November 11 in Canada and other nations of the British Commonwealth is Remembrance Day. This is a day set aside to remember and honour military service people who have lost their lives in war, especially the First and Second World Wars. Many wear a red poppy as a sign of remembrance. An effort initially spearheaded by the Peace Pledge Union in Britain, and now seen in Canada, is the tradition of wearing a white poppy, or a peace poppy, to honour all lives lost to war. This includes civilians as well as soldiers. Those who favour white poppies are not trying to detract from the sacrifice of soldiers. Rather, those who wear white poppies recognize the horror of war but remain committed to non-violence and peace in the effort to create a more just world. White poppies can be worn alone, or alongside a red poppy.

Historically, Quakers have been advocates of peace and pacifism in some way since the earliest years of Quakerism. As appealing as it may be today to support the idea that Quakers have always been committed pacifists, it is incorrect. Scholarship has shown us that Quakers have willingly enlisted for armed service in many wars. Scholarship has shown us that Quakers have resisted armed service in many wars. Scholarship has shown us that Quakers have been at the centre of alternative service opportunities in many wars. What scholarship has shown us is that Quaker pacifism has been complex. Next week in our “Founders and Builders” series, we will be highlighting Canadian Quaker, Peter Brock. Throughout his productive career, Brock played a significant role in our current understanding of Quakers’ engagement with pacifism, as is evident in this extended extract from a recent historiographical essay.

It is not an exaggeration to say that no single historian has contributed as much to the study of pacifism, including pacifism in the Religious Society of Friends, as Peter Brock. In fact, in a 1996 festschrift to honour Brock’s contributions, The Pacifist Impulse in Historical Perspective (1996), political scientist Martin Ceadel asserts that “no ideology owes more to one academic than pacifism owes to Peter Brock” (17). As an historian of two fields—Eastern Europe and pacifism—he produced sixteen books, at least fifty major articles, and several edited collections. At least half of his books are on pacifism. While he had been raised in the Church of England, Brock was a conscientious objector during World War Two. He was jailed for a short time and then performed alternative service for the balance of the war. He became a Quaker, but his studies of pacifism almost consistently integrated Quakers into the larger fabric of pacifist ideas and practice over long, sweeping periods of time in various contexts. His first major work, Pacifism in the United States: From the Colonial Era to the First World War, was published in 1968. It was the first installment of Brock’s extensive trilogy survey of pacifism. At over one thousand pages, it is a substantial book! It was published at a time when there was great interest in pacifism and antiwar topics, especially on college campuses. Princeton University Press recognized an opportunity and extracted more manageable sections from Pacifism in the United States, releasing them as Radical Pacifists in Antebellum America (1968) and Pioneers of the Peaceable Kingdom (1970). The second two installments of the trilogy on pacifism were published at two-year intervals, Twentieth-Century Pacifism in 1970, and Pacifism in Europe to 1914 in 1972. Each of these works integrates Quakers with other pacifist religious traditions. In his retirement in the 1990s Brock returned to publications on pacifism, releasing a second trilogy in the early 1990s. The second book in that trilogy focusses specifically on the Quaker peace testimony from 1660 to 1914 (1990). Quakers are touched on in Brock’s general survey Varieties of Pacifism (1998), and feature in three of his collections. Challenge to Mars, edited with Thomas Socknat (1999) is a sizeable compendium focussed on pacifism; a number of the essays are written by Brock, with individual essays contributed by other peace historians. In Liberty and Conscience (2002), Brock offers an edited collection of documents on conscientious objection in the United States. Finally, Against the Draft (2006), published the year of Brock’s death, offers a collection of twenty-five of Brock’s essays analyzing conscientious objection as an expression of pacifism. While Brock’s considerable scholarship on pacifism was not all directly about Quakers, one of its strengths is the way he integrated Quaker history into larger historical narratives.[1]

As we consider the impact of war today, and the possibility of non-violent efforts to create change, we are offering a book giveaway for Be Not Afraid: The Polish (R)evolution, “Solidarity” (Ottawa: Borealis Press, 2011). This book, by Canadian author Heather Kirk examines Solidarnosc and gives readers insights into the non-violent resistance movement that contributed significantly to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989 and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

To be entered into the draw for this book, please comment and share your thoughts on the work of non-violence.

[1] Healey, “Diversity and Complexity in Quaker History,” in C. Wess Daniels, Robynne Rogers Healey, and Jon Kershner, Quaker Studies: An Overview, The Current State of the Field (Leiden: Brill, 2018): 32–33.


Leave a Reply