War is a Crime against Humanity: The Story of The War Resisters' International


New book by Devi Prasad out on 21 October 2005

The War Resisters' International was formed in reaction to the senseless slaughter of World War I with a mission not only to oppose all war but also to strive to eradicate its causes. This ambitious programme introduced a new and political dimension to the existing moral and religious basis of pacifism. It attracted some of the best pacifist thinkers and activists from around the world - George Lansbury, Bertrand Russell, Bayard Rustin, Martin Niemoeller, Danilo Dolci, and Mahatma Gandhi. The contributions of such figures and the sacrifice and heroism of the thousands who refused to cooperate with their government's war apparatus are chronicled for the first time in this long awaited book.

This book starts with a survey of the historical roots of pacifism in the presence of nonviolence within most world-religions. It goes on to describe the spread of pacifism via European non-conformist religious movements and its adoption by Tolstoi who was the first pacifist to urge action not just against the symptoms of violence but against its causes too: primary social and economic injustice. The major part of the book deals with the history of the War Resisters' International itself - including its formation and rapid spread; its response to Italian action in Abyssinia and the Spanish Civil War; the many challenges posed by World War II; the schism with Albert Einstein; compulsory military service; the Cold War and the nuclear threat; the anti-war movement in the 60s and 70s; and specific nonviolent direct actions such as those in response to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Bangladesh war and US draft resistance during the Vietnam war.

Advance praise for War is a crime against humanity

"War Resisters' International, born out of the horrors and stupidity of World War I, has kept the banners of conscientious objection and abolition of war flying through the most atrocious century of European history. I am proud to have been a council member. For, like those, also to a large extent informed and inspired by English Quakers who ultimately brought slavery to an end, war resisters, organised or not, will bring about the end to  war, ever more an insult to human dignity and intelligence."

Johan Galtung, dr hc mult, Professor of Peace Studies 

Founder and Co-director, TRANSCEND: A Peace and Development Network

"Devi Prasad's work of War Resisters International, on which he has worked so long, is going to be of great value to all scholars of the pacifist movement. As one who worked with Devi over a period of many years I am delighted the book is reaching the public. It will document how important the role of the WRI has been."

David McReynolds, USA

Former chair of War Resisters' International, long-time activist with the War Resisters League and the Socialist Party

"Today's peace movement in many parts of the world and especially its pacifist orientation is hardly imaginable without the indefatigable work of the War Resisters' International. It is a great merit of Devi Prasad to map out the history of this organisation and its experiences and to make it accessible to today's generation of the peace movement. Of course Devi Prasad himself has contributed so much to the development and internationality of the WRI."

Prof. Dr. Andreas Buro

Speaker of the „Komitee für Grundrechte und Demokratie"

"This books turns the light on a long neglected chapter of Twentieth Century history - the stories of many who spoke out and acted to bring an end to the war institution. It is about ordinary people in many European countries and in the United States of America who envisioned a world free of war and militarism."

George Willoughby


The author

Devi Prasad studied at Shantiniketan, Tagore's University, worked as a teacher and artist in Sevagram, Gandhi's ashram, from the 1940s until 1962. From 1962-1972 he was General Secretary of the WRI.

During his time at the WRI significant changes took place. While still concentrating on the work for conscientious objection it widened its scope of work to nonviolence training and nonviolent action against armaments and war. One of the highlights of this development was the presentation of the Manifesto for Nonviolent Revolution at the Triennial Conference of 1972, which then was a real challenge to many people in the WRI.

Devi Prasad took a leading role in widening WRI's work towards nonviolence social change for a world without war.

Devi Prasad: War is a crime against humanity: The story of War Resisters' International

ISBN 0-903517-20-5. 560 pages, 67 photos

Publication date: 21 October 2005

£28.00 plus postage. Order online at the WRI webshop.


War Resisters' International is grateful to Devi Prasad for the years of work that have gone into the creation of "War is a crime against humanity: The story of War Resisters' International." Of course this book is not only the result of his research and writing but also of Devi's nearly 50 years of association with WRI and the pacifist movement.

As Devi states in his Introduction, this book does not include everything that would be necessary for a "complete chronology or thorough analysis" of WRI. That would be an extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, task. Devi's relationship to WRI gives this book a special perspective that would not be possible if written by someone not as committed to the organization and movement. Devi also gives us a glimpse at the history of nonviolence and pacifism prior to the founding of WRI in 1921, and the history of conscription, helping us to understand the struggles and inspirations that gave rise to the War Resisters' International.

Right from the start, members of the WRI said that refusing military service is not enough. Social change is needed as well.

As our Statement of Principles says, WRI "exists to promote nonviolent action against the causes of war and to support and connect people around the world who refuse to take part in war or the preparation of war. On this basis, it works for a world without war."

Different people will find different stories in this book of special interest and inspiration. There are stories of individual acts of sacrifice on the part of war resisters, and stories of collective actions against war and the causes of war. WRI's 23rd Triennial Conference held in Dublin in 2002 was entitled "Stories and Strategies: Nonviolent Resistance and Social Change" in recognition that telling the stories of what has happened helps us develop new strategies for the future. Devi Prasad has told the stories, I encourage you all to read them with an eye towards developing a deeper understanding of the strategies needed for nonviolent resistance and social change.

This history covers the first 53 years of our now 84 year old organization. As Devi says in his Introduction, this is an ever-developing story. I first became involved in WRI in 1975, around the time this narrative ends. These past thirty years of WRI activities has included the incorporation of a feminist perspective and gender lens into our work, the movement against nuclear power which WRI helped to spread internationally, and the continual expanding of our global network.

WRI now consists of 90 groups in 43 countries and a network that goes beyond that.

WRI is both a network and an organization with two main programmes.

The Right to Refuse to Kill combines a wide range of activities to support conscientious objectors individually, as well as organised groups and movements for conscientious objection.

Pioneer conscientious objectors continue to come forward in their own countries. In support of their acts of conscience, we work to create an antimilitarism movement. While progress has been made, a week ago Turkish CO Mehmet Tarhan was given a historical punishment of 4 years imprisonment for his refusal to serve in the Turkish military. We clearly have a long way to go.

The WRI Nonviolence Programme's goals are to deepen our understanding of nonviolence, nonviolent strategies, and nonviolent campaigning, and to develop and provide tools and support to groups using nonviolence. We have much to build on, as this book shows, and much to do as we promote the use of nonviolence.

The hope of War Resisters' International is that more and more people will come to the understanding that war is a crime against humanity. Devi Prasad's book of that name is a contribution towards that goal.

Joanne Sheehan, Chair, WRI
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