Voices Against War: A Century of Protest, by Lyn Smith
Monday 09 November 2009
My father had a bad war, but then most pacifists did. He didn't have a very good peace either, as soldiers returned from a victory in which he was only too aware he had played no part.
Some of his wartime correspondence with the sculptor and fellow anti-militarist Henry Moore ended up in the Imperial War Museum. Their testimonies are not in Voices Against War, but Lyn Smith has drawn on the same source. They include the usual suspects like Tony Benn, who wrote an essay on disarmament at the age of 11. Fenner (later Lord) Brockway suffered imprisonment, one night spent in the Tower of London, for being a conscientious objector in the First World War and was still active in the early Sixties when I rattled a collecting tin at a CND meeting, the organisation he helped to found.
More unexpected are the observations of the wife of the RAF commander at Greenham Common. Confronted by angry American women demanding to know why the protesters should be allowed near the base, Ann Marsh replied that the whole point was that this was a free country where people did what they thought right. Such fair-mindedness was not common in the First World War, which saw COs receiving death sentences, although they were not usually carried out. On the home front, women gave the white feather of cowardice to men not in uniform. One recipient pointed to his damaged leg and invited the accusing woman to look for the missing bit – on a battlefield of the Somme.
The quotations speak for themselves, apart from Smith's introductions at the beginning of each section. Moving and powerful contributions come from all classes. William Douglas-Home, brother of the Tory prime minister, Alec, was court-martialled for refusing to obey an order he believed would cause the deaths of French civilians. A A Milne moved in the other direction, from defence of pacifism to defence of the realm: the howitzer at Pooh Corner, as it were.
Mainstream/ Imperial War Museum £19.99, Order for £17.99 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030.
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