World War I was a traumatic experience in Europe, both for the victors and the defeated. The people of Europe were determined to prevent another war. Losses were enormous, bioth in blood and material wealth. An entire generation had been desimated in many countries. Most thought that the War had been a huge mistake. The huge cost of the War made even the victors sharply cut back military expenses. Most people thought that the War had not only been costly, but poinless as well. Few stopped to consider what a German dominated Europe would have nmeant. Pacifist movements grew throughout Europe and had considerable impact on major political parties, especially the socialists. This affected support for military spending. In America the Isolationist movemnt grew in importance. While anti-war and pacifist movements were of great influence, there were other currents at play in Europe. The Soviet Union gave lip service to abnti-war sentiment, primarily to weaken potentil adversaries while at the same time lavish enormous sums into military spending. The rise of Fascism also fueled oposition to the World War I settlement and glorified war. This began with Mussolini in Italy (1924), but did not become a real threat until Hitler seized power in Germany (1933). He quickly supressed the pacifist movenment in Germany and launched a massive rearmament program. The denmocraies were slow to respond to this threat because of the strength of the anti-war and pacifist movements. The primary impact of the pacifist movement was thus to lay the foundation for the most costly war in human history.
The iniitial sentiment in the Allied Nation after the War was one of elation. But this soon changed as ar elization of the cost set in with the public, especially the huge casualties. Anti-war sentiment grew. The "Never again" sentiment became prounounced. One aspect of the growing anti-war sentiment was a declining appreciation of the military. In the wake of the World War I disaster, anti-militarism grew in both Europe and in America. This sentiment was one of the major reasons that Britain and France did not effectively contront the NAZIs. Men like Baldwin and Chamberlain were unwilling to either prepare for War or even fight the war agressively. Even Churchill was very cautious about casualties. Hitler understood better perhaps than anyone in Europe that democratic governments would avoid war so as to avoid casualties. This was a calculation that did not burden him or for that matter Stalin. American attitudes were in part pacifism , but and even stroinger sentiment was a desire to disassociate from Europe which was seen as the source of endless political strife. Pacifism was an elemement in isolationist sentiment in America. The Congress launched a major investigation designed to prove that American arms manufacturers had help involve the United States in the War. It is ironic that the industry that would save Western civilization was during the inter-wars year was being being investigated for disloyalty by Congress. The Committee became known as the Dyes Committee led by Congressman Martin Dyes. After a huge investigation, no evidence was found to justify the charges. Public opinion in America remained staunchly against involvement in World war II until Pearl Harbor. While Socialist inspired pacifism had weakened the Allied response to Hitler, socialist leaders in Germany and occupied countries were targeted by the NAZIs. Some how Hitler and the nationalists managed to shift the war blame from German militarists to the Socialist politicans who signed the peace. Anti-war feeling was strong in Germany after the War, but so was resentment toward the Versailles treaty. The future of Germany would be decided on which of these two sentiments would prevail. The anti-war book and film All Quiet on the Western Front was hugely popular in Germany. At the same time ultra-nationlist poltical parties developed a considerable following, especially after the onset of the Depression. The Socialists warned that Hitler and the NAZIs would bring war. And they were right. Even so, after 6 years of NAZI propaganda, were not enthusiastic as Hitler moved Germany toward war.
There has always been a strong isolationist streak in American political life. Americans separated by two great oceans have since the Revolution seen ourselves as different and apart from the rest of the World. From the beginning of the Republic, President Washington warned of entangling foreign alliances. For much of our history, Britain was seen as the great enemy of American democracy and of Manifest Destiny. World War I was America's first involvement in a European War and the United States played a critical role in winning that War. Had the Germany not insisted on unrestricted submarine warfare, in effect an attack on American shipping, it is unlikely that America would have entered the War. Many Americans during the 1920s came to feel that America's entry into the War was a mistake. There was considerable talk of war profiteering. Many were determined that America should avoid war at any cost. This feeling was intensified with the Depression of the 1930s and the country's focus was on domestic issues. With the growing military might of a rearmed Germany, war talk in Europe began. Isolationist leaders opposed any war. Others such as, Charles Lindbergh, thought that America could not win a war against Germany's vaunted Luftwaffe. Many not only opposed American involvement, but even military expenditures. Against this backdrop, President Roosevelt who did see the dangers from the NAZIs and Japanese militarists, with political courage managed to not only support Britain in its hour of maximum peril, but with considerable political skill managed to push through Congress measures that would lay the ground work for turning American into the Arsenal of Democracy, producing a tidal wave of equipment and supplies, not only for the American military, but for our Allies as well, in quantities that no one especially the Axis believed possible.
We do not yet have any information of Belgian pacifism. Perhaps readers will know more. Belgium did prepare militarily, but while an indistrialized country, it was quite small. Thus there was no way the Belgians alone could stop a German invasion. Rather as in World War I, the Belgians relied on neutrality, hoping that the Germans unlike World War I would honor their neutrality. This seems a policy meant to appeal to pacifist and anti-war sentiment rther than a coherent foreign policy given they were dealing with NAZI Germany which had already invaded six countries (Austria, Czechoslovakia, Lithuania, Poland, Denmark, and Norway). As a result of Belgium's neutrality policy, there was no coordinated military talks and preparations with the Allies. And the Allies were not allowed to build fixed defenses in Belgium. This would lead to disaster when the Germany struck (1940).
There has always been a strong pacifist element within the British political left. After World War I, there was support for the War Resisters' International and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. The pacifist movement was uincouraged by both the siocialists throughout Europe and the Communuists (under instructiion from Moscow) to weaken countries that were a military threat to the Siviet Union. Pacifist activities and groups were active in Britain. Pacifist activists erected an Anti-War Memorial monument, at Woodford Green, in Essex (1932). It was shaped rather like a bomb. It was meant to memorialize the words of a British delegate at the League of Nations who had spoken against the banning of aerial warfare, on the grounds that Britain needed to bomb rebels on the North-West frontier of India, to keep the "tribesmen in order". The Woodford Green memorial bore the sarcastic inscription, "To those who, in 1932, upheld the right to use bombing planes". [Pankhurst] British Pacifists opposed military spending. The idea ws that military weakness would preclude another war. This was based on the World War I experience which many Brits believed was a huge mistake and pointless slaughter. Very little thought was given to what it would have meant for Germany to defeat France and dominate the Continent. The British Labour Party had a strong pacifist element, as did Socialists throughout Europe. (The major exception here was the Soviet Union.) Particularly important in Britain was the string pacifist feeling within the KLabour Party. As the major opposition party, this had cionsiderable influence. Labour at its annual conderence adopted a resolution without oposition to "pledge itself to take no part in war" (1933). This of course was the same year that Hitler seuzed power in Germany. Labour did not adopt a pacifist policy and unilateral disarmament. It idealistically supported peace through a world socialist commonwealth and the outlawing of war, but supported 'collective security' through the League of Nations. Labour tended to favor cuts in military spending, insisting that availavle funds be used fior social programs. There were more radical pacifist voices. An important Labour pacifist was George Lansbury, a Christian pacifist. He chaired the No More War Movement and was president of the Peace Pledge Union (PPU). He was the Labour Party leader (1932-35). He famously insisted in an election, "I would close every recruiting station, disband the Army and disarm the Air Force. I would abolish the whole dreadful equipment of war and say to the world: 'Do your worst' (1933). Stafford Cripps's organized the vocal Socialist League which criticised Labour's policy. He charged that the League of Nations was 'nothing but the tool of the satiated imperialist powers'." [Toye] Hitler'sise in Germany began to change minds about military spending, even within the Labour Party. Non-pacifists within the Party forced Lansbury to resign. His replacement was Clement Attlee. The NAZI threat forced the Labour Party to abandoned pacifism and support increased military spending. A factor here was Soviet efforts to confront the Germans. Ernest Bevin and Hugh Dalton were important figures in realigning Labour policy. They even convinced the Party to oppose Primeminister Neville Chamberlain's effort to appease Hitler and the NAZIs. [Davies] Hitler was a major factor in weakening the British pacifist movement. The scenes of Luftwaffe moming of Spanish cities were terrifying. But most Brits, even most Labour pacifists, realized that the only protection was a strong military, not pacifism. After the bombing of London, it would be years before British pacifists were able to again find their voice.
Canadians who fought with Britain on the Westwrn front were shocked with the casualties suffered, The most prominant Canadian pacifist was the politician James Shaver Woodsworth. Woodsworth advocated the strengthing of the League of Nations to avoid future wars and ensure world peace. He believed that economic sanctions against states which committed aggression, such as Italy when it invaded Ethiopia (1935). Notably the League sanctions against Italy not only did not work, but drove Mussolini to cooperate with Hitler. Canadian anti-war sentiment was in part affected by the cultural/linguistic divide. French Canadians in particularoposed conscription and once World war I began service in what they saw as a British Empire effort. Even after the Germans invaded and occupied France, French Canadians generally resisted overseas service. The Canadian units which served in Europe were almost ebntirely made up of English speaking Canadians.
Other thabn Russia, France suffered more than any other of the major combatants in World War I. The war on the Western Front was fought in Belgium and nortghern France. There was enormous phsical damage. But even more than the physical damage was the enormous loss of life and soldiers who survived with grevious injuries. The German came very close to breaking the French Army at Versun. Ulitmately the French held, but the French Army was rendered largely incapable of offensive operations. Even though the Allies with American aid ultimately emerged victorious, France was for ever changed. The kind of fervent nationslism common before World War I was gone forever. Pacifist and anti-war sentiment was pronounced in the inter-War era. Socialista and Communists were major centers of this sentiment. Another important proponent of pascifist sentiment was French school teachers. After World War II, many authors identified interwar pacifism as playing a major role in undermining the will of the French people to resist German aggression and thus responsible for France's humiliating defeat when the Germans struck in the West (May 1940). This was the positiion taken by Vichy, in part to protect the reputation of the French Army. There are different views. Many military historians point to the poor battle plzan and leasdership of the French military high commnd. One author contends that while anti-war, French school teachers were also highly patriotic. [Siegel]
Germany like Britain and Frabnce experienced the growth of pacifist sentiment and groups holdinh anti-war views. The German author Erich Maria Remarque who served during World War I wrote Im Westen nichts Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front) (1929). It was a sensation and quickly appeared in film (1930). This open expression of this anti-war sentiment changed immediately after Hitler seized control of Germany (1933). Pacifist authors like Remarque were placed on the lists of banned books and were included in the book burnings shortly after the NAZIs seized power. The NAZIs arrested people who openly expressed pascifist sentiment. They incarcerated in concentration camps rather than dealt with during the judicial system because such views were not actually illegal. German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky was incarcerated and severely treated. He died in captivity. The supression of Seven Day Adventists was primarily because of their pacifist views.
Many of the World War I generation were strongly against another war. This is reflected in Hitler's speeches in which he claimed to be trying to prevent war and blamed the Jews and other countries even after he invaded Poland (1939). The NAZIs did not change many minds among older Germans regarding war, but he did sway the younger generation through the Hitler Youth movenment which actively glorified war and prepared the boys for it. The best known German pacifist was the the Christian theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was hanged just two weeks before the NAZI surrender (1945).
Mahatma Gandhi's Indian natonalist movement used pacifist tactics to oppose British colonial domination of India with some success. They were working, however, within a system governed by British law. The British maninulated the system, but still the law and British public opinion placed limits on the colonial authorities. After the outbreak of World War II, He opposed the War, seeing war itself as the greatest evil. Gandhi wrote to the British Viceroy and advised that Britain surrender to the Germans. At the time, the German Panzers seemed unstopable. Ghandi wrote, "This manslaughter must be stopped. You are losing; if you persist, it will only result in greater bloodshed. Hitler is not a bad man....”
He followed this with an open letter to the British people (July 4, 1940). "Let them take possession of your beautiful island with your many beautiful buildings. You will give all these, but neither your souls, nor your minds.” [Grenier] Gandhi also attempted to write to Hiler and convince him of the value of non-violemce. Hitler for his part before the War gave Lord Halifax advise on how to deal with the Indian National Congress (INC) (1938). Hitler pledged his support to the preservation of the British Empire. He suggested killing Gandhi and if needed the INC other leaders as well. And then two hundred more activists, and so on until the Indian people finally gave up on independence. This would essentially be the formula he would pursue in Poland a year after meeting with Halifax. Of course Ghandi and many others did not know at the time Hitler's true character. After the War, however, he argued, "Hitler killed five million Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher's knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs. As it is, they succumbed anyway in their millions." [Fischer]
Gandhi did not, however, actively resist the War. Indian troops played a critical role in the British war effort, especially the early fighing in the Middle East. They also helped stop the Japanese invasion of India.
Italians who joined the Allies after the first year of the War were shocked with the casualties suffered and after the War were widely disastisfied with what the country achieved by the War. This played into the rise of Fascism.
Thus pacifist movements werre not as strong in Italy as many other countries. And after Mussolini and the Fascists seized control (1924), pacifist literature and promotion of pacifist ideas were banned. Fascist control of the media meabnt there was no opportunity for pacifists to present their ideas publically. Abd we know of no important Itaklian pacifists. Fascism glorified war and promoted national expansion which meant war. The Balial promoted Fascist ideas among youth, but unlike the Hitler Youth in Germany, seems to have had little impact. Mussolini who began political life as a socialist promoted militarism and the creation of a Nediterranean empire--Mare Nostrum (Our Sea). He and other Fascists looked on pacifists as cowards impeding his expansionist plans. Mussolini declared war on Britain and France (June 1940). Despite years of Fascist ruke, however, there was little public enthusism for war. Pacifist ideas seem less important than the Italian temperment and distrust of the common people for their leades. Many Italians did not understand why they were fighting Britain, much less the United States when Mussolini followed Hitler's lead and declared war.
The socialist movement which developed in the 19th century became anti-militaristic and strongly pacifist. This was in part an ideological and socialists argued that war was essentially governmental coercion of the working class. War was seen as the end result of copetitions between capitalist dominated states and ultimately it was workers who would have to fight and die in wars which they had no real interests. Despite these strongly held attitudes. Socialist parties had becoe major forces in many European countries by the early 20th century. European workers and even Socialist parties, however, sided with their national goverments as Europe descended into war (1914). French socialist leader Jean Jaurès's was assasinated just before war was declared (July 31, 1914). The Second International failed to effectively oppose World War I. The War in fact became seen as a great failure of the Socialist movement. The War was a huge shock to Europe. Many believed that war was a thing of the past. And World War I was a war that essentially destroyed an entire generation of Europe. Antiquated tactics and increasingly deadly weaponry resulted in battlefield deaths beyond comprehension. After the War there was a general relusion against war which resulted in the growth of pacifist thought. Peace of course became a major factor in the Bolshevick seizure of power.
Pacifist sentiment was especially pronounced within the Socialist movement, but was notable even in America without a strong Socialist party. There were exceptions to the rising pacifist sentiment. First the Italian Fascists began to promote the miliitary after seizing power. And the Japanese military began to dominate the government. Pacifist thought was strong in Germany during the 1920s, but so were highly politicized paramilitary groups. The NAZIs were only one such group. This of course changed when Hitler and the NAZIs seized power (1933). Military combat became the highest embodiment of human behavior. The situation in the Soviet Union was more complicated. Stalin built the largest military establishment in the world and any talk of limiting military spending was prohibited. And as the Soviet agressions early in World War II showed, Stalin was willing to use his military as brutally (if more cautiously) as Hitler to invade neighboring states. Yet the Soviet Union portrayed itself as the the leader of the world Socialist and actually controlled Communist parties in most country. Thus ideologically it could not portray war and military service in the same way as the Fascists.
Davies, A.J. To Build A New Jerusalem: The British Labour Party from Keir Hardie to Tony Blair (Abacus, 1996).
Fischer, Louis. The Life of Mahatma Gandhi (1950).
Grenier, Richard. "The Gnoandhi Nobody Knows", Commentary (March 1983).
Pankhurst, Richard. "Ethiopia's Image Abroad: Ethiopian Place-Names and Statues in Britain Rasselas and Aida".
Siegel, Mona L. The Moral Disarmament of France: Education, Pacifism, and Patriotism, 1914-1940 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 317p.
Toye, Richard. The Labour Party and the Economics of Rearmament, 1935-1939.
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