Preparing for Peace
The website of the Westmorland General Meeting 'Preparing for Peace' initiative
19th July 2003
A Quaker’s View of 21st Century War.
R. Morrison was a young, Quaker peace activist. He was a member of the Stoney
Run Preparative Meeting, Baltimore, USA.
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)
cultural institution we call “war” is an ugly, degenerate, immoral &
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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?
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.
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?
don’t know how to answer these questions for anyone except myself. You, of
course, must answer for yourself.
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.
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.
finest poem, “Strange Meeting” - which Sassoon was to call his “passport
to immortality” - speaks for
seemed that out of battle I escaped
some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
granites which titanic wars had groined.
also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
as I probed them, one sprang up, & stared
piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
distressful hands, as if to bless,
by his smile, I knew that sullen hall, -
his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.
a thousand pains that vision’s face was grained;
no blood reached there from the upper ground,
no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
friend”, I said, “here is no cause to mourn”.
said that other, “save the undone years,
hopelessness. What hope is yours,
my life also; I went hunting wild
the wildest beauty in the world,
lies not calm in eyes, or braded hair,
mocks the steady running of the hour,
if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
by my glee might many men have laughed,
of my weeping something had been left,
must die now. I mean the truth untold,
pity of war, the pity war distilled.
men will go content with what we spoiled,
discontent, boil bloody, & be spilled.
will be swift with swiftness of the tigress.
will break rank, though nations trek from progress.
was mine, & I had mystery,
was mine, & I had mastery:
miss the march of this retreating world
vain citadels that are not walled.
when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels
would go up & wash them from sweet wells,
with truths that lie too deep for taint.
would have poured my spirit without stint
not through wounds: not on the cess of war.
of men have bled where no wounds were.
am the enemy you killed, my friend.
knew you in the dark: for so you frowned
through me as you jabbed & killed.
parried; but my hands were loath & cold.
us sleep now…..”
& 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”.
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.
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”.
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
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.
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.
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)
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).
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)
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.
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.
considering war in the 21st century, I want to make three further
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.
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.
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.
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
& 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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 &
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
& 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 &
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.
me turn finally to consider in more detail selected aspects of the national
& international setting of war.
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)
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
an issue of particular interest to Friends arises from all these considerations
– the role of neutrality in situations of conflict or pending conflict.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
let me close with two quotations.
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
early in the last century, a decade before the revolution, Maxim Gorky wrote
what Friends will understand, today.
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