Centenary Conference - report

‘In marking the centenary of the Northern Friends Peace Board we wanted to use the inspiration of the past to take us on into the future of peace-making.’ With these words Jenny Hartland welcomed the 85 Friends who had gathered for the day in York Friargate Meeting House to mark the founding of the Board in 1913.

She explained that the lives of past members of the Board and the organisation’s extensive archive have inspired the production of a variety of materials illustrating its history: an exhibition (available in various formats), booklet, research papers, a calendar, postcards, tea-towels and candles. A thought-provoking pack of material which includes a specially-written play is also available and will be sent to every local Meeting in the Board’s area. Details of these and other centenary-related activities can be found on NFPB’s website http://nfpb.org.uk/

Keynote speakers for the day were Paul Rogers (Professor of Peace Studies , Bradford University) and Hannah Brock (of War Resisters International ). Paul Rogers gave a wide-ranging and deeply thoughtful analysis of the chances for peace in our troubled world. He pinpointed the likely drivers of conflict in the next 30 years: economic injustice, climate disruption, the mounting frustration of the marginalised, and our continued reliance on the blunt instrument of militarism to put the lid temporarily on these complex problems.

Though the difficulties are serious, we have not yet run out of time, he said. Our role is to take stock of the threats we face and then to become ‘prophets of the possible’ in advocating peaceful change. Huge transitions like the agricultural and industrial revolutions have been made in the past, and we now face a similar challenge: how to build a just world in which we can live sustainably.

Prophetic witness was a theme in Hannah Brock’s address too. When Conscientious Objectors refuse to participate in military service, she said, they don’t just refuse to kill. By their stance they actively affirm life and prophesy the possibility of a peaceful future.

Hannah outlined how the hardships faced by COs in the First World War are mirrored in the treatment meted out today to COs from Turkey to Colombia, and from Finland to Eritrea. WRI supports them, as well as those serving soldiers in the UK who develop CO attitudes after signing-up. In addition WRI challenges the whole concept of militarism and the way in which it builds a culture favourable to recruitment. The increased presence of the military in civilian life powerfully contributes to the normalising of war through cadet forces, computer games, fashion, parades and memorials. Charities like ‘Help for Heroes’ do not encourage us to question why lives were lost or injuries sustained in the first place.

The afternoon was taken up by workshops on a wide variety of themes: Syria; skills for peace work; oil, peace and conflict; Scottish independence and nuclear weapons; the culture of militarism; marking the centenary of the outbreak of WW1. Enough to keep the Northern Friends Peace Board fully occupied for the next hundred years!

Caroline Westgate


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