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


1970-79 Turning Points

1970 Anti-war protest (against the US invasion of Cambodia) at Kent State University, Ohio; four students were shot dead by the National Guard.

1971 Women from North and South Vietnam signed the Women’s Peace Treaty as Kay Camp, president of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and Madame Ngo Bataan travelled together through Vietnam to promote an end to the war.

1971 An international march in support of the first Spanish conscientious objector, Pepe Beunza, went from Geneva to the Spanish border. The marchers were beaten by Spanish police and forbidden to enter Spain.

1971 Foundation of Médécins sans Frontières.

MEDÉCINS SANS FRONTIÈRES (MSF) was set up by French doctors who were unhappy with the rigid neutrality of the Red Cross. MSF combines relief work with fearless advocation of human rights. They place their treatment centres very close to the danger zones, and openly condemn human rights violations on any side. Most volunteers – from all over the world – are medically trained, but a third of MSF’s workers are engineers, sanitation experts, and organisers. MSF has attended most of the war zones of the world in the late 20th century. In 1999 they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; though grateful for the award, one leader expressed anxiety that any institutionalising of aid agencies might result in sustaining war, making it harder to abolish; what they would really prefer, he said, was not to be needed at all.

1973 End of conscription in America.

1973 A Department of Peace Studies was established at the University of Bradford, UK

1974 Founding of Servicio Paz y Justicia (Service for Peace and Justice), SERPAJ, in Argentina. The organisation was influenced by the non-violent teachings of Jean and Hildegard Goss-Mayr, Catholic pacifist activists and members of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, when they were working in Latin America. SERPAJ, based on a Christian view of life, adopted the slogan ‘La paz es fruto de la justicia’ (peace is the fruit of justice), and has worked towards a Latin American concept of community and tolerance that could eventually replace social oppression and militarism.

ADOLFO PEREZ ESQUIVEL (b.1931; Nobel Peace Prize 1980) is an Argentinian architect and sculptor who gave up this work in 1974 to devote himself entirely to the non-violent movement in Latin America; he became Secretary of the newly-formed SERPAJ (Service for Peace and Justice). He was jailed in 1977 by Argentina’s military dictatorship for fourteen months without a trial and was subjected to psychological and physical torture; he was refused access to a Bible on the grounds that it contained subversive material. Despite the opposition he has encountered, Pérez Esquivel, inspired by Christian faith and admiration for people like Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, has always insisted that the struggle must be waged only with non-violent means. As he saw it, the oppressed peoples of Latin America ‘have long known the methods of non-violent struggle. It is just that they have used it as a way to survive, not to try to overturn a whole system. Their social structure is non-violent too. Non-violence is not a method of non-aggression but rather a way of life.’

1975 The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom convened a Women’s Disarmament Conference at the UN.

THE PEACE PEOPLE of Northern Ireland (Nobel Peace Prize 1976): In 1976 the killing of three small children in Belfast triggered Mairead Corrigan (now Maguire), Ciaran McKeown and Betty Williams to protest. In less than 48 hours 6000 signatures had been gathered. They organised a peace march, attended by 10,000 walking in silence. In the following months further demonstrations took place, despite attacks by extremist groups. A newspaper, ‘Peace by Peace’, was founded. There was also supportive action abroad expressing solidarity. After the Peace People, the rate of violence in Northern Ireland fell by 70%, and never again reached the levels of the early 1970s. The Peace People organisation continues, renewing itself in adjustment to changes in Ireland and in ways of working for peace world-wide. Peace People projects, both community-based and supporting peace action elsewhere in the world, are founded in an alternative, independent and non-violent vision of future society.

1976 The foundation, in Canada and arising from the anti-war stance of Mennonite churchpeople, of Project Ploughshares, promoting disarmament and demilitarisation, the peaceful resolution of political conflict, and the pursuit of security based on equity, justice, and a sustainable environment. By the 1990s it was serving as ‘research and publicity arm of the largest churches in Canada on matters of peace, both at the centre of the peace movement in Canada and at the conference table with government’.

1976 A UNESCO report said that in peace education factual information about war and the arms race isn’t enough, if the conditions surrounding the learning situation don’t change at the same time.

1976 First of a decade of International Nonviolent Marches for Demilitarisation. These were held in various parts of Europe, with emphasis on direct action at military bases and restricted-crossing frontiers, on support for conscientious objectors, and on the conversion of the weapons industry to socially-useful peaceful purposes.

1978 The UN Declaration on the Preparation of Societies for Life in Peace, which called on all states to ‘discourage and eliminate incitement to racial hatred, national or other discrimination, injustice or advocacy of violence and war’. The UN Special Session on Disarmament stated that ‘peace, security, and economic and social development are indivisible’.

1978 The Buddhist Peace Fellowship was established in America.

GRACE PALEY, the writer, was born in the Bronx in 1922. Actively involved in anti-war, feminist and anti-nuclear movements, she was a member of the War Resisters’ League, Resist, and Women’s Pentagon Action, and was one of the founders of the Greenwich Village Peace Center in 1961; she described herself as a ‘somewhat combative pacifist and co-operative anarchist’. In 1978 she went to the White House to protest against nuclear weapons and was arrested. In a statement she explained: ‘While the great important powers of the world are piling up arms, nuclear armaments, we stepped out on to the grass of our own President’s public home, we unfurled a banner, and we said ‘Listen! Stop!’ We did this in order to be seen and heard through the media far and wide. We hope you hear what we’re saying. Otherwise you’ll be taking much greater risks than we’ve taken and the grass of the world will be dangerous to all children. In fact there won’t be any grass, and there won’t be any children.’ Grace Paley was found guilty of unlawful entry, fined, given a suspended sentence, and put on probation for 3 years.

1979 Inauguration of UK Peace Tax Campaign, to bring about laws allowing pacifist taxpayers to divert the portion of their taxes that would be spent on war and preparations for war.

1979 UNICEF published ‘An Approach to Peace Education’ kit for teachers, aimed to promote the need for disarmament, co-operation, the deglorification of violence, and a deeper understanding of what ‘peace’ means.

1979 Foundation of Quaker Peace and Service (replacing the former Friends Service Council), to work for peace world-wide, focusing on educational and other work with government representatives on disarmament, human rights and the just sharing of world resources.

E F SCHUMACHER (1911 -1977) German-born British economist and author of ‘Small Is Beautiful’, which since its publication in 1973 has been translated into twenty languages. He came to England in 1936; his experiences as a farm labourer and in internment camp led him to become preoccupied with what economic conditions would be needed for a lasting peace in Europe. Schumacher studied the Buddhist and Taoist sages and was deeply impressed by the non-violent message of Mahatma Gandhi. ‘A way of life that ever more rapidly depletes the power of the Earth to sustain it and piles up ever more insoluble problems for each succeeding generation can only be called violent. . . . Non-violence must permeate the whole of man’s activities, if mankind is to be secure against a war of annihilation.’ Schumacher was described as ‘a prophet standing against the tide’ and as ‘a man who asks the right questions of his society and of all societies at a crucial time in their history’. He was adamantly opposed to excessive material consumption, meaningless growth, domination by big business, and world-scale economic systems.





Joan Baez (1941- . US singer and peace activist) in 1970: ‘The only thing that’s been a worse flop than the organisation of non-violence has been the organisation of violence.’ [more]

R D Laing (1927-89. UK psychologist): ‘The brotherhood of man is evoked by particular men according to their circumstances. But it seldom extends to all men. In the name of our freedom and our brotherhood we are prepared to blow up the other half of mankind and to be blown up in turn.’

E F Schumacher (1911-1977. British economist and writer): ‘Peace, as has often been said, is indivisible. How then could peace be built on a foundation of reckless science and violent technology?’

Adolfo Pérez Esquivel (1931- .Argentinian peace activist): ‘We must apply our humble efforts to the construction of a more just and humane world. And I want to declare emphatically: Such a world is possible.’




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