|Selection of Dick Sheppards writing
| armistice day
let us know
© Peace Pledge Union
|Eighteen years ago, when the 'Cease Fire' sounded, almost everybody believed that there would be no more war. And everyone was glad. That happy confidence did not last very long. Soon people were asking each other uneasily: 'Will war come again after all?' Now they do not ask even that. The question today is 'When?'
Once more we pay tribute to our dead - to the men who died in the war to end war, to the men who died that freedom might be sure, and whose sons, we fear, are the conscript soldiers of tomorrow. We observe the Two Minutes' Silence. And we think of - what?
Of what could they wish us to think? Not that they were heroes - not that there was any special virtue in the manner of their dying - not of the tragedy of youth snuffed out - not even that we loved them, and still remember. They would wish us to think of what they died for. Across the darkening gulf of close on twenty years their voices ask us: 'Have we died in vain?' What answer can we make?
The Powers glare at each other across guarded frontiers. Causes of friction multiply. Pacts and alliances ensure that, if anywhere the smouldering suspicions and hatreds burst into flames, the conflagration will swiftly become general. Our own commitments as a nation are vague but vast.
In some respects the scene is darker than in 1914. The instruments of war are infinitely more terrible than they were, the consequences of war far more ghastly. Silence has armed the nations as bees are armed - with weapons whose employment may and probably will involve their own destruction.
Our only hope lies in the fact that a much greater number of people realise the danger of war than did so twenty-two years ago and are resolved, if they can, to avoid it. Only some of these people are pacifists in the full sense. The majority have, until recently, believed that the League of Nations, by mobilising the strength of its member States, could prevent war and aggression. That bubble has been burst. Collective security lies dead among the mountains of Ethiopia.
We pacifists who are professing Christians have never been deceived by this specious dream. To some of us the issue is primarily one of conscience. We believe that war is always, and in all circumstances, contrary to the will of god, and that no decision of the League of Nations can absolve us from the duty of obeying the Commandment: 'Thou shalt not kill'.
Because we passionately hold this faith, we have pledged ourselves to have no part or lot in war. And others are taking the same vow, not because they accept non-violence as a fundamental Christian duty - some of them deny the validity of the Christian revelation - but because they recognise that a declaration in advance of war resistance is the only way in which the policies of governments can be influenced in the direction of peace.
I can imagine no better way of paying our debt to those who died and whose memory we recall at this time. I can imagine no better way in which to serve the unborn generation of the future. In the hush of the Silence let us dedicate ourselves to this task.
candid letter to men who matter
© Peace Pledge Union
You mean well. You are honourable men. To the best of your ability you are doing your duty to your country and to Humanity.
But because of you a shadow has fallen across the sky, and the world has lost its way in a sombre twilight of suspicion and hatred. Because of you mothers are afraid for their children. Because of you civilisation itself is in danger.
You do not will war. You do not want this doom to come upon the nations. You are trying to avoid it. But everything you do brings it nearer. You speak of peace - and I believe that you mean what you say. But your words are drowned by the tramp of your armies and the roar of your aeroplanes. The air is filled with the smoke of your armament factories. Because you won't trust the other man. Because you won't believe he wants peace as much as you do. Because you cannot suggest any way of preserving peace other than by multiplying the instruments of war.
What would you think of a man who walked about the streets with a loaded revolver in each of his pockets, and said he was doing it because he preferred a quiet life?
Suppose there were a lot of men like that. They might all be quite honest in wanting to go about their business peacefully but they'd all be scared in case somebody else started shooting. And presently, when one of them put his hand in his pocket to get his pipe or his cigarettes, his neighbour would think he was reaching for his gun. That would be enough. The coroner's court would have to work overtime to get through the inquests.
Sane men don't behave like that? No, but nations do. They're doing it now. And you, who rule over these nations, are responsible.
I know that you are trying to build up a system of pacts and sanctions that will prevent war. But what you call collective security isn't going to do that. It is simply a device for ensuring that, if war comes, everybody will be in it.
You can't grow figs on thistles. You can't get peace by agreeing to go to war.
No doubt you can advance all sorts of arguments to prove that I am being unreasonable and unfair. But I am a Christian, and I take my religion seriously. I believe that when God said 'Thou shalt not kill', He meant to prohibit the killing of millions in cold blood, which we call war, as well as the crime of murder.
There is, indeed, no difference between war and murder apart from the fact that the one is on an immeasurably larger scale than the other, and claims an infinitely greater number of victims.
That is true of all wars. And the only way to stop them is to say quite definitely that in no circumstances and upon no pretext will we allow ourselves to be dragged into war.
But that, gentlemen, is precisely what you won't say. You can't say it, because at heart you believe in force. That is why, even when you make efforts to establish permanent peace, you can't think of any means of realising your aim apart from the threat of force.
I believe that you are wrong. I believe that, however good may be the intentions with which you build battleships or aeroplanes, or train soldiers, or manufacture munitions of war, they are only so many paving-stones for Hell, the Hell of the next war.
So I have lost faith in Governments. But I still have faith in the people over whom they rule. I have faith in the decent, kindly folk who go out every morning to do a useful job of work and come home every evening to their own firesides. I have faith in the women who make these homes havens of happiness and rest in an unquiet world. I have faith in the mothers, for they are the givers and guardians of life. I have faith in youth, because its clear eyes pierce the shams and hypocrisies with which their elders too easily deceive themselves.
There, gentlemen, I see the hope of the world today - the best, the only security for peace that we can have. These people are not interested in your manoeuvres for position. But they are interested in peace. It is they, or their husbands or sons, who would be asked to fight if war came again. It is on their homes that desolation would rain from the skies. It is they who would go hungry - whose children would cry for food - as blockade tightened its grip upon the belligerent Powers, and Famine stalked naked through the city streets. They do no want to fight. They do not want to starve. They do not want to be made targets for bombers.
And they realise now as never before, that the common people of every other country are very like themselves, just as decent and likeable as themselves. And they are asking, gentlemen, why should they kill each other because you fall out?
They ask for peace, and you offer them a pact. But they themselves hold the keys of peace - if they say there shall be no more war, this crime against God and humanity shall forever be impossible.
Today they are beginning to realise that. The women, I think, saw it first, because their vision was sharpened by the love they bore their sons. But the men are awakening also. Very many thousands of them have signed the Peace Pledge: 'I renounce war and I will never support or sanction another'.
What do you think this means, gentlemen? It means that a new spirit is abroad in the world - among the common people of the world. They are no longer content to trust to Governments to save them from war - they are determined to save themselves. They know that, if they refuse to go to war, the reign of universal peace will dawn at last.
You say you might take this seriously if millions, instead of thousands, were signing the pledge, and if there were similar movements in other countries. Have you ever thrown a stone into a pool? Don't you remember how the ripples widen out? It is the same with ideas. They affect only a few people - or relatively few people - at first. But they spread. And if the idea is big enough, it will go to the uttermost ends of the earth. There is this difference, however. The consequences of the creative ideas are permanent.
Believe me, gentlemen, there is a growing impatience with policies that lead to war, no matter how plausibly they may be presented. You yourselves - or some of you - have told us that patriotism is not enough, that we must think internationally. But the internationalism of the League of Nations and Collective Security is only a larger patriotism. It is the tribal spirit magnified - but unchanged in essence. I believe that we have outgrown the tribe - that the peoples of the earth are ready for larger, loftier ideas than tribalism can offer.
For close on two thousand years we have been vowing allegiance to Christ and trying to escape from the practical consequences of His teaching. We have been shutting Him up in churches and behaving in daily life and politics and international relations as if He didn't exist.
The time has come when we must let Him out of the churches. Another war might well mean the end of Christian civilisation on this earth and of all that civilisation has achieved. And it seems to me that the only hope of avoiding war is to accept Christianity as a way of life, not only in our private affairs, but in all public and international contacts.
In other words, the nations must stop thinking about selfish interests and about prestige, must put suspicion and fear and hatred behind them, and see what confidence and friendliness and goodwill can achieve. I know you are going to reply that this is impractical - that human nature being as it is, war is always a possibility, and it is your duty to guard against it.
I tell you, gentlemen, that human nature is better than you think. It is not the peoples over whom you rule that stand in the way of peace - it is yourselves and your fear. You are still living in the darkness of the past and in the terror of darkness; they are stretching out eager hands towards the light of the future.
Is not this new temper of theirs your opportunity? You have it in your power today, if you will renounce war, and do it in earnest and without reservations, to usher in a new era. You have it in your power to write 'Finis' to the old jealousies and the ancient quarrels. You have it in your power to turn the world's steps into the paths of peace, paths which will lead humanity to a new richness and fullness of life.
Gentlemen, you may win, if you will, a fame greater than any conqueror has achieved, and, what is still more worthy of ambition, the blessings of generations yet unborn. But even if you fail to rise to the height of this great opportunity I do not despair. There can be no war if the peoples will peace. And there is a wind of God blowing through the minds of men today that, I believe, will prove fatal to war.
And so, gentlemen, I sign myself, in so far as my conscience permits, Your Obedient Servant, Dick Sheppard.
P E A C E P L E D G E U N I O N 1 Peace Passage London N7 0BT, Britain.