NFPB Voices, WW2 reflections

Our new blog section on the website – ‘NFPB Voices’ – is launched today with a series of pieces reflecting on the 75th anniversary of the end of the second world war. Written from personal perspectives, the pieces acknowledge the dilemmas, the trauma, the commitment and importance both of remembering and of working for a peaceful future.

Donald Saunders writes as a former CO:

“… When I reached 18 years of age I had developed strong pacifist views and registered as a conscientious objector (CO). I appeared before the CO tribunal early in 1943 and made a statement opposing the principle of conscription and requesting unconditional exemption. I was given conditional exemption, but this did not include working in the Friends Relief Service (FRS) which I had decided to join because of their excellent work giving relief to civilian war victims who had been made homeless by the bombing all around the country. … Since before 1939 I have been opposed to war and the use of violence to solve conflict, I have talked and written opposing it and will continue as long as I can.”

Others’ family members followed different paths and their lives and experiences continue to lead us to ask questions. Barry Mills, writing about his father, says:

“His medical when he joined the army graded him as A1, but by the end of the war after shell shock, all the privations and glandular fever, he was very thin and in very poor condition. We always dreaded the Remembrance Sunday weekend, which [my father] would spend weeping, grieving and working through the traumas – the rest of the year he just got on with his life. … [He] was always disappointed that after I became a pacifist as a young adult, I would not agree he was right to be a soldier, but my view now would be that he made the right decision for him.”

Steven Waling also considers whether the war was necessary, writing:

“I’ve always been ambivalent about the 2nd World War. On the one hand, as a lifelong pacifist, peace activist and Quaker, I am against “the occasion of all wars” as it says in the Peace Testimony. On the other hand, Nazism was an unalloyed evil that murdered its way around Europe and, once it was in power, could only be stopped by violence, and extreme violence at that. So it looks like, if it wasn’t so much a just war, it was at least a necessary war”,
but concludes,
“I won’t be putting the bunting out and ‘celebrating’ the end of a war 75 years ago. I do believe the war needs to be remembered, but by acts of resistance to the ideology that caused it; by acts of love and fellowship across the artificial barriers of national borders; by caring for each other. ‘Make love not war’ is still a slogan to live by, however hard it seems to find love these days.”

It’s complicated for many of us, and Till Geiger, born in Germany and a historian, explores these complexities. He writes about:

” how the second world war deeply shaped my life without necessarily having the courage to ask my parents about my family’s actions during the second world war, in itself a complicated and difficult story. In marking VE-Day, we need to remind ourselves of the suffering of everyone caught up in the second world war: children, parents, civilians, those persecuted for their race, ethnicity, sexuality and political views, conscripts and volunteers.

How we respond to media and political uses of nationalism and the war narrative can be very challenging. Phoebe Spence reflects on this from a family background of internationalism and pacifism saying:

“The VE day celebrations, and Brexit, make me realise how my experience of WW2 through my parents was quite different to many. It can be difficult to convey this. The continued military language in everyday life emphasises the deep rooted attachment to the militaristic narrative of recent history which sadly prevails and pervades current thinking.”

What of the future? Philip Austin writes:

“What can we learn from [these histories] about how we live our lives together on this planet in the midst of one crisis and acutely conscious of the approach of others, both related and unrelated? What can we do together now for a better world in the future?”

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