Peace movement

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The world is in as much need of peace today as at any time in history. Half the world’s resources are owned by two percent of the population. The new world threat to peace is the attempt to maintain an economic system that benefits the rich minority. US military intervention in Africa, Asia and the Middle East is an effort towards this end. Throughout history it was always war, threats of war or the aftermath of war that spurred peace movements.

UN-led efforts to end the arms race had been going on since the World War I ended in 1945. After the war, in response to the war-weary people’s demand for peace there were relentless efforts for complete disarmament. But till today armaments and destructive weapons of nations have increased many folds. So much so that today the word “disarmament” has disappeared from the vocabulary of peace movements.


Can Peace Movements Stop War?

There have been peace movements against all of America’s modern wars (except Korea), but they have failed to end any of them. With all the peace movements notwithstanding, the US continued its hostile actions against North Korea, waged wars in Afghanistan, the Philippines, and Colombia and were arming Israel to overrun and destroy Palestinian cities. The revival of German and Japanese militarism is encouraged and attempts made to overthrow the government in Venezuela.

Other unsuccessful peace movements have been:

  • Revulsion against that World War I produced a peace movement of unprecedented scope, but it did not prevent the outbreak of World War II.
  • Widespread opposition failed to prevent US participation in World War I.
  • Opposition to the Vietnam War produced the largest demonstration in American history up to that point in the 1969 “moratorium,” but it could not stop the war.
  • The largest peace demonstration in world history – perhaps 10 million on February 15, 2003, alone – could not prevent the Iraq War.

Peace Movement Successes

But on the other hand, peace movements are also known to have been successful in shaping history and playing important roles in major developments

  • The Geneva conventions to protest against the kind of chemical weapons used in World War I came about because of important initiatives by peace organizations
  • Nuclear disarmament campaigns helped ensure that Hiroshima and Nagasaki-like slaughter would not be repeated
  • The atmospheric test ban of 1963 was the first of a series of treaties which peace activists helped promote. The efforts continued up to the Strategic Arms Limitation treaties of the 1970s
  • A decade after the activists’ efforts to prevent World War I, the League of Nations was created
  • The U.S.-Soviet strategic nuclear arms reduction negotiations which began in 1970, was influenced by the big anti-nuclear demonstrations of the late 1950s and early 1960s
  • The massive protests against the Vietnam War led to the U.S. "Vietnam syndrome," a reluctance to intervene militarily, in Vietnam
  • After the two world wars, peace protesters put diplomats under strong pressure to create a world worthy of wartime sacrifice.
  • Peace movements demanded redemption of extravagant promises of “a world safe for democracy,” “a land fit for heroes,” and “a New Deal for the world.”
  • The United Nations was pressured to create international machinery to resolve disputes and remove the social and economic grievances which all believed were the root cause of war.

Peace and Social Justice

While many peace movements focus on the single issue of war, some leading organizations consciously combine peace and social justice. Among them are the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom founded in 1919, and today’s largest anti-war organization, United for Peace and Justice.

Peace and justice movements also play an important role in opposing empire. Early in the twentieth century, anti-imperialists sought to preserve a republic free of the overweening influence of finance capital, seen by many populists and progressives as the malign force behind U.S. intervention in the Philippines, the Caribbean, revolutionary Mexico, and Bolshevik Russia.

Movement Against Terrorism

Much of the world peace movement supports the war against "terrorism." The Germans Greens, whose founding principle is pacifism, served a key role in legitimating the US war. Historical parallels can be found in the German Social Democrats support of the Kaiser in World War I and in the French Communist Party's support for the war in Algeria.

Guidelines for Success of Peace Movements

  • Be cautious with civil disobedience

There is no doubt that civil disobedience to protest against an illegal war is morally legitimate and often strategic and necessary. However, that does not mean that it is the most effective strategy to use at all times. Civil disobedience can often alienate potential supporters.

  • Have a clear message

Even when a movement is able to get public attention and influence the public agenda, on the local, national or international level, it will never be able to convey a long and complex message. Don’t link up other grievances with the peace objective.

  • Start to work on a positive agenda

In the long run it is not enough to be against war. The peace movement must address both ways to resolve conflicts in a non-violent manner and the underlying causes of wars.

  • Reach across the divides

War only benefits a small elite section. This opens up a great potential tobuild a strong movement across distance, race, class and ethnicity.

  • Be early

An achievement of the Iraq peace protests is that they started and reached a considerable momentum long before the war started. Recognizing that the elected representatives may not be listening to us, and that lobbying may be one of many necessary activities, we should start early to lobby our political leaders in order to give them the message that attacking other countries would be devastating.

  • Be the media

The media must reach the masses. Make maximum use of the internet. More traditional techniques of distributing leaflets and door-to-door canvassing might be more effective for reaching people

  • Be international

Of all the demonstrations the February 15th ones had the greatest impact, not only because of the sheer number of demonstrators, but also because demonstrations were taking place at more than 600 cities all over the world.

  • Recognize the emotional work involved

A part of the work of peace movements is to bring people together, to help people notice that they are not alone, to listen to each others' fears and doubts, and to support each other.


  • Give Peace a Chance
  • Why Peace Movements are Important
  • The American Peace Movements
  • The Peace Movement After the Invasion of Iraq
  • Peace Movements

Additional Information

  • See Video


  • Building Bridges for Peace's Jo Berry forgave her father's killer hear her story