Antiwar and peacemovements have existed for nearly as long as wars have existed
Peace movements are typically concerned either with ending all wars or a given war.
We’ve put together a brief history of peace movements down through the ages.
We think it’s quite fascinating and we think you will too.
The First Peace Movement
There were probably committed peace activists before this but the first known peace movement was that known as The Peace of God back in 989 AD.
It was formed to resist violence being carried out by the state on monasteries.
The next peace organizations to coalesce were the peace churches.
The Quakers and Amish have played a significant role in American history and they began to form on the European continent in the 16th century before migrating, under threat of persecution, across the Atlantic.
18th Century Peace Movement
The 18th century saw the rise of two conflicting peace movements. The first – “Age of Enlightenment” movement believed that peace was a rational outcome and that military forces etc. would eventually realize that war was pointless.
The other, the “evangelical religious revival” was focused mainly on practical actions. In American history, this meant a focus on efforts to abolish slavery.
19th Century Peace Movement
In the nineteenth century, people had a very big incentive to get involved in peace. International relations were at an all-time low and world peace looked unlikely as the Napoleonic Wars gave peace groups nothing but cause for fear.
A formal movement sprang up in Britain begging the government to avoid involvement with the other major powers and they had a significant amount of public opinion behind them too.
Many Americans believed that peace activism was the answer to and the American Peace Movement was born in 1815 (it would later become the American Peace Society – though at the time it was just the Masscaheussets Peace Society).
The early foundations of the women’s international league for peace were also laid in the early parts of the century.
By the year 1900, it looked like peace might have a chance at becoming the dominant philosophy but sadly peace reform was further away than those practicing peace activism might have believed then.
It would be impossible to ignore the contributions of Mahatma Gandhi to the peace movement of the 20th century.
His position of nonviolent resistance would inspire resistance to the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, the Cold War, and nuclear war of any kind.
World War I And World War II
The two most defining events in human history for peace activism are, of course, the two world wars of the 20th century.
World War I was, at the time, greeted fairly enthusiastically by most of the countries involved – but even then, peace groups were pointing out that this kind of war was simply the use of the working class of the twentieth century to achieve benefits for the ruling and elite classes.
In 1915, the precursor to the United Nations was formed as the League of Nations (it also had a sister organization the League to Enforce Peace).
It may not have prevented war (and neither did the efforts of the famous activist and entrepreneur – Henry Ford, mind you) but the stage was set for better days.
The Peace Pledge Union was formed between wars but sadly, the peace itself did not hold political leaders acting on behalf of the allies who had created conditions that guaranteed a new war effort emerging in Germany.
Pacifist ideas began to be shared among those in Europe that wanted to resist this new war and many pacifists were arrested and treated harshly (many German pacifists died in concentration camps).
Peace finally did arrive after 6 long years but only to see the beginning of a nuclear arms race and a cold war with the Soviet Union and the USA as key players.
The Modern Peace Movement
The current peace movement has resisted the war in Vietnam, campaigned for nuclear disarmament, started the civil rights movement, and seen the discipline of political science become harnessed to the cause of peace.
However, for every win that peace activists have been able to chalk up, there’s been another Operation Desert Storm or similar outbreak of war to set them back.
Final Thoughts On Peace Activists
It’s a noble struggle with a long, proud history as you can see – why not become a part of it yourself.