Barrett: Subversive Peacemakers: war resistance 1914–1918: an Anglican perspective.
Subversive Peacemakers: war resistance 1914–1918: an Anglican perspective.
Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 2014. 312p.
The centenary of the outbreak of the First World War saw an avalanche of books on various aspects of the conflict. This one focuses on those who resisted the war and challenged the assumption of the moral priority of the nation state, and thus refused to accept war as a legitimate exercise of governmental power. The author’s standpoint is unambiguously critical of Anglican leaders: ‘In general, the Church of England’s response to war was shameful. Its leaders placed a higher value on the approval of the government than the imperative of the Gospel’ (p.162). One consequence of this view is that throughout the book there is an assumption that pacifists and war-resisters were right and that their motivations require no deeper investigation. This makes Barrett incurious about the complex psychological reasons behind the positions taken up by such figures in the Peace Movement as Dick Sheppard, and the reader would be well advised to read the work of Martin Ceadal where a more nuanced approach is taken.
The main value of the book lies in the short portraits of fairly obscure figures who deserve to be better known. For example, whilst Prime Minister Clement Attlee has been the subject of impressive biographies in recent years his brother Thomas is little acknowledged. The struggles and sacrifices of this good and decent man deserve to be studied for as Barrett points out standing up ‘as a conscientious objector was not a soft or cowardly option. For many, it was a life-changing, health-destroying experience’ (p.157). Barrett is also excellent at recognising the contribution of women to the Peace Movement, and he pays just tribute to the work of Maude Royden, one of the most remarkable Christians of the twentieth century.
Barrett’s main target is what he terms ‘liberal interventionism’ (p.226) which was the cause of the First World War and the major threat to peace today. It is a contentious view buts adds interest to the debate about the legitimacy of trying to achieve peace through the use of armed force. It could profitably be put into the hands of students of both History and Religious Studies who seek a historical critique of the ‘Just War’ tradition.
Mark Dorsett, The King's School, Worcester