The folly of pacifism
‘I think Hitler will be regarded as one of the great men of our time.”
That was the verdict of career pacifist George Lansbury, president of the British Peace Pledge Union, president of War Resisters’ International and chairman of the No More War Movement. It appears in his 1938 manifesto, “My Quest for Peace.”
No fringe character, Lansbury was the leader of Britain’s Labour Party until his ouster in a 1935 uprising led by the party’s stoutly anti-fascist trade unionists. His ghost was making the rounds in Canada only a few days ago during the Remembrance Day “white poppy” debate.
The CBC’s The Current provided a kind of airing of the arguments with a back-and-forth between the red-poppy Royal Canadian Legion and the white-poppy people who fashion themselves as being, in contrast, you know, against war. The CBC reported: “The white poppy is meant to recall civilian casualties of war and emphasize a commitment to peace that proponents say is missing from traditional Remembrance Day activities.”
Maybe so, but what is most noticeably missing here is that Lansbury’s Peace Pledge Union, which got the whole white poppy fad off the ground in 1934 by marketing the thing as the must-have Armistice Day fashion accessory, was also as fervent an apologist for Nazi terror as any organization at large in the English-speaking world during those grim days.
Even now the PPU probably has the biggest share of the white poppy market in Canada, selling boxes of 100 for the equivalent of $66.22, and in the contemporary “antiwar” polemics about Afghanistan or Iran or Israel or Palestine there is more than an echo of the styles and circumlocutions Lansbury’s white-poppy PPU pioneered.
In its pamphlets and its Peace News newspaper you would learn that what the Nazis were up to was no worse than British imperialism in India. Don’t talk to us about the Anschluss, Austria had it coming. Germany is a put-upon, “have-not” country. The annexation of the Sudetenland? Czechoslovakia deserved it. At least the Nazis were doing something about unemployment.
All of Europe should submit to “German leadership.” The British government should censor the press against anything intended to “irritate the Germans and provoke war fever,” and after war broke out in 1939 Peace News editor John Middleton Murry was telling everyone to just lie down and like it. “Totalitarianism is here to stay,” he wrote. Nazism is a “good thing.” The Jews? What Jews? Germany’s invasion of Norway and Denmark? All Britain’s fault.
The PPU press was “indistinguishable” from the Nazis’ English-language propaganda, the Spanish War partisan, author and journalist George Orwell pointed out in 1942. Orwell usefully diagnosed the enigma of pacifism’s moral incoherence at the time as a “bourgeois illusion bred of money and security.”
Nowadays the same illusion afflicts the elites of the NATO capitals in the matter of Afghanistan…
Read on. Mr Glavin–and many Afghans–are terribly frustrated with, and worried by, Western policy towards the Taliban–and Pakistan.
Mark Collins is a prolific Ottawa blogger
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