Report on 'Opposition to WW1' lecture by Rupert Gude

Opposition to WW1 in Britain and the Road to Peace

 Rupert Gude’s public lecture on the Opposition to WW1 at Y Morlan, Aberystwyth, on 16th of March 2016, received an enthusiastic response and was followed by further valuable contributions from the audience.

HH lecture Rupert Gude Opposition to WW1.jpg

 

Gude presented a range of issues that led to the First World War, including colonial and economic interest, as well as the arms race between the nations. He highlighted some aspects that contributed to war, such as nationalism and suspicion of foreigners, media views, cultural attitudes including celebration of past battles and career opportunities as officers for sons of the elite, indifference by those in power who saw war as the normal way of solving disputes, and unrest at home including strikes, the call for women’s rights, and challenges in Ireland.

 

Reflecting on the pre-War era, Gude presented many missed opportunities to diffuse the tensions, as well as prominent organisations and individuals who were vocal in their warnings about the prospect of war unless peaceful resolution was actively sought. These individuals included: Frederic Passy, Elie Duconumm, Charles Gobat, Sir Randal Cremer, Ernesto Moneta, Louis Renault, Klas Arnoldson, Fredrick Badjer, Alfred Fried, Henri La Fontaine and Emily Hobhouse.

 

Another significant peace campaigner was Bertha von Suttner who said in Oslo 1905:

“Meanwhile, in Central and Western Europe which narrowly escaped war, we have distrust, threats, sabre rattling, press baiting, feverish naval buildup, and rearming everywhere.

“In England, Germany and France novels are appearing in which the plot of a future surprise attack by a neighbour is intended as a spur to even more fervent arming.

“Fortresses are being erected, submarines built, whole areas mined, airships tested for use in war; and all this with such zeal - as if to attack one's neighbour were the most inevitable and important function of a state.”

 

Gude considered three categories of people who were engaged with the war: those who wanted war, those in power who could have tried to prevent the outbreak of war at that time, and those who actively opposed it but gave in.

  • Included in the ones who supported war were: Helmuth von Molkte, Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf, Alexander von Krobatin, Leopold Berchtold, Sergey Sasanov, Col Dragutin Dimitrijevic, General Joseph Joffre, Winston Churchill, General Henry Wilson, Lord Milner, Lord Lansdowne, and intellectuals like Rudyard Kipling and Rider Haggard.
  • For Gude, those in power who could have done more to prevent the escalation into war included: Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria Hungary, Czar Nicholas II and the Ministers for the armed forces of Russia, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, Chancellor Theodore Bethmann-Hollweg of Germany, President Poincaré of France, Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary, Prime Minister Asquith, and King George V.
  • Included in those who actively opposed war but then gave in were: The Social Democrat Party, the largest party in the German Parliament, and their leader Hugo Haase; Istvan Tisza, the Hungarian Prime Minister; Nikola Pasic, the Serbian Prime Minister; Sir John Simon, Attorney General; Lord Beauchamp, Commissioner of Works; Lewis Harcourt, Colonial Secretary; and Lloyd George, Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Gude presented the extent and the range of people who opposed war overseas and in Britain, highlighting the key role women played. Discussing the campaign groups and individuals who supported conscientious objectors, Gude also shared his views on two who were closely connected to Wales, namely Keir Hardie and Bertrand Russell.

 

  • “Why”, asked Gude, “aren’t there more monuments to Keir Hardie across Britain?” The Scotsman campaigned for workers and women’s rights as well as self-rule in India; he campaigned for peace on behalf of the Independent Labour Party in parliament. The only memorial to honour him is in Aberdare, Merthyr Tydfil where he was an MP, although Gude argued he deserves far wider recognition throughout the UK.
  • Philosopher Bertrand Russell, who was born and died in Wales, showed his commitment to the search for peace throughout his life. Indeed he was twice imprisoned for the cause, first in 1918 and later in 1961 when he was 89 years old. Gude shared some quotations by Russell which reveal some of his reasoning for opposing WW1:

I knew that it was my business to protest, however futile protest might be. As a lover of truth, the national propaganda of all the belligerent nations sickens me.”

“As a lover of civilisation, the return to barbarism appalled me.  As a man of thwarted parental feeling, the massacre of the young wrung my heart…..”

No great principle is at stake, no great human purpose is involved on either side….The English and the French say they are fighting in defence of democracy but they do not wish their words to be heard in Petrograd or Calcutta.”

 

Over one million combatants from Britain and its empire died and the country was saddled with crippling debts that took one hundred years to pay off. Gude echoed the aims of Wales for Peace project, when he explained that he was keen for present and future generations to have a better understanding of our history of war so that they can aim for a more peaceful future.

 

By presenting the context of pre-war opportunities for peace, opposition during the war, and the foundations of the women’s involvement in the search for peace post-war, Rupert Gude’s contribution to the Wales for Peace lecture series has been a valuable one.  

 

As Craig Owen, head of Wales for Peace explained: “In the years that followed the horrors of war, many peace heroes shunned in 1914-18 became inspirational leaders for a Welsh society devastated by loss. Conscientious Objectors were elected as Members of Parliament; the Urdd was set up in 1922 as a youth movement for peace; in 1923, 390,296 women signed a petition to America calling for formation of the League of Nations; and in 1926 thousands of women undertook the North Wales Peace Pilgrimage from Caernarfon to London.” 

 

Referring to information on www.walesforpeace.org, he added: “These histories about the impact of war and our peace heritage, by being collected in our communities, will inspire a new generation of internationalists today.” 

 

Wales for Peace welcomes research and information in the form of ‘hidden histories’ to be shared with the public through our website or through links to previously published work. Training is provided to volunteers and groups who are starting out on the challenge of collecting family or community heritage stories relating to the peace heritage of Wales over the past 100 years.

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