A peace movement is a social movement that seeks to achieve ideals such as the ending of a particular war (or all wars), minimize inter-human violence in a particular place or type of situation, often linked to the goal of achieving world peace. Means to achieve these ends usually include advocacy of pacifism, non-violent resistance, diplomacy, boycotts, moral purchasing and demonstrations.

Some people refer to the global loose affiliation of activists and political interests as having a shared purpose and this constituting a single movement, "the peace movement", encompassing "the anti-war movement". Seen this way, the two are often indistinguishable and constitute a loose, reactive and event-driven collaboration between groups with motivations as diverse as humanism, nationalism, environmentalism, anti-racism, feminism, decentralization, ideology, theology, and fear.

Diversity of ideals[]

There is much confusion over what "peace" is (or should be), which results in a plurality of movements seeking diverse ideals of peace. Particularly, "anti-war" movements often have ill-defined goals.

It is often not clear whether a movement or a particular protest is against war in general, as in pacifism, or against one side's participation in a war (but not the other's). Indeed, some observers feel that this unclarity has represented a key part of the propaganda strategy of those seeking victory in, e.g., the Vietnam War.

Global protests against the US invasion of Iraq in early 2003 are an example of a more specific, short term and loosely-affiliated single-issue "movement" —with relatively scattered ideological priorities, ranging from absolutist pacifism to situational anti-unilateralism. Nonetheless, some of those who are involved in several such short term movements and build up trust relationships with others within them, do tend to eventually join more global or long-term movements.

By contrast, some elements of the global peace movement seek to guarantee health security by ending war and assuring what they see as basic human rights including the right of all people to have access to air, water, food, shelter and health care. A large cadre of activists seek social justice in the form of equal protection under the law and equal opportunity under the law for groups that have previously been disenfranchised.

The movement is primarily characterized by a belief that humans should not war on each other or engage in violent ethnic conflicts over language, race or resources or ethical conflict over religion or ideology. Long-term opponents of war preparations are primarily characterized by a belief that military power is not the equivalent of justice.

The movement tends to oppose the proliferation of dangerous technologies and weapons of mass destruction, in particular nuclear weapons and biological warfare. Some, like SIPRI, have voiced special concern that artificial intelligence, molecular engineering, genetics and proteomics have even more vast destructive potential. Thus there is intersection between peace movement elements and Neo-Luddites or primitivism, but also with the more mainstream technology critics such as the Green parties, Greenpeace and the ecology movement they are part of.

It is one of several movements that led to the formation of Green Party political associations in many democratic countries near the end of the 20th century. The peace movement has a very strong influence in some countries' green parties, such as in Germany, perhaps reflecting that country's negative experiences with militarism in the 20th century.

Current events[]

Some believe that as of the Iraq crisis, peace movements could be seen as part of a global effort to cohere "public opinion as a superpower" to compete with perceived U.S. unilateralism.

Peace movements are also generally thought to have benefited from the rise of Internet communication and coordination, the so-called smart mob technology.

It has also been suggested that such efforts as Indymedia and Wikipedia play a role in coordinating this public opinion, e.g. compiling lists of alleged effects of invading Iraq, providing neutral views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, of Islamist activity, varying views of ethics and of politics, and providing a quick check on biased views of history.

Detailed history by region[]

These histories will begin with the countries that suffered during World War II, and which effectively began the postwar period in a submitted position, and wrote peace into their constitutions. They will then deal with the English-speaking world and the arguments more familiar to the English speaking reader, which intersect with current events most strongly, and are the current focus of the peace movement worldwide.


Such Green parties and related political associations were formed in many democratic countries near the end of the 20th century. The peace movement has a very strong influence in some countries' green parties, such as in Germany. These can sometimes exercise decisive influence over policy, e.g. as during 2002 when the German Greens influenced German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, via their control of the German Foreign Ministry under Joschka Fischer (a Green and the single most popular politician in Germany at the time), to limit his involvement in the War on Terrorism and eventually to unite with French President Jacques Chirac whose opposition in the UN Security Council was decisive in limiting support for the U.S. plan to invade Iraq.


The mainstream peace movement in Israel is Peace Now (Shalom Achsahv in Hebrew), whose supporters tend to vote for the Israeli Labor party, Meretz and Shinui.

Peace Now was founded in the aftermath of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem, when many people felt that the chance for peace might be missed. PM Begin acknowledged that the Peace Now rally in Tel-Aviv at the eve of his departure for the Camp David Summit with Presidents Sadat and Carter – drawing a crowd of 100,000, the largest peace rally in Israel till then – had a part in his decision to withdraw from Sinai and dismantle Israeli settlements there. Peace Now for a time supported Begin and hailed him as a peace-maker, but turned against him when withdrawal from Sinai was accompanied by an accelerated campaign of land confiscation and settlement building on the West Bank.

This was followed by the June 1982 invasion of Lebanon, under the Orwellian name “Operation Peace for Galillee”. In the first weeks of the invasion Peace Now kept silent under the doctrine of "no political protests during wartime". However, more radical peace groups united into The Committee Against The Lebanon War and held increasingly large protests, which drew many Peace Now grassroots activists. Also, Peace Now members who had been drafted called the movement leadership from the Lebanon front line, giving eye-witness testimonies on the lies of government propaganda on the conduct of the war.

This made Peace Now change its position and launch an intensive campaign against the war. Peace Now remained, however, opposed to soldiers refusing military orders and specifically the order to be deployed to Lebanon - a campaign organized by the Yesh Gvul Movement (the name in Hebrew means both “There is a Border” and “There is a Limit”) which signed up some 2000 reservists who declared their refusal to go to Lebanon, 200 of who actually served prison terms. Also during the first Intifada (Palestinian Uprising) of 1987-1993 and the Second Intifada (which began on October 2000 and may or may not have ended – opinions are divided) the issue of refusing military orders remained one of the main issues dividing Peace Now from the more radical movements and groups to its left.

The Sabra and Shatila massacre in September 1982 precipitated an unprecedented week of protest demonstrations throughout Israel, dozens of demonstrators being dispersed with tear gas and hauled to detention in Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem. It culminated with Peace Now's "400,000 rally" in Tel-Aviv, the largest gathering of any kind in Israel’s history up to then, which led to the establishment of the Kahan Judicial Commission of Inquiry whose half a year of deliberations led to the impeachement of Defence Minister Ariel Sharon for indirect responsibility for the massacre.

As described in the commission’s report, the actual killing of at least 400 Palestinian civilians (some estimates put it as high as 2000) was perpetrated by the Christian-Lebanese Phalanges. This militia was at the time armed and trained by the Israeli army, and its armed members were introduced by Sharon into the Sabra and Shartila Palestinian refugee camps at Beirut which were surrounded on all sides by Israeli forces, and whose own inhabitants had been disarmed by Israel shortly before. Sharon took this decision while knowing that the Phalangists deeply hated Palestinians and had a long record of massacring Palestinian civilians whenever they got the opportunity.

In February 1983 the Kahan Commission published its report, calling for Sharon’s removal from the Defence Ministry, but Sharon refused to comply, claiming the report was no more than a “non-binding recommendation". A Peace Now march in Jeruslaem, calling for Sharon’s , resignation, was brutally assaulted by extreme-right mobs, culminating with the throwing of a grenade, killing Peace Now activist Emil Grunzweig – a reserve army officer recently returned from Lebanon – and severely wounding five others. (Only then did Sharon resign and his political career went into a long eclipse (from which he emerged twenty years later to be elected Prime Minister in January 2001).

At the same period the government also announced the official end of the Peace for Galilee operation or war (the name never really caught on among the general public). In fact, however, Israeli occupation in Lebanon lingered on for another eighteen years, costing thousands of Israeli, Lebanese and Palestinian lives, until the soldiers were finally evacuated in May 2000 – due especially to the highly effective campaign of the Four Mothers movement (launched in 1997 by four mothers of soldiers serving in Lebanon).

Peace Now also advocates a negotiated peace with the Palestinians Originally this was worded vaguely, with no definition of who “the Palestinians” are and who represents them. Peace Now was quite tardy in joining the dialogue with the PLO, started by such groups as the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace and the Hadash Communists. Only in 1988 did Peace Now accept that the PLO is the body regarded by the Palestinians themselves as their representative.

During the first Intifada Peace Now held numerous protests and rallies to protest the army's cruelty and call for a negotiated withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. At the time Peace Now strongly targeted then for Defence Minister Yitzchak Rabin for his infamous order to “break the bones of Palestinian trouble-makers.” However, after Rabin became Prime Minster, signed the Oslo Agreement and shook Yasser Arafat’s hand on the White House lawn, Peace Now strongly supported him and mobilized public support for him against the settlers’ increasingly vicious attacks. Peace Now had a central role in the Novemeber 4, 2005 rally at whose end PM was shot down by the assassin Yigal Amir, an extreme-right miltant.

Since then the annual Rabin Memorial Rallies, held every year at the beginning of November, have become the main event of the Israeli Peace Movement, always certain to draw a crowd in the tens or hundreds of thousands. While officially organized by the Rabin Family Foundation, Peace Now presence in these annual rallies is always conspicuous.

Nowadays, Peace Now is especially known for its relentless struggle against the expansion of illegal “settlement outposts on the West Bank. Dror Etkes, the head of Peace Now’s Settlement Watch, is highly regarded for his meticulous work and on one recent occasion was invited to testify before a US Congressional committee at Washington, D.C.

Gush Shalom, the Israeli Peace Bloc, takes pride in being a radical movement to the left of Peace Now, and strongly rebuts the slurs of those who thereby dispute its right to be classified as a peace movement.

In its present name and structure, Gush Shalom grew out of the Jewish-Arab Committee Against Deportations, which protested the deportation without trial of 415 Palestinian Islamic activists to Lebanon in December 1992, and erected a protest tent in front of the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem for two months – until the government consented to let the deportees return.

Members then decided to continue as a general peace movement with a program strongly opposing the occupation and advocating the creation of an independent Palestine side-by-side with Israel in its pre-1967 borders (“The Green Line”) and with an undivided Jerusalem serving as the capital of both states.

Members of Gush Shalom are motivated by moral outrage and the feeling that it is the duty of a decent person to oppose wrongdoing in general and the wrongs perpetrated by his or her own country in particular. They are also, however, motivated by what may be called enlightened self interest – the recognition that at present Israel’s existence relies on the state’s military superiority in the Middle East, on its alliance with the United States, and on US’s hegemony in the world. None of these factors is guaranteed to last forever, and in fact history shows that no alliance and no military superiority lasts without an end. Therefore, Israel’s long-term survival depends upon being accepted by its neighbours – first and foremost, by the Palestinians – as a legitimate part of the Middle East.

While existing under the name Gush Shalom only since 1992, this movement is in fact the lineal descendant of various groups, movements and action committees which espoused the much same program out of the same motivation at least since 1967, and which occupied the same space on the political scene. In particular, Gush Shalom is the descendant of the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace (ICIPP) which was founded in 1975.

The ICIPP founders included a group of dissidents coming out the Israeli establishment, among them were Major-General Mattityahu (Matti) Peled who was member of the IDF General Staff during the 1967 Six Day War and after being dishcarged from the army in 1969 turned increasingly in the direction of peace; Dr. Ya’akov Arnon, a well-known economist who headed the Zionist Federation in Holland before coming to Israel in 1948, and was for many years Director-General of the Israeli Ministry of Finance and afterwards chaired the Board of Directors of the Israeli Electricity Company; and Aryeh (“Lova”) Eliav who was Secretary-General of the Israeli Labour Party until he broke with the then PM Golda Meir over the issue of whether or not a Palestinian People existed and had national rights.

These three and some two hundred more people who had essentially come out of the Israeli establishment, become radicalised and come to the conclusion that the arrogance of power was a threat to Israel’s future and that dialogue with the Palestinians must be opened. They came together with a group of younger, grassroots peace activists who had been active against the occupation since 1967. The bridge between the two groups was Uri Avneri, a well known mud-raking journalist who had been member of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) between 1965 and 1973, at the head of his own radical one-man party.

The main achievement of the ICIPP was the opening of dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization PLO, with the aim of making Israelis understand the need of talking and reaching a peace deal with "The Palestinian terrorists”, and conversely making Palestinians aware of the need to talk to and eventually reach a deal with “The Zionist Enemy”.

It was far from easy. Two of the ICIPP's Palestinian interlocutors, Sa’id Hamami and Imad Sartawi, were assassinated by Palestinian militant groups which considered them traitors – which did not deter other Palestinians from taking the murdered men’s place and continuing the dialogue. The Israeli participants received countless death threats, and some efforts were made to implement such threats. On one occasion Avnery was stabbed and spent a week in intensive care – which did not deter him from setting out to meet Yasser Arafat in 1982 besieged Beirut, the act of crossing and recrossing the front line involving considerable risk.

Between 1986 and 1993 the very act of an Israeli citizen meeting with a member of the PLO was an offence under Israeli law, carrying a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment. Members of the ICIPP and of other groups, such as the Hadash Communists, were actively involved in meetings with the PLO held in defiance of that law, the first one being held at November 1986 at the Romanian Black Sea resort of Costinesti. A total of some fifteen activists had been charged under what came to be known as “The Anti-Peace Law”. Two of them served a half-year prison term each - the well-known philantropist Abie Nathan who for many years operated the “pirate” Voice of Peace Radio from a ship off the Tel-Aviv shore, and Jerusalem activist David Ish Shalom. The two were accompanied to the prison gates by large crowds of supporters. At the time the prohibition on meeting with the PLO was abolished in early 1993, various other judicial proceedings were still going on against other activists.

After the signing of the Oslo Agreements in September 1993, meetings with the PLO became not only legal but official government policy. Members of Gush Shalom (into which the ICIPP merged) who came to meet Yasser Arafat found themselves rubbing shoulders with senior Israeli government officials.

However, after the collapse of the Camp David Summit in August 2000 and the outbreak of the Second Intifada, a concerted and quite successful campaign was launched to “re-dmonise” the Palestinians, the PLO and particularly Yasser Arafat. Members of Gush Shalom persisted in meeting with Arafat also when Peace Now and other mainstream groups shied away from such meetings, and when Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah came under Israeli army siege and entry became difficult and risky.

On two occasions – in May 2002 and again in September 2003 – the Sharon Government was known to be deliberating the sending in of commandos and the capture or killing of Arafat (which amounted to the same thing, since the Paledstinian leader announced he would not be taken alive). On both occasions, a group of about 15 Gush Shalom activists headed by Uri Avnery strayed the night at the Ramallah Presidential Compound and announced their presence to the media. According to Sharon aides, the presence of Israeli citizens and the complications it may cause were a factor in cancelling the intended raids. Gush Shalom activists feel that by so doing they have saved the lives of dozens and possibly hundreds of Israelis, who might have been killed in an outburst of Palestinian rage at the killing of Arafat.

In 1995 Gush Shalom launched a campaign under the title "Our Jerusalem – Capital of Two States", jointly with the late Feisal Husseini, leader of the East Jerusalem Palestinians. The petition, signed by more than a thousand prominent Israelis and Palestinians, did quite a bit to make this once taboo idea acceptable to a broad part of the Israeli public (49% by the latest opinion poll) – though Gush Shalom Certainly does not claim the whole credit for this development.

Another Gush Shalom campaign involves the boycott of settlement products, with a detailed list of industrial and agricultural products maintained on the Gush Shalom website, with the public in Israel and abroad called upon not to consume such products – since the proceeds go to strengthen the settlements which are the main obstacle to peace in the Middle East.

Unlike Peace Now, Gush Shalom persistently supports Conscientious Objectetors and those who refuse to render military service to the occupation – in particular the five youngsters Haggai Matar, Matan Kaminer, Shimri Tzameret, Adam Ma’or and Noam Bahat, who were court-martialed in 2002 and spent two years behind bars.

Gush Spokesperson Adam Keller himself was court-martialled back in 1988, for daubing graffiti on 117 army tanks (as well as in the officers' toilet and various other locations at Tze’elim Camp in the Negev) while on reserve military duty, the inscription in all places consisting of the words: “Soldiers of the Israeli Defence Forces, refuse to be occupiers and oppressors! Refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories!”. For that, Keller was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment plus demotion from corporal to private. Afterwards, he was diagnosed by an army psychiatrist as “mentally unfit to military service” and given what the army considers a dishonourable discharge and Keller himself considers a highly honourable one.

At present, Gush Shalom activists are mainly involved in daily struggle at Palestinian West bank villages which have their land confiscated by the so-called "Separation Wall”, erected ostensibly to stop suicide bombers and actually to implement the de-facto annexation of considerable tracts of land to Israel and make them available for settlement expansion. Gush activists are to be found, together with those of other Israeli movements like Ta’ayush and Anarchists Against the Wall, joining the Palestinian villagers of Bil’in in the weekly non-violent protest marches held to protest confiscation of more than half of the village lands. Uri Avnery, who was born in 1923, shows more energy in such events than many people half his age.


Canada has a diverse peace movement, with coalitions and networks in many cities, towns and regions.

The Toronto Coalition to Stop the War is one of many, and has launched the online War Free Radio.

The ACTivist Magazine is dedicated to advancing the art of activism globally is published in Canada quarterly by ACT for Disarmament. The ACTivist started as a newsletter of the "Against Cruise Testing" (ACT) coalition in 1984. ACT went on to form "ACT for Disarmament", an organization which called for demilitarization around the world. As the movement grew, the newsletter expanded to become a newspaper for "Peace, Ecology & Human Rights". The newspaper continued until 1998 when it switched to its current magazine format.

The Canadian Peace Congress (1949-1990) was a leading organizer in the peace movement for many years, particularly when it was under the leadership of James Gareth Endicott who was its president until 1971.

United Kingdom[]

The National Peace Council was founded in 1908 after the 17th Universal Peace Congress in London (July August 1908). It brought together representatives of a considerable number of national voluntary organisations with a common interest in peace, disarmament and international and race relations. The primary function of the NPC was to provide opportunities for consultation and joint activities between its affiliated members, to help create an informed public opinion on the issues of the day and to convey to the government of the day the views of the substantial section of British life represented by its affiliated membership. The NPC folded in 2000 to be replaced in 2001 by Network for Peace, which was set up to continue the networking role of NPC.

Post-WWII peace movement efforts in the United Kingdom were initially focused on the dissolution of the British Empire and the rejection of imperialism by the United States and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The anti-nuclear movement sought to "opt out" of the Cold War (see below under U.S.) and rejected such ideas as "Britain's Little Independent Nuclear Deterrent" in part on the grounds that it (BLIND) was in contradiction even with MAD (see below). It was usually associated with CND and in later years, with the Peace camp movement as Labour moved "more to the centre" under Prime Minister Tony Blair.

By early 2003, the peace movement, mostly grouped together under the banner of the Stop the War Coalition, was powerful enough to cause several of Blair's cabinet to resign, and hundreds of Labour Party MPs to vote against their government. Blair's motion to support militarily the U.S. plan to invade Iraq continued only due to support from the UK Conservative Party. Protests against the invasion of Iraq were particularly vocal in Britain. Polls suggested that without UN Security Council approval, the UK public was very much opposed to involvement, and over two million people protested in Hyde Park (the previous largest demonstration in the UK having had around 600,000).

United States of America[]


Although there was substantial organized resistance to foreign wars in the U.S. since the nation's origins (see the Anti-Imperialist League and Henry David Thoreau's Civil Disobedience), this was often simply an outgrowth of isolationism or religious pacifism, and not in general a coherent mass movement with unified goals until after World War II. These movements were dismissed by most in U.S. foreign policy circles as impractical as the country entered the Cold War era (c. 1948-1990). Some peace groups, such as the United World Federalists, hoped to secure world peace through integrated world government.

The Cold War: The Forties and Fifties[]

With Cold War tensions rising, the Progressive Party became a home for the peace movement. Like the American Peace Mobilization before the war, they were accused of harboring communist sympathies. In the election campaign of 1948, the Progressive Party supported appeasement of the Soviet Union and a ban on nuclear weapons. They opposed the Berlin airlift and the Marshall Plan. They received over one million popular votes but no electoral votes.

There was a relatively small amount of domestic protest relevant to the Cold War in the 1950s, which saw a large buildup of both nuclear and conventional weapons in both the United States and its adversary, the Soviet Union. The lack of protest was in part due to McCarthyism and general disdain for those who did not view communist expansion as a threat. It was during this time that the Eisenhower administration developed the policy of Mutual Assured Destruction, in which both the U.S. and the USSR held enough nuclear weapons to obliterate each other should they become embroiled in nuclear war. According to this notion, the two superpowers' possession of nuclear weapons was viewed as a deterrent that would prevent any such war from taking place. MAD also became a central doctrine to the U.S.'s foreign policy of containing Communism.

One may reasonably date the open explicit and public resistance to this process to the departing comments of U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1960) who warned that the United States was in peril of being politically dominated by a military-industrial complex. Shortly into the Kennedy era, the world experienced white-knuckled nuclear brinksmanship during the Cuban Missile Crisis (October 1962). To the delight of anti-militarism activists and the relief of ordinary citizens worldwide, a test ban treaty and nuclear arms control talks ensued soon after.

The Vietnam Era: 1962-1975[]

The peace movement in the 1960s in the United States sought to bring an end to the Vietnam War. Some factions within this movement advocated a unilateral withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam. One reason given for the withdrawal is that it would contribute to a lessening of tensions in the region and thus less human bloodshed. Another, contrasting reason was that the Vietnamese should work out their problems independent of foreign influence.

Opposition to the Vietnam War tended to unite groups opposed to U.S. anti-communism, imperialism and colonialism and, for those involved with the New Left, capitalism itself.

Some critics of U.S. withdrawal predicted that it would not contribute to peace but rather vastly increased bloodshed. These critics advocated U.S. forces remain until all threats from the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army had been eliminated.

Advocates of U.S. withdrawal were generally known as "doves", and they called their opponents "hawks", following nomenclature dating back to the War of 1812. The imagery was intended to present the withdrawal advocates as peace-seeking and the withdrawal opponents as bad and predatory. The idea of a chickenhawk refers back to this time, to describe those who had avoided dangerous military service before they entered politics, but then advocated aggressive stances once in office.

High-profile opposition to the Vietnam war turned to street protests in an effort to turn U.S. political opinion against the war. The protests gained momentum from the Civil Rights Movement that had organized to oppose segregation laws, which had laid a foundation of theory and infrastructure on which the anti-war movement grew. Protests were fueled by a growing network of independently published newspapers (known as "underground papers") and the timely advent of large venue rock'n'roll festivals such as Woodstock and Grateful Dead shows, attracting younger people in search of generational togetherness.

The fatal shooting of four anti-war protesters at Kent State University cemented the resolve of many protesters. The Kent State killings saw campuses erupt all across the country; in May 1970 most universities were strike-bound. In a book on those days, the takeover of Wayne State University by students who were enraged by the Kent State shootings is described in this excerpt. The late 1960s in the U.S. became a time of youth rebellion, mass gatherings and riots, many of which began in response to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but which ignited in an atmosphere of open opposition to a wartime government.

Provocative actions by police and by protesters turned anti-war demonstrations in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic National Convention into a riot. Explosive news reports of American military abuses, such as the 1968 My Lai Massacre, brought new attention and support to the anti-war movement.

Veterans of the Vietnam War returned home to join the movement, including John Kerry, who spearheaded Vietnam Veterans Against the War and testified before Congress in televised hearings. Thirty years later, as a United States Senator, Kerry campaigned to become President of the United States, betraying a newfound reluctance to acknowledge his anti-war roots while playing up his stellar war record. Other U.S. veterans returned from the war saying that nobody wants to be in a war where people are suffering and dying, but that they found peace in their own minds by knowing they served their country. Some cited the words of George Washington's 1790 State of the Union Address: "To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace."

Anti-war protests ended with the final withdrawal of troops after the Paris Peace Accords were signed in 1973. Momentum from the protest organizations became a main force for the growth of an environmental movement in the United States. South Vietnam was left to defend itself alone when the fighting resumed. There was no peace movement to protest the renewed bloodshed, and Saigon surrendered to the North in 1975; Laos and Cambodia were overrun by communist troops that same spring.

The Eighties and Nineties[]

During the 1980s U.S. peace activists largely concentrated on slowing the superpower arms race and reducing the possibility of nuclear war between the U.S. and the USSR. As the Reagan Administration accelerated military spending and adopted a tough, challenging stance to the Russians, peace groups such as the Nuclear Freeze and Beyond War sought to educate the public on the riskiness and ruinous cost of this policy. Outreach to individual citizens in the Soviet Union and mass meetings using then-new satellite link technology, were part of peacemaking activities in the 1980s.

In response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, President George H.W. Bush began preparations for a mideast war. Peace activists were starting to find their groove just before the Gulf War was launched in February 1991, with well-attended rallies, especially on the west coast. However, the ground war was over in less than a week. A lopsided Allied victory and a media-incited wave of patriotic sentiment washed over the protest movement before it could develop traction.

The 1990s began with the Gulf War and the collapse of the Soviet Union (November 1991), removing one of the main focuses of peace activism. The U.S. government of Bill Clinton adopted a more conciliatory tone and presided over a decade of perceived peace and prosperity — one in which corporate rule quietly advanced. Peacemakers' priorities during the Nineties included seeking a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian impasse, belated efforts at humanitarian assistance to war-torn regions such as Bosnia and Rwanda, and mitigating the harm caused by U.N. sanctions on Iraq. These sanctions — in effect from 1990 to 2003 — led to the deaths of some 500,000 children from fully preventable causes, including common infections and malnutrition; American peace activists brought medicine into Iraq in defiance of U.S. law, in some cases enduring heavy fines and imprisonment in retaliation. Some of the principal groups involved were Voices in the Wilderness and the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

Many peace activists turned their attention to issues of globalization, an insidious and ubiquitous form of economic imperialism. These efforts culminated in the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle, Washington, where 40,000 activists shut down the conference in a sometimes tumultuous confrontation with police.

The Iraq War[]

Before, during, and after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, anti-war activists protested globally. (see also Protests against the 2003 Iraq war, The World Says No to War [1]) Protests as large as half a million filled the streets of American cities just before the invasion was launched in March 2003; but intensive initimidation, infiltration, and police harassment discouraged the movement as soon as war began. The movement has regrouped as one disaster after another has confronted the American military occupation.

Now as the war enters its fourth year, U.S. activist groups including CODEPINK for Peace, Military Families Speak Out (MFSO), Not In Our Name, Veterans for Peace, ANSWER and World Can't Wait continue to protest against the protracted U.S. occupation of Iraq (see External Links, below, for links to these peace groups' websites). Protest modalities include, but are not limited to, staging a war-crimes tribunal in New York to investigate abuses in the "War on Terror"; bringing Iraqi women to tour the U.S. and tell their side of the story; street theater and independent filmmaking to tell the truth about the bogged-down war effort; high-profile appearances by straight-talking insiders such as Scott Ritter, Janis Karpinski, and Dahr Jamail; resisting military recruiting on campus; withholding tax moneys; mass letter-writing to legislators and newspapers; presenting fact and opinion through blogs; and old-fashionied mass rallies and protest marches, often embracing colorful political art, irreverent music (see the Raging Grannies), and guerrilla theater. Independent media producers continue to broadcast, podcast and Web-host programs about the anti-war and anti-Bush movements, partially filling the void left by the highly selective presentation of news in the U.S. corporate media. Risking imprisonment and character assassination in a bitterly repressive political environment, today's peace and justice activists stand courageously against a corporate state dominated by a military-industrial machine which has largely escaped regulatory and constitutional controls.


Created to counter Communist expansionism, the U.S. defense industry — bolstered by might-makes-right ideologues in government — threatens to run amok in a single-superpower world. The battle for American public opinion waged by today's peace activists thus becomes a vital factor in determining the fate of the world. At this writing (March 2006) over 60% of Americans polled have swung against the war, while 72% of American soldiers serving in Iraq favor a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces by year's end (89% of Guardsmen and reservists polled endorsed this solution). (Source: Zogby Poll, 2/28/06) But with continuing turmoil in Iraq and the president's obstinate refusal to bend to public opinion, such a withdrawal seems unlikely at the moment.

See also[]

  • American Friends Service Committee
  • Anti-war
  • Atoms for Peace Award
  • Christian Peacemaker Teams
  • Conscientious objector
  • Conscientious objection throughout the world
  • Militarism
  • Mohandas Gandhi
  • Nobel Peace Prize
  • Peace
  • Peace symbol
  • Peace Action
  • War Resisters League
  • White Rose
  • World peace
  • John Runnings

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