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Preparing for Peace

The website of the Westmorland General Meeting 'Preparing for Peace' initiative    

Preparing for Peace Initiative

Reproduced below is the presentation, in three parts, on Preparing for Peace, given by the PfP planning group at Britain Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends on Tuesday 2nd August 2005 at the University of York.

This marked a milestone in the life of the project, or concern as it is expressed in Quaker terms; a milestone because it was the occasion of the launch of the book within the Society, and because it was the first opportunity to make a full report of the project at a national gathering.  The planning group was asked to frame the presentation in terms of its spiritual witness to our peace testimony.

Presentation on Preparing for Peace - Britain Yearly Meeting 2005

Background to the concern - Rachel Rogers

Friends, Westmorland General Meeting have been longing to have the opportunity to tell you about our concern, Preparing for Peace. We thank Agenda Committee for offering us this opportunity to tell you about our work.

Westmorland General Meeting is in the heart of 1652 country. When George Fox stood on Pendle Hill looking out over Morecambe Bay (though he called it the Lancaster Sea) he had a vision of ‘a great people to be gathered.’ The scene he saw in 1652 would have been busy but rural although there was a hint of its future role as he might have seen workshops making cannons, pistols and gunpowder . Today it is still farming land but also much more. We see shipyards where nuclear submarines are built and maintained and factories making fighter planes - in fact one might hurtle past in the valley below us with locally made night sights on board for pinpoint bombing accuracy. Up the road are our neighbours, Sellafield and the Thorpe Reprocessing plant - likely terrorist targets. Now 1652 country is where large scale armaments are manufactured.

In 2000 that is before 9/11, the war on terrorism, Afghanistan and of course Iraq Sir Joseph Rotblat, the Nobel Peace Prize winner came to the historic meeting house of Rookhow, and spoke to a packed room on ‘The Prevention of War in the Nuclear Age’. His message was clear - since we entered the nuclear age we have acquired the means to destroy humankind and is up to us to prevent this It was frightening and challenging but also inspiring and illuminating. Remember your humanity he urged us.

This was my first meeting as General Meeting clerk and afterwards I was contacted by many Friends who asked if our General Meeting could build on and carry forward his message. But how? We are not nuclear physicists but as Quakers care deeply about peace and we have our peace testimony against all wars and strife. Finally I after consulting Robert Straughton, the retiring clerk, I decided to ask Brian Walker, former DG of Oxfam who in turn suggested Joseph Hill, a retired surgeon with links to World Health Organisation, to a brain-storming session. What could GM do that was not already being done by others? We met in a prayerful way trusting in the guidance of the Spirit.

The ideas flowed but one idea kept resurfacing; is war the way to settle conflict in the 21st century? Is it really effective or does it cause more problems and misery than it solves? Could war be declared redundant and another way of solving problems be found? Like a burr that sticks to one’s coat this idea would not go away. We agreed to focus on it and see if we could bring a proposal to the next GM.

The way forward became surprisingly clear. The Planning Group recommended to GM that we could sponsor a series of lectures by experts in their field, not necessarily Quakers (as we know Quakers are very good at talking to each other) We needed a different perspective. We would devise a series of questions each one leading to the next and this might lead us to new insights which we could take to international decision makers. At the next General Meeting we outlined our proposal, it was thoughtfully considered and finally the assistant clerk (I stood down from the table for this item) minuted that our proposal had ‘the whole-hearted support of the meeting’. Preparing for Peace was launched.

We quickly were convinced that we were acting under concern and, as this was a corporate not an individual project, asked all our constituent meetings, every single one, to test it out as we were anxious that it would be rooted and approved by all Friends on the Preparitive Meeting benches under the insightful guidance of the spirit. I had never been involved in testing a concern and, as Clerk, I needed help. I was very fortunate that Geoffrey Bowes, retired Recording Clerk had moved into our area and he became my mentor. His death was a personal loss for me.

This was a very busy time. The Planning Group responded to any meeting or individual who wanted to discuss the project with us. Many did. The greatest anxieties were firstly that this intention to show war does not work and is redundant in the 21st century was too ambitious and secondly that we were duplicating peace work already being done. We looked at all comments but these two particularly carefully. .

When we looked at others’ peace work we could not find any similar projects to Preparing for Peace. I contacted Linda Craig (now Fielding) (Quaker Peace and Social Witness) who was very encouraging but made it clear that it would be our endeavour as QPSW had decided not take on any extra work at that time. Likewise some Friends reminded us that Northern Friends Peace Board is the channel for peace work in the North of England. Again when we looked at their valuable work it was different from ours, we would be partners rather than rivals; there would and should be room for us both.

I think it would be fair to say that we felt impelled to try even if we failed and reminded ourselves constantly that ideas have legs - who knows whose lives would be touched by our efforts.

Eventually every Preparitive Meeting and Monthly Meeting sent in a minute supporting this concern. It had been tested and approved.

Alongside this was our need to raise funds - in 2000 we had £37 in the bank! A letter to The Friend produced not only much needed resources but also many messages of encouragement. In the end over 100 meetings supported us as well as individuals. We could not have reached this point without your help and it is good to have the opportunity today to say thank you. We also applied to trusts and, after a rigorous examination, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust gave us a grant. We were also generously supported by the Southern Trust and small family trusts. We were on our way!

The Planning Group over the years has changed slightly. Brian Walker and I are founder members and Robert Straughton has been replaced by Eleanor Straughton, his daughter, an academic researcher. Joseph Hill having served 3 years had other calls on his time. I found the sheer work overwhelming (incidentally Foot & Mouth was ravaging Cumbria at the same time) and the Meeting appointed Daphne Sanders as co-clerk and this has been a great help and support. We will be sharing the presentation of this report to you today. But alongside us are many Friends. This concern belongs to all in Westmorland General Meeting and Friends on the bench have been an integral part. They have encouraged, supported the lectures, helped set up the website, written reports, taken photos, raised money, been welcoming doorkeepers, helped with mailing and much more. We are needing even more help now our book is published.

So the spirit has led us to where we are today. We have had difficult times and times of great joy. One of our biggest challenges was to look at our peace testimony, has the 21st century influenced our interpretation of it in the light of the hugely different circumstances of the new century? Each member of the group was confronted with the need to establish their own personal position.

In our briefing for today we were asked to tell you what we have personally learnt. For me it was that trusting in God has always produced solutions to apparently insoluble problems. Patient waiting reveals ways forward often from totally unexpected sources and we are given the strength to work through difficult times. God never asks more of us than we can give.

We were asked to spend some time filling you in on the background of this concern. It is unusual for a GM to take up a concern especially one which could challenge accepted custom. We have worked for 5 years and are launching our book at this Yearly Meeting. Already our website is being visited by people from all over the world. The texts are being used for academic research. We will soon publish a teachers aid for older school students called ‘The Anatomy of War’ and we hope this will be taken up particularly by Quaker schools. Our current project is to have a section encouraging a multi-faith response to peace building. What unites us rather than divides us? Already we have a Jain, Quaker, Muslim, and Hindu contributions and the Dalai Lama and a leading catholic theologian will be adding to it shortly. Please visit our website for details of the work which is expanding.

I will now hand over to Brian Walker who will tell you about how we planned the project, the questions we set our experts and how we followed our vision through our many contributors. Finally Daphne Sanders will take up the themes in our book and how we hope decision makers will find new ways of thinking using the insights we have found as the result of listening to so many and varied people.


The process of the enquiry and its results - Brian Walker

The challenge we gave ourselves & in pursuit of which we came to feel we were led by the Spirit, was to search for an idea which might take us beyond the solid centre of traditional Quaker belief - which condemns all “bloody principles & practices ….with all outward wars, and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatsoever”.

 Moral certainties underlie our testimonies. Yet after three & a half centuries of Quaker witness to a global population of (now) + 6 billion human beings, only a few hundreds of thousands of humans utterly reject war as a moral means for settling disputes between or within nation states. However reluctantly the majority of humans seem willing to kill each other for this or that cause when called upon by their elected leaders, or ordered so to do by despots. When, during our search for truth, the Iraq war threw up some 58% of people world-wide who said “no” to that war, we felt that here was an important straw in the wind.

 Two key insights emerged. First, that individual Friends ought to be more active in thinking things out for themselves & then, crucially, doing something about what we have discovered -  without reliance on Friends House, or standing committees, or other foci within Quakerism. Individual Friends on the PM bench have exactly the same responsibility for the “truth” as do those seasoned Friends who accept positions of organisational responsibility.

 Secondly, we came to perceive that if “pacifism” per se was a fundamental consequence of our belief system, then we needed to articulate a parallel range of ideas, visions, commitments & insights, so as to persuade the majority of people of the wisdom of our testimony. 

 Two further insights which emerged as we entered the 21st century, gave grounds for exploratory hope. On the one side were the factual & terrifying advances made through applied science to what our grandparents had called, “the engine of war”.

 Applied technology has rendered war catastrophic in terms of its full potential for planned or unintended disaster. I do not need to analyse for Friends the universal threat posed by nuclear, biological or chemical warfare, or the equally threatening refinements to so called “smart weapons” applied to the manufacture and delivery of weapons of mass destruction - not only over the entire surface of our globe, but into outer space, our last frontier – which is destined to be breached this year. Nor do I need to point to science based methods of torture practised even within democracies, or to the encroachment of war centred policies in the private life of the citizen, including the child in arms, or to the parallel loss of civil liberties often pioneered by our Quaker forebears - but jettisoned as war encroaches on daily life, or - for the first time in human history - the impact such threats have even on unborn generations.

 Modern war, based on science & technology, we concluded, is entirely different to anything ever before experienced by human kind.

 But then at the start of our new century a second fact emerged - the socio-economic phenomenon we call “globalisation”. International social & economic structures, evolving in global terms, force us to live in one world as they beat back the frontiers of nation state boundaries - so often in the recent past the cause of, or the excuse for, war.

 We came to understand that the pressure generated by these two modern trends (the “engine of war” & “globalisation”) could force the idea of non-violence to the top of the peoples’ agenda because they make the cultural phenomenon of war in the 21st century, ultra vires, redundant, obsolete, unwise, futile and self defeating.

 This was the simple idea at the heart of our concern, however complex might be its application.

 The process was one of discovery, but also of joy within our group, of friendship, of some excitement - but increasingly of deepening spirituality. Other Friends shared in this. We also experienced many frustrations, some critical disagreements, & a re-assessment of our personal commitment to Quaker peace testimonies. The distinction between what Albert Einstein defined as “convinced pacifism” towards which he lent, & “absolute pacifism” which some Friends feel able to proclaim despite our world’s complexity, was, nonetheless, impossible or impractical, to other Friends.

 We retained our conviction that if non Friends could quietly come to see the wisdom & logic of the position we had exposed, then our joint future would be, to that degree, more attractive. War, symmetrical or non-symmetrical, might yet be confined to the dust-bin of history even as slavery, using women as chattel, the exploitation of child labour, the practise of capital punishment, the centrality of “revenge” in the cultural mores of many communities, or other serious flaws in civil society, have been discarded if not entirely eliminated.

 Thus we were led to devise four key questions & to invite recognised experts, principally non Quakers & non-pacifists, to speak to them, & then to posit the cultural & political consequences towards which their answers pointed

 First, “can modern war confidently achieve its objects?” Secondly, “can modern war be controlled, contained or managed in any meaningful way?” Thirdly, “What really are the critical economic, human, & environmental costs of modern war? Is modern war sustainable in such terms? This sub-set included an analysis of the attempt in 1984, later adopted by UNESCO on behalf of the UN, entitled, “The Seville Statement”. It explains through science why people go to war in order to kill each other. Importantly, Seville tells us that war is a cultural phenomenon; it is not built into our genes; it is never “inevitable”. People need to know that with conviction. Finally, we asked – what, then, ought 21st century humans to do with modern war, its threat & increasing obsolescence?

 We persuaded 25 contributors to help us, over a five year period. They included two Friends, one Muslim cleric, the former Director General of the International Committee of the Red Cross, a former UK Ambassador to the UN, the first High Court Judge & President of the International Criminal Court, The Sec. Gen. of the Council of the European Union, two chairs of “Pugwash” one of whom was a Nobel Laureate, one military General, the Professor of the Bradford School of  Peace Studies & ten eminent academics of professorial rank – mostly British, but including American, South African, Indian, Israeli & Korean scholars.

 In a few minutes we can only itemise critical points of interest.

 First, there seemed to be a consensus amongst historians that as war & civil society become more complex & inter-linked, it is increasingly difficult for war to generate positive results, or which do not trigger off unintended effects. Sometimes, as in Sierra Leone, a measure of “success” seems a reasonable outcome – but always at an unacceptable cost to human life. Overwhelmingly as Vietnam, the West bank, Iraq twice over, Rwanda, Angola, Chechnya, Northern Ireland, Cambodia, the Sudan, Columbia, Afghanistan & so on demonstrate, war aims are rarely secured. Because of the complexity of modern war, not only in its political objects but as a consequence of the unpredictability of its diverse elements, including serendipity - soldiers & their political masters are pushed this way & that, as a consequence of which “management” per se is simply not feasible. The best of plans too often “gang aft aglay”.

 It follows that if modern war increasingly is a failed tool, it is unlikely to secure its declared aims with precision. “Smart” weapons go adrift; civilian populations do not behave as predicted; unexpected consequences flow from the most carefully planned of actions. A computer virus can be more destructive today than an atomic bomb. Sometimes the top human element in the military &/or the civil order is unpredictable. Human artefacts or constructs in modern war break down or fail to work. Climate or terrain does not always function as predicted. Nor does morale within either the military or the civilian populations. Back home the civilian population, especially in democracies, may resist the war effort in a way which makes life uncomfortable for civil or military leaders.

 Meanwhile, as in South Africa, Georgia, the Ukraine & more recently the Lebanon, the civilian population pushes the military out, non-violently. We glimpse the green shoots of what might be. Encouragingly, the steady evolution of international humanitarian law puts political & military leaders at risk of prosecution, impeachment, or trial. Differing authorities – the government, the European Union or NATO, the UN or its specialised agencies, the rules of war, the International Court & so on - add complexity to complexity.

 When we analyse the answers to our third question as to the human, economic & environmental costs of modern war, I can only high-light a fraction of what we discovered. Points which struck me as important include:

  1. Civilians are ten times more at risk in modern war than soldiers. Since 1945 84% of all war casualties, in fact, have been civilian. We kill one another at a rate of ½ million persons per annum. Is it not reasonable to assume that when civilians take this on board they are likely to hammer a large nail into the coffin called “war”?
  2. In the Vietnam War 58,000American soldiers were killed but so were an estimated 4 million Vietnamese. In Rwanda an estimated ¾ million people were killed, over 2 million fled as refugees, & a further 1 million were displaced in their own country. In the West Bank over 500 children have been slaughtered. Meanwhile, the number of civilian deaths in Iraq has been withheld. Why?
  3. The traditional doctrinal justification for war, & with which many leaders ease their consciences, no longer holds up because clauses six & seven concerning “proportionality” & “non-combatant immunity”, inevitably fall under the conditions of modern warfare.
  4.  The evolution of International Humanitarian Law threatens military & civil leaders on all sides, alike.
  5. Economically taxes were first introduced to pay for war. Today British taxpayers subsidise the arms trade to the tune of £240 millions annually. So far in Iraq we have spent + £3.5 billions. Our two latest aircraft carriers will cost +£2 billions. Their Joint Strike Fighters – the Typhoons – first designed in the now long distance Cold War, cost £20 billions. Isn’t that nonsense, twice over?  
  6. Environmentally, the costs of modern war can be astronomic & the consequences of its unintended but nonetheless real contribution, for example, to global warming - think of those burning oil wells in Iraq - are substantial. Pre-1979 the military scattered 87 million land mines across tiny Cambodia - ensuring deaths & crippling injuries to its civilian population, & the destruction of its ancient & intricate water system, for decades to come.  Forests are destroyed, water reserves are polluted, homes, villages, towns & even cities like Falluja with its dense civilian population, are obliterated, & so on & so forth.
  7. One of our most perceptive papers was given by Dr. Chris Williams on the nature of civil society during war. He reminded us that it is the politician who decides on war, & not the people.

The point, Friends, is that modern war is an exercise in futility. The limited utility of armed force & the inherent danger of relying on such force in the 21st century are self evident. For two centuries, war - time & again - has proven to be all but ungovernable. That is an historical fact. War does not work because it cannot work & the sooner we get rid of it the better. Acting catalytically Friends can argue within society with confidence. We can witness to the self-evident truth that modern war is now obsolete.


 Eliciting coherence and promoting the message - Daphne Sanders

Friends, it falls to me to tell you about how we elicited a coherent message from the wealth of material provided by our experts, and how we are promoting that message.  First, however, I will give my own take on ‘living this concern’ as that is indeed how it has been for over four years.

I have a well-spring of energy for our concern which predates, but also arises partly from my professional life in social work.  Over decades, with colleagues, we witnessed and responded to the hurts suffered by children from anxiety, deprivation, humiliation and violence.  We saw the impact at every stage of the life cycle.  We often used substantial resources and expertise to bring about healing.  A question nagged away in my brain for years: if this is how British children respond to traumatic experience, quite often in contexts which also contained many positive features, what is the effect on children subject to the terror, injury, bereavements, and deprivations of war?  Surely it is severe, surely the society is ultimately affected by this?  Is there not something very peculiar about a society deploying substantial resources to heal the hurts of a few tens of thousands of children each year, when it manufactures weapons- and we are the second highest exporter of arms in the world- and spends £39b a year on so-called defence, resources used to wage war and inflict suffering on whole populations of children, as well as adults of course, who will bear that legacy for the rest of their lives? 

Now we are accumulating the evidence of this harm.  Just one example.  In May this year it was reported that the babies of pregnant women at or near the World Trade Centre on Sept 11th have registered hormonal differences suggestive of post traumatic stress disorder and predictive of stress problems in adult life.  I give this example in full awareness of the irony, in terms of comparable impacts on Afghanistan or Iraq.

 Preparing for Peace has two salient features which have a bearing on these reflections.  The first is the point made so tellingly by Joseph Rotblat that globalisation means we inhabit one world.  This means that we are mutually interdependent as a global community, and it means that we can no longer see the children of Afghanistan, for example, as any different from the children of Britain.  I would like to believe that it is a dawning realisation of this sort which was behind the British response to the Indian Ocean tsunami. The second is that PfP is making a rational case for the redundancy of war: if we look at the facts, then war presents itself as an irrational activity for a global community seeking a good life.

 Turning now to the practicalities of our concern.  It has generated a wealth of valuable material, and far too much for one book.  We have sought to resolve this by employing a modern model of publishing: our book is published in conjunction with our web-site.  The book comprises our message, the case we are making, summaries of the 24 papers published to date on the web-site and a sample of eight papers.  In this way this way the project remains open-ended with new papers which underpin and develop our main themes continuing to be published.

 Our Friend, Eleanor Straughton, carried out the task of analysing the content of the papers.  Using this we have structured our case in the book by first addressing the umbrella question ‘Is war a rational tool of politics?’  Brian Walker has already given you the conclusion of our answer to that question.  Needless to say we have had to take care to represent the views of our experts fairly as their conclusions are not invariably or explicitly the same as our own.  We were struck, however, by the cumulative impact of what they did say, in terms of the acuteness of the threats to peace and the terrible consequences of war.  The strongest statement of support for war came from General, Sir Hugh Beach when he said that  it could be the lesser of two evils, but always amounted to failure.  In the next part of the book we took these threats to peace identified by our contributors and put forward non-violent responses to deal with these threats, again many suggested by our contributors.  A programme of action, our manifesto as it were, flowed from this analysis.

 The analysis suggests that a peaceful world is dependent on activities falling into three categories:

  • The proscription of war under international law

  •  The creation of new institutions to transform conflict

  •  Sustained and effective action to eliminate the causes of war.

Within these categories we are advocating the following policies, expressed in summary:

  • A UN constitutional amendment that war is illegal for any reason.
  • International law to include a set of reformulated crimes against humanity.
  • Reform of the UN to make it a truly representative body.
  • Establishment of an international civil peace service.  This would include an international police service.
  • Development of the supra-national regional bodies.  In addition to being vehicles for cooperative action by the nations in their membership, these bodies would enable their citizens to realise their roles as global citizens by developing their capacity to uphold a democratically operating UN.
  • Control of arms production and trade in arms; decommissioning of weapons of mass destruction.
  • Sustainable development, protection of the environment and trade justice.
  • Programmes to educate the present generation of the world’s children for their future responsibilities as world citizens.


There remained some outstanding questions which persisted into the final stages of drafting.  Who was the target audience for our book?  In terms of the original concern it was decision-makers in international bodies and national governments.  We wished, however, to reach a wider audience.  We hope we may have presented a case which will engage non-pacifists, and we hope to offer power to the elbow of those who are already pacifists by providing a comprehensive rationale to support their advocacy.  We know that Friends are active in campaigning for all the policies we are advocating, and that they are nothing new.  Where we hope we may add value is in the evidence we have collected which supports the indivisibility of this set of policies for making a peaceful world.

 A second question: what did we as individuals in the PfP planning group mean by pacifism? How were we, thereby, constrained in the solutions we sought? How did we deal with our perception that pacifism as a concept carried no credibility in wider society?  Well, I think you may have to read our book to see how we handled that one! Having said that we do not pretend to a final answer.  It helped us to acknowledge that our peace testimony is not a creed, it has no fixed expression, but it is the embodiment of each generation’s attempts to live in our world in the light of our faith.

 Finally, and crucially, we have outlined a splendid conclusion, presented our shopping list for a peaceful world, what now? To answer this question, I will digress for a moment.  Of all the PfP papers we were most excited by Chris Williams’ and Yun-Joo Lee’s joint paper entitled ‘The Minds of Leaders: delinking war and violence’.  They analyse the unique role played by leaders in initiating war, and make pertinent observations on how leaders are influenced and how the nature of leadership itself is shaped.  We, in our turn, have been influenced by their ideas.  So, our answer to ‘what now?’ is that we should look for leaders.  We should look for a new kind of leader: leaders who may be from any country, leaders who understand that we inhabit one world community, leaders who understand that the biggest problems we face have global reach, leaders who, therefore, have a similar agenda to our own.  In this way we forge our escape from the disenfranchisement which arises from having an agenda for peace while living within a sovereign state defined by its contract to “defend” its citizens, and we move towards forging a new global politics in which we act as citizens of one world.  We have found ourselves at the start of the 21st century as part of a global community: now let us act consciously as the citizens of that community.

 In the coming months we plan to launch PfP at the UN in Geneva and New York, with the support of Quaker United Nations Organisation, at the EU in Brussels with the support of Quaker Council for European Affairs, and at Westminster with the support of our Parliamentary Liaison Officer.  We are seeking out audiences to which to present our findings ranging from the Mothers’ Union to University Departments, from the Fabian Society to St George’s House, the Christian clergy’s think tank.  We hope that Quakers world-wide might join with us in looking for leaders.  We will endeavour to sell as many copies of our book as possible through mail order and through persuading bookshops to stock it.  Finally, here and now, today we are launching our book among Friends, we are asking you to buy it at a special BYM offer price.  And that is not all we ask of you.  We hope you will take a copy to your local bookshop and persuade the manager to stock it.  We hope you will give us feeedback on our message, come up with ideas for new commissions for the web-site, and hope very much you might join with us in looking for leaders who will recognise that war is a redundant and obsolete institution and work with us for a peaceful world.

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