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VERA BRITTAIN - WOMEN AND PEACE

 
 

Introduction

- vera and the ppu
- vera on women and peace
- ppu women's campaign
- vera at war for peace
- references


vera brittain selected text

- to mothers especially
- letters to peace lovers
- women must awake to
  save humanity

- women and pacifism
- methods of barbarism


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complete text, illustrations and additional material as pdf file

- short biography
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Women themselves do not always realised how far back the active campaigning aspect of the feminist-pacifist tradition reaches. In this essay Yvonne Bennett looks at one episode of this tradition - the Women's Peace Campaign in the early part of the Second World War - and the critical stance of Vera Brittain despite her own strong feminist advocacy as a PPU member from 1937 to her death in 1970. Vera Brittain's views are exemplified by a selection of her writings including a trenchant expose of the 'dark abyss of inhuman barbarity' demonstrated in saturation bombing.



INTRODUCTION

There is a strong tradition within the women's movement which argues the correlation between feminism and pacifism. It is indeed that tradition which, so far from being anti-male, rightly points out that the qualities of caring and gentleness ordinarily associated with womanhood are the natural inheritance of the whole of humanity, and it is an aberration that men have been taught to be dominant and aggressive.

Women themselves, however, do not always realise how far back the active campaigning aspect of the feminist-pacifist tradition reaches. This pamphlet looks at one episode of this tradition - the Women's Peace Campaign in the early part of the Second World War - and in particular the attitude of Vera Brittain towards the Campaign and to the War itself. The Women's Peace Campaign was an initiative that arose within the Peace Pledge Union which, interestingly, was originally confined to men because its founder, Dick Sheppard, saw that 'up to now [1934] the peace movement has received its main support from women'. No doubt he had in mind such organisations as the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and the Co-operative Women's Guild.

To complement Yvonne Bennett's essay focusing on Vera Brittain, a selection of Vera Brittain's writings on themes raised by the author has been included, and one of these, from 'War-time Letters to Peace Lovers', gives some account of the beginning of the Women's International League in the middle of the First World War.

As Yvonne Bennett points out, Vera Brittain, a PPU member from 1937 until her death in 1970 and sometime Chairperson, did not herself figure prominently in the Women's Peace Campaign, arguing in 'Women and Pacifism' that 'the modern phase of the women's struggle is the much more difficult one of equal co-operation'. Nevertheless she welcomed the Campaign in both 'Letters to Peace Lovers' and 'Women Must Awaken to Save Humanity'. The debate about separate organisation by women peacemakers is a continuing one, as the controversy around Greenham exemplifies.

Just as before the War Vera Brittain suggested 'To Mothers Especially' that bombing aeroplanes ought to be abolished, so during the war she denounced as 'Methods of Barbarism' the policy of intensive bombing of German cities. It is a salutary reminder to those who now are content to campaign only against 'The Bomb', to recall Vera Brittain's comment that 'humanising war is not an alternative to abolishing it. It is a step nearer to the creation of that state of mind in which the abolition of war will become possible.'

Bill Hethrington

 

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