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Selection of Dick Sheppard's writing

 

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Hugh Richard Lawrie Sheppard (1880-1937), universally and affectionately known as Dick, was a humble genius who started the Peace Pledge Union with a letter to the press in 1934 in which he invited people to renounce war and never support or sanction another.

This selection of Dick's writings from 1924 until his death in 1937 illustrates both his conviction that 'pacifism is a fundamental article of the Christian creed' (The Christian Attitude to War) and his acceptance that there are many for whom 'pacifism is a logical deduction, a philosophical necessity, an intellectual reality based on a study of the sciences of sociology, anthropology, politics, history, economics' (Let Us Honour Peace).

Dick wrote in I Will Not Fight, 'I was not a pacifist in the first year of the (Great) War; as a professing Christian I ought to have been'. Dick in fact volunteered as an army chaplain in 1914, but twenty years later, as the former popular vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields and Dean of Canterbury, he maintained in If Another War Comes, 'the Church of Christ is not worthy to represent its Lord today unless it declares, without equivocation or delay, that no leader or ranker under its banner may kill his fellow, his brother.'

Father, Forgive Them is a discussion of how hard but necessary is our forgiving those that hurt us most, which, Dick suggested, shows that 'Christianity is also common sense.' Forgiveness is the prelude to love, and in The Root of the Matter Dick argued that, 'If we could learn to love, then war would be impossible, defences, bomb-proof shelters, anti-aircraft guns, armaments, treaties a ridiculous mockery, the paraphernalia of the fear we had outgrown.'

Dick indeed was wont to assert, 'Not peace at any price, but love at all costs,' and in Murder is Wrong he pointed out that 'The Consequences of doing what one believes to be right have got to be faced, however unpleasant they may be.'

Perhaps the most controversial of these pieces, in the eyes of the generation after Dick, is his Candid Letter to the Men Who Matter. Not only would we question whether members of government 'matter' more than people in the street, but also, when we had a woman prime minister, we were forcibly reminded that women, whether in positions of power or not, have as much right to matter as men. Yet Dick spoke as much for the PPU of today as of 1937 when he 'lost faith in governments... It is not the peoples over whom you rule that stand in the way of peace - it is yourselves and your fear.'

In re-publishing these writings the PPU, which has always had a non-sectarian basis, does not invite the reader necessarily to accept Dick's profession of Christianity. His unqualified renunciation of war and war preparations remains open to all. Now, as much as in 1936, 'The Powers glare at each other across guarded frontiers'. Everyone can learn from Dick's pacifism which 'insists that we shall set no limits to the spirit of co-operation.'