A BBC researcher rang me some days ago and asked me what was the point of holding a Peace Festival? What’s more, what was the point of holding it in Caernarfon? What difference could a relatively small festival, in a relatively small town, in a small powerless country powerless do? Why bother?
On the one hand one can see her point – we’re not going to pass any new laws here today. Only Parliament can do that in our country (even as the Assembly is entitled to make the occasional act, it has to get the OK from London prior to becoming law – you could say that Welsh people aren’t adults yet, and that we must ask our parents permission before using the phone, but that is another matter).
But the question asked by the researcher is a reflection of our times – if there’s no visible result or something big changing today, then we’re wasting time, and it is not worth doing.
So what is the purpose of our assembling here today? Can a small assembly of individuals in a corner of the world without self-government nor the ability to make her own decisions make a difference?
The recent history of our nation and our people clearly shows that not only is there a purpose, but that it is possible to make a difference – sometimes a minor difference, and at other times a big difference. We are the mustard seed.
Wales has a long history and proud tradition of promoting peace, and has contributed at an international level to ensure peace between the peoples of earth.
The Peace Society was formed in London in 1816 with the aim of ridding the world of war. Evan Rees, a Welshman, was the first secretary. The Society exists for 120 years, and had a Welsh secretary for nearly 100 of those years.
The most important of these, and possibly the most influential peace campaigner Wales has seen, was Henri Richard of Tregaron – the Apostle of Peace. Henri Richard was a minister at the Old Kent Road, London, from 1835 to 1850. In 1853 he and two of his contemporaries founded the Morning Star newspaper. He was the first editor; he was also the first secretary of the Association of Voluntary Schools in Wales. Richard was appointed secretary of the Peace Society in 1850. He was instrumental in the organization of the World Peace Congress in Brussels in 1848, Paris 1849, Frankfurt 1850 and London 1851. At a meeting in Brussels Richard and his friend Elihu Burritt set a radical theme – namely that disarmament is essential in order to secure peace. And this was back in 1848! At a meeting in Paris Victor Hugo declared his dream for a United States of Europe, with the ballot replacing the bullet and the bomb.These meetings resulted in the press holding a serious discussion about disarmaments and against militarism for te first time. Henri Richard was leading the agenda, creating an inter-national discussion.
Henri Richard was elected MP for Merthyr Tydfil in 1868 (and Merthyr has such a proud history in this regard, because of who was elected MP for the constituency in 1900 but the pacifist Keir Hardie). In 1873 he managed to persuade Gladstone to accept an offer that “it is the duty of Her Majesty’s Government to recommend a reduction in European armaments”. Although the campaign wasn’t successful it showed that he had the ability to lead the agenda in the House of Commons. One of his major successes as a Member of Parliament was for House to accept his motion:
“To order the home secretary to contact foreign powers in order to introduce further improvements to the international law and establishing a permanent system of arbitration”.
Today we have a Court of Justice of the United Nations.
He gave the House a resolution condemning their inability to make decisions on War and Peace. He lost the motion by just six votes! It is only today, one hundred and fifty years later that Gordon Brown is talking about transferring the decision about war and peace to the House of Commons, and we all know the terrible results of leaving such decisions to a handful of people following the lies of Tony Blair and the Iraq disaster.
He argued strongly against the idea of a ‘defensive war’, and argued in favor of disarmament. Although he died in 1888 Henri Richard’s arguments are equally relevant to us today.
The other big name in Welsh Pacifism is George M Ll Davies. In 1911 George Davies was a Lieutenant with the Welch Fusiliers, but then had a Christian Conversion. By 1915 he was an assistant to Richard Roberts, another Welshman, and secretary of the pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation. His work was central to the establishment of various branches of the Fellowship of Reconciliation at this time. He also took charge for their a monthly magazine, The Venturer. He was jailed for being a conscientious objector and spent much of his time in and out of prison during the first world war. When he was an MP for the University of Wales – the only Christian Pacifist MP – George M Ll Davies played an important role in linking between Sinn Fein in Ireland and Lloyd George and the British Government. He appealed to Lady Isabel Aberdeen for the government to prevent reprisals in Ireland. Lloyd George was able to get the government to discuss peace with de Valera.
He traveled to several European countries after the first world war to look at the damage, and campaign to relieve of distress of the Germans following the Versailles treaty. In fact his work in reconciliation won him international admiration and name. Gandhi called on his talents, and he was part of early conciliation talks between India and Britain.
Although not a pacifist William Davies sent the ‘Children’s Message to the World’ in 1922 as a telegram, and with Ifan ab Owen Edwards, established the 18th of May as a day of goodwill. Ever since then the children of Wales have been publishing a message of goodwill to all people in the world.
In 1934-5 the Union of the League of Nations organised a Peace Vote on disarmament. 34% of Scotland were in favor of the motion; 37% in England but in Wales there were 62% in favour.
And then there is Gwynfor Evans, Plaid Cymru MP first elected in 1966. He was also a conscientous objector during the second world war, and secretary for many years to Heddychwyr Cymru (Welsh Pacifists). He worked tirelessly for peace, and went as part of a group with Michael Scott out to Vietnam during the war in order to stand under the bombs in Hanoi as a protest. They failed to get access to the country, but his belief in peace and the folly of war meant that he was willing to give his own life to bring attention to the suffering of others.
I must also talk about the role of Welsh women as peace activists – Annie Humphreys, First Secretary of Heddychwyr Cymru; Marion Eames, novelist; and more than anyone the women of Greenham Common – with Jill Evans, who is now an MEP and chair of CND Wales! A group of Welsh women marched to Greenham Common stating, “We fear for the Future of All Our Children and Living for the Future of the world Which can lower the BASIS of Life”, with the intention of challenging the decision to make it a centre for 96 cruise missiles. Their appeal for a discussion was refused, and as a result the peace camp was set up . This gave a new focus to the anti-nuclear campaign in the 80s during the height of the cold war and the height of Thatcher and Reagan’s powers. It was here that Helen Thomas, a young Welsh woman lost her life when she was killed by one of the military vehicles. But the camp is a symbol of peace.
Several other major pacifists have played an important role in promoting peace here and abroad – DJ Williams, Waldo Williams, Dan Thomas, Lewis Valentine, SR and more again.
So there is a purpose to a bunch of people congregating and discussing peace in this way, one small corner of the world can make a big difference. To quote the Dalai Lama – if you think you’re too small to make a difference, then try sleeping with a mosquito.
Some of you here today are veterans of the peace movement, and I salute you for the work that you have done.
These examples of our history, role models for us today, have made a difference. From humble beginnings, writing letters, discussions at small conferences, sharing ideas, and campaigning for world peace.
What these men and women have in common above all else is their faith in humanity their hope, and their love for life.
Unfortunately for us, people are greedy – we want more. We want to become wealthier. But for one person to become richer, another must become poorer. That’s the way that our capitalist society is structured. And it is the root cause of conflict today, and every conflict in history. If we want to stop these wars then there’s one thing we can do as ordinary people – tell our governments that we’ve had enough, and that we’ve got enough. Do we NEED more? No. Do we WANT more – well that’s up to us. Our consumerist greed feeds into the warmongers war efforts, and gives them what they deem to be ‘legitimate democratic reasons’ for killing and maiming, because while we may say we abhor war, we are getting richer as a consequence of it…so, we don’t quite abhor it enough. How many people took to the streets last weekend to raise awareness about the atrocities in Darfur? How many people cued up outside a branch of Northern Rock on that same weekend? Now that’s not an entirely fair criticism, I admit, but I think that you get the point.
Henry Richard believed that war was bad also because it ruined economies. Unfortunately today that is not necessarily the case for the aggressors, because war, as Naomi Klein has recently pointed out, is by-now a multi-billion pound industry. The modern jingoism is that we should support the manufacturing of armaments because it creates employment and wealth. But at what cost? A prosthetic limbs developer in the US stated his support for the Iraq war because it meant that they could develop better and more advanced prosthetic limbs as a consequence to the injuries incurred by the soldiers! An intelligent politician told me some time ago that he wasn’t a pacifist because one of the benefits of war was the massive technological advances that we have made! So, I should thank those countless millions that have died in the last hundred years for my mobile phone! I’m actually of the belief that the UN should prosecute all those involved in the chain for the manufacturing of arms when a person is killed or injured by a weapon that was designed to kill and injure. That would quickly bring home the truth about this evil industry.
What ‘Peace’ we have today is an uneasy peace. It is built on inequality and fear. Simply because there is no war between one nation and another doesn’t necessarily mean that there is peace, because a few nations hold power through fear and threats. Only, as Henry Richard said, by unilateral disarmament will we get closer to true peace.
Campaigning for peace and reconciliation is a hard task. It’s never ending, and more often than not it might seem without its rewards, and at times, as the biographies of the individuals I mentioned earlier will testify, it can be very lonely. Gordon Brown has looked at the newspaper articles and focus group reports and found that the war in Iraq is more unpopular now than ever before, and so he’s preparing the ground for troop withdrawal. But Peace and reconciliation is more than the practice of writing policy on paper; its more than investing money into focus groups in certain marginal constituencies; it’s a never ending, often unpopular, slog.
But let’s never give up hope, because as I have mentioned, it is from these small meetings that we can make change happen.
Efallai ei fod yn werth I mi orffen fy nghyfraniad I gyda rhai o eiriau Henri Richard:
“Do not be overwhelmed by the greatness of the task, nor by the terrible obstacles that arise in your way. The work you have undertaken is good work; you support a cause which I know from my deepest convictions, in favour of truth, reason, justice, humanity, religion and, I dare add, in favor of God. “