Introduction: The U.S.
Peace Movement
In its 240-­year history, the United States has engaged in at least a dozen major wars.
On average, this works out to a major war for each generation. This does not even
take into account the many smaller conflicts with Native Americans and in Latin
Amer­ i ­ ca and the Ca­rib­bean, North Africa, the ­ Middle East, the Far East, the Balkans,
and elsewhere. Nor does it consider the vast amounts of American weaponry used
in combat around the world when American lives are not involved. For all of this,
part of the national myth is that the United States is a peaceful nation, slow to anger.
In fact, Americans advocating nonviolence and peaceful international relations are
as likely to be vilified as they are praised.
In the face of this real­ity, however, ­ there have been Americans who have actively
sought peace even before the founding of the United States. This peace movement
has come from diverse motives, pursued dif­fer­ent goals, ­ adopted multiple strate-
gies, and never operated from a singular orga­nizational base. Although a common
interpretation of pacifist is a person who rejects all vio­lence at all times, this char-
acterizes only a portion of American peace activists. Some seek peace by opposing
militarism and some through the development of international cooperation; some
apply nonviolence to all situations while ­others oppose only specific wars. For
many activists, pacifism has been the central focus of their po­liti­cal activism, but
some address peace as it relates to their primary concern such as the abolition of
slavery or the development of a socialist society. Collectively, American pacifists
have viewed peace as something desirable to create, not simply a circumstance that
exists in the absence of war. They have condemned war for its violation of morality,
for undermining humanitarian concerns, and for threatening social stability. At the
same time, they have supported and developed peaceful options for settling local
and systemic domestic and international disputes.
Colonial and Revolutionary Amer­i­ca
Amer­ i ­ ca’s earliest peace advocates acted from religious impulses, and as they always
would, they represented a distinct minority within the larger society. Puritans in
the British colonies generally accepted the just war doctrine, based on the teach-
ings of St. Augustine, which viewed warfare as morally acceptable if it met certain
conditions. A variety of Christian sects, however, ­adopted pacifism as a moral imper-
ative based largely on Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. Their in­de­pen­dence sometimes
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