War is learned… it is a social invention like writing or marriage, and should be viewed as distinct from interpersonal violence and aggression, which have evolutionary/biological roots. At certain times societies believe that their history proposes that war is the right response to a particular set of circumstances. It seems to follow that if we can change that perception of tradition, the likelihood of war would be diminished.
~ Christopher Williams and Yun-Joo LeeCanadian Quakers, like so many others in Canada and around the world, do not see war as a cause for celebration.
From 2014-2018 much attention will be placed on commemorating World War I and World War II. Friends from across Canada are gearing up to host events in remembrance of the horrific and avoidable tragedies that these wars were. We seek to respect the lives of all that were lost due to war, as well as those who conscientiously objected to participating in these wars, and all those who worked for peace in a myriad of ways prior to, during, and following them.
Canadian Friends Service Committee believes that these anniversaries should be taken up by faith groups, the public, the media, and various levels of government in Canada as an opportunity to ask questions that address root causes of war. We must establish a culture of peace and ensure genuine investment in the on-going work that peace requires. Here are just a few of the queries we think Canadians should be reflecting on in the process of commemorating war:
- How does the way we commemorate a war fit with our values as Canadians?
- In our remembrance, whose efforts receive attention and whose are forgotten or minimized?
- Who benefits from war and who suffers?
- In 2014, is Canada a country that understands and prioritizes “just peace“?
- How are young Canadians taught the skills they need to respond to conflict nonviolently?
- How have the conditions of the world changed today to make wars different from WWI and WWII?
- How should this affect our approaches to war?
- How has Canada’s treatment of Conscientious Objectors to war changed since WWI?
- What do Canadian government expenditures show us about how we value and prioritize peace and war?
- As we commemorate war, what lessons have we learned from WWI, WWII, or more recent wars like Afghanistan?
We invite Meetings from across Canada to share their thoughts, research, articles, letters to local news outlets, and events being planned. We will post information as it comes in and hope that together, we may continue to work for a peaceful and just world.
Further resources on the commemoration of war
The Summer 2014 issue of Quaker Concern has an interview with Canadian Friend and historian Jo Vellacott about WWI, militarism and pacifism.
The White Feather Diaries – a project of British Friends sharing the diaries of those who opposed WWI.
An overview of periodicals from WWI that are in the library at Friends House in London, England (this post includes an interesting look inside many of these publications).
Northern Friends Peace Board (a British Quaker Agency) will be posting information and resources on their website.
Lest we forget (PDF) – a statement by Friends in Aotearoa New Zealand on the commemoration of WWI.
Project Ploughshares (of which Canadian Yearly Meeting is a member) published an article in their Winter 2014 Ploughshares Monitor WW1 and the struggle for democracy in Canada which recasts the story of WW1 and the “birth of a nation”.
PeaceQuest is a hub which shares resources and operates with the support of groups from across Canada, including Friends. Find upcoming PeaceQuest events.
Canadian Peace Congress is engaged in activities around the commemoration of WWI.
War Resisters International has created a page with listings of upcoming WWI related events from around the world.
The story of Canadian Quaker Conscientious Objector to WWI, Thomas George Mabley (PDF) (from the excellent book Crisis of Conscience: Conscientious Objection in Canada during the First World War by Amy J. Shaw)
The template of a white poppy (PDF) you can print and wear.
CFSC resources on peace.
Of historical interest – Friends from Coldstream Monthly Meeting wrote this short pamphlet (PDF) during World War I (1916), calling on Canada to establish a body similar to the United Nations – a “worldwide federation” with a mandate of promoting international cooperation, disarmament, and peace.
The pamphlet urges, “Now is the time to forestall the next war. Now is the time for wise and far-reaching preventive measures.” If only this call had been headed! While much of the language in the pamphlet is very different from what we would use today, many of the ideas about justice and peace are similar to ones Canadian Quakers still hold (see some modern statements from Canadian Yearly Meeting).
Halifax Monthly Meeting used the occassion of its 50th anniversary to highlight its role in supporting war resisters and bringing an end to the Vietnam war. Read a one page summary (PDF) with a link to 8 minutes of audio from the event, recorded by CBC radio.
Over one hundred years ago, Mary Russell Chesley (1847-1923), pioneer suffragist in Nova Scotia and early advocate for peace and arbitration, gave passionate and articulate voice to her opposition of war and militarism. Her words are as relevant today as they were in the early 1900s and she deserves to be reclaimed as a meaningful contributor to the history of peace activism in Canada. Listen to Sharon MacDonald (Halifax Monthly Meeting) discuss Mary Russell Chesley.