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Pacifism is a belief that violence, even in self-defence, is unjustifiable under any conditions and that negotiation is preferable to war as a means of solving disputes. In the First World War pacifists became known as conscientious objectors. Some pacifists refused to fight but about 7,000 were willing to help the country by working in non-combat roles such as medical orderlies, stretcher-bearers, ambulance drivers, cooks or labourers. This included Kingsley Martin, Stanley Spencer, E. M. Forster, Frederick Pethick-Lawrence and Christopher Nevinson.

Some pacifists, known as absolute conscientious objectors, rejected any involvement in the war. People who fell into this category included Clifford Allen, Fenner Brockway, Bertrand Russell, and E. D. Morel. Some absolutists such as Allen and Brockway formed the pressure group, the No-Conscription Fellowship (NCF).

The No-Conscription Fellowship mounted a vigorous campaign against the punishment and imprisonment of conscientious objectors. By the end of the war, 16,000 appeared before Military Service Tribunals. Over 4,500 went sent to do work of national importance such as farming. However, 6,000 were handed over to the army, and then sentenced to severe penalties for disobeying orders. These included 35 who were sentenced to death (afterwards commuted), and many others who spent up to three years in prison on repeated sentences. Conditions were very hard for conscientious objectors, and ten of them died in prison; more than sixty died afterwards as a result of the way they had been treated. A plaque to commemorate them hangs in the offices of the pacifist organisation the Peace Pledge Union.

After the passing of the Military Service Act in 1916, the No-Conscription Fellowship mounted a vigorous campaign against the punishment and imprisonment of conscientious objectors. By the end of the war, 8,608 appeared before Military Tribunals. However, 528 were sentenced to severe penalties. This included 17 who were sentenced to death (afterwards commuted), 142 to life imprisonment, three to 50 years' imprisonment, four to 40 years and 57 to 25 years. Conditions were made very hard for the conscientious objectors and sixty-nine of them died in prison.

In April 1939 Neville Chamberlain announced a return to conscription. However, lessons had been learned from the First World War. Tribunals were set up to deal with claims for exemption on conscience grounds, but this time there were no military representatives acting as prosecutors. Most importantly, this time the Tribunals were willing to grant absolute exemption. Over the next six years a total of 59,192 people in Britain registered as Conscientious Objectors (COs).

In 1940, with the British government expecting a German invasion at any time, public opinion turned against Conscientious Objectors. Over 70 city councils dismissed COs who were working for them. In some places of employment workers refused to work alongside COs. In other cases, employers sacked all those registered as pacifists.

During the Vietnam War the United States had to introduce conscription and between 1963 and 1973 over 9,000 men were prosecuted for refusing to be drafted into the US Army. Some young men burnt their draft cards in public while others left the country rather than serve in the war.

A month ago Europe was a peaceful group of nations: if an Englishman killed a German, he was hanged. Now, if an Englishman kills a German, or if a German kills an Englishman, he is a patriot. We scan the newspapers with greedy eyes for news of slaughter, and rejoice when we read of innocent young men, blindly obedient to the world of command, mown down in thousands by the machine-gun of Liege. Those who saw the London crowds, during the nights leading up to the Declaration of War saw a whole population, hitherto peaceable and humane, precipitated in a few days days down the steep slope to primitive barbarism, letting loose, in a moment, the instincts of hatred and blood lust against which the whole fabric of society has been raised.

We are all young men, and life is a precious thing to such men. We cherish life because of the opportunities for adventure and achievement which it offers to a man who is young. They say our country is in danger. Of course it is, but whose fault is that? It will be in danger in fifty years time, if our rulers know they can always win our support by hoisting danger signals. They will never heed our condemnation of their foreign policy if they can always depend upon our support in time of war. There is one interference with individual judgement that no state in the world has any sanction to enforce - that is, to tamper with the unfettered free right of everyman to decide for himself the issue of life and death.

Every individual gives loyalty to something which counts more than anything else in life. In most men and women this supreme allegiance is inspired by national patriotism; if their Government becomes involved in a war it is a matter of course they will support it. The socialist conscientious objector has a group loyalty which is as powerful to him as the loyalty of the patriot for his nation. His group is composed of workers of all lands, the dispossessed, the victims of the present economic system, whether in peace or war.

We agreed it was no good calling yourself a Christian, promising to return good for evil and love your enemies, if you took part in a vast horror of lies, hatred, and slaughter.

I appeared before a tribunal while I was still at school. This had an unpleasant side. I was turned out of the study which I shared with other prefects, and the boys would hit me on one cheek and ask whether I would offer the other. This mild persecution rather flattered my vanity.

I wrote a defence in the school magazine, which was refused because it was thought to reflect badly on the school's reputation. It was passed round, and some of the older boys read it and treated me with a kind of deference. One simple-minded athlete looked at me with genuine contempt.

Since then I have often asked myself whether he was right, whether the men who became C.Os. were really those who were, consciously or subconsciously, more afraid of a bayonet in their guts than other people. Analysis might show that C.Os. had more than the usual repulsion from pain and death. But the matter was more complicated than that. The demand for courage came in France, not in England, where the herd, and particularly one's womanfolk, usually made it difficult to refuse a uniform.

For my part, my predominant fear was that I might miss the war. No doubt I was glad that I was less likely to be killed than other people, but though I was in many ways a coward I have no memory of being frightened of death. Physical courage scarcely enters the question when one is eighteen.

It was not until the middle of 1918 that my age group came within the Conscription Act and I was called up. I was then 46. Believing as I did that the war could and should be brought to an end by a negotiated peace, I could not very well go out to fight for Mr. Lloyd-George's 'knock-out blow'. I accordingly went before a tribunal in Dorking as a conscientious objector. The Clerk to the Council told the tribunal that he knew I had held my views for a considerable time, and the military representative said that he did not particularly 'want this man'. So I was awarded exemption, conditional on my doing work of national importance, and work on the land was indicated.

It is almost literally true that when I walked away from the Oxford court-room I walked into a new world, a world of doubters and protesters, and into a new war - this time against the ruling classes and the government which represented them, and with the working classes, the Trade Unionists, the Irish rebels of Easter Week, and all those who resisted their governments or other governments which held them down. I found in a few months the whole lot which Henry Nevinson used to call "the stage-army of the Good" - the ILP, the Union of Democratic Control, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Daily Herald League, the National Council of Civil Liberties - and, above all, the Guild Socialists and the Fabian, later the Labour Research Department.

The first thing which was striking is this, that the same causes and reasons for the war were heard everywhere. Each warring nation solemnly assured you it is fighting under the impulse of self-defense.

Another thing which we found very striking was that in practically all of the foreign offices the men said that a nation at war cannot make negotiations and that a nation at war cannot even express willingness to receive negotiations, for if it does either, the enemy will at once construe it as a symptom of weakness.

Generally speaking, we heard everywhere that this war was an old man's war; that the young men who were dying, the young men who were doing the fighting, were not the men who wanted the war, and were not the men who believed in the war; that someone in church and state, somewhere in the high places of society, the elderly people, the middle-aged people, had established themselves and had convinced themselves that this was a righteous war, that this war must be fought out, and the young men must do the fighting.

When hostilities begin, it is universally assumed that there is but a single service which a loyal citizen can render to the state: that of bearing arms and killing the enemy. Will you understand me if I say, humbly and regretfully, that this I cannot, and will not, do. When, therefore, there comes a call for volunteers, I shall have to refuse to heed. When there is an enrollment of citizens for military purposes, I shall have to refuse to register. When, or if, the system of conscription is adopted, I shall have to decline to serve. If this means a fine, I will pay my fine. If this means imprisonment, I will serve my term. If this means persecution, I will carry my cross. No order of president or governor, no law of nation or state, no loss of reputation, freedom or life, will persuade me or force me to this business of killing. On this issue, for me at least, there is no compromise. Mistaken, foolish, fanatical, I may be; I will not deny the charge. But false to my own soul I will not be. Therefore here I stand. God help me! I cannot do other!

Therefore would I make it plain that, so long as I am your minister, this Church will answer no military summons. Other pulpits may preach recruiting sermons; mine will not. Other parish houses may be turned into drill halls and rifle ranges; ours will not. Other clergymen may pray to God for victory for our arms; I will not. In this church, if nowhere else in all America, the Germans will still be included in the family of God's children. No word of hatred shall be spoken against them and no evil fate shall be desired upon them. War may beat upon our portals, like storm waves on the granite crags; rumors of war may thrill the atmosphere of this sanctuary as lightning the still air of a summer night. But so long as I am priest, this altar shall be consecrated to human brotherhood, and before it shall be offered worship only to that one God and Father of us all, 'Who hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell together on the face of the earth.

This world crisis should be utilized for the creation of an international government to secure without war, those high ends which they now gallantly seek to obtain upon the battlefield. With such a creed can the pacifists of today be accused of selfishness when they urge upon the United States no isolation, not indifference to moral issues and to the fate of liberty and democracy, but a strenuous endeavor to lead all nations of the earth into an organized international life worthy of civilized men.

Major storms were brewing beyond the confines of the fortress. Unemployment was rising alarmingly throughout England. Hunger marches, at first small demonstrations, later involving populations of whole areas, were reported in the papers. Police and strikers fought in the streets from London to Birmingham, from Glasgow to Leeds. Great population centres were designated "distressed areas" by the Government - which meant areas where there was no prospect of improvement in the employment situation. The Family Means Test, under which the dole could be denied any unemployed worker whose relatives still held jobs, was the subject of violent protest by the Communists, who gradually succeeded in swinging most of the labour movement into the fight.

The younger generation was highly political. They accused the elder statesmen of the Allied countries of sowing the seeds of a new and more horrible world war through the Versailles Treaty, the systematic crushing of Germany, the demands made on the defeated enemy for impossible war reparations.

Old concepts of patriotism, flag-waving, jingoism were under violent attack by the younger writers. The creed of pacifism, born of a determination to escape the horrors of a new world war, swept the youth.

I responded, like many another of my generation, by becoming first a convinced pacifist, then quickly graduating to socialist ideas. I felt as though I had suddenly stumbled on the solution to a vast puzzle which I had been clumsily trying to solve for years. Like many another suddenly confronted for the first time with a rational explanation of society, I was bursting with excitement about it. I longed to meet some flesh-and-blood exponents of this new philosophy.

I shall die, but

that is all that I shall do for Death.

I hear him leading his horse out of the stall;

I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.

He is in haste; he has business in Cuba,

business in the Balkans, many calls to make this morning.

But I will not hold the bridle

while he clinches the girth.

And he may mount by himself:

I will not give him a leg up.

Though he flick my shoulders with his whip,

I will not tell him which way the fox ran.

With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where

the black boy hides in the swamp.

I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death;

I am not on his pay-roll.

I will not tell him the whereabouts of my friends

nor of my enemies either.

Though he promise me much,

I will not map him the route to any man's door.

Am I a spy in the land of the living,

that I should deliver men to Death?

Brother, the password and the plans of our city

are safe with me; never through me Shall you be overcome.

Pacifism by Sandi Cooper

Along with other “isms” such as feminism, pacifism was coined in the late 19th to early 20th centuries to describe a set of beliefs and movements that had existed long before they were named. As with other ideologies, pacifism might more rightly be called “pacifisms.” Adherents can be found across the political and ideological spectrum. The idea that human beings can solve their differences without murdering each other has deep roots in recorded human history. Among the major religions created during the so-called axial age (the period from 800 to 200 BCE ), Buddhism and Taoism in ancient India and China professed humanitarian and peaceable relations as the basic good of human behavior in the Western tradition, the Sermon on the Mount attributed to Jesus Christ provided a foundation for pacifist thinking. Until the 19th century in the Euro-American world, pacifism remained largely a religious, moral, and/or intellectual philosophy and was practiced by religious sects such as the Quakers and Mennonites. However, following the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1814–1815), secular organizations, societies, and movements emerged in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Europe. Arguments made by these groups varied. Absolute pacifists who eschewed war under any and all circumstances insisted that Jesus’ admonition to “turn the other cheek” trumped all practical considerations. During the post-Enlightenment period, however, emerging industrial societies in Europe developed secular arguments: that advanced societies could solve international problems through legal and diplomatic means that interdependent economies would suffer from military violence that governments increasingly based on democratic participation rejected dynastic aggression as a measure of national greatness and that legal mechanisms could be developed among states as they had within states to solve conflicts. Peace societies formed during the 19th century were largely middle class and male in membership however, by the 1890s socialist organizations and feminist societies joined in the mix, bringing very different perspectives on how to preserve or achieve peace. For most socialists, the redistribution of wealth and power in capitalist societies was the prerequisite women’s groups largely believed that peace and justice would emerge when women became fully educated citizen participants. The Great War (1914–1918), which peace societies had valiantly tried to prevent, transformed pacifism, as did the unexpected emergence of Gandhian nonviolence in the Indian national movement. In the 20th century, peace societies ranged from groups such as nongovernmental organizations advocating the League of Nations or the United Nations to organizations promoting social and environmental justice. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the nuclear weapons race between the Soviet Union and the United States, arms control emerged as a central feature of peace activism, whereas once it had not been emphasized out of fear of arousing nationalist sarcasm. Peace movements since the 1960s have often been shaped by opposition to an ongoing war (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan), not as an overarching effort to establish global nonviolence. Given the realities of 20th-century interstate warfare, peace activists are usually not denounced as childish utopians but are chided for not believing that peace is kept through strength and preparedness.

Pacifism in America, part one: The roots of war resistance

The United States has an extraordinarily ambivalent legacy when it comes to war and violence. On the one hand, we originated, in the view of many, as the victor in a war of rebellion against the British Empire we have engaged in war and after war throughout our history we are the only country ever to drop a nuclear weapon on another country and now we are the world’s one “superpower” that spends more on its military than virtually all the other countries in the world combined.

Yet, on the other hand the United States has a long legacy of peace movements, acceptance of the rights of conscientious objectors, and the development of philosophies of nonviolent social action. The US from its early years provided a home for members of the “historic peace churches” and provided them a largely persecution free home in contrast to many other places in the world that had driven pacifists out.

I recently listened to an interesting series of podcasts on the history of nonviolence that reminded me of much of the peace legacy in the US. The third season of “The Thread” focused on the history of nonviolence. In six episodes, the series discussed key figures in that “thread,” moving backwards from Martin Luther King, Jr., to Bayard Rustin to Mohandas Gandhi to Leo Tolstoy to William Lloyd Garrison. There are many details in this series that I could nitpick about, but overall I found it interesting and inspiring—and I would recommend it.

One inspiration that emerged for me was to post some things I have learned about this history. I will share some thoughts in several installments about the history of pacifism in America, starting today with background to the emergence of pacifist opposition to World War II—opposition that obviously had little impact on the execution of that war but that planted seeds for a number of significant efforts to oppose war and injustice nonviolently in the decades that followed.

The early generations

From colonial times, the population of North American has always included significant numbers of people who by conviction believed they could not participate in war. These pacifists varied in how they believed those convictions should be applied to public policy, some actively engaged in seeking for governments to repudiate warfare, others focusing their energies primarily on encouraging those within their own faith communities to refuse to participate.

Pacifism established itself in the North American colonies when the British government granted William Penn, a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), a charter to establish the colony of Pennsylvania in 1682 (see Peter Brock, The Quaker Peace Testimony, 1660-1914). The Friends had emerged as a distinct movement in Britain in the mid-1650s under the leadership of George Fox. Fox combined a close adherence to the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount with a mystical sense of the presence of God’s Spirit in the believer’s heart, in the hearts of all other human beings, and in the broader creation.

The combination of placing the highest priority on the message of Jesus with the belief in the active work of the Spirit throughout the world inspired many Friends to affirm at the core of their faith the belief that all human relationships should be characterized by compassion, respect, and mutuality. This belief led them to repudiate warfare as a way for human beings to settle their differences.

In its early years, the colony of Pennsylvania operated under the leadership of people who were part of the Society of Friends. The colony sought to establish peaceable relationships with the Natives who were living within its borders. The colony also saw itself as a haven for other religious dissenters who shared similar values as the Friends, thereby becoming a pioneering political community that practiced genuine religious freedom and did not center its policies on the sword.

From the start, the colony of Pennsylvania lived with significant tensions between the ideals of its Quaker leadership and the realities of the broader colonial enterprise in North America not shaped by those values. In time, the numbers of colony residents who were not Quakers (or those of similar convictions) grew much larger than the population of Friends. In the face of growing conflicts with Natives in the western part of the colony, the Friends relinquish their leadership role by 1756.

During these 75 years, though, Pennsylvania became home not only for Quakers, but also a haven for a few other sizeable pacifist groups, most notably Mennonites and Brethren. The Mennonite tradition actually predated the Quakers by about 130 years. Its origins lay in the Swiss Reformation, specifically in Zurich. In 1525, a group of supporters of the early Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli set off on their own due to differences with Zwingli over the place of secular government in determining the types of reforms the church would pursue. The issue that came to the surface in this split was baptism—the “Brethren” became known as “Anabaptists” (re-baptizers) due to their rejection of infant baptism. To reject infant baptism was also to reject the entire institution of the state church and the assumption that church membership equaled national citizenship.

Presaging key Quaker convictions, the early Anabaptists took Jesus’ direct teachings as the center focus for their beliefs and practices, especially as expressed in the Sermon on the Mount. From very early, for most of the Anabaptists, the teaching of Jesus concerning love of enemies and turning from the sword led to a principled pacifism (see Gerald J. Mast and J. Denny Weaver, Defenseless Christianity: Anabaptism for a Nonviolent Church). Over the next several decades following the first Anabaptist baptisms in 1525, the beliefs about non-participation in war became one of the convictional pillars for these radical Christians. As the movement gained a strong foothold in Holland, a former Catholic priest named Menno Simons became an important leader, and ultimately most of the various Anabaptist groups took his name—“Mennonites.”

The Mennonites faced generations of harsh persecution in Switzerland, Germany, and Holland. Though Mennonite groups remain in those countries, many communities and individuals migrated to locales that offered them safety—including the Pennsylvania colony beginning in 1683. The state of Pennsylvania remains today the home of the largest concentration of Mennonite communities in the United States.

Early in the 18 th century, a new movement arose in Germany, deeply influenced by Anabaptist convictions but remaining a distinct fellowship. Members of this emerging movement, numbering only in the dozens, migrated en masse to Pennsylvania not long after their emergence and in North America took the name Church of the Brethren. The Brethren, like the Mennonites and Quakers, had as one of their defining characteristics belief in non-participation in war. During the last few decades of Quaker rule in Pennsylvania, the Brethren and Mennonites offered what support they could—and welcomed the freedom to practice their faith (including the open commitment to pacifism).

Members of all three groups (sometimes called the Historic Peace Churches) in time moved to the west and south from Pennsylvania, establishing communities in other colonies. The war that marked the American colonies effort to break free from British control proved difficult for Peace Church members, and a number migrated to Canada to avoid the conflict. By and large, though, the pacifism of Peace Church members was respected by government and they were allowed to avoid military involvement. Their presence was significant enough that James Madison, in an early draft of the Bill of Rights following the Revolution, included a provision establishing the constitutional right for conscientious objection in the face of war. Ultimately, this right was not granted. As a consequence, those seeking provisions of conscientious objection in face of the military draft have continually needed to request that Congress include provisions for COs in the draft legislation.

The 19 th century: The first peace societies and total war

In the early 19 th century, the United States, the world’s pioneering democracy, became the home of numerous citizens’ groups, established for numerous reasons—some having to do with social justice, some with education, some with various other civic issues. In this ferment of activity, the world’s first non-denominational peace societies were formed (see Peter Brock, Radical Pacifists in Antebellum America).

These early peace societies were notable for a couple of reasons. They signaled the spread of explicit convictions about rejection of warfare beyond the Peace Churches (a significant potion of those engaged with the peace societies were Quakers, but many were not). These may be the first organizations in the world with the specific purpose of furthering political opposition to war as an instrument of state policy. As well, some elements of this small peace movement connected with some elements of the much larger anti-slavery movement. Prominent abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison was an outspoken pacifist as well and sought to hold the two movements together.

The peace societies remained small. As the abolitionist movement grew in strength and conflicts over the issue of slavery increased, the peace societies shrank even more and eventually more or less died out. Garrison himself struggled with the growing tensions between his desire for an end to slavery and his opposition to warfare. In the end, he never explicitly endorsed the Civil War, but his abolitionist convictions led him tacitly to accept the Civil War as an appropriate tool for achieving the end of slavery.

During the Civil War, both the Union and the Confederacy imitated practices Napoleon had initiated half a century earlier and formally conscripted young males into their militaries. In the Union, the prominence of the Quakers especially led Congress to make provisions for conscientious objection. These provisions were somewhat ad hoc, the process did not satisfy either the Peace Church communities nor those who opposed conscientious objection altogether. However, those whose convictions led them to reject participation in warfare in principle were generally able to avoid fighting (see Lillian Schlissel, ed., Conscience in America: A Documentary History of Conscientious Objection in America, 1757-1967). And precedents were set that would inform future confrontations between principled pacifists and a warring American government.

The turn toward warism and the pacifist response

Following the Civil War the United States government did not decide put together a large military for about half a century. During that time, pacifist beliefs, especially among the Peace Churches, continued to be taught. However, without the test of actually facing the challenge of wars, the strength of the convictions likely weakened. In the broader society, some peace interests found expression in the emerging awareness of the need for strengthened international safeguards to provide alternatives for overt warfare, such as mediation and arbitration. This awareness was not generally linked with full pacifism.

The U. S., in general, continued to have the self-image of remaining aloof from “foreign military entanglements”—with the key exception of the decision by the McKinley administration at the end of the 19 th century to enter the imperial age via the Spanish-American War and the subsequent annexation of several pieces in the former Spanish Empire, most notably the Philippines (which involved a clandestine war that left hundreds of thousands of Filipinos and as many as 30,000 Americans dead). The Spanish-American War and its aftermath did lead to the emergence of anti-imperialist sentiment in the United States, sentiment that shortly would help fuel opposition to American participation in what came to be known as World War I.

As the nations of Europe started moving toward major conflicts, engendered in part by greatly expanded military spending, Americans tended to assume that the U.S. would remain neutral. Americans had a long tradition of noninvolvement in European wars. However, President Woodrow Wilson, elected in 1912, had strong connections with Great Britain. After the formal war in Europe began in 1914, Wilson moved ever closer to a commitment to join the British and French. Finally, in 1917, the Americans took the big step and for the first time entered into a war in Europe as a formal belligerent.

The American entry into the war came after three long years of mostly devastating impasse between the two warring sides in Europe. Historians still don’t fully agree on the significance of the American involvement. Certainly, this involvement was brief, since the war ended in November 1918. The general consensus now seems to be that the American entry actually did play a major role, certainly at the least helping the Germans see that they simply did not have the resources to continue the war of attrition that the conflict had evolved into.

This brief experience with such a massive war served as a wake-up call for many peace-oriented Americans. As with the Civil War, draft legislation was passed and did make allowance for conscientious objectors, but in ways that were highly objectionable for many Peace Church people and other pacifists. Around 50,000 draftees claimed CO status. However, the policy required all those inducted to go into the military. Only then, as members the military, could the prospective COs seek to make their case. Their fate would be determined by military officials. Not surprisingly under these circumstances, over 80% of those who had originally sought CO status gave up and became regular soldiers.

The immensity of the war led to the formation of several important pacifist organizations during the war years or the time shortly after the end of the war. Four in particular will play major roles in the story of war resistance during the century to follow. Two of these groups were linked with specific peace church denominations—the American Friends Service Committee and the Mennonite Central Committee. The other two sought a much wider membership—the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the War Resisters League.

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) was formed just as the United States entered the war in 1917 (see Marvin R. Weisbord, Some Form of Peace: True Stories of the American Friends Service Committee at Home and Abroad). With the draft legislation, the Quakers desperately sought to find alternative forms of service that pacifist young men could perform as an alternative to going to war. By this time, the devastation in Europe was clear and so there was no lack of need for food distribution and medical care.

The AFSC sought to communicate to potential COs and inform them of the possibilities for alternative service and to garner the military’s acceptance of these alternatives. As the war ended fairly soon after the Americans joined, the AFSC programs barely got started. The most successful program was service in war zones as medics and ambulance drivers.

With the end of the war, American Quakers concluded that the work of AFSC would continue to be needed, especially immediately in postwar repair work. AFSC played a major role in the distribution of food in many parts of Europe, saving millions of lives. The AFSC also understood that part of their needed work would be to seek to revive awareness of the Quaker peace testimony for younger people. Many Quakers believed they had not been as prepared as they should have been for responding to the war when it arose. They saw a need to help their young men understand the Quaker peace testimony and respond to the war in light of it.

Many Mennonites also felt they were unprepared for this massive war when it came. In the aftermath of the war, they began to seek ways to help some of those who suffered the most from the war’s consequences. Mennonites tended to focus their energies on their own communities. One large Mennonite community with ties to many North Americans was the Mennonite community in the newly established Soviet Union.

So, North American Mennonites created a new organization to bring together Mennonites from their various branches into one “Mennonite Central Committee” (MCC) for the purpose of offering aid to the severely traumatized Mennonites in Eastern Europe, especially Mennonites suffering famine in the Ukraine. After a burst of activity offering aid to the Russian Mennonites, MCC remained relatively dormant for a number of years. World War II provided the catalyst for the reinvigoration of MCC, both as the central agency that would work with the U.S. government in providing for alternative service for COs and, more importantly in the long run, as the arm for the North American communities to provide a wide range of relief, development, and peace education and advocacy work (see Perry Bush, Two Kingdoms, Two Loyalties: Mennonite Pacifism in Modern America).

The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) had its origins among British pacifists (mostly Quakers) during World War I who issued a public statement making an explicitly Christian case for rejection of warfare. The FOR was formed in Britain in December 1914. An American FOR began in November 1915, and the International FOR was formed in 1919 (see Paul R. Dekar, Creating the Beloved Community: A Journey with the Fellowship of Reconciliation).

In its early years, the FOR drew its membership from four groups—many Quakers, Protestant Christians influenced by the Social Gospel movement that had emerged at the turn of the century (and was not itself committed to pacifism), participants in another new organization called the Young Men’s Christian Association, and participants in the women’s movement that had coalesced around the voting issue (another parallel organization with many members in common with the FOR that was formed at this time was the Women’s League for International Peace and Freedom).

The FOR grew rapidly following World War I, becoming the gathering place for many people who became disillusioned with war because of the less than satisfactory outcome of the Great War. Many leaders in American Protestant denominations (especially Methodist, Congregational, Episcopalian, and Presbyterian) affiliated with the FOR, giving it a prominent place in ecumenical interactions (see Joseph Kip Kosek, Acts of Conscience: Christian Nonviolence and Modern American Democracy).

Many pacifists during World War I and its immediate aftermath found themselves desiring an organization that would be more open to non-Christians than the FOR was in its early years. With the FOR’s blessing, an FOR member, Jessie Wallace Hughan established a new organization in 1921 initially called the Committee for Enrollment Against War. Over the next few years, the term “War Resisters League” (WRL) came increasingly to be used, and by 1923 was the group’s official name.

The WRL focused on providing moral support and guidance for people who had come to reject warfare in principle—especially people who did not have strong connections with religious communities. From near its beginning, the WRL’s declaration stated, very briefly, its core conviction: “War is a crime against humanity. I, therefore, am determined not to support any kind of war, international or civil, and to strive for the removal of all the causes of war” (see Scott H. Bennett, Radical Pacifism: The War Resisters League and Gandhian Nonviolence in America, 1915-1963).

The other pacifist group that will play a major role in the story of pacifism in America also began in the aftermath of World War I, but in quite a different milieu. This entity, the Catholic Worker Movement, essentially got its start with just two people, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. They were Catholic lay people, Day a young adult convert and Maurin a French immigrant. The two met in the early 1930s in New York City, found themselves to be kindred spirits—Day deeply influenced by Marxism, Maurin by Franciscan personalism—with a deep concern for caring for suffering people in the depths of the Great Depression.

They began publishing a newspaper called The Catholic Worker and established houses of hospitality modeled somewhat after rescue missions but without the coercive religiosity. Day became the main leader for the movement. She felt it was essential for the Catholic Church to be involved in caring ministries that would provide a basis for a nonviolent kind of revolution in a time with much ferment in favor of not so nonviolent revolutions. So she sought to work closely with the Church and always endeavored to remain in positive relationships with the hierarchy.

Day’s theology remained fairly simple. She drew most centrally on the gospels (much more so than from Catholic natural law moral philosophy). From the beginning of her work with the Catholic Worker, she articulated a strong gospels-centered pacifist commitment. She insisted that the Movement as a whole be pacifist—especially as represented in the newspaper. Because of the obvious fruitfulness of the Worker’s service-oriented ministry, many Catholics, including bishops and cardinals, provided support and the Movement expanded greatly during the 1930s (Mel Piehl, Breaking Bread: The Catholic Worker and the Origin of Catholic Radicalism in America).

During the difficult years of the Great Depression in the 1930s and the rise of the war clouds that were soon to burst forth, these various strands of pacifist conviction in the United States grew stronger. As it turned out, they ended up in largely a defensive mode during the years of World War II (1941-5), but though each one faced a great deal of stress they emerged strongly committed to the way of peace and ready for positive action.

[This post is part of a series of posts on the history of pacifism in the United States adapted from the third section (“Alternatives”) of Ted Grimsrud, The Good War That Wasn’t—And Why It Matters: World War II’s Moral Legacy (Cascade Books, 2014). Here is a list of the posts in the series:

Tag: pacifism

For the exciting tale of Rexroth’s turbulent Hoosier upbringing and the mischief he got into along the way, see part one: The Midwestern Making of Kenneth Rexroth.

Photo accessed Linda Hamalian, A Life of Kenneth Rexroth (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1991), 120. Kenneth Rexroth, Portrait of Andree Rexroth, accessed Linda Hamalian, A Life of Kenneth Rexroth (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1991), 122.

After a period of hitchhiking their way towards the West Coast, camping, and living on cold food, the twenty two-year-old burgeoning poet Kenneth Rexroth and his new artist wife Andrée, arrived in San Francisco in the summer of 1927. Rexroth biographer, Linda Hamalian, referred to them as “forerunners of the flower children who flocked to Northern California during the fifties and sixties.” In San Francisco they found exactly what they had been hoping for: a rich cultural environment without the pretense they sensed in the East Coast artistic community.

Montgomery Block, photograph, 1906, accessed Peter Lawrence Kane, “Bohemian Grave: The Montgomery Block,” San Fransisco Weekly, July 9, 2015, courtesy of

They quickly met other artists and writers and found jobs painting furniture. They moved into an apartment on the Montgomery Block, often called the Monkey Block, that had long housed artists and writers, including the Hoosier author Ambrose Bierce. Rexroth wrote that they had little money, but “limited needs” and were able to live “the kind of life that I’ve lived almost always since, a sort of semi-monastic life devoted to writing and painting.”

Andree and Kenneth Rexroth, “Bathers,” oil on canvas, n.d., accessed Linda Hamalian, A Life of Kenneth Rexroth (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1991), 120.

The young couple also spent time enjoying the lush and varied natural environment surrounding San Francisco which Rexroth wrote “kept me in California all these years.” They swam and hiked and noted the unique flora and fauna. This love for nature deeply influenced Rexroth’s writing and he worried about destruction of the natural world by developers. In later years, he described himself as a sort of early environmentalist writer:

My poetry and philosophy of life became what it’s now fashionable to call ecological. I came to think of myself as a microcosm in a macrocosm, related to chipmunks and bears and pine trees and stars and nebulae and rocks and fossils, as part of an infinitely interrelated complex of being. This I have retained.

Reprint of the WPA Guide to California (Pantheon Books, 1984) accessed

By the 1930s, in the midst of the Great Depression, Rexroth was employed by the Work’s Progress Administration (WPA) contributing to the “American Guide” series of handbooks for each state. Rexroth and several other local poets and writers created the California guide and were able to inject information on natural conservation and into the otherwise standard guidebook.

While he had contributed scattered “cubist poetry” to what Hamalain described as “ephemeral publications” upon his arrival in San Fransisco, by the 1930s he was regularly writing and publishing work in journals and small volumes of poetry. Much of this poetry combined natural imagery with his radical leftist political beliefs and strong anti-war sentiment. For example, his poem “At Lake Desolation,” published in the magazine The New Republic in 1935, contrasted the stillness of nature with the horrors of war. The poem begins:

Kenneth Rexroth, “Requiem for the Dead in Spain,” New Republic, March 24, 1937, 201, accessed

The sun is about to come up and the regiments lie
scattered in the furrow their large eyes
wet in the pale light and their throats cut

He explored similar themes in his poetry throughout the 1930s and became a staunch pacifist. In 1937, the New Republic journal published Rexroth’s poem “Requiem for the Dead in Spain,” lamenting the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. He began the work by describing his walk through the beautiful Sierra Mountains under the stars, the tone changes as he suddenly feels sick thinking about the war. He laments:

I see the unwritten books, the unrecorded experiments,
The unpainted pictures, the interrupted lives,
Lowered into the graves with the red flags over them.
I see the quick gray brains broken and clotted with blood,
Lowered each in its own darkness, useless in the earth.
Alone on a hilltop in San Francisco suddenly
I am caught in a nightmare, the dead flesh
Mounting over half the world presses against me.

James Laughlin, ed., New Directions in Poetry and Prose (New York: New Directions, 1937), photograph accessed via

That same year, the influential independent publisher James Laughlin included Rexroth’s work in his second annual New Directions in Poetry and Prose, a publication the Academy of American Poets referred to as “pivotal.” In 1940, Macmillan published Rexroth’s first major collection, In What Hour. The work was considered wholly original and cemented his place at the forefront of the San Francisco literary movement. A reviewer for the Oakland Tribune wrote: “Rexroth is wholly and essentially a poet in the new manner. Usually a poet’s first work, and this is Rexroth’s first book, enables the acute reader to name his literary progenitors. But Rexroth’s poetical parents, if he has any, are not known.” The critic continued, “Despite this break with tradition, or it may be, as the apostles of the modern poetry claim, because of this independence, Rexroth’s book is important and tremendously interesting.” Hamalain wrote that the poems that make up In What Hour “demonstrate his remarkable ability to render plausible the possibility of spiritual presence and a sense of unity in the natural world” despite the threats of the modern age.

Oakland Tribune, September 1, 1940, 18, accessed Kenneth Rexroth, Marie Rexroth, wax, silica, and pigment on board, c. 1936, collection of James S. Jaffe Rare Books, LLC., accessed

While his writing career was taking off, his marriage was dissolving. Rexroth moved out and began a relationship with Marie Kass, a “whipsmart” nurse, who would become his second wife in 1941. While he was happy with Marie, he was devastated when Andrée died October 17, 1940 from a seizure. He wrote of Andrée in a poem published in The Phoenix and the Tortoise:

I know that spring again is splendid
As ever, the hidden thrush
As sweetly tongued, the sun as vital —
But these are the forest trails we walked together,
These paths, ten years together.
We thought the years would last forever,
They are all gone now, the days
We thought would not come for us are here.

This idea, that love and nature could serve as spiritual refuge in troubled times, became even more significant with the outbreak of World War II and the entry of the United States into the conflict in 1941. Rexroth maintained his pacifist stance and applied for conscientious objector status February 19, 1943. Throughout the war, Rexroth worked with pacifist organizations such as the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the American Friends Service Committee, and the local branch of the National Committee for Conscientious Objectors. He wrote that at one point he received a notice from his draft board that his status had been changed from 4-E, conscientious objector to 1-A, available for armed service. He wrote, “I immediately appealed. The process dragged on for over a year while the FBI investigated the claim as by law they were required to do . . . There was no question that I was a bona-fide Conscientious Objector.”

Executive Order 9066, February 19, 1942 General Records of the United States Government Record Group 11 National Archives accessed

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, some Americans began questioning the loyalty of Japanese Americans, a large number of whom lived on the West Coast. In February 1942, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 which relocated Japanese Americans, including native born citizens, inland, away from the coast (which had been identified as the Pacific military zone) and confined them to internment camps. Thousands were forced to leave their homes and businesses. However, some Americans, including Rexroth, opposed internment as racist and unconstitutional.

National Archives caption: Registration in San Francisco, California. Residents of Japanese ancestry file forms containing personal data, two days before evacuation, at a Wartime Civil Control Administration station. National Archives Identifier: 536056 accessed National Archives caption: Posting of Exclusion Order at First and Front Streets in San Francisco, California, directing removal of persons of Japanese ancestry from the first section in San Francisco to be affected by the evacuation.
National Archives Identifier: 536017 accessed

Rexroth wrote in his autobiography that even before the U.S. declared war on Japan, that he worried Japanese Americans would face persecution. He wrote a letter and sent it to various pacifist groups and religious groups, stating that when war was declared, “the persecution of Japanese and Americans of Japanese ancestry, because they are marked by their color and features, will be worse than that of the German-Americans of the First World War.” He wrote in his autobiography, “I managed to persuade them to set up a committee with the absurd title of the American Committee to Protect the Rights of Americans of Oriental Ancestry.” When Rexroth and other members of the Friends Service Committee got word from a “contact in the White House” about the order for internment, they “immediately got on the phones,” and urged each person they called to call five more people. They also called university and political contacts and civil liberties organizations. While perhaps an aggrandizement, Rexroth credited this work with mobilizing opinion in the Bay Area against internment.

National Archives caption: Waiting for Evacuation in San Francisco, California. With baggage stacked, residents of Japanese ancestry await a bus at the Wartime Civil Control Administration station, 2020 Van Ness Avenue, as part of the first group of 664 to be evacuated from San Francisco on April 6, 1942. Evacuees will be housed in War Relocation Authority centers for the duration.
National Archives Identifier: 536065, accessed

Rexroth took more direct action as well. Again according to his autobiography, Rexroth explained a scheme that saved several Japanese-Americans, including a personal friend, from internment. He contacted the Midwest Art Academy in Chicago, which he called a “phony correspondence school” that advertised scholarships “in cheap pulp magazines” for classes on “photo retouching, art, dress design, and knitting.” He convinced the school to sign registration papers for Japanese American students for a fee. He then contacted the “colonel in charge” of evacuation in San Francisco who agreed to provide educational passes for such students despite the school’s organization being “kind of a racket.” He located funding through Jewish residents of San Francisco and worked with Quakers to “set up a student relocation program.” In this way, Rexroth wrote, “we started shoveling people our of the West Coast on educational passes.” The poet Robert Duncan wrote that both Kenneth and Marie were also “working in the camps . . . taking messages back and forth.”

Kenneth Rexroth, The Phoenix and the Tortoise (New York: New Directions, 1944).

Rexroth’s practice of Buddhism, Taoism, and yoga also influenced his pacifist views and actions. He incorporated this worldview, along with a belief of the transcendental power of love, into his writing. In 1944, New Directions Press published Rexroth’s The Phoenix and the Tortoise, a rumination on history and humanity’s major failings: war and its threat to the natural landscape. In this lengthy poem, there is still hope for humanity in nature and through love. While the tortoise represented the earthly and the mortal, the phoenix represented the transcendent, sublime, and immortal power of love. Likewise, the ocean symbolized nature’s power to transform and serve as sanctuary in a world threatened by war. Literary critic John Palattella explained, “Nature’s indifference to human death is not a threat but a source of consolation, since the ocean’s one unchanging characteristic is that it changes everything.”

W.G. Rogers, “Author of the Week,”Waco (Texas) Herald Tribune, December 25, 1952, 25,

While Rexroth and a small number of avante-garde writers flourished in the San Francisco area for several years, the end of the war in 1945 saw an influx of new artists and writers. Many of these new voices were drawn to the area because they had read Rexroth’s works and heard about the creative coterie he had organized: a group of rebellious writers who were exploring anti-establishment and far left politics in their literature along with other cultural critiques. Rexroth believed it was the war itself that created this cultural climate. He wrote in San Francisco Magazine:

Just as London under the buzz bombs enjoyed a literary renaissance and a profound change of social relationships . . . so San Francisco during the War woke up from a long provincial sleep and became culturally a world capital.

Rexroth also maintained what Beat scholar John Tytell called “a sort of western salon, a weekly literary gathering,” where Rexroth introduced poets to each other and hosted readings. Out of this meeting of minds came “an entirely new cultural synthesis,” which produced new movements in theater, art, and poetry. One newspaper described this literary gathering in 1948 as “the San Francisco bay area poetry forum,” but the broader movement became known as the San Francisco Renaissance. Rexroth considered the combination of political discussion, poetry, and jazz to be the foundation of the movement. Over the following decade, this San Francisco Renaissance ushered in the rise of the Beat Generation. Rexroth’s role as bandleader of the San Francisco movement was responsible for his gaining the title “Father of the Beat Poets,” though he would later reject the title and the movement.

Webster Schott, “Writers Dig the Beat Generation,” Kansas City (Missouri) Times, February 27, 1958, 34, accessed

According to the Academy of American Poets, “Beat poetry evolved during the 1940s in both New York City and on the West Coast, although San Francisco became the heart of the movement in the early 1950s.” The Beat Generation rejected mainstream culture and politics and expressed themselves through new and non-conventional forms of poetry. Beat scholars point to the salon-type meetings organized by Rexroth as essential to bringing the Beats together. In the gatherings, the Beats would explore and embrace influential themes in Rexroth’s prolific writings like anarchism, pacifism, mysticism, and environmentalism. Beat scholar Ann Charters also credits Rexroth’s writings on Asian philosophy as influencing the Beat writers’ interest in “Buddha consciousness.”

“Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Bruce Lippincott, and Kenneth Rexroth Performing at the Cellar,” photograph, 1957, accessed Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Rexroth also helped establish jazz as an essential element of Beat poetry. During this period, Rexroth gained fame for combining his poetry with the music of local jazz groups. In San Francisco, he often performed at the Cellar, which became known for jazz and poetry performances and at the Blackhawk club with jazz bands like the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Two such performances were released on vinyl in 1957 and 1959.

Kenneth Rexroth, Poetry and Jazz at the Blackhawk, 1959, Fantasy Records, accessed

Rexroth toured the country, performing regularly in New York City. According to the Academy of American Poets:

Rexroth was among the first twentieth-century poets to explore the prospects of poetry and jazz in tandem. He championed jazz and its musicians, publishing appreciations of players like Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman, defending jazz in print against critics who deemed the music less than serious, and most importantly, he played in a jazz band himself, helping to define a role for the poet in the jazz world and a role for jazz in the poetry world.

“American Poet Kenneth Rexroth Reads One of His Poems as Three Musicians Play Instruments Alongside Him,” photograph, January 1, 1960, accessed Getty Images.

In the liner notes for his 1959 recording Poetry and Jazz at the Blackhawk, Rexroth wrote that jazz poetry “takes the poet out of the bookish, academic world” and returns the poetry to the realm of public entertainment. Rexroth believed that combining music and spoken word connected the audience and poet directly (as opposed to the mediation of the written word) and restored poetry to oral tradition.

“Poet Kenneth Rexroth Reading a Book at a Poetry Reading,” photograph
February 1, 1957, Getty Images, accessed

Mainly, however, it was his rejection of mainstream culture that aligned Rexroth with the Beat movement early on. For example, in 1951, in a syndicated review of Rexroth’s poem “The Dragon and the Unicorn” one critic noted that these rebellious writers were reacting to the post-war period with disgust. He stated that though in their writing style, they break with tradition, but their rebellion makes them part of a long tradition of creativity.

Six Gallery Poster, Allen Ginsberg Project, accessed

On October 7, 1955, at a poetry reading at the Six Gallery in San Francisco, Rexroth introduced Allen Ginsberg who read his revolutionary poem “Howl.” Scholars often point to this as the culminating event of the San Francisco Renaissance and solidification of the Beat movement. Charters described the movement as “awakening a new awareness in the audience (at the Six Gallery) of the large group of talented young poets in the city, and giving the poets themselves a new sense of belonging to a community.”

Rexroth championed many of the new writers in a 1957 article for The Nation, including high praise for Ginsberg. He described the scene at the height of the movement:

Poetry readings to large and enthusiastic audiences are at least weekly occurrences – in small galleries, city museums, community centers, church social halls, pads and joints, apartments and studios, and at the very active Poetry Center at San Francisco State College, which also imports leading poets . . . Poetry out here, more than anywhere else, has a direct, patent, measurable, social effect, immediately grasped by both poet and audience.

Fred Danzig, “‘Beat Generation’ Got that Way through Draft, Missiles, Hydrogen Bombs, Wars,” (Elwood) Call-Leader, April 28, 1958, 10, accessed

Rexroth argued that the Beat movement started as a radical literary movement, but quickly turned into a “hipster lifestyle,” that is, the pursuit of fashionable trends and not larger truths. He soon distanced himself from the movement because he felt the East Coast Beats, and especially Jack Kerouac, were opportunists seeking fame and mainstream acceptance. Rexroth was quoted by a reporter in 1958 as saying, “This beat thing, which is a publicity gimmick in the hands of Madison Avenue, will die away.”

“Poet Kenneth Rexroth Reading a Book,” photograph, February 1, 1957, Getty Images, accessed

Regardless, Rexroth had directly influenced the Beat movement probably more so than any other poet. In 1958, one reporter astutely wrote that Rexroth “seems to fix the entrance requirements.” Charters explained that Rexroth was one of a handful of writers who had “sown the seeds” for the flowering of the Beat movement. She refered to Rexroth as a “mentor” for the younger Beats and “the dominant force in the cultural life of San Francisco for more than half a century.”

/>The “Classics Revisited” series was compiled into book form, first edition in 1968. Image: Kenneth Rexroth, Classics Revisited (New York: New Directions Publishing, 1986)

Although the Beat movement melted into the counterculture movements of the sixties and rock and roll became the dominant outlet for rebellious youth, Rexroth remained a central figure in American literature. He continued to write poetry and extensive cultural and literary criticism. In addition to his original contributions, his translations of foreign poetry and his writings on literature such as his “Classics Revisited” column in the Saturday Review increased his importance to the literary world.

Kenneth Rexroth, The Alternative Society (Herder and Herder, 1970).

Writing for the Chicago Review, Rexroth scholar Ken Knabb looked back on the over 800 columns that Rexroth wrote for the San Francisco Examiner, the San Francisco Bay Guardian and San Francisco Magazine during the 1960s and 1970s. Knabb wrote in admiration of the diversity of topics that Rexroth covered: reviews of jazz and classical concerts, operas, films, Chinese theater, performances of Shakespeare discussions of art, literature, fishing, architecture, drugs, wine, Civil Rights, war, and politics observations from his world travels arguments for the women’s liberation and ecological movements and criticisms of the past cultural movements through which he lived and participated. Knabb concluded that “as an ensemble . . . they add up to a social document and critical commentary of remarkable range.”

Kenneth Rexroth and Ling Chung, The Orchid Boat: Women Poets of China (McGraw-Hill 1972)

While Rexroth had begun translating poetry from other languages in the 1950s, he dedicated more and more of his time to the task later in life. He paid special attention to translating the work of women poets starting in the 1970s in works such as The Orchid Boat: Women Poets of China (1972) and The Burning Heart: The Women Poets of Japan (1977). By this point, his own work incorporated imagery and meter learned through decades of translating Chinese and Japanese poetry.

In his review of Rexroth’s collection The Morning Star (1979), critic Emiko Sakurai praised these poems especially as “extraordinary poems, rich and sensuous, always immediate, febrile and powerful” and called Rexroth “a poet of the first rank.” However, Sakurai had a hunch about Rexroth. He noted that “The Love Poems of Marichiko” were “ostensibly” written by a young Japanese woman. Indeed, they were actually written by Rexroth from this imagined perspective. Critics noted the transformative power his work as a translator had on his own original work and his ability to write convincingly from the a feminine perspective of his invented character.

Wolfgang Saxon, “Kenneth Rexroth, 76, Author Ffather Figure to Beat Poets,” June 8, 1982, D26, accessed ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

Upon Rexroth’s death in 1982, the New York Times described this “poet, author, critic and translator of Chinese, Japanese and classic Greek poetry” as greatly influential on later generations of writers. The Times obituary noted that he received acclaim from both radical literary and political circles as well as “honors and awards from more orthodox literary corners,” such as Guggenheim fellowships and a prestigious grant from the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1964.

Although he came to despise being called “Father of the Beats,” Rexroth created a cultural movement that influenced the voice and worldview of some of America’s best poets. Frankly, there would be no Ginsberg or Kerouac without Rexroth. However, it is his own unique voice that will forever hold his place in this country’s literary canon. Perhaps the best summary of his significance comes from poet and publisher James Laughlin, who described his friend Kenneth Rexroth aptly as “an American cultural monument.”

Left to right: Kenneth Rexroth, Allen Ginsberg, and James Laughlin. Image is detail of photo by D. Sorenson, City Lights in North Dakota Conference, March 18, 1974, accessed Allen Ginsberg Project.

Further reading:

Linda Hamalian, A Life of Kenneth Rexroth (New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1991).

Ann Charters, ed., The Portable Beat Reader (New York: Penguin Books, 1992).

Letters: Pacifist Tolstoy Is No Guide to the Greatness of Napoleon

Napoleon as ‘The Gardener of St. Helena’ (artist unknown)..

Christoph Irmscher’s review of Ruth Scurr’s book “Napoleon: A Life Told in Gardens and Shadows” (June 19) may be accurate, but his description of Napoleon isn’t. It is absurd to rely on the thoughts of Leo Tolstoy, who reveled in the illusions of Christian mysticism, albeit in the cause of a sincere pacifism, for a fair appraisal of Napoleon’s legacy.

The fields of Europe, in the hundred years before and after Napoleon, were littered with far more corpses than they were during the Napoleonic wars. Sadly, those other wars—the dynastic ones of the 18th century and the nationalist and reactionary ones of the 19th century—were without any of the mitigating ethical and political benefits that millions rightly believe Napoleon, as the world spirit of Hegel and the embodiment of the ideals of the French Revolution, stood for.

Stephen Essrig

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Pacifism - History

A pacifist is somebody who opposes war and refuses to kill.

There are different levels of pacifism.

• Absolute pacifists – Someone who refuses to kill whatever the circumstances. Even in self-defence.

• Conditional pacifists – Someone who generally opposes war, but may accept there are times when it is necessary, for example, when you’re country is invaded and you are defending your family and country.

• Selective pacifists – Someone who will decide whether a war is morally justified or not. For example, they may refuse to fight for their country if they feel that their country is engaging in an unjust war. Selective pacifists may particularly oppose war using weapons of mass-destruction, e.g. nuclear weapons, biological weapons.

These are a list of people who have actively promoted pacificism or refused to fight for their country. They are not all absolute pacifists, but they share some or all of the basic pacifist principles. A few examples of people who sought to promote peace through the embodiment of peaceful and spiritual values.

Buddha – (563-483 BC) Siddhartha was born a Prince in India, but he forsook the comforts of the palace to seek enlightenment. After attaining Nirvana he spent many years teaching his philosophy of inner peace, detachment and how to attain liberation from earthly suffering.

Mahavira (540 BCE–468 BCE) Mahavira was an important propagator and reformer of Jainism. He helped to spread the Jain religion of non-violence across India. A key principle of Jainism is non-violence and Jains go out of their way to avoid hurting other sentient beings, even insects.

Jesus Christ. (2BC – 7 AD) Jesus taught a radical philosophy of love not only for our friends, but also for our enemies. He told his disciple to “lay down their swords“, advocating radical practical nonviolence, “turning the other cheek” not cursing, but “blessing their enemies”. “Blessed are the peacemakers” he said “ for they will inherit the earth.” His teaching became the basis of Christianity.

Martin of Tours (316 – 397) was conscripted into the Roman army. He believed war was incompatible with his Christian faith and became an early conscientious objector. He is best known for the account of his using his military sword to cut his cloak in two, to give half to a beggar clad only in rags in the depth of winter.

Aidan of Lindisfarne (? – 651) was an Irish monk who went to Northumbria. He founded a monastic cathedral on the island of Lindisfarne, and travelled ceaselessly, calling the Anglo-Saxon nobility to give up their devotion to warfare and work for the welfare of the disenfranchised and the freedom of the slaves.

St Francis of Assisi (1182 – 1226) – Italian saint of the Twelfth / Thirteenth century. St Francis started a new order of monks. The Franciscans were devoted to poverty and charity. They were also committed to nonviolence.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) – Author of War and Peace and committed to principles of non-violence. His literal interpretation of the ethical principles of Jesus Christ led to the creation of his non-violent philosophy. Tolstoy’s writing had a big impact on Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

Swami Vivekananda (1863 – 1902) Vivekananda was a spiritual figure from India. He is best remembered for visiting the inaugural Parliament of World Religions, (1893) in Chicago. Vivekananda spoke eloquently about the underlying unity of religions and appealed to bring people together.

Émile Arnaud (1864–1921) Emile Arnaud was a militant pacifist who helped to coin the term pacifism in the late Nineteenth Century. Arnaud codified his beliefs into the ‘Code de la Paix’ in 1901. He advocated humanism, charity, tolerance and non-violent conflict resolution.

George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950) Irish playwright. On the eve of the Second World War he defended pacifism by quoting from the Sermon on the Mount.

James Keir Hardie (1856 – 1915) Union leader, pacifist and Parliamentarian socialist. During the first year of the First World War, Keir Hardie was an outspoken critic of the war.

Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948) Indian nationalist and politician. Gandhi advocated ahimsa – non-violent protest for Indian self-determination and independence.

Bertrand Russell. (1872 – 1970) British pacifist who campaigned against conscription. He was sent to jail for six months for speaking against America’s entry into the First World War in 1917. Russell did support the war against Nazi Germany, but after WWII he joined the campaign for nuclear disarmament.

Albert Einstein. (1879 – 1955) Revolutionised modern physics with his general theory of relativity. Einstein was a committed pacifist. “I am not only a pacifist but a militant pacifist. I am willing to fight for peace. Nothing will end war unless the people themselves refuse to go to war. ”

Toyohiko Kagawa (1888 –1960) was a Japanese Christian pacifist, social reformer, and labour activist. Kagawa wrote, spoke, and worked at length on ways to employ Christian principles in the ordering of society and in cooperatives. His vocation to help the poor led him to live among them. He established schools, hospitals, and churches.

Ben Salmon (1889–1932) An American Catholic who refused to be drafted in the US army during the First World War. He was arrested and court marshalled. Initially sentenced to death, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. After the war, he was pardoned and released in 1920. He opposed the principle of a ‘just war’ citing Christian philosophy in opposing war

Abdul Ghaffār Khān (1890 – 1988) was a devout Muslim and lifelong pacifist. He was an independence activist against the rule of the British Raj, known for his nonviolent opposition. A close friend of Mahatma Gandhi, Khan was nicknamed the “Frontier Gandhi”. He founded the Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God) movement. one the most effective groups in the struggle for independence.

Martin Niemöller (1892 – 1984) Lutheran pastor and anti-Nazi theologian. A founder of the Confessional church which sought to reject the Nazification of churches. He served in the German navy in the First World War, but after being imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps and the end of WWII, he became a committed pacifist and proponent of the Peace Movement.

Vera Brittain (1893 – 1970) – Nurse, poet and author of ‘Testament of Youth’. Devastated by the lose of her brother during the war, her book ‘Testament of Youth’, recently released as a film, marks her move towards pacificism.

Aldous Huxley (1894 – 1963) English writer, satirist and pacifist. He is best known for his dystopian work – Brave New World. His application for US citizenship was refused on the grounds he wouldn’t commit to taking up arms to defend the US, citing philosophical objection to war.

Dorothy Day (1897 – 1980) American journalist, social activist, and devout Catholic convert. In the 1930s, Day worked closely with fellow activist Peter Maurin to establish the Catholic Worker Movement, a pacifist movement that continues to combine direct aid for the poor with nonviolent direct action.

Franz Jägerstätter (1907 – 1943) Austrian conscientious objector. He refused to fight in the German army when drafted in 1943. He refused to fight for the forces of the evil side, despite knowing he would be executed. He was beheaded.

Sophie Scholl (1921-1943) As a student at the University of Munich, Scholl was arrested by the Gestapo for distributing anti-war leaflets. As a consequence, she was executed for ‘high treason’ in 1943. Motivated by her Christian faith, she opposed the Nazi ideology of Germany and was willing to risk her own life in standing up for her activities.

Thich Naht Hanh (1926 – )Vietnamese monk who inspired movement of engaged Buddhism. Hanh has been a prominent peace activist and has written extensively on incorporating Buddhist teachings into everyday life.

Martin Luther King (1929 – 1968) Non-violent civil rights leader. King promoted an end to discrimination through an inclusive philosophy of non-violent protest and mutual co-operation. He also spoke out against the Vietnam war.

Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007) Indian born spiritual teacher who founded the Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run – a global relay spreading the ideal of peace. He also gave numerous Peace Concerts and wrote on the subject of peace. “World-peace can be achieved when the power of love replaces the love of power.”

Desmond Tutu (1931 – ) Campaigner against apartheid in South Africa. Since the end of apartheid he has campaigned on a wide range of humanitarian issues, seeking to overcome racism, sexism, homophobia, AIDS and poverty.

Dalai Lama 14th (1935 – ) Leader of Tibetans in exile. The Dalai Lama has sought to negotiate with the Chinese to respect traditions and culture of Tibetans. Believes in the practice of nonviolence and the use of non-violent protest.

Betty Williams (1943 -) – Williams along with Mairead Corrigan co-founded the Community of Peace People, an organisation dedicated to promoting a peaceful resolution to the Northern Ireland conflict. She was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with Corrigan in 1976.

Aung San Suu Kyi (1945 – ) Burmese opposition leader. Awarded Nobel peace prize for opposition to military rule. Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest for many years due to her opposition.

Shirin Ebadi. (1947 – ) Iranian judge and lawyer. She fought for the right for women to purse a legal career in Iran. She has also defended opposition dissidents who have fallen foul of the Iranian judicial system.

Tegla Laroupe (1973 – ) – Kenya marathon runner and peace activist. Widely praised for promoting peace amongst African tribes. In 2003, Laroupe created an annual series of Peace Marathons sponsored by the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation.

Malala Yousafzai (1997 – ) Pakistani schoolgirl who overcame assassination attempt by Taliban and responded pro-actively to campaign for universal access to education. Youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.

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History of pacifism

In your opinion, when and where did pacifist movements begin in the ancient world? Were these movements effective?



Yes, and I think that good old Aristophanes was not the only playwright to advocate non-violence. I seem to remember that some of his contemporaries. whose works are now lost. also wrote anti-war comedies.

But what would have been the earliest peace movement? Organized on a religious, moral or political basis?


Are you forgetting Mahavira of Jains and Buddha? Even they did not invent non-violence. It was basic to Indian thought, whether of the indigenous people or the in-coming Aryans.


Are you forgetting Mahavira of Jains and Buddha? Even they did not invent non-violence. It was basic to Indian thought, whether of the indigenous people or the in-coming Aryans.


This is an excellent question. Pacifism surely came out of the East, but exactly where and when is difficult to ascertain.

The oldest evidence, as my Indian friend mentioned, is from the Vedic tradition. I would guess that it came from the native people, rather than the Indo-Aryans, who were a warlike and conquering people. The notion was called Ahimsa, and the following quote gives a general view of it,

Ahimsa as an ethical concept evolved in Vedic texts. The oldest scripts, along with discussing ritual animal sacrifices, indirectly mention Ahimsa, but do not emphasise it. Over time, the Hindu scripts revise ritual practices and the concept of Ahimsa is increasingly refined and emphasised, ultimately Ahimsa becomes the concept that describes the highest virtue by the late Vedic era (about 500 BCE). For example, hymn 10.22.25 in the Rig Veda uses the words Satya (truthfulness) and Ahimsa in a prayer to deity Indra later, the Yajur Veda dated to be between 1000 BC and 600 BC, states, "may all beings look at me with a friendly eye, may I do likewise, and may we look at each other with the eyes of a friend".

The Buddhists, who came (it is interesting to notice) during the late Vedic era 500 BCE, took this notion of Ahimsa, and it became no longer an emphasis in their religion, but they made it the first of their five precepts of ethics, extending it not only to monks, but also lay followers.

What is more interesting to notice, is that almost the very same notion arose in Greece and China, at about the very same time (600-500 BCE). First, we have the Greek priest Orpheus, who began to teach a new mystical religion, advocating pacifism and an end to blood-sacrifices. This Orpheus, like the Indians, also believed in the transmigration of souls and encouraged asceticism. What most people don't know is he influenced all Greek and Western philosophy through Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato, which led to the rise of theology, and the corruption of the Hellenic religion. Secondly, we have Laozi in China, who founded the teachings of Taoism, advocating pacifism and a harmony with nature.

From Buddha, Orpheus and Laozi, the notion of pacifism spread throughout the world, and the Christians in particular adopted it from Orpheus. It continues to this day. The oldest evidence is from India, but perhaps there was another older origin, I would guess, from the Fertile Crescent, where agriculture first began. The reason for this speculation is that agriculture was very important to the teachings of Orpheus, being strongly connected to the cults of Demeter and Persephone, Goddesses of the Earth and Harvest, respectively (See Eleusinian mysteries and Orphism).

September 09, 2012

    – Reduced maximum targets to 5.
    • Increased cast time to 2 seconds.
    • Reduced daze duration to 2 seconds.

    Pacify foes, dazing them for three seconds.

       Daze: 2 seconds    Number of Targets: 5    Radius: 1,200

    Arguments against pacifism

    Arguments against pacifism

    Pacifism cannot be national policy

    Pacifism as national policy for a nation is almost unheard of, for the obvious reason that it will only work if no-one wants to attack your country, or the nation with whom you are in dispute is also committed to pacifism. In any other circumstances adopting a pacifist stance will result in your country rapidly being conquered.

    However, the idea of pacifism, and of seeking non-violent solutions to disputes between nations, plays a significant part in international politics, particularly through the work of the United Nations.

    The logical case against Pacifism

    Those who oppose pacifism say that because the world is not perfect, war is not always wrong.

    They say that states have a duty to protect their citizens, and that citizens have a duty to carry out certain tasks in a Just War.

    It doesn't matter that pacifists are motivated by respect for human life and a love of peace. The pacifists' refusal to participate in war does not make them noble idealists, but people who are failing to carry out an important moral obligation.

    A second argument says that pacifism has no place in the face of extreme evil.

    The war against Nazi Germany was a war against extreme wickedness, and in 1941 an editorial in the Times Literary Supplement wrote:

    We have discovered that there is something more horrible than war - the killing of the spirit in the body, the Nazi contempt for the individual man. The world reeks with the foulness of the crimes in occupied Europe, where a Dark Age has begun anew.

    Pacifism and remembrance

    Because most societies regard going to war as fulfilling a citizen's ethical duty, they honour and remember those who give their lives in war.

    If we believe that war is governed by ethics we should only honour those who give their lives in a Just War, and who followed the rules of war.

    So, for example, it should be wrong to honour dead soldiers who killed the enemy or wounded or raped enemy women. (But this distinction is not usually made about those who fought on 'our' side.)

    A more tricky moral dilemma is presented by the case of soldiers who died while fighting 'justly' for an unjust war.

    Many soldiers died fighting honourably and decently for Germany in World War II. But since the war was a blatantly aggressive and unjust war would it be wrong to honour such soldiers for their sacrifice?

    Pacifists -- United States -- History -- Sources

    Author, editor, journalist and lecturer advocate of internationalist pacifism influential member of the Socialist Party in the 1930s genealogist recorder of Rhode Island history and lore named Harold Devere Allen.

    Horace Champney Papers

    Horace Champney was a pacifist active in various causes from the late 1940s through the 1980s. He was a founder of The Peacemakers Movement in the 1950s and interested in civil rights, war tax refusal, and other social justice causes. Champney was a member A Quaker Action Group and a crew member of the ship the Phoenix, which sailed to North Vietnam with medical supplies, during the Vietnam war.

    Ann Morrissett Davidon and William C. Davidon Papers

    Henry LeRoy Finch Papers

    Henry Leroy (Roy) Finch Jr. was a pacifist, conscientious objector to World War II, philosopher and writer.

    C. Douglas Hostetter Papers

    Abraham Kaufman Collected Papers

    In October 1928, Kaufman became the first paid employee of the War Resisters League, eventually becoming its Executive Secretary through 1947. He co-founded the Metropolitan Board for Conscientious Objectors.

    A. J. Muste Papers

    Lee Stern Papers

    Lee Stern (1915-1992), was a Quaker pacifist, conscientious objector to war, involved in peace groups and organizations, and a teacher of nonviolence.