After WW2 the world made an effort to pull itself together. The United Nations organisation was founded, and its charter, aimed at resolving interstate disputes by other means than war, drawn up. So were other agreements. [Link to Documents] 'First use' of force was banned: under modern international law, aggression is illegal.
It took the UN 20 years to agree on what 'aggression' is: invasion; attack; occupation; bombardment; blockade; attack on another state's army; unauthorised use of an army stationed on foreign soil; allowing territory to be used for aggression; sending militias or other groups to carry out aggressive acts.
Since all these things are illegal, one could have hoped that people would at last realise that they could do without armies. But not every state was yet a member of the UN, and even some of its members were committed to pacific principles more in theory than in practice. So it was agreed that using armed force in self-defence was legal; and that it was legal to make the first aggressive move if the UN said OK.
Every one of these acts of aggression has been committed, some of them repeatedly, some of them long-term, since 1945. Since 1945 there has been armed conflict going on somewhere in the world every year. American armed forces alone have been involved in conflicts in over 50 countries. Three of the poems that follow deal with three post-1945 wars: the USA's war with Japan, the USA's involvement with Vietnam's civil war, and the civil war in Ireland.
War is a survivor. It adapts itself to local climate and terrain and resources; it exploits both the strengths and weaknesses of the people it infects. But it does meet with resistance, and we do know that it can be eradicated if we choose. As it became clear in the 1950s and 1960s that with the end of world war there was still no world peace, the peace movement was reborn.
The ideas of Gandhi spread. Nonviolent resistance was put into practice. Specific campaigns were launched, against nuclear weapons, against the Vietnam war, against the British military presence in Northern Ireland. (Towards the end of the Vietnam war more young Americans had registered as conscientious objectors than had joined the army, and the USA abolished conscription in 1973.) There were peace marches and walks across countries and continents (one walk began in Quebec and ended in Guantanamo Bay). Peace research organisations and institutes were founded. There were moves towards making social changes in order to prevent conflict before violence could start.
Peace has its symbolic images no less than war: such as the 'sit-down' (the first was organised by the PPU in 1951) and other mass protests, or (in 1968) civilians in Prague standing unarmed in the path of advancing tanks. In this period there was also a new youth culture of nonviolence and 'universal love', beginning on America's west coast and rapidly spreading around the world. The last poem in this section is a product of that culture, which has persisted as an idea long after it ceased to be a trend. John Lennon's 'Give Peace a Chance' was written in 1969, and pro-peace campaigners sing it still. Some would say it means even more now than it did then.
the first world war
the second world war
crimes against humanity
the nuclear age
The US Sailor-Japanese Skull GO
Two Lorries GO
O Come Love GO