360 years’ Quaker commitment to peace: we’re wary of this new VE Day

Andy Thornton and William Heath write:

Fri 8 May 1945 was “Victory in Europe” (VE) Day. This Friday – exceptionally – the early May Bank Holiday is moved to 8 May 2020 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of victory in Europe in the second World War.

The May bank holiday is more usually associated with labour, maypole and traditional celebrations vaguely connected to fertility and regeneration.

Bath Quakers like holidays as much as anyone else. But we have some unease about the framing of VE Day. Quakers utterly rejected war in a declaration 360 years ago, when Friends wrote to Charles II to “utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons”.

According to our book of advice (Advice & Queries #13)

“We are called to live ‘in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars’. Do you faithfully maintain our testimony that war and the preparation for war are inconsistent with the spirit of Christ? Search out whatever in your own way of life may contain the seeds of war. Stand firm in our testimony, even when others commit or prepare to commit acts of violence, yet always remember that they too are children of God.”

Quakers share a fundamental commitment to peace. That makes us anti-militarisation. During war-time conscription, many Quakers were conscientious objectors or ambulance drivers. We respectfully attend Remembrance Day commemorations. But Quakers wear white poppies during Remembrance to honour all those who died, and to express a hope for peaceful resolution of future conflicts.

Quakers oppose arms sales, especially to oppressive regimes, sometimes with non-violent direct action.

So as Quakers we are comfortable celebrating the end of war in Europe 75 years ago (see comment below). We’re happy to relive the optimism that followed the laying down of arms: from seeing surviving families reunited; the national climate that saw the creation of the NHS in the UK; and international work that created the United Nations.

But we’re less inclined to celebrate victory and surrender. Quakers in Britain see in VE day a further example of the Government’s creeping militarisation of the UK, where public events, marches, sponsorship, and school cadet groups are used to further military presence and good public opinion towards military action. We oppose this, as we feel it increases the risk of injustice, suffering and lost lives through war.

So we find ourselves wary of a VE day that might celebrate militarisation and glorify conflict. It seems to us backward-looking to celebrate with fossil-fuel-driven war machinery. It seems petty and anachronistic to see rhetoric that frames German people – a superb, enlightened, friendly, democratic near-neighbouring nation – in terms of antagonistic surrender. It feels wrong to us to remember war in any way that fails to acknowledge the pointlessness as well as the suffering.

We’d rather look forward. VE Day may be a military holiday, but let it be a celebration of peace. Former generals make some of the best pacifists.

We need celebration right now. As we struggle with lockdown, social distanced public celebration and community could help with wellbeing and good will. And peace is something worth celebrating. But let’s not do it in a pro-military manner.

As Bath Quakers we feel that the best way to celebrate VE Day is in a way that is explicitly about peace. So our personal choice is to support the festivities, and in doing so to emphasise peace and anti-militarisation.

  1. Instead of colouring in a red, white and blue Union Jack, make a rainbow one instead! Here’s one we made earlier:

  1. Draw or print out a peace dove and put it up in your window. Or if you’re feeling crafty, try this origami tutorial and make your own little flock of doves!
  2. Paint, draw, stick or make white poppies for your front garden
  3. Make a ‘Celebrating Peace this VE Day!’ sign for your house.
  4. Observing social distancing, chat to your neighbours about militarisation and your own personal beliefs about peace.

For more information, check out Quakers In Britain’s resources on challenging militarisation and Peace, or have a look at the Quaker Peace Testimony. Happy VE Day of Peace! 

 

10 comments

  1. “So as Quakers we are comfortable celebrating the end of World War II”
    VE day is only “Victory in Europe”

    I too am uneasy about it. Have seen “celebrate 75 years of Victory” on a poster. I’ve noted people say we need a bit of fun because of CV19 & lockdown without really thinking about what they are having fun about.

    Like

  2. A thoughtful response to a tricky issue – while we want to bear witness to the suffering and sacrifice which members of our families and communities made nearly a century ago – we want this to be made in a spirit of ongoing peace and celebration of our wider human community. Thank you for putting these reflections so well – leaving space for readers to arrive at their own conclusion which is indeed a very Quakerly approach.
    Lovely ideas for creative engagement too. In F/friendship June

    Like

  3. Rastafari researcher Ras Benji adds this quotation from HIM Haile Selassie I:

    “Above all, from the human mind must be erased all thoughts of War as a solution. Then and then only will War cease. May God grant Us his every aid to speed the final Peace and keep it.”

    Like

  4. War has silently devastated our family long after finishing. Its crippling side effects trickle down the generations, never spoken about. As a society we need a grown up conversation about the impact of war and not just on those who fight. Sadly that doesn’t seem to be the remit of VE. Day. Instead I feel out of kilter for raising my concerns so thank you for your positive ideas on for engaging others.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sorry to hear that, I expect it is the case in many families. My great uncle died in the early 1990s his GP said it was the war that killed him, after his wife died it couldn’t hold it at bay, he had been a prisoner of war in terrible conditions. The use of the word victory is so awful (I’m trying to think of a word and awful is the only one I can come up with). Saw many people saying we just need some fun…

      Like

  5. Carole from Come to Good, Cornwall emails to say:

    Thanks so much to Andy Thornton and William Heath for writing this which
    expresses so much what I feel and more. Have shared. Thanks soooooooo
    much.

    In Friendship

    Like

  6. War has silently devastated our family long after finishing. Its harmful side effects continue down the generations. As a society we need a grown up conversation about it’s impact but sadly that doesn’t seem to be the remit of VE. Day. Instead I feel out of kilter for raising my concerns so thank you for your positive ideas on for engaging others

    Like

  7. So relieved that I wasn’t the only one to feel a distinct dis-ease about the VE Day focus. I challenged a statement on a FB post by the CWGC about men who sacrificed their lives ‘to fight for peace’…By saying that ‘fighting for peace’ was a misnomer, I met with some criticism(for daring to challenge) and some support. On TV that evening I experienced something of a re-run of Remembrance Sunday activity with poppies and state sanctioned militarism…love the idea of a rainbow flag!

    Like

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