, but you hide it away & do not articulate it. (34)

Neutrality, therefore, is relative, not absolute. Before the advent of the Geneva Conventions in 1864, to object to the treatment of prisoners of war was often perceived to be a non-neutral act. Later, during the mid- 20th century Cold War, to voice concern over human rights violations was perceived as a defiant violation of neutrality.

Thus, to hold to neutrality as a key value in humanitarian action, is dubious, despite its apparent respectability. This was why in July 1979 I asked Oxfam to fly a Jumbo jet filled with relief aid direct from Luxemburg into Phnom Penh in defiance of all Cold War principles & to the deep anger of both the USA & the British governments. That single act cut right across the alleged neutrality of ICRC & its partner UN lead agency, UNICEF. Both those agencies had been instructed by their donor nation states to remain “neutral” until Russia & Vietnam relaxed their grip on Cambodia. Such neutrality, of course, was nothing of the kind. It was a calculated political act of Cold War politics, & not of humanitarian judgement. The cost was borne daily by millions of malnourished, terrified, Cambodians. (35)


One of the finest non-neutral achievements of Friends during the Cold War was the “Mothers for Peace” movement. In a highly subversive operation, Quaker mothers joined in making direct contact with Soviet mothers behind the Iron Curtain & with American mothers on the other side of the world. It was a quiet moving of the spirit of significant effect. Ought we to be doing the same today with mothers in China instead of Russia? A bamboo curtain between the mono-polar, American Imperium on the one side, & an emerging China, eager for wealth & power, on the other, will be as dangerous to the next generation as was the Cold War to my generation. Quaker mothers could start to make the difference now.


Many of us would like to see more Friends active within the political arena & in helping to articulate policy in respect of conflict resolution. The non-violent peace force - Peace Workers UK - is an excellent example of what can be achieved. So is the European “Civilian Peace Service” project. Both are consistent with the vision of Martin Luther King when he accepted his Nobel Peace Prize (36), “Non-violence is the answer to the crucial political & moral questions of our time – the need (for man) to overcome oppression & violence without resorting to violence & oppression. If this is to be achieved”, he continued, we “must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression & retaliation.”


To this end, Gene Sharp in his most recent research (37) analyses no less than 195 non violent techniques available to protestors, or to victims of violent attack, or of repression. He also lists the significant successes accruing from non-violent struggle from the eighteenth century onwards in highly diverse situations. These include the conditions of colonial, religious, political & economic rebellion; anti-slavery; male & female suffrage; resistance to genocide, dictatorship, segregation, foreign occupation & coups d’etat.


Friends ought to be at the forefront in understanding, developing & communicating throughout the world, not least to politicians, these non-violent alternates to war & violence, based as they are on the principles of humanitarian law. Such alternatives are diverse & effective.


I have tried in this paper to promote a number of ideas, some more radical than others, but all within our reach. Friends must always remain deeply committed to removing the causes of war. That is fundamental. But, for today, I have suggested that the most important insight might be the simple yet profound idea that war is redundant, obsolete, & demonstrably unsafe as a tool of diplomacy. I would go so far as to say that our principal task at the start of the 21st century is to promote that idea. Ideas have legs, & we can set running in society an idea, the consequences of which will resonate with the vision of Fox & his Seekers. War is obsolete. Once understood that single idea will bring inestimable benefits to our children & grandchildren. It is quiet, but persistent work. The challenge is to turn the world upside down. That is within our reach, provided we have the vision to follow the light.   


So let me close with two quotations.


The first is by our Friend, Issac Pennington, written in 1661. “There is to be a time when ‘nation shall not lift up sword against nation: neither shall they learn war any more’. When the power of the Gospel spreads over the whole earth, thus shall it be throughout the earth, &, where the power of the Spirit takes hold of & overcomes any heart at present, thus will it be at present with that heart. This blessed state, which must be brought forth (in society) at large in God’s season, must begin in particulars (that is in individuals.)” (38)


Then, early in the last century, a decade before the revolution, Maxim Gorky wrote what Friends will understand, today.


 “There will come a time when people will take delight in one another, 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, men (& women) great in their freedom. They will walk with open hearts, & the hearts of each will be pure of envy & greed, & therefore all (human) kind 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 the accounted the best who will the more widely embrace the world with their hearts, & whose love of it will be 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.” (39)


Brian W Walker


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Notes & References


1.   “In Retrospect”. Quoted by Robert S. McNamara. Random House, 1995. Page 216.   

2.   “Mysticism & Democracy” Rufus M. Jones Cambridge Harvard University Press 1932. Quoted by Michael Sheeran “Beyond Majority Rule”, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting 1996. Page 3.  

3.   “The Journal” of George Fox. Cambridge University Press. Page 385.

4.   “Wm Penn’s Religious Background”, William Wistan Comfort. Ambler Pennsylvania Upper Dublin United Monthly Meeting 1944. Page 12. Quoted by Sherran in “Beyond Majority Rule”. Page 11.

5.   “Journal” of George Fox. Page 398. Quoted by Sherran “Beyond Majority Rule”. Page 14, who also quotes Braithwaite who advises a figure of 4,230. “The Second Period of Quakerism” London: 1919. Macmillan Page 9.

6.   “Second Period of Quakerism” Braithwaite.  London 1919. Macmillan Page 444.

7.   “Journal” of George Fox. Page 398. Quoted by Sherran “Beyond Majority rule”. Page 14.

8.   “Beyond Majority Rule”. Sherran Page 15.

9.   “World Turned Upside Down”. Hill. Page 194. Quoted by Sherran “Beyond Majority Rule” Page 15.

10.  “Second Period of Quakerism”. Braithwaite. Macmillan London 1919. Page 18.

11.  See also “Gerard Winstanley & the Republic of Heaven”. David Bolton. Dale Historical Monographs.1999.

12.  “The Anarchy of the Ranters”, Robert Barclay Philadelphia Joseph Cruickshank 1770. Page 72. Quoted by Sherran “Beyond Majority Rule”, Page 27.

13.   Reported in the “Guardian” newspaper. Survey by the Economic & Social Research Council’s, “Democracy & Participation Programme”. 6th May 2003.

14.  “Making the Abolition of War a Realistic Goal”. Gene Sharp. World Policy Inst. 1980. Page 3.

15.“What is Proper Soldiering?” General Michael Harbottle, 1991. The Centre for International Peace Building, & private correspondence.

16.“The Quaker Military Alliance”, David Boulton. Friends Quarterly. October 1997. See also “Real like Daisies or Real Like I Love You”, David Boulton, Dale Historical Monographs, pages 89 -101.

17.“The Seville Statement on Violence” 16th May 1986. UNESCO. See Rotblat J. & Hinde R. (1989) “Aggression in War”. Cambridge.

18.“The Imperial War Museum Book of the Somme” & ditto “Book of the Western Front”. Malcolm Brown. Pan. 1996.

19.“The Human Cost of War”. Dr. Paul Grossrieder, 13th July 2002. Preparing for Peace, Lancaster University lecture.

20.“An Index of Deaths from the Conflict in Northern Ireland 1969-1993”.  Malcolm Sutton. Updated to 2001. <cain.ulst.ac.uk>

21.  “On War”, Carl von Clausewitz, ed Anatol Rapaport. London 1968.

22.  Quoted jointly by “Saferworld” & the “Oxford Project for Peace Studies”. April 2003.

23.  Reported in the “Guardian” newspaper 19th May 2003 - paper by Prof Nixdorff, University of Darmstadt.

24  “Is War Successful in Achieving Its Objects?” General Sir Hugh Beach. 14th July 2001. Preparing for Peace lecture.

25.“In Retrospect”. Robert S. McNamara. Random House Inc. Page 335.

26.“The Minds of Leaders – De-linking War & Violence”. Dr. Chris Williams. 22nd December 2002. Preparing for Peace Lecture.

27  “The UN & the Future of World Governance”, Sir Crispin Tickell. Kendal, 17th May 2003 Preparing for Peace lecture.

28.“The Challenge of Armed Conflict”, Brian W.Walker 24th April, 1999. Friends Meeting House, Lancaster.

29.“Thomas Paine (1737-1809), the Quakers, & the Abolition of War”, Brian W. Walker. Thomas Paine Society 2003.

30.“Sovereignty is no Longer Sacrosanct”, Chopra & Weiss. Ethics & International Affairs Vol. 2. 1992.

31.“Crimes Against Humanity”, Geoffrey Robertson. Allen Lane, The Penguin Press. 1999.

32.China (twice), Korea, Guatemala (twice), Indonesia, Cuba, The Belgium Congo, Peru, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Lebanon, Grenada, Libya, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, Sudan, Yugoslavia, & Afghanistan.

33.“How to Abolish War – the UN, Military Conversion & the Peace Process”  International Commission on Peace & Food, page 30. edited  Brian W.Walker. 1995. Building & Social Housing Foundation.

34.Private correspondence with Dr. Peter Walker, Tufts University & formerly Director of Policy Research the Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies, March 1992.

35.“Humanitarianism”. Brian W. Walker. Forum on Humanitarian Affairs. Aberystwyth University. 28th April 1999.

36.Martin Luther King jnr. 10th December 1964. Acceptance speech in Oslo of the Nobel Peace Prize.

      37. “There are Realistic Alternatives”. Gene Sharp. 2003. The Albert Einstein Institution.

38 .“Quaker Faith & Practise”. The Book of Christian Discipline. Religious Society of Friends  (Quakers)  in  Britain.  Yearly Meeting 1994    

39 “Mother” by Maxim Gorky, translated by Margaret Wettlin. Progress Publishers. 1949. Page 146.



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