Peacebuilding & Nonviolence
"What is called the utopian dream of pacifism is in fact a practical policy – indeed the only practical, the only realistic policy that there is."
- Aldous Huxley, early PPU member
The Peace Pledge Union (PPU) is an unashamedly pacifist organisation. Our members pledge not to support war but instead to work against the causes of war. We are also happy to work alongside other people and groups whose views overlap with ours.
We believe in making an active choice for nonviolence as an alternative to both war and passivity. We recognise the repeated failure of warfare to achieve even its stated aims and the harm that miltiarism causes to democracy, equality, human co-operation and the global environment.
But we are concerned with more than simply the rejection of war. We are committed to actively resisting war and other injustices and promoting alternative forms of conflict resolution. These vary from the long and difficult business of international peacebuilding to the nonviolent overthrow of unjust structures. We make the links between issues of peace, power, poverty and climate change.
As the PPU's founder Dick Sheppard said in the 1930s, "The renunciation and elimination of war is but the first step in the construction of peace, and the construction of peace but one step in the creation of a wiser, saner and more human social order."
As pacifists, we do not reject conflict. Indeed, to be a pacifist is to be in conflict with society's dominant values and many of its political structures. We seek to engage in conflict nonviolently, aiming at eventual resolution of the conflict, and with a focus on changing systems and practices rather than descending to personal hatred of individuals.
A commitment to peacebuilding and nonviolence underlies all aspects of the PPU's work. The PPU produces educational resources, campaigns for nonviolent social change and publicises the histories of people and movements who have taken a stand for peace.
'Peacbuilding and Nonviolence' is one of the four strands of the PPU's current work, although these principles underly all other aspects of our work as well. This strand is concerned with promoting nonviolent alternatives to war and violence. It includes:
- Educational resources, helping children and adults to explore approaches to conflict, ethics around war and peace and the history of conscientious objection and nonviolent resistance. Many schools use these resources in conjunction with others written from different perspectives to ours, to ensure young people can explore issues and debates for themselves as they grow up.
- Maintaining and publicising records on the history of conscientious objection and peace activism in the UK. We have one of Britain's most extensive archives on conscientious objection and peace history. We maintain a detailed and lively website called The Men Who Said No, telling the stories of conscientious objectors in the First World War.
- Supporting and publicising people engaged in actively nonviolent resistance to war and miltiarism today, including many of our own members, and to promoting nonviolence as an effective alternative to both violence and passivity.
War: It's a choice
Many of the victims of war are blameless; war is not their choice. Others have the power to make different choices: not only those who wage war, but those whose support is necessary to keep it going. War and other injustices are maintained by people. And people can do things differently.
We are often told that war is human nature. Injustices from slavery and colonialism to homophobia and sexism have been defended on the grounds that they are "natural" and "inevitable". War, like these other unjust practices, is not natural. It was created by people.
Wars are not the result of innate aggression. Neither guns nor nuclear weapons are built by people driven by an aggressive instinct. They are built by people who simply want to earn a living and are often disconnected from the results of their daily work.
Killing strangers whether by pulling the trigger, pressing the button, making the weapon, sending out the invoice or acquiescing in a social system that results in death is not our inevitable future. Wars and violent conflicts have many causes, crucial amongst them the conscious, deliberate decisions taken or not taken by the antagonists. Wars also have a long build-up during which many choices and actions can be taken and only some will result in violence.
Peacebuilding and security
We have to think differently about "security" if we are to build peace. Far from guaranteeing security and human rights, war undermines them in both the short and long term. Any good that violence appears to do is temporary; the harm is usually long-lasting.
What is security? If a society or community is secure, it’s likely that its people are reasonably well looked after: they have access to basic needs such as clean water, housing, power supplies, food, education, health care and the support of family or friends. They are able to convey their views to others, particularly those who make decisions.
For all that to work well, human rights need to be respected, people must respect each other, even when some make it very difficult. There are communities around the world which manage to live in relative harmony. These citizens solve their problems and disputes with understanding, imagination, and the will to get things right.
But to be really secure a community needs also to have good relationships with other societies and communities. And all societies need to respect the planet and the atmosphere that surrounds it.
For some people "security" means "national security": a system providing armed forces against an aggressor - or a supposed aggressor. But what does this kind of "security" mean to people who are starving, or living in an area where the ground or the air is polluted? What does it mean to people who are afraid to go out at night, or who have been made homeless by crime and war? What does it mean to people ruled by an oppressive government, or who are badly treated because of their beliefs, their ethnic roots, or their way of life?
Attitudes to "security" are intertwined with the problems that create conflict. We are all affected by what goes on elsewhere in the world. War and famine in one part of the world can lead to the arrival of refugees elsewhere. Wealth-seeking businesses can take advantage of poverty and repression in one region to exploit people elsewhere, affecting the world's financial systems. No-one is secure when anyone is threatened.
If we dismantle the systems of thinking, governing, trading and living that depend on using threats, all of us can share a common security. We created those systems ourselves. We also have the ability to understand that they are terrible mistakes.
Of course change needs time. It takes time for people to work out ways to agree with each other, let alone carry them out successfully. But if we want to see a more humane world, a fairer world, a world that unites to ensure its survival, we must keep asking for exactly that. We have to keep saying people that such a world is really possible, and acting on that conviction. We have to keep working out the steps that will lead to it, and telling the rest of the world about it.
Only global action can hope to save our global environment. People have to work together, with a shared determination for a shared survival instead of a shared extinction. Security can only be stable when it is universal – common to us all.
Most social change happens because of nonviolent movements. In the UK, we have rights such as universal voting and relative freedom of belief because our ancestors campaigned for these rights. They were not given to us on a plate by the rich and powerful. Nor, in most cases, do they exist because of violence.
Historically, nonviolent methods of social change have included civil disobedience, non co-operation and nonviolent direct action. The first American Quakers, whose religion was pacifist, practised civil disobedience when they refused to pay taxes supporting the British war effort during the American War of Independence. During the Second World War, Danish shipbuilders practised no-co-operation when they feigned misunderstanding and worked so poorly that their ship could not be used in war. Nonviolent direct action has recently become a sometimes high-profile manifestation of nonviolent principles, as when protesters damage fighter planes and other weaponry destined for use in war or by oppressive regimes. Many such protesters, having given their principled reasons in court, have been acquitted.
Non-recognition is also a technique used in nonviolent protest. When Serb authorities closed down the Albanian schools in Kosovo, the teachers refused to "recognise" the ban on their work and quietly continued it elsewhere. Nonviolent activists do not "recognise" tyranny, in that they regard it as illegitimate rule; they refuse to comply with it. Tolstoy refused to "recognise" the enforced oath of allegiance to the state, which directly or indirectly commits the oath-taker to violence, military or political.
Nonviolence as a philosophy or principle can inform anyone's actions, anywhere and at any time. Nonviolence as an effective way of dealing with conflict needs thought, resourcefulness, vision, planning, patience and commitment. There are now organisations which provide training in nonviolent techniques, and groups of experts in nonviolent conflict resolution who go into troubled areas, much as relief workers do, acting as mediators and passing on their nonviolence skills.
In a world where the prevailing systems are caught in the armlock of violence, nonviolence can't offer instant remedies or results. However, it is catching on. Nonviolence doesn't deny the existence of conflict - conflict of one kind or another will probably always be present in human society - but it does assert that no conflict need be dealt with using violence and armed force, ever. The aim of its supporters, therefore, is the dismantling of the power structures, military systems (including arms manufacture), and economic networks (including the arms trade) that make violence and war an option at all.
Pacifism is about saying that we will no longer do as we’re told. We will not go along with the militarist lies. To declare yourself a pacifist is an act of rebellion.
In some ways, we have a strong peace movement in Britain. The campaign against the Iraq war broke records for the numbers involved. Resistance to Trident renewal unites a disparate range of groups. Opposition to arms exports to oppressive regimes is growing stronger and more visible.
At the same time, we are hampered by a reluctance to criticise war in itself. In resisting Trident, pacifists are happy to march alongside people who do not share their pacifism. But we suggest that Trident is a particularly dreadful symptom of a deeper problem.
Pacifism is a rejection of both violence and passivity, embracing active nonviolence to resist war, oppression and inequality.
Pacifism, however, is about more than an individual refusal to take part in war. Pacifism involves a commitment to humanity, to the real security that comes with human rights, equality and a fair distribution of resources.
Pacifism means tackling the causes of war rather than trying to bomb away the symptoms. We cannot solve the world’s problems by telling children’s stories about goodies and baddies. We need long-term, messy and morally complex processes.
Pacifism involves making links with those working for peace overseas, forging movements that are just as international as the arms companies and military systems that we are struggling against.
Endorsing pacifism is a positive decision to follow a different set of values and to place conscience and humanity above calls for obedience and national loyalty.