World War II: British Pacifism

British pacifism
Figure 1.--Labour Party Leader George Lansbury was a pacifist. He famously said during a 1933 election campaign, "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). He won the election. Adolf Hitler 7 years later would do just that to an unprepared, but thankfully not defensless Britain. This London girl in 1940 during the Blitz has somehow managed to save her doll houuse from the bombed out family home.

There has always been a strong pacifist element within the British political left. This grew markedly after World War I. There was support for various international efforts. This included the War Resisters' International and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. The pacifist movement was incouraged by the socialists throughout Europe for ideological reasons. They were also promoted by the Communists (under instruction from Moscow) to weaken countries that were a military threat to the Soviet 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 seized 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 religgning 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. After the War, British pacifists learned that not only had they endangered their country's survival, but the NAZIs had placed most of the leading British pacifists on their Sonderfahndungsliste G.B.--Special Search List for Great Britin (black book). Once Operation Sea Lion had been executed and Britain occupied, SS Col. Professor Dr. Frank Six's Einsatzkommandos , among other grisly duties, were to pick them and many others up for 'protective custody'. [Schellenberg] This meant they were to be shot.

Anti-Imperialism

There has always been a strong pacifist element within the British political left.

World War I

Anti-war sentiment grew markedly after World War I. There was support for various international efforts. This included the War Resisters' International and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. The pacifist movement was incouraged by the socialists throughout Europe for ideological reasons.

Communist Role

Pacifism was also promoted by the Communists (under instruction from Moscow) to weaken countries that were a military threat to the Soviet Union.

Woodford Green

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]

Defense Spending

British Pacifists opposed military spending. The idea was 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.

Labour Party

The British Labour Party was aocialist party and had a strong pacifist element, as did Socialists throughout Europe. (The major exception here was the Soviet Union.) Particularly important in Britain was the strong pacifist feeling within the Labour Party. As the major opposition party, this had considerable 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 seized power in Germany. Labour did not adopt a pacifist policy and unilateral disarmament. It did 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 available funds be used for social programs. There were more radical pacifist voices within the Party. 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). Of course 7 years later, Hitler did just that. 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 realiggning Labour policy. They even convinced the Party to oppose Primeminister Neville Chamberlain's effort to appease Hitler and the NAZIs. [Davies]

British Fascists

Oswald Mosley and most members of the British Union of Fascists opposed war with NAZI Germany, no matter what the provocations. British Fascists like other European Fascists were not pacifists opposed to war, they just did not want to fight the NAZIs. They saw the Soviet Union as the the great danger to Britain. [9Gottlieb and Linehan] Mosley led what he called a 'Peace Campaign' calling for a negotiated peace with Germany. How anyone after Munich could think that it what was popular to negotite with Hitler is an open question. Moslry must have known that. What he wanted was Hitler's help in remaking British society. This was necessary because Mosley's Fascist had virtually no appeal to British voters. British authorities arrested and interned Mosley and other British Fascists under Defence Regulation 18B (May 1940).

Decline of Pacifism

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. The British learned in the Blitz the result of being unprepared. Wht ghey did not know at the time was what the Germans had in mind for occupied Britain. After the War, British pacifists learned that not only had they endangered their country's survival, but the NAZIs had placed most of the leading British pacifists on their Sonderfahndungsliste G.B.--Special Search List for Great Britin (black book). Once Operation Sea Lion had been executed and Britain occupied, SS Col. Professor Dr. Frank Six's Einsatzkommandos , among other grisly duties, were to pick them and many others up for 'protective custody'. [Schellenberg] This meant they were to be shot.

Sources

Davies, A.J. To Build A New Jerusalem: The British Labour Party from Keir Hardie to Tony Blair (Abacus, 1996).

Gottlieb, Julie V. and Thomas P. Linehan. The Culture of Fascism: Visions of the Far Right in Britain (I.B.Tauris, 2004).

Pankhurst, Richard. "Ethiopia's Image Abroad: Ethiopian Place-Names and Statues in Britain Rasselas and Aida".

Schellenberg, Walter. Invasion, 1940: The Nazi Invasion Plan for Britain (Little Brown Book Group: 2001). The title is assigned for the modern publication. It was not an invasiion plan, but a handbook for administrators after the invasion. Quite a number of copies were printed by the Germans. Only two copies survive. One is held by the Imperial War Museum.

Toye, Richard. The Labour Party and the Economics of Rearmament, 1935-1939.






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Created: 6:00 AM 7/25/2011
Last updated: 1:42 AM 1/21/2012