#whitefeather diaries

Quaker criticises 'extreme pacifists'

Tuesday 22 March 2016

Quakers were divided in various ways during World War I. Some who were sympathetic to the government and the war effort were critical of the behaviour of more radical Quakers. This letter appeared in The Times on 19 February 1916, sent by a London Quaker, Juliet Godlee.


The honour of the Society of Friends has been questioned on two grounds. First, they are accused of physical fear and a desire to save their own skins; secondly, of “peaceful penetration” for the manufacture of conscientious objectors.

The first accusation is due to a fundamental misunderstanding of their attitude. Quakers are not wanting in the courage which inspires their fellow-citizens. The second is not so easily dismissed. The action of some of the extreme pacifists, who are using the name of the Society in a political agitation to make the Military Service Act unworkable, is a cause of grief and indignation to many of us; but they do not represent the Society as a whole.

Whether or not we are one with the will of the nation in this great crisis is not the question. Those of us whose inborn Quakerism refuses to be bound by any dogma – it may even be the majority of us – are heart and soul with our country in what we believe to be the only honourable course and the only one in line with that of the Good Samaritan.

In any case the Society of Friends is not a political organisation, and to exploit it for such purposes is to betray a trust. In this case it is the more serious because, being citizens of a State where such freedom is possible, we are on our honour not to abuse it.

Yours faithfully,

Juliet M. Godlee

Source: The Times, 19 February 1916. 

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