A Bunch of Pacifists?

Ex servicemen from Veterans for Peace discard their medals at Downing street in protest at the involvement of British forces in the Syrian War. 8-12-15
Whilst there are different strands of pacifism (e’g’ religious and ethical), Pacifists in general and certainly all those that I have known, are people who hold the conviction that all violence is wrong, that killing other human beings can never be justified, and therefore that one should not participate in war under any circumstances!

Anti war campaigners like me and most of my comrades in ‘Veterans For Peace’, are people who share very similar views, often acquired through traumatic personal experience, that violence, killing and wars, are inhuman, brutal, degrading and usually ineffective ways of resolving disputes, that we should make every effort to avoid. The difference is that we do not say “under any circumstances”. That is because we can envisage or, as in my case, have experienced, situations and circumstances, such as World War Two, in which we believe that violent resistance can be justified, when it is clearly necessary to prevent greater violence, injustice and oppression.

If you were watching Channel Four News last night, You might have seen me accompanying a group of Veterans for Peace, down Whitehall to Downing Street, where  several of them ceremoniously discarded their medals, to express their anger at the British Governments total inability to learn from experience, as demonstrated by the decision to commence bombing yet another Middle Eastern country. The equivalent in our view of poring petrol on a fire which you have previously lit. These younger veterans had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, in wars of aggression that they  had come to see were  unjustified and which were contributing to the spread of violence and extremism. I supported their decision but I did not discard my medals because I believe that the war I fought in was necessary and justified to defeat a monstrous tyranny.

The last week has seen a signiificant increase in the number of veterans applying to join VfP.  It is encouraging to see that young men who have been have sent out to kill and to be killed, in our name, are learning and drawing the right conclusions from their experience. But how depressing to note that the politicians who send them out, appear to learn nothing from theirs!

Jim Radford served on a Tugboat during the D-Day landings and subsequently in the Royal Navy. He is a long time anti-war activist and a member of Veterans For Peace UK.


  1. David Marchesi says:

    First-class essay from a brave man. What has soured the whole matter of “self-defence” is the view that “British interests” must be defended not just British lives. The legacy of empire is that “we” have “interests” in a whole lot of places (that is, British capitalists make profits in loads of places , and back armed intervention as a first resort to see, for example, that “we” get cheap oil)
    I think it is fair to defend one’s own family and neighbourhood against armed aggression, but to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to attack people is not on. Wars should be avoided by reference to the United Nations ( not decided by NATO, or even the CIGS) , “peacekeeping” is less glamorous than the usual stuff the media loves, but could give soldiers the kind of action they want. My cousin’s favourite assignment by far during his time was in a blue beret in Cyprus, whereas he was not so proud of his part in invading Guiana to kick out Cheddi Jagan’s properly elected government .

  2. Jim,

    Great essay. Appreciate so much the courageous actions of VFP UK. Will get this up on our website here.


  3. Thank you Jim, you really nailed it here, proud to be VFP.

  4. Excellent essay. I want to suggest that there are a minority of members of VFP who do consider themselves pacifists – that killing under any circumstances is wrong. This is not a perspective that possesses any interest in convincing others of the same view. It is very personal, and as with all proclamations of intention, must nonetheless survive the test of reality when facing danger and threats to oneself, one’s loved ones, and other human brings in general.

    As I have examined more carefully the motivations for the “Good War” – WWII – I discovered that the country of my birth, the USA, was supporting Hitler and the Nazis in the 1930s and then throughout the war, since Soviet “Bolshevism” was the real enemy, and in this respect the US and Germany were allies. Much money was made by some of the major US corporations, including IBM, which maintained the records of the Holocaust – the movement and location of all Jews – enabling IBM to become the richest corporation in the world.

    So pleased that VFP UK is growing in numbers as it embraces dynamic, critical thinking, and creative nonviolent disruptions of business as usual.

    1. Gus Hales says:

      Hi Brian,

      In order for me to live something has to die, therefore there cannot and never will be a true pacifist, only the degree of sentiency you are prepared to kill.

      There is a holocaust which takes place in Britain alone everyday, and that is the 22million farm animals who are slaughtered each and everyday. But human arrogance declares they don’t really count.

  5. Sanford Kelson says:

    Good essay with a caveat or two, albeit my mere opinions which may be incorrect:

    I do not think many wars have been fought over a ‘dispute’ although the politicians often frame the reasons for war as disputes. A dispute is a mere excuse to satisfy the masses, to drag them along to fight and die. Most wars are fought to steal stuff from others be it resources, strategic locations, cheap labor, markets and even due to racism, vanity and control of the domestics. This is why the parties to war hardly ever seriously engage in dispute resolution procedures even though they are well know and work, including mediation, arbitration, litigation and the toss of a coin. These methods are used when there is a real dispute but not when a faux dispute is created to justify war. The only wars I have felt justified were wars for national liberation.

    I also believe all the parties, prior to WWII competed for resources, colonies, profits over people, etc and war was sure to result sooner or later. Hitler threw into the mix the killing of the Jews and this was used later as a feel good justification for a so-called righteous war or. WWII was never about the Jews. In reality, the European Jews were abandoned by all. The war was about imperialism, empire, profit. The war was not about righteous self-defense. It was a war started over competition for riches.

    VfP UK, I wish you well.

  6. Kenny Williams says:

    Bang on Jim,
    l always tell people that we are not all pacifists, if Tyranny knocks and starts affecting my family which clearly it is… “The enemy within” then I start shouting and exposing these criminals.
    It`s up to the people and especially the armed forces of this world to start doing their own investigating, only then will they realise they are being fooled.
    Non-violent action on a massive scale is needed to say “NO”

    Millions marched through London in the lead up to Iraq, but the war criminals that the people call “their leaders?” still LIED as always, and destroyed the whole region.
    They committed crimes against humanity causing the deaths and suffering of millions, yet nobody holds them to account?
    Labour/Conservative, it does not matter BOTH parties are controlled by the same masters and both parties are guilty of war crimes.

    We will continue to expose these weasels and resist this war thirsty government..

    Peace and Love
    Kenny Williams Veterans For Peace UK

  7. Nicola Beglin says:

    Cannot really express the admiration of the bravery of Veterans for Peace.
    The British army has and could have an enormous role to play – think of its role in Sierra Leone for example.

  8. Gus Hales says:

    Great article Jim, demonstrates perfectly what a broad spectrum of members VFP have. In addition all actions by each member is a question for their own conscience. Unlike the military where everyone who has them is ordered to wear their medals. Bravo Sir, bravo.

  9. Walter Heaton says:

    Well written piece Jim. Too the point and says it all

  10. Kieran says:

    Excellent article Jim.

  11. Graham Horne says:

    Superbly written, movingly testified and right on the button. Very very well done.

  12. John Boulton says:

    Well said Jim. Can’t think of anything to add that you didn’t encapsulate in the article above. As a pretty much, lifelong campaigner for peace, you are a credit to humanity.
    Peace and respect.

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