#whitefeather diaries

Quakers and the Nobel Peace Prize

Tuesday 29 March 2016

In 1947 Quaker work for peace was recognised very publicly in the form of the Nobel Peace Prize. The prize was jointly awarded to Friends Service Council (FSC) and American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), honouring their relief work during and after the two world wars.

FSC was one of the bodies that eventually came together to form Quaker Peace & Social Witness. Helen Drewery, General Secretary of Quaker Peace & Social Witness, discusses the ongoing responsibilities of those awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Quakers and the Nobel Peace Prize

To be strictly accurate, the prize was in fact awarded to 'The Quakers, represented by their two great relief organisations' – which means all Quakers have a share in being Peace Prize winners. 

The speech made at the award ceremony spoke of Quakers' long history of work for peace and justice.

The Quakers took part in creating the first peace organization in 1810 and since then have participated in all active peace movements. ...

It is through silent assistance from the nameless to the nameless that they have worked to promote the fraternity between nations cited in the will of Alfred Nobel. ...

When the First World War broke out, the Quakers were once more to learn what it was to suffer for their faith. They refused to carry arms, and many of them were thrown into prison, where they were often treated worse than criminals. But it is not this that we shall remember longest. We who have closely observed the events of the First World War and of the inter-war period will probably remember most vividly the accounts of the work they did to relieve the distress caused by the war. As early as 1914, the English Quakers started preparation for relief action. They began their work in the Marne district in France and, whenever they could, they went to the very places where the war had raged. They worked in this way all through the war and when it ended were confronted by still greater tasks. For then, as now, hunger and sickness followed in the wake of the war. ... In the midst of the work everywhere were the Quakers. It was the Friends Service Committee which, at Hoover's request, took on the mighty task of obtaining food for sick and undernourished children in Germany. Their relief corps worked in Poland and Serbia, continued to work in France, and later during the civil war in Spain rendered aid on both sides of the front.

For it is not in the extent of their work or in its practical form that the Quakers have given most to the people they have met. It is in the spirit in which this work is performed. “We weren't sent out to make converts”, a young Quaker says: “we've come out for a definite purpose, to build up in a spirit of love what has been destroyed in a spirit of hatred. …. the thing that seems most important is the fact that while the world is waging a war in the name of Christ, we can bind up the wounds of war in the name of Christ. Religion means very little until it is translated into positive action. “...

The Quakers have shown us that it is possible to translate into action what lies deep in the hearts of many: compassion for others and the desire to help them – that rich expression of the sympathy between all men, regardless of nationality or race, which, transformed into deeds, must form the basis for lasting peace. For this reason alone the Quakers deserve to receive the Nobel Peace Prize today. But they have given us something more: they have shown us the strength to be derived from faith in the victory of the spirit over force.

Being a Peace Prize winner sometimes gives opportunities to join with other winners to consider current issues, and occasionally to speak out with them. But the greatest privilege of being a Peace Prize Laureate is to be able to make nominations each year to the Oslo-based Nobel Peace Prize Committee. AFSC has done this since 1948, in that year nominating Mahatma Gandhi.

Since 2005 Quaker Peace & Social Witness has participated in the process, appointing a Quaker to serve on AFSC's Nobel Peace Prize nominating task group. Each spring, suggestions are invited and then a careful process of research and discernment follows. The latest nomination – for the 2016 prize – is Nonviolent Peaceforce. Unlike most nominees, Quaker nominees are deliberately publicised to encourage and strengthen their work.

More information about the Quaker work that was awarded the prize and how to participate in the nomination process is available at http://quakernobel.org.

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As Quaker relief work in France extended, Hilda chose to move from where she had been working to Sermaize, where life was slightly calmer but facilities more basic despite increasing levels of illness in the area. In one of her last surviving letters from the war years, she said that some things are too complicated to explain in writing.

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