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Bruce Kent: As I please

The point of peacemaking is to change minds, argues Bruce Kent

I’ve never before heard of a paper called The Weekly Dispatch but it was clearly doing well in 1917. In September that year it published a furious piece headed ‘Traitors in the Parks’.

It was all about the anti-war rallies being held in Finsbury Park and Hyde Park – ‘long haired strapping youths... using language about Cabinet ministers which horrified all decent people’.

It got much stronger in the next edition. ‘Sedition mongers and their dupes – insidious behaviour of the traitors’. This was all about the anti- war rallies held in both parks. They were often broken up by ‘patriotic’ gangs.

I’ve haven’t had to put up with anything like that and don’t usually go out of my way to insult or annoy.

I was once threatened by a gang in some Medway town but the police arrived in strength, marched me out of a back door, across a cemetery and down to the station.

There they waited until they could put me on a train and on my way out of town.

I’ve got things to thank the police for!

However the point of peace making is not to annoy (though that may be the result) but to change minds.

Unaccidental ignorance

I’m sure that the major problem we face is massive public ignorance, itself no accident.

We have had a referendum about our membership of the European Union about which too many people know almost nothing .

Often not even the name of whoever is meant to represent them in Strasbourg/Brussels.

Ignorance makes indignation easy to stimulate. I remember a Conservative group called the ‘Coalition for Peace through Security’. One or two of its members are now senior parliamentarians.

CND they ridiculed as a bunch of ‘Communists, Neutralists and Defeatists’. When the mud of ignorance gets thrown, some sticks.

Our job is not just to say how right we are but rather to help people to see that there are good reasons for not swallowing the official line on many matters

I’ve just returned from a large London anti-racist demo where I quoted directly from the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights: ‘Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.’

It might have been useful if that had been quoted during the Calais Camp disgrace. But who has ever seen a copy of that Declaration or even of the United Nations Charter itself? You can still get a copy. They are available – from the UN office in Brussels!

How many even know that the first aim of the UN, according to its charter, is ‘to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’?

Public ignorance did not of course start in 1945 or 1948. I’ve got a lovely A3 colour poster issued by the Bristol Sunday Schools for a demonstration in 1931.

It is headed ‘The Nations Have Renounced War. Let them renounce the Instruments of War.’ The picture shows lots of children from many nations marching for ‘Peace and Prosperity’. The League of Nations? I went to school in the ‘30s and ‘40s and never learnt a thing about it.

This article is in danger of becoming an elderly rant so, while I’m at it, could I commend Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky.

‘A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals’, it says on the cover. No one who wants to change minds on serious issues of peace and justice should fail to read it.

But I’m sorry. I won’t send you my treasured only copy. But I will tell you more about it next time.



Bruce Kent is vice-president of CND and Pax Christi, among many other roles.

Topics: Strategy | Education