Peace - Secondary

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What do we mean by peace?

For most people, peace means not having someone shoot at them or bomb them. But it can mean other things too. Like having a quiet life, not breaking the law, being gentle and kind to other people or not having arguments.

One hundred years ago, in August 1914, peace in Europe vanished as World War One began. The centenary of that war will be marked not just in the UK but across the world. In France and Germany, in Russia and Turkey, in Australia, New Zealand and America. It will be marked in India, Africa and the Caribbean too. For this was a truly global war.

When World War One ended in 1918 peace returned. Yet people still felt shocked because war on such a destructive scale had never been experienced before: the loss of life was enormous.

People longed for peace yet they were uneasy. They had hoped World War One would be the war that ended wars for good but just 21 years later, war came again. World War Two began in September 1939 - something had gone tragically wrong.

World War One is often said to have been started by one shot, the murder of an Austrian duke in Serbia. After that, armies 'mobilised' as if a machine had been set in motion. An arms race and a system of alliances across Europe meant that no government seemed able to stop the war machine.

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World War One Posters

In the UK, the national mood was upbeat. There was a widespread confidence that Britain would quickly win this war. In August 1914, soldiers marched off cheering and smiling. They expected to be home by Christmas. Many people felt very patriotic, as we can see from the cartoons and posters of the time. People on both sides believed they were fighting a 'just war'. 'We' were right, the enemy was wrong.

The mood soon changed. By 1916, there were enormous numbers of war dead on both sides of the conflict. Many people wanted peace as quickly as possible. Patriots who wanted to win the war at all costs clashed with pacifists who demanded that the war be stopped and argued that all war was wrong. There were peace marches and demonstrations. Some people refused to fight, for moral and religious reasons. These 'conscientious objectors' were jailed when they refused to join the army. Some conscientious objectors instead laboured on farms or in military hospitals, to help their country without resorting to violence. Some went to the battlefields to help soldiers wounded by the fighting. It was dangerous work and some conscientious objectors won medals for bravery, even though they refused to fight. Many of those fighting respected the moral courage of the pacifists.

After peace was finally declared in 1918, with millions dead, war did not seem glorious any more. Many asked, 'Surely we can do better?' Were the peace protesters and the conscientious objectors right after all?

After World War One, the peace movement grew and organisations such as the Peace Pledge Union were set up. Countries around the world formed the League of Nations to try to settle disputes without wars. The League failed when World War Two began in 1939.

But a few people showed it was possible to achieve political goals by using non-violent means. Mahatma Gandhi in India for example, whose peaceful protests helped to bring about India's independence from Britain in the years following World War Two.

After the horrors of World War Two the peacemakers tried again. They set up the United Nations. It is not a world government and it has no army of its own to enforce its decisions, but it does try to keep the peace. There has been some progress in disarmament and efforts continue to reduce the world's stockpile of weapons of mass destruction.

The key to lasting peace is getting people to live together and put their grievances, their differences and their past arguments aside. In a word, reconciliation.

Reconciliation is difficult, but it can happen. Germany and France fought in two world wars but today they are partners. Britain and Germany, once old enemies, are friends today. Reconciliation has brought hope to Northern Ireland and to South Africa.

These are all positive signs. We can work and live together in peace, as long as we learn the lessons of the past.

One hundred years ago, we were at war. Today we are at peace. And it is up to us to keep it that way.

(Play the secondary 'Peace' video clip.)

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