Seven Posters And Placards From A Century Of Anti-War Protest
The outbreak of the First World War was largely met with popular support in Britain. Yet from the very beginning, a vocal minority opposed the conflict. This poster, issued by the Peace Committee of the Society of Friends (Quakers) in 1914, calls for calm and solidarity in contrast to the widespread patriotic fervour of the time. Quakers had pacifism as one of their core beliefs, as well as a dedication to bear witness and relieve want and suffering, as encapsulated in the poster. In wartime, Quakers established a volunteer medical unit to provide care to soldiers, as well as an organisation performing relief work for civilians.
After the horrors of the First World War, there was widespread anti-war sentiment in Britain. Peace campaigning became increasingly popular and new groups were formed.
This painted textile banner was produced for the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift, a movement founded in 1920. The group was created by John Hargrave, an eccentric but charismatic leader inspired by a less militaristic interpretation of the scouting movement. It encouraged young people to get involved in outdoor activities, such as hiking, handicraft and camping, as well as promoting a message of world peace. This banner was made for the Women’s Peacemakers Pilgrimage, which culminated in 10,000 people gathering in London’s Hyde Park on 19 June 1926.
By the 1930s, peace campaigning was increasingly popular. Among the highest profile groups in Britain was the Peace Pledge Union (PPU), formed in the mid-1930s by clergyman Dick Sheppard, a well-known figure at the time. This sandwich board placard sums up the PPU’s simple core message and dates from the group’s high point in 1937, when it had over 100,000 members and supporters including writers Siegfried Sassoon, Vera Brittain and Aldous Huxley.
As the aggression of Nazi Germany became more apparent in the late 1930s, the PPU and other peace groups became less influential. Even some pacifists – those committed to opposing all wars and violence – began to feel that the actions of Nazi Germany could only be met by force. However, the PPU continued to campaign for peace and still exists today.
After the first use of atomic bombs at the end of the Second World War, a nuclear arms race developed between the USA and the Soviet Union. Britain became the third nuclear power in the late 1950s. Amid these Cold War tensions, the fear of nuclear weapons led to a growing anti-nuclear movement. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) was launched in 1958.
The same year a march between London and the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston, Berkshire was organised by the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War (DAC). As part of these plans, artist Gerald Holtom was tasked with designing a symbol for nuclear disarmament to be carried on the march. His design was printed on lollipop placards like this one, carried by protester Ernest Rodker on the 1958 march and many subsequent protests. Holtom’s symbol rapidly became an icon of the anti-nuclear movement and is now widely referred to as a general symbol of peace.
In 1963 the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty banned all but underground nuclear testing, seemingly representing a step back from potential nuclear war. Partly as a result of this, anti-nuclear campaigning became less high profile. Instead, the Vietnam War – a hot war amid the Cold War – became a key focus of protest and the counter-culture atmosphere of the late 1960s.While the conflict did not directly involve Britain, it was still a target for protest with CND organising events around it. US anti-Vietnam War posters became widespread imagery at the time. This poster subverts a famous First World War recruitment poster for the US Army, replacing an image of Uncle Sam with a deathly skeleton. The original American poster was itself based on the 1914 British recruitment poster by Alfred Leete, ‘Lord Kitchener Wants You’.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, relations between the Soviet Union and the US deteriorated. In 1981 a decision was made to site US Cruise missiles (guided nuclear missiles) in the UK. This caused widespread concern and gave a new focus to the anti-nuclear movement, which gained in popularity.
This poster by artist Peter Kennard was part of a series of photomontages he produced for the Greater London Council in 1985. It was based on his earlier Haywain with Cruise Missiles, a photomontage combining John Constable’s idyllic vision of rural England with modern nuclear missiles. This version refers to Greenham Common air base in Berkshire, which was to house 96 Cruise missiles. This became the site of the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, one of the most famous and longest-running protests in Britain against nuclear weapons. Established in 1981, it remained in place in some form until 2000.
After the 9/11 attacks on the USA in 2001, the US government adopted a more aggressive military approach to extremist Islamic terrorism, the so-called ‘War on Terror’. In Britain, the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) was formed shortly after the 9/11 attacks, reflecting a concern that such military action was not the right response. In 2003, the USA and Britain moved towards military intervention in Iraq, on the basis of Iraq’s supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction.
This poster is based on a placard designed by artist David Gentleman for a major StWC demonstration against war in Iraq in London on 15 February 2003. The protest was the largest of its type in British history and coincided with similar mass demonstrations on the same day around the world. Gentleman’s use of a succinct slogan and an emotive blood spot motif are typical of his work for StWC. This version of the poster was part of a set produced by StWC for sale alongside designs by other artists.
Check out People Power: Fighting For Peace at IWM London to find out more about peace movements from the First World War to the present day.