A decade-by-decade look at some people and events in the world-wide struggle against war and violence.


 Selected by Margaret Melicharova

  peace action worldwide


1960-69 Pacifism and Politics

ALBERT CAMUS (1913-1960) was a French novelist, essayist, and playwright, whose emphasis on humanism, non-violence, and the responsibility of the individual, deeply influenced leaders of the 1960s non-violent protests world-wide. Camus was born and lived in Algeria, whose non-violent independence from France he strongly supported. His beliefs were based on the ideals of justice and truth, which, he said, people must defend. He was convinced that all political action must have a solid moral basis. In his later writings Camus portrayed a way of life that was tolerant and humane, rejecting the ‘this belief is the only right one’ attitude adopted by both Christian and Marxist fanatics: intolerant religious and political beliefs held the seeds of violence and war. [more]

1960 The Students Non-violent Co-ordinating Committee was set up by US students who had recently taken part in sit-in protests for civil rights.

1961 Conscription ended in Britain. Bertrand Russell was jailed for an anti-nuclear protest.

1961 March for Peace from San Francisco to Moscow, calling on people in all countries to halt preparations for a third World War.

1961 Italian March for Peace from Perugia to Assisi. The Italian Peace Movement arose from this event, and from the inspiration of pacifist academic Aldo Capitini.

1961 Non-violent demonstrations against resumed nuclear testing by the US Student Peace Union, at the Pentagon and at the Soviet embassy in Washington.

1961 The World Peace Brigade was established at a conference in Lebanon, to train unarmed volunteers from all over the world to be alternative peace-keeping forces. (This work was taken up in the 1980s by Peace Brigades International.)

1961 Gyorgy Bulányi, Hungarian Catholic pacifist priest, was released from a life sentence and began to revive communities accepting non-violence as an essential part of life. ‘There is no worse contradiction than the Christian soldier: the gospel under the arm, a grenade in the hand. There is no Christianity without non-violence.’

THE BOKOR (‘the Bush’) is a Hungarian community founded by Gyorgy Bulányi in 1945, based on the principles of loving one’s enemies and feeding the poor. Members were sentenced to anything from 7 years to a lifetime’s imprisonment for their pacifist beliefs. With Bulányi’s release the BOKOR revived and began care and education work in the Third World. Until 1989, however, members still received prison sentences for their conscientious objection. From the early 1960s the BOKOR published illegally over 200 volumes of writings and translations. In 1990 they started their newspaper ‘I am for you’, addressing issues such as non-violence, social reform, Third World issues, education and community life. Now there are about 200 BOKOR groups in Hungary, ‘learning to work openly as a movement for peace and ecology, as well as for justice for all peoples in the Third World’.

1961 The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, as part of the US Civil Rights movement, called for members to take part in mass non-violent action: ‘Let us recruit people who will be willing to go at a given moment and stay in jail indefinitely’.

LINUS PAULING (1901-1994), was a US professor of chemistry who was awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize for Peace as a tireless crusader against the use of warfare, and especially nuclear weapons, as a means of resolving international disputes. He was a leader in the movement against nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s and ‘60s. He submitted an anti-bomb-testing petition to the UN with the signatures of more than 11,000 scientists, a move that was credited with helping to persuade the US, UK, and Soviet Union to sign the 1963 atmospheric test ban treaty. His pacifist views were echoed in his denunciation of the Vietnam War.

1962 Members of the British Committee of 100 demonstrated in Moscow’s Red Square for banning the Soviet atomic bomb as well as those in the West.

1962 Non-violent demonstration by 8000 members of the Student Peace Union at the White House.

ANGELO GIUSEPPE RONCALLI (1881-1963) became Pope John 23rd in 1958. During the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, the Pope publicly urged both the United States and the Soviet Union to use caution and restraint, and won the appreciation of both US President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. His major encyclical, ‘Pacem in Terris’, addressed to all peoples, was received warmly throughout the world and praised by politicians as well as churchmen. It set out the requirements for world peace in profoundly human terms. Pointing out the differences between Marxism and actual Marxist governments, Pope John suggested that peaceful coexistence between the West and the Communist East was not only desirable but necessary if mankind was to survive. In this way he diluted the religious energy that had been poured into the Cold War as a result of the militant policies of the previous Pope. John saw himself as a reconciler. He emphasised the church’s significance as a spiritual force in the world, above the disputes of politics and materialism which so often brought violence and war.

1963 Pope John XXIII’s Encyclical letter ‘Pacem in terris’ (Peace on earth).

PAX CHRISTI is a Catholic peace organisation which was founded in France in March 1945. During the 1960s the movement spread to most of Western Europe. In 1963, Pax Christi International adopted Pope John XXIII’s Encyclical ‘Pacem in Terris’ as its charter. In the spirit of this document, the movement takes its inspiration for the relationship between the work of peacemaking and justice. Increasingly the issues of justice and human rights have been taken up by Pax Christi on both the national and international levels, and branches can be found all over the world.

1963 Foundation of the International Confederation of Disarmament and Peace.

1964 In East Germany, a group of non-combatant conscripts protested when they discovered that the trees they were felling were to be used to construct a rifle range. 1964 In France a law was passed allowing conscientious objectors the option of alternative civilian service – twice as long, and not all COs got to hear of it, but, as pacifist and anarchist Louis Lecoin said, ‘A breach has been opened in the ramparts of militarism’.

1964 Quebec-Guantanamo Peace Walk, a protest against US action in Cuba

BARBARA DEMING (1917-1984) was an American peace activist. In 1960 she joined a demonstration against Polaris submarines organised by the Committee for Non-violent Action; in 1961 she took part in the San Francisco to Moscow Walk for Peace, attended an international peace brigade conference in Europe, and joined a fast calling for the abolition of the CIA. Her first arrest for civil disobedience was in 1962, protesting against atomic bomb tests. She publicly spoke up for unilateral disarmament, and joined the Nashville to DC bi-racial Walk for Peace. She was jailed twice in 1963, for taking part in an anti-racism protest and during the Peace And Freedom Walk, and again in 1964, during the racially-integrated Quebec-Guantanamo Walk for Peace and Freedom. Civil disobedience was Barbara’s way of exerting her power against the state.

1965 David Miller of the Catholic Worker movement said ‘I believe the napalming of Vietnamese villages is an immoral act; I hope what I’m about to do will be a significant act,’ and publicly burned his draft card. He was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. The symbolic burning of draft cards soon spread among conscientious objectors.

STUDENTS FOR A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY was an American student organisation that flourished in the mid-to-late 1960s and was known for its activism against the Vietnam War. Operating under the principles of the ‘Port Huron Statement’, a manifesto issued in 1962, the organisation grew rapidly with the escalation of US involvement in Vietnam in 1965. SDS organised a national march to Washington DC in April 1965, and, from about that period, grew increasingly assertive, especially about issues relating to the war, such as the drafting of students. Tactics included the occupation of university and college administration buildings on campuses across the country.

1966 Establishment of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, SIPRI, to contribute to ‘the understanding of the preconditions for a stable peace and for peaceful solutions of international conflicts’. By the 1990s there were nearly 100 such institutes in Europe and America.

1966 Foundation of the International Peace Research Association. IPRA’s aim is to increase the quantity of research focused on world peace and to ensure its high scientific and practical quality. IPRA holds biennial general conferences at venues all round the world.

1965 The Second Vatican Council agreed that any act of war ‘directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants’ was ‘a crime against God and humanity’ – a fair description of the war in Vietnam.

BUDDHISTS IN VIETNAM The poet and monk Thich Nhat Hanh led a powerful non-violent movement in favour of peace in Vietnam. Driven into exile by the communists, he joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation as a gesture of solidarity with the pacifist cause in the West. During the Vietnam war some of the members of his Unified Buddhist Church, lay persons as well as monks and nuns, displayed a heroic anti-war witness by setting fire to themselves in protest against the continued fighting. Buddhists throughout Vietnam, inspired by the non-violence of Buddha’s teachings, maintained their pacifist stance, encouraged resistance against both armies, refused to fight, and sheltered thousands of deserters. In consequence they suffered assassination, execution, mass imprisonment, wounding, and the destruction of their pagodas. Many were forced into exile. Thich Nhat Hanh’s writings are published regularly in the West and readers report that they have been inspired by his non-violent calm. He has continued to work and travel in the cause of non-violence.

1968 Anti-war protests in Paris triggered strikes for reform throughout France.

1968 War Resisters’ International demonstrations took place in Warsaw Pact capitals after the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Russian troops, who were met by unarmed defiance as Czechs stood in the path of the incoming tanks.

WOMEN AND PEACE After a 1959 Conference on ‘the responsibility of women in the atomic age’, the newly-formed European Movement of Women against Nuclear Armament, and other women’s groups, embarked on massive educational and petition campaigns. In 1961 the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom pioneered US/Soviet Women’s seminars, to help break Cold War barriers. In 1964 a new movement started in America: Women Strike For Peace. Also in 1964 women from many countries appeared at a NATO conference in Holland, demonstrating against plans to set up a multilateral nuclear force. In 1969 the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom sponsored an international conference on ending chemical and biological warfare.





Statement by Students Non-violent Co-ordinating Committee, 1971 :’We affirm the philosophical or religious ideal of non-violence as the foundation of our purpose, our faith and our action. Through non-violence courage displaces fear, love transforms hate, peace dominates war. Non-violence nurtures the atmosphere in which reconciliation and justice become actual possibilities.’

Pope John 23rd (1881-1963) from Encyclical Letter ‘Pacem in Terris’, 1963:
‘The social progress, order, security and peace of each country are necessarily connected with the social progress, order and peace of all other countries.’

John Lennon (1940-80), song title 1969: ‘Give peace a chance.’

Staughton Lynd (US historian and pacifist activist) at an anti-war demonstration: ‘We are here to keep faith with those of all countries and all ages who have sought to beat swords into ploughshares and war no more.’

Martin Luther King, in 1963: ‘We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate. We get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity. Hate destroys. Love creates.’ [more]

Alfred Hassler (jailed World War 2 objector and Secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation) in 1968: ’There are legitimate issues with which all those concerned with peace must deal: issues of land reform, exploitation, corruption in government, the right of a people to choose its own government, the right of free speech.’




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