Gospel nonviolence in action: Case study from Columbia

The Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado. Image by FORUSA, Creative Commons licence CC BY

The Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado. Image by FORUSA, Creative Commons licence CC BY

What does Gospel nonviolence look like in action? The Fellowship of Reconciliation held a joint conference with the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship looking at this, and included a talk from the Revd David Mumford. Over a series of 14 blogs, some short and some longer, he outlines the different themes and topics covered in his presentation. 

What kind of action stands a chance of succeeding both in the short term and building towards a permanent peace in the long term? Initiatives taken by people in Columbia show one way forward. Uraba is in north west Colombia. By 1996 violence between the military and paramilitary on the one hand and the guerrillas on the other had forced over 17,000 residents to flee to the towns. Both sides had demanded information and food, medicine and accommodation from the inhabitants and enforced these demands with torture and violence. Whole villages fled, seeking refuge elsewhere, while cattle farmers, supporters of and supported by the paramilitaries, were poised to take over the land this vacated. On 27 March 1997 a number of people from San Jose de Apartado, supported by the Catholic diocese of Apartado, joined 29 surrounding villages in a declaration of peace and neutrality. Conscientiously objecting to the war and demanding their rights as civilians not to be involved in a conflict, the community denounced the use of arms within their territories and committed to a variety of principles in the process (including cooperative communal work, prohibition of alcohol, the non-use of illicit drugs, the no-entry of armed actors, non-use of weapons and the refusal to provide information to armed actors).

Each of the peace settlements made a commitment to active neutrality and this was reinforced by daily community meetings and trainings in how to respond to various possible scenarios. Crucial was the presence of international observers (initially through Pax Christi and Peace Brigades International and since 2001 strongly support by the Fellowship of Reconciliation) and developmental assistance from Oxfam.

Nonviolence did not immediately solve everything. The bishop of the diocese was assassinated in 2002. The support of the Catholic church has been crucial and many have found that a commitment to active neutrality has deepened their own spirituality and insights into their faith. Even so more than 200 members of the villages have been killed since the initial declaration of active neutrality.

The fighting did not completely stop. But the armed factions left the peace villages relatively untouched.

Now there is a formal peace process between the government and FARC, the main guerrilla organisation in Colombia. But the villages are threatened by the armed gangs of drug runners moving in when the guerrillas move out.

Nonetheless after more than 20 years, their commitment to renouncing arms within their communities and working for a sustainable peace has not been overcome.

Gospel nonviolence in action: Funding for peace and war

Image by Dominic Alves, Creative Commons licence CC BY

Image by Dominic Alves, Creative Commons licence CC BY

What does Gospel nonviolence look like in action? The Fellowship of Reconciliation held a joint conference with the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship looking at this, and included a talk from the Revd David Mumford. Over a series of 14 blogs, some short and some longer, he outlines the different themes and topics covered in his presentation. 

All Christians have a strong preferential option for nonviolent methods of conflict resolution. Public authorities at national level put resources into enabling this through diplomacy and support of international bodies such as the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the United Nations. In particular, UNESCO sponsored a decade for promoting a culture of peace and nonviolence from 2000-2010. Christian social teaching places a responsibility on public authorities to promote the common good.

However much more is spent on military preparations – even in countries across the European Union, resources for nonviolent peacemaking and peacekeeping are less than 1% of the military budget. There is an old saying that when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. This gives a large bias towards looking to military intervention. It would be fair to say that the UK’s military involvement in Iraq was illegal and an unqualified disaster for the Iraqi people and the peace of the Middle East. It would also be fair to say that the UK’s military involvement in Afghanistan was partially illegal, unsuccessful in terms of significantly changing the situation and brought about many casualties, civilian and otherwise. In fact, one would have to go back as far as the Falklands to find a ‘successful’ military action – the 1999 intervention in Sierra Leone could just as easily have been nonviolent. And the UK decision to renew Trident is a clear repudiation of any good faith in implementing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and could lock the UK into being a nuclear weapons state for the next 30 years, as well as adding massively to the sums spent by the country on preparing for war not peace.

Gospel nonviolence in action: Examples from around the world

As a child, Rabbie played in the alleyways by his home on Benson Street, one of Monrovia's main thoroughfares and the site of fierce fighting during the civil war. Photo by Cameron Zohoori, Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC

Alleyway near Benson Street, one of Monrovia’s main thoroughfares and the site of fierce fighting during the Liberian civil war. Photo by Cameron Zohoori, Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC

What does Gospel nonviolence look like in action? The Fellowship of Reconciliation held a joint conference with the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship looking at this, and included a talk from the Revd David Mumford. Over a series of 14 blogs, some short and some longer, he outlines the different themes and topics covered in his presentation. 

Organised withdrawal of labour can be a very powerful nonviolent action. Indeed, there was even a successful strike at the Vorkuta coalmines in 1953 – part of the Stalinist gulag – and in spite of bloody reprisals working conditions were improved.

In Northern Ireland, a general strike led by the Ulster Workers Council in May 1974 caused the overthrow of the Sunningdale Agreement (which enshrined cross-community power sharing in Northern Ireland). The strike was predominantly nonviolent but in some areas was enforced violently by protestant paramilitaries.

Over the past thirty years we have seen the collapse of authoritarian communism in Eastern Europe without violence and the ending of apartheid in South Africa without a bloodbath. Liberia ended its civil war in 2003 helped by blockades organised by a coalition of Christian and Muslim women.

Gospel nonviolence in action: Case study from the UK (Northern Ireland)

Looking down from Corrymeela. Image by Michael Kooiman, Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA

Looking down from Corrymeela. Image by Michael Kooiman, Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA

What does Gospel nonviolence look like in action? The Fellowship of Reconciliation held a joint conference with the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship looking at this, and included a talk from the Revd David Mumford. Over a series of 14 blogs, some short and some longer, he outlines the different themes and topics covered in his presentation. 

Civil strife is more likely to break out in places where it has taken place in the past and where the work of reconciliation has not been carried through. A recent sad example is that of South Sudan.

It takes time to build up sufficient fear of the other to resort to violence; even where as in Ireland there had been a bloody conflict and significant ethnic cleansing within living memory. It took Hitler five years to get the German people to turn a blind eye to the persecution of Jews. Often the best time to intervene is before violent conflict starts and to build up the knowledge and training, the personal contacts, a culture and solidarity that can counteract violence. In the late sixties the civil rights challenge to Unionist hegemony in Northern Ireland was strong – but violence was not the only option. In 1965 Ray Davey, who had witnessed the bombing of Dresden at first hand when he was a prisoner of war, and a group mainly from Queens University took over a semi-derelict Christian Fellowship holiday home on the north coast, named Corrymeela.

Over time a residential and a dispersed community developed who slowly renovated the buildings; they later put on major trainings in nonviolence and acted as a permanent centre for mediation and reconciliation work, paving the way for a ceasefire and the Good Friday Agreement. I was working with the Fellowship of Reconciliation in Derry/Londonderry and we regularly took groups of youngsters (half and half catholic and protestant) on summer weeks holidays. True, when they got back to Derry/Londonderry they would not see each other until the next visit to Corrymeela – but it was encouraging years afterwards to find that people on the council after the Good Friday Agreement still remembered playing football with each other – and it has added to the glue that makes future violence much less likely.

Gospel nonviolence in action: Case studies from USA and India

Montgomery Bus Boycott mural. Image by Damian Entwistle, Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC

Montgomery Bus Boycott mural. Image by Damian Entwistle, Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC

What does Gospel nonviolence look like in action? The Fellowship of Reconciliation held a joint conference with the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship looking at this, and included a talk from the Revd David Mumford. Over a series of 14 blogs, some short and some longer, he outlines the different themes and topics covered in his presentation. 

Individual witness to nonviolence can be a profound and inspiring example, but when other people are involved, this can make actions effective ways to change policies and structures. Consider the Montgomery bus boycott. In 1955 in Alabama, buses had segregated seating. At different times, black people had tried to sit in the seats reserved for whites, but these individual acts of defiance had not had a wider impact. But when Rosa Parks refused to give up her whites only seat, it was after long and careful planning and training. That meant that those protesting in her wake knew what to do and had planned and thought through their responses to particular situations, including violence on the part of the state authorities. The boycott lasted a year and those taking part committed themselves to nonviolence. It was a major step in the campaign for racial justice in the USA.

Halfway across the world, Gandhi and Abdul Ghaffar Khan had already shown what large scale nonviolent action could achieve in the campaign for Indian independence. The Shanti Sena, a disciplined and trained nonviolent cadre in the Gandhian tradition, continued to operate after independence and were particularly important in defusing intercommunal riots between Hindus and Muslims. In Ahmedebad in 1969, there were four months of intensive reconciling work done by the Shanti Sena between the opposing groups. Nonviolence holds out a much better chance of post conflict reconciliation. Moreover, there is a striking overlap between best practice in civil policing and the use of nonviolence in responding to situations of civil conflict.

The Conscientious Objectors’ Stone in Tavistock Square – and how it came about

Participants at CO Day 2014. Photo: Dave Pybus/FoR

Participants at CO Day 2014. Photo: Dave Pybus/FoR

This is the full account by Edna Mathieson of how the conscientious objectors memorial in London was conceived and created. It has previously been published in four sections: one two three four

In 1976, my uncle, Joe Brett, died. He had been a life-long socialist, and because of those principles, had been a conscientious objector (CO) in the First World War. He had chosen Tom Paine’s ‘simple’ words to express what he believed: “The world is my country, all men are my brothers, to do good is my religion”. He had been an absolutist, that is, did not believe in killing, or helping in any way which might enable some-one else to accept military service and thus kill in his, my uncle’s, place. It was said that to be a CO on political grounds was considered to be less acceptable than on religious ones.

I had asked the Secretary of the National Secular Society (NSS), Bill McIlroy, to speak at my uncle’s funeral. I am a member of both the NSS and the British Humanist Association (BHA). He had agreed and spoke, mainly, of my uncle’s experience as an absolutist. Bill went on to say that, one day, people would acknowledge the courage and foresight of COs as they had, and do, recognise those who fight in wars – and had set up a memorial to them, the Cenotaph in Whitehall.

I thought that a great idea – so obvious, really! But “Never”, I also thought, “in my life time!”

In 1981, I became a Member of the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA), a subgroup of the Greater London Council (GLC). I was on many committees and chaired two, and was somewhat overwhelmed by the strangeness of it all – so much to learn to do. But by 1984, becoming more used to it all, it suddenly occurred to me that I had a degree of power/influence … Uncle Joe and a CO commemorative stone … Bill McIlroy’s almost chance remark at my uncle’s funeral! This might now be possible. I put this to the GLC’s Labour Group. All agreed, except one: Andy Harris insisted on a motion, suggesting a commemoration of COs, going to London Regional Labour Party.

This would take time – it always did – and we had heard the rumour of then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s intention of abolishing the GLC/ILEA! Why hadn’t I thought of it earlier? Then, suddenly, I realised that John Carr (GLC/ILEA Member) was the husband of Glenys Thornton, then Chair of London Region Labour! This might be the short-cut I needed – he might be interested. The reply from Region, instead of being very slow, was only slow, much to my relief!

It was not merely a rumour that Thatcher intended to abolish the GLC, but abolition was more of a fight than perhaps some had thought – the Church, the Lords and a member of the Royal Family were against it – much to some people’s surprise. But what about my CO motion – would that ‘fall by the wayside’?

The London Residuary Body (LRB) was set up after abolition to take care of all agreements, contracts etc the GLC/ILEA had made. So, as my motion, or any action accruing to it, had not appeared, I wrote to the LRB, asking them where the agreement was that had been made to have some commemorative object dedicated to COs. Nothing so far had been made public, whilst other agreements and contracts had been. I had guessed that this particular one would not have been very popular. Their reply confirmed what I had thought might happen – the agreement by Labour Group could not be found! But now what do I do?

The GLC headquarters at County Hall is in the London Borough of Lambeth, so I contacted Lambeth Council. They were sympathetic and supportive. As it happened, they had just set up a small section within the Council which was to help local people wishing to carry forward ideas they had for their local area. I met the new post-holder heading this small section and we decided that an art competition would be set up, to include all London art schools/colleges. It would ask for a figurative or abstract piece of sculpture, to be situated somewhere in the space next to County Hall, dedicated to all COs.

We got as far as drafting letters to the schools and colleges and others we thought might be interested, and finding addresses, when the government began its first series of cuts of local authority budgets. This post was one of the first to go. Back to square one!

I decided to get funding myself. I could only send a letter to newspapers, explaining what I hoped to do and asking for financial help and perhaps general support. Charities are excluded of course from giving funding to groups for political – in the broadest sense – purposes. A lawyer friend pointed out that my proposed course would be illegal – I had to be part of an organisation.

I had been a member of CND but no other peace group. I decided to contact them. Bruce Kent, then Chair of CND, rang me at home, after receiving my letter asking for help. He pointed out the obvious, really – CND is against nuclear war. I wanted to say that non-nuclear bombs also kill and maim, but thought better of it. I didn’t think it would help – not for probably a short, fairly casual, telephone conversation.

The Quakers! Of course! They are against war in both thought and deed. My uncle had met many Quakers while in prison. Their central offices at Friends House in Euston told me that the Society of Friends was similar to a federation – each Meeting had its own aims and ways of acting. I needed to contact a Meeting – maybe my local one. I knew of none in south east London where I lived, so I went south west – in particular, Streatham. It was fairly close.

I contacted them, and was invited to speak to them about the idea. I did. My reception was rather chilly, but food had been kindly laid on so that it might be rather an occasion. I simply put forward the idea of having a stone dedicated to all COs. Their first question was how much did I think it would cost? I had not the foggiest – it would obviously depend on how much a stone cost, how much we received, etc, but I suggested £2/3,000. It was pointed out that many people in Africa and India were starving, surely such a sum would be best spent on them? I replied that Christ had said Man does not live by bread alone (I had gone to church schools!). They were refusing, of course, so I added that, as they were naturally and rightly concerned with people in Africa and India, they might consider asking the National Gallery to sell one of their less famous pieces of art and use that money for the starving. They would get so much more than £2/3,000! I thanked them for listening, and left.

The question then was who else to contact. As I have said, I was not – am not – very familiar with peace organisations.

But I did recall the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) being mentioned when talking, or hearing, of my uncle’s experiences. I made an appointment and saw Bill Hetherington and Lucy Beck. After a consultative meeting with representatives of other peace organisations, it was agreed that Bill would negotiate with the Guardian newspaper for a letter drafted by him in the name of the PPU to be published on International COs’ Day, 15 May 1993, inviting donations. We got support and funding. Of course, I gave, as did friends and relatives of COs.

In the meantime, the proposed venue shifted from the vicinity of the now defunct London County Hall to what was becoming a peace garden in Tavistock Square, Bloomsbury; and the concept changed from a sculpture to a rock, symbolic of those who refused, against the odds, to fight. Hugh Court, of Architects for Peace, was brought in as designer and suggested slate as more durable than granite. He went to Cumbria with Paul Wehrle, sculptor, in search of such a stone, and they were so attracted by a naturally shaped piece of grey green volcanic slate (some 400m years old, and rather larger than the size we had planned) that they chose that.

Paul Wehrle inscribed a tablet inset in the rock bearing words written by Bill, with the addition of ‘Their foresight and courage give us hope’, and it was unveiled at 2pm on 15 May 1994 by the composer Sir Michael Tippett, President of the PPU, who was imprisoned in the Second World War as a CO. All donors had been invited, and about 200 people were present, the occasion going impressively well, followed by refreshments at the then nearby PPU office. A Guardian reporter was there, whom I unfortunately did not manage to meet.

But I had wanted not only the stone, but a gathering of people around it to remember and celebrate the COs, just as, in the case of the Cenotaph, people are present there each November, remembering armed forces men and women killed during two world wars. I mentioned this to Bill, and suggested we do this the following year. He pointed out that the following year, 1995, people would be marking 50 years since the end of WW2. He had a point, and of course I agreed. I set about getting together a group of people keen to organise an annual celebration around the stone in future years.

My first task was to write to organisations that would appear, by their name, to be either definitely, or possibly, interested in coming to a meeting to discuss the possibility of an annual gathering around the stone. I wrote to just over one hundred, and about eight came! Not very many – disappointing – but enough to ‘set the ball rolling’, I thought.

The BHA and NSS were both at the time at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, Holborn. They agreed with my suggestion that we hold the meeting of interested people at Conway Hall, and kindly offered the Bertrand Russell Room. Of course, I eagerly accepted! Those who came all agreed to try out the idea the following year (that would now be 1998), to see whether it would be successful, and inviting as many as possible.

Robert Ashby, Secretary of the BHA at the time, was extremely helpful. He publicised the event, organised it, had leaflets printed, and a programme, of the event. And so the group of eight from various peace organisations, and others, met regularly, along with Robert, at Conway Hall to plan the celebration around the stone, which, indeed, proved to be a success.

In later years Bill Hetherington provided a varied and interesting list of COs from different countries and in different epochs, to be read out; Sue Gilmurray wrote the lyrics and music of several songs, two of which have been sung, with the help of the Raised Voices choir. Tony Kempster from the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship brought his guitar and sang along with choir. Jess Hodgkin, a Unitarian, called the group the Right to Refuse to Kill Group (taken from the wording on the Stone), which name the Group accepted and kept. Denis Cobell, one-time President of the NSS, and Bob Russell, Chair of Christian CND, gave considerable support to Robert Ashby. Richenda Barbour from the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom bought the flowers (white carnations) to lay on the stone: as Bill called a CO’s name, a member of those gathered would lay a carnation, bearing the name, on the stone. Pax Christi member, Peggy Attlee, daughter-in-law of Tom Attlee, WWI CO and brother of Clem Attlee, wrote Tom’s biography, “With a Quiet Conscience”. In it, she suggests that the COs of WWI, through their strongly held convictions and the courage needed to uphold them, helped, much later, to change attitudes and actions of people, and governments, around the world towards conscientious objectors.

This may be seen in the experience of George Cox, a WWII CO, who spoke at the 1998 ceremony: “It was a fundamental moral and ethical objection. I had great loyalty to my country but a greater loyalty to humanity as a whole”. (Rather like Tom Paine’s “all men are my brothers”). At his tribunal he was unconconditionally exempted rather than refused outright, as he had feared (which could have led eventually to a prison sentence). He said he had encountered little of the social stigma that others had suffered. “I got the odd joke but no nasty remarks”. (Independent https:// www.independent.co.uk/news/ remembered-those-who-said-no-to-war-1160129.html).

After some time, Robert Ashby moved to another post. Then the RRK Group met at various places – the Unitarian office, the rooms above Housmans Bookshop, finally, BHA offices then in Gower Street.

While the RRK were organising the annual 15 May event around the CO stone, I also thought that, again, like armed forces men and women, COs should also be celebrated throughout the UK, around plaques, trees … I initially contacted Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast. All were keen. Belfast was then in the midst of ‘The Troubles’ and people there thought it might be unsafe at that time. Cardiff held meetings at the Temple of Peace and received a very large grant to do ‘peace things’. However, they were contacted by a PhD student who wanted to do research on COs in Wales. They helped and supported him. Now – mid-2018 – Edinburgh is planning to have a sculptor craft a CO memorial, to be set either on Calton Hill or in Princes Street Gardens.

In the 1990s I also contacted Birmingham, Orpington, Oxford. Orpington did not manage to hold a celebration – the local authority was not keen on the idea. Birmingham held events for some years. Now, about eight towns/cities hold some kind of ceremony.

Further, Goldsmiths College (University of London) wrote a play based upon three CO tribunals, which were held in the old Deptford Town Hall in 1916. This has been made into a film to be taken around the UK. The Peace Museum at Bradford has written a piece based on ‘Oh! What a Lovely War – Resistance!’

There are probably other ideas, thoughts, happenings, which no-one as yet has heard about, but, no doubt, will later. May it continue … !

Gospel nonviolence in action: An end to war?

Crossed Swords. Image by Jules & Jenny, Creative Commons licence  CC BY

Crossed Swords. Image by Jules & Jenny, Creative Commons licence CC BY

What does Gospel nonviolence look like in action? The Fellowship of Reconciliation held a joint conference with the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship looking at this, and included a talk from the Revd David Mumford. Over a series of 14 blogs, some short and some longer, he outlines the different themes and topics covered in his presentation. 

Wars will cease when men (and woman) refuse to fight. True … but only a part of the truth. However, when someone refuses to fight because they are a Christian, sometimes they do not get the support of their fellow Christians. The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FoR) was founded in 1914 at the start of the First World War to provide solidarity and support for those Christians who embraced gospel nonviolence and rejected the way of war and killing. It was followed by other groups such as the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship (started in 1937), whose members signed a pledge to renounce war and all preparations for war. FoR continues to provide support and fellowship – for often still the voice for consistent gospel nonviolence is a lonely one in many Christian congregations. Churches may be opposed to domestic violence, and most are opposed to possessing weapons of mass destruction (including, since July 2018, the Church of England) but, with the exception of the peace churches, they allow Christians to be members of the armed forces and to kill.

This is usually argued in terms of just war theory and that in a sinful world violence is sometimes needed to overcome injustice and oppression. Often even within the church, the argument then veers away from what would Jesus do to a very pragmatic what do we think would work in the real world.

At one level this argument effectively puts the realisation of the Kingdom off until the world to come as it argues that following Jesus really doesn’t work in a sinful world.

At another, it is a profound challenge to Christians committed to gospel nonviolence to discern how best to act. How to respond to situations of injustice and oppression?

One response of Jesus was to suggest ways of acting which encouraged the oppressor to see the other as a fellow human being, worthy of respect. Walter Wink shows how the injunction to turn the other cheek challenges the assailant to respect the other. An open handed right hand slap is for a slave; a backhander for an equal (and you don’t use the left hand…)

Or going the second mile… In occupied Palestine a Roman soldier could commandeer someone to carry his pack for one mile. And as Palestine was a rebellious part of the empire, he could not demand more for risk of riot. But if the person so commandeered started to go the second mile, then the soldier would have to beg him to stop – otherwise the soldier would be subject to severe military discipline for abusing the natives.

These, then, are examples of what Wink called ‘spiritual ju-jitsu’, turning your enemy’s strength against him and finding a way in which evil can be opposed without being mirrored. It has been used, knowingly or unknowingly, in nonviolent campaigns from the first century AD to the present day.

The Conscientious Objectors’ Stone in Tavistock Square – and how it came about

Participants at CO Day 2014. Photo: Dave Pybus/FoR

Participants at CO Day 2014. Photo: Dave Pybus/FoR

This is the last of four blogs by Edna Mathieson telling the story of how the conscientious objectors’ memorial in Tavistock Square, London came about. In the first blog, she told of her early attempts to create a memorial through the Greater London Council (GLC) and how they failed when the GLC was abolished. In the second, she detailed her subsequent, successful, efforts to get support and money for the project. Now she explains how the stone itself came to be. In the third, she explained how the stone itself was created and the first remembrance of COs. Now, she talks about how the memorial service developed and looks to the future. 

In later years Bill Hetherington provided a varied and interesting list of COs from different countries and in different epochs, to be read out; Sue Gilmurray wrote the lyrics and music of several songs, two of which have been sung, with the help of the Raised Voices choir. Tony Kempster from the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship brought his guitar and sang along with choir. Jess Hodgkin, a Unitarian, called the group the Right to Refuse to Kill (RRK) Group (taken from the wording on the Stone), which name the Group accepted and kept. Denis Cobell, one-time President of the NSS, and Bob Russell, Chair of Christian CND, gave considerable support to Robert Ashby. Richenda Barbour from the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom bought the flowers (white carnations) to lay on the stone: as Bill called a CO’s name, a member of those gathered would lay a carnation, bearing the name, on the stone. Pax Christi member, Peggy Attlee, daughter-in-law of Tom Attlee, WWI CO and brother of Clem Attlee, wrote Tom’s biography, “With a Quiet Conscience”. In it, she suggests that the COs of WWI, through their strongly held convictions and the courage needed to uphold them, helped, much later, to change attitudes and actions of people, and governments, around the world towards conscientious objectors.

This may be seen in the experience of George Cox, a WWII CO, who spoke at the 1998 ceremony: “It was a fundamental moral and ethical objection. I had great loyalty to my country but a greater loyalty to humanity as a whole”. (Rather like Tom Paine’s “all men are my brothers”). At his tribunal he was unconconditionally exempted rather than refused outright, as he had feared (which could have led eventually to a prison sentence). He said he had encountered little of the social stigma that others had suffered. “I got the odd joke but no nasty remarks”.

After some time, Robert Ashby moved to another post. Then the RRK Group met at various places – the Unitarian office, the rooms above Housmans Bookshop, finally, BHA offices then in Gower Street.

While the RRK were organising the annual 15 May event around the CO stone, I also thought that, again, like armed forces men and women, COs should also be celebrated throughout the UK, around plaques, trees … I initially contacted Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast. All were keen. Belfast was then in the midst of ‘The Troubles’ and people there thought it might be unsafe at that time. Cardiff held meetings at the Temple of Peace and received a very large grant to do ‘peace things’. However, they were contacted by a PhD student who wanted to do research on COs in Wales. They helped and supported him. Now – mid-2018 – Edinburgh is planning to have a sculptor craft a CO memorial, to be set either on Calton Hill or in Princes Street Gardens.

In the 1990s I also contacted Birmingham, Orpington, Oxford. Orpington did not manage to hold a celebration – the local authority was not keen on the idea. Birmingham held events for some years. Now, about eight towns/cities hold some kind of ceremony.

Further, Goldsmiths College (University of London) wrote a play based upon three CO tribunals, which were held in the old Deptford Town Hall in 1916. This has been made into a film to be taken around the UK. The Peace Museum at Bradford has written a piece based on ‘Oh! What a Lovely War – Resistance!’

There are probably other ideas, thoughts, happenings, which no-one as yet has heard about, but, no doubt, will later. May it continue … !

Aftermath – notes following an Exhibition

The title is an important one. Its origin lies as an agricultural metaphor: the new grass/plants that emerge after mowing or a harvest. Aftermath the exhibition plays on this meaning by asking the question: what plants grow if the land itself has been poisoned by the trauma of war?

The first two rooms, of the compendious 8 in total, leave us in no doubt that this is a poisoned land. Casualties are everywhere, though often not on show. Old boots and helmets stand in for the dead as artists, especially those acting as official War Artists, are restricted as to what they can reveal of the horror and devastation of the front line. In one telling example of such restrictions, Christopher Nevinson’s ‘Paths of Glory’, two men, two dead men, lie face down in mud, surrounded by makeshift and fallen barbed wire fencing. For Nevinson these ‘Paths’ are clearly inglorious, messy, strewn with obstacles and oblivious to heroism, and as such his painting was censored, tape being strapped across the two fallen figures to hide the truth of devastation.

CRW Nevinson's 'Paths of Glory' 1917

Paths of Glory by CRW Nevinson, 1917

The scope of the exhibition isn’t confined to art in a time of war though, choosing also to explore what artists created in response to, and because of, it. The exhibition is large therefore, and not only British artists are featured; curators Emma Chambers and Rose Smith placing French and German artists’ work alongside that of their British contemporaries. The effect is to compound the notion that this was no easy victim-perpetrator, loser-winner scenario. Art, one of the cultural grasses to grow in the Aftermath, had its place in revealing how poisoned the land had become, the trauma that sprouted back, beyond the battlefields. It did also hint of a brighter tomorrow though, a Paul Nash vision of a tree (Wire, 1918-19) in a desolate landscape, ostensibly exploded from within, it’s bark like fountain-spurts turning into the omnipresent barbed wire that encircle and contain it; yet if we look look up, dark clouds seem to be blown back by clearer skies. Renewal is possible, lest we forget.

William Orpen, To the Unknown British Soldier in FRance, 1921-8

To the Unknown British Solider in France by William Orpen, 1921-8

Yet that renewal, the new grass, is conditioned by the old; we need to remember former sacrifice. Shortly after the hostilities concluded discussions began on how to memorialise the war and those who’d died. Two images of this period stood out for me. The first was a painting by William Orpen (To the Unknown British Soldier in France, 1921-28 – above). Orpen, an official War Artist, was brought to Versailles as part of his duties when British and French military command were debating the commemoration of war. Finding himself exasperated in witnessing the ignorance on show he later painted an arresting image of a coffin draped in a Union Jack and topped by a helmet. It rests at the entrance to the famously ostentatious Hall of Mirrors, yet gold, chandeliers, seraphim and filigree are cast in shadow, the only revealing light being that at the far side, in which you can detect the central Christian symbol for suffering: the cross. This critique was astutely accompanied by Frank Owen Salisbury depicting, by royal command, the ‘march-past’ during the burial of the Unknown Soldier on the first Remembrance Day. On initial look it appears to be a pageant showing a conventional celebration, by the ‘great and the good’, of the soldiers who died ‘not in vain’, as heroes. Look again though, and the military figures all look to be cut from the same cloth, sporting very similar moustaches, caps pulled over their eyes, caricatures. Owen, a devout Methodist and pacifist, was he subtly mocking the military ‘top brass’, who look pompous and blind in the face of the sheer numbers of people they sent to be killed?

The second image of note, a bronze sculpture, hung from the ceiling immediately in front of me on entering room 2. It shows a single body, its clothing both falling under gravity and fixed by materiality (The Floating One by Ernst Barlach, 1927 – below). It looked awkward, even ugly, an art nouveau style that I’m not a fan of. I ignored it in favour of other works more stimulating. Later, wandering underneath it, I glanced up, and felt its full force, crushing … a face, that of the artist and friend of Balach’s, Kathe Kollwitz, sweet, eyes closed but bulging, bulging that is with tears … indeed a whole body, bursting with sadness as it flies over the battlegrounds of the 1914-18 war. Kollwitz’s son was killed during the war and the angel is Balach’s response to the ‘vacuum’ of war into which grief has flooded. It’s an angel that has refused to be grounded. The Nazi’s hated and destroyed it, yet after WW2 a cast was discovered and Balach’s angel was able to fly again, reminding us now not of the sufferings of one war but two, this time its shadow cast even longer.

Ernst Balach, Der Schwebende (The Floating One, 1927

Der Schwebende (The Floating One) by Ernst Balach, 1927, cast 1987

In room 3 we move beyond memorialising the war to depicting those wounded in the course of it. Servicemen, faces sliced, blown open and repaired as best as possible, these are sensitively rendered in pastel by Henry Tonks. German war veterans could be treated appallingly, and Otto Dix renders in cartoon, an art form usually associated with caricature and comedy, yet here subverted to reveal how they are treated with cruel ridicule, even dogs urinating on them as they are shown forced to beg for life’s necessities.

Otto Dix, Prostitute and Disabled War Veteran. Two Victims of Capitalism 1923 LWL-Landesmuseu

Prostitute and Disabled War Veteran. Two Victims of Capitalism, by Otto Dix, 1923, LWL-Landesmuseu

We’ve gone from the immensity of the battlefield in which the individual can be lost, to the memorialisation of the those died, those unknown, to specific, individual experiences of the affects of the conflict. ‘Traces of War’ showed how in Germany the ‘print portfolio’ did offer the possibility for art to enter into homes, villages, and towns. Mass-produced, low-cost, unofficial and personal, wider society is often held in question, its morality compromised. This reached an apotheosis, for me, with Kathe Kollwitz’s woodblock prints of the lives of women, their loss of uncle, cousin, grandfather, husband, brother, father, son, and friend exposed in simple black-white contrast, haunting shapes of individual and collective grief.

We then move into the ‘Return to Order’, a room that reveals more colour, light, in which English pastoral scenes and family life begin to show life a little further on from the armistice. A shadow is still cast though: the rural scenes are human-less, family life is scarred with father’s absent from their former selves, withdrawn, even ghostly. We see here too women, in the first years of franchise, living independently. Having learned to work in ways not experienced before and with so many men casualties of the war they shouldered loneliness alongside responsibility, the freedoms of franchise and independent means tempered by loss.

Meredith Frampton's Marguerite Kelsey, 1928

Marguerite Kelsey by Meredith Frampton, 1928

Moving further artists began to imagine the post-war world, depicting social unrest and political upheaval. Men and women became animated in seeking a better world for themselves, and the new politics of mass labour organisation provided a channel for them to change how society was structured. This occurred alongside scenes of how in many ways things returned to normal, divisions of wealth in many ways being exacerbated by the war. There was definitely a desire to enjoy emerging among the population though, and newer musical forms like jazz spread throughout major cities. A tense juxtaposition was portrayed in Gorge Grosz’s image, Grey Day (1921) in which the soldiers left behind by disability haunted the prospering classes.

George Grosz, Grey Day, 1921, copyright the Estate of George Grosz, Princeton, New Jersey, USA

Grey Day by George Grosz, 1921, copyright the Estate of George Grosz, Princeton, New Jersey, USA

Artists also depict how the modern world was changing. Technological developments, that often rapidly innovated during the war, began to be felt in the designs of modern life. Some artists became fascinated by automation and industrial machinery and their worlds are mechanized, more abstract, and even idealised. The impact of this upon human beings is still critiqued though, Alice Lex-Nerlinger’s scepticism revealing a life increasingly subject to factory timetables and the relentless ticking of the clock. In the increasing abstraction sits a haunting image that reflects a very human shadow cast from World War 1. A woman, Jenny, a figure of sadness and anxiety, even trauma, a reminder that recollecting and learning from the past is an optional but essential endeavour if we are not to repeat its mistakes. Aftermath clearly makes the case for such recollection and its message is one we would be fools to neglect.

Rudolf Schlichter, Jenny, 1923, Von der Heydt Museum, Wuppertal.

Jenny by Rudolf Schlichter’s, 1923, Von der Heydt Museum, Wuppertal.

Padmakumara

23rd August 2018

Gospel nonviolence in action: The 20th century

Franz Jägerstätter. Image by Jim Forest Creative Commons licence CC-BY-NC-SA

Franz Jägerstätter. Image by Jim Forest Creative Commons licence CC-BY-NC-SA

What does Gospel nonviolence look like in action? The Fellowship of Reconciliation held a joint conference with the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship looking at this, and included a talk from the Revd David Mumford. Over a series of 14 blogs, some short and some longer, he outlines the different themes and topics covered in his presentation. 

There are many examples of Christian pacifism and other forms of nonviolence in the twentieth century (FoR has gathered many of them together in Nonviolence Works!). Some of the most famous include the Revd Dr Martin Luther King Jr and German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer,

Following in the footsteps of Jesus and the early Christians, are people such as the blessed Franz Jägerstätter who refused to be conscripted into the army. He refused to bear weapons. Although he offered to do unarmed medical work, this offer was refused and he was sentenced to death. He was executed on 9th August 1943 in Brandenburg. In 2007 the Vatican recognised the martyrdom of Franz Jägerstätter. The Austrian bishops conference described him as a martyr of conscience and a witness to the sermon on the mount.