Commonweal Lecture 2017 – ‘War is not the solution’

On 3rd October 2017, Commonweal welcomed three members of the organisation Veterans For Peace UK – Guy Lyons, Graham Horne and Michael Elstub – as speakers at its annual lecture.

Here’s a short round-up of the event for those who missed it.

Commonweal Lecture 2017 - Veterans for Peace

What is Veterans For Peace UK?

The VfP UK website tells us it’s

a voluntary, open and democratic ex-services organisation of men and women. All of our members have served in the armed forces, many of us on operations around the world.

It also stresses that it’s not a pacifist organisation – ‘we believe that we should be capable of defending our islands against foreign attack’ – but it raises public awareness of the cost of war and seeks to reduce government intervention in ‘the internal affairs of other nations’, for the larger purpose of world peace.

Read more about Veterans for Peace UK in its Handbook

Who was there?

Over 40 people attended. Many of these are registered on the University of Bradford’s Peace Studies MA course.

Ezekiel and Jean-Baptiste, Peace Studies MA students from Burundi

Ezekiel and Jean-Baptiste, Peace Studies MA students from Burundi

Students on this course come from all over the world, and some of those at the lecture have been soldiers in their own countries.

Here’s one of the positive reactions we received on Twitter from attendees:

Life in the military – Guy, Graham and Michael

Our three speakers from Veterans for Peace UK

Our three speakers from Veterans for Peace UK

Our speakers’ military experience ranged from a few years to several decades. Some had entered their military careers with more enthusiasm than others, and their reasons for signing up and fighting ranged from a desire for adventure to the relative financial security on offer.

Of his own motivations, Guy said

You’re not fighting for Queen and country. You’re fighting for honour in your unit, your team. You don’t want to lose face, you want to belong.

But while serving in the Falklands, he paid a high price:

I experienced things people should never, ever experience. I saw people in bits, physically and mentally. The side of war they never tell you about.

We also heard about the personal consequences for military personnel of fighting in such circumstances, and about the many who become homeless, go to prison or need to use mental health services.

War – what is it good for?

Our speakers clearly understand that war is all too often conducted because of the profit motive inherent in the military-industrial complex.

An illustration: in 2016 the UK became the second-largest arms dealer in the world. Sales of arms from the UK to repressive regimes have since grown even further, and our speakers stressed that the infrastructure that UK citizens benefit from relies on income from selling arms used to kill innocent people around the world.

What hope for change?

Guy, Graham and Michael emphasised the fact that real change can only happen through large grassroots movements – ‘Not peace through superior firepower, but peace through superior numbers of people who think like this’.

We finish here with a reminder that when they call for an end to war, all of the Veterans for Peace are voicing hard-won wisdom. As it says on the VfP UK website,

Our oldest members fought in WW2 and our youngest members in Afghanistan. As a result of our collective experience we firmly believe that ‘War is not the solution to the problems we face in the 21st century’.

War is not the solution

War is not the solution

Read more about VfP UK’s nonviolent methods.

Keep in touch with grassroots movements for peace – follow Commonweal on Facebook and Twitter.

Are you knowledgeable about grassroots movements for peace and about the best nonviolence resources for activists? We want to hear from you!