Blessed are the peacemakers

Jesus said” Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God“. Matt 5.9

The story of those who actively work for peace is not as well known as the story of those who were involved in military actions in Australia’s history.

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (Australian branch) has a very helpful speech by Professor Marilyn Lake, FAHA, FASSA, Professor in History and ARC Professorial Fellow, The University of Melbourne, and Immediate Past President of the Australian Historical Association  which outlines the lesser-known story of the opposition to World War One and Two in Australia. You can read her speech by clicking the link on the page here.

Professor Lake hopes that the names of women and men involved in the peace movement will : “one day be inscribed on a public memorial, possibly an extension to the peace memorial site, in our national capital; and resolve too that their contribution in bearing witness to the atrocities of war and advancing peace, social justice and human rights will be documented in an exhibition in the National Archives of Australia that will also digitise their names and contributions. This is surely the minimum recognition required in the interests of achieving historical balance and to recognise the distinctive contribution made by women to the achievement of freedom and democracy in our country and across the world”.

Ms Lake recounts the little known story of the large numbers of Australian men in the World War One who did not volunteer: “Joan Beaumont has reminded us in her recent book, Broken Nation. Among eligible men in Australia, nearly 70 per cent chose not to enlist, a fact often forgotten in popular commemoration of the war that assumes the recruits were representative of their generation”. The suggestion that there be a conscription of men into the army was defeated, in some measure due to the vocal opponents of the idea. 

Further Ms Lake says “It is important too that we give public recognition to the history of women’s anti-war activism and challenge the myths that legitimate war as a creative nation-building process, that suggest that our nation was born in war. It was Vida Goldstein who declared: ‘We must oppose war because it is based on fear and hate and lies’. Wars also generate fear and hatred and lies that provoke more violence in turn. We must challenge the dominant official histories circulated in Australian schools with the wisdom and insight of women’s history”.

Pacifism and the Churches

There is a helpful article on the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council website which traces the history of Christian early thoughts on pacifism and war:

“The Australian Peace Council, founded in Melbourne in 1949, was headed by ‘peace parsons’ the Reverends Victor James (Unitarian), A.M. Dickie (Presbyterian) and F.J. Hartley (Methodist), and supported by the Australian Student Christian Movement and University of Melbourne academics such as Jim Cairns, but its status as a branch of the Cominform-inspired World Peace Council condemned it as a communist front. The Victorian Peace Council (VPC) sponsored the Dean of Canterbury to a peace congress in 1950 and provided the springboard for new groups such as Melbourne’s Peace Quest Forum (for clergy only) in 1951, but the CPA did most of the organisational work. VPC condemnation of the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 was a first step towards rehabilitation but the major turning point came with the 1959 Melbourne Congress for International Co-operation and Disarmament (CICD), which attracted over 1000 delegates. The CPA’s influence in the peace movement was now considerably diluted, and the VPC was dissolved in 1962. In May 1960, Australia’s first Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) group was formed in Melbourne. Its young middle-class members espoused civil disobedience and until 1965 held annual Easter marches” . ref:

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) is one of the historic peace churches, with a significant story of opposition to war and the promotion of peace. They have created a Calendar of Non-Violence with a story about a peace activist for each day of the year. Read more here: 

They list the The Six Principles of Nonviolence

  • Principle 1 Nonviolence Is A Way Of Life For Courageous People.
  • Principle 2 Nonviolence Seeks To Win Friendship And Understanding.
  • Principle 3 Nonviolence Seeks To Defeat Injustice Not People.
  • Principle 4 Nonviolence Holds That Suffering Can Educate And Transform.
  • Principle 5 Nonviolence Chooses Love Instead Of Hate.
  • Principle 6 Nonviolence Believes That The Universe Is On The Side Of Justice.

From the IFOR website :

The Moratorium Movement during the Vietnam War

“In the early years of Australian involvement in Vietnam, opposition, even to the policy of sending conscripts to a war zone, was limited. The National Service Scheme did attract opponents as soon as it was introduced, but it was only when the government increased the size of Australia’s commitment to the war in Vietnam in May 1966, making the use of conscripts necessary, that significant public opposition arose.

“National service’s early opponents included the Parliamentary Opposition, religious groups, trade unionists, academics, and young men affected by the scheme. From within this disparate anti-conscription movement groups began to form and organise, some becoming prominent and forming branches across Australia. Among them: Youth Campaign Against Conscription (YCAC) formed in late 1964 and closely aligned to the Australian Labor Party (ALP), and Save Our Sons (SOS) founded in Sydney in 1965 shortly after the government announced an increase of troops to Vietnam.

“The announcement gave the protest movement some momentum, but it built slowly as anti-war groups began working together and learning lessons from similar groups in the United States. By 1969 those who opposed the war had increased in number and become sufficiently well organised to coordinate Australia-wide mass protests, known as the moratorium marches of 1970–71. Involvement in anti-war activities politicised many previously disinterested Australians. Opposition to the war was a radicalising experience for some people such as the middle-class women, members of Save Our Sons, who were arrested during peaceful protests outside national service induction centres. Ref: