“I disagree with passivity as much as I disagree with war”
Symon Hill, fresh from offering a centenary perspective on the First World War to Bath Sixth-formers, confronted stereotypes and demolished myths when he spoke to peace activists at our Meeting House on 15th November. His anti-war stance should not be mis-interpreted as lack of respect for war service: his great-grandfather served bravely and was decorated for it, and the family honours his memory – though they know that a decade later, he was forced to pawn his five military service medals to buy food for his family.
World War I did not create a ‘land fit for heroes’ as David Lloyd George claimed, nor was it, as H G Wells hoped, a War to end all War. Even when it was supposed to have ended, Symon told us, the war was prolonged beyond the Armistice, leading to thousands of additional German civilian casualties. It was a deliberate strategy to force Germany to accept a harsh settlement as retribution for its role in the war. Back home unemployment led to protests, mutinies, strikes and (briefly) martial law to enforce public order. For Symon those two aspects of the aftermath of WWI exemplify his central argument: violence carries in it the seeds of more violence: desirable or even noble ends can never justify violent means.
Asked about the prospects for settling contemporary conflict by non-violent methods, Symon Hill was upbeat: people do not accept their leaders’ glib assertions that ‘we’ are under threat and that ‘we’ need more and more deadly weapons. ‘We’ never do: only our leaders, fearful of losing power, think this. PPU builds bridges across nation-state divisions, educates, trains and informs, offsetting the pressure to re-arm and characterise others as a threat. Pacifism, he said, is never passive: it is a refusal to be brow-beaten into doing what you are told if you believe that it is wrong.
“Pacifism is not doing what you are told”: Symon Hill, Co-ordinator of the Peace Pledge Union, at Bath Friends Meeting House