Quotations: opposition to the war

These World War I quotations about opposition to the war have been compiled by Alpha History authors. They feature statements from contemporary figures, political leaders, military commanders, service personnel, anti-war campaigners and historians of World War I. We will update this page with new quotes from time to time. If you would like to suggest a quotation, please contact us.

“[When the United States declared war on Spain in 1898] it did not require much political wisdom to see that America’s concern was a matter of sugar, and had nothing to do with humanitarian feelings. Of course, there were plenty of credulous people, even in liberal ranks, who believed in America’s claim. I could not join them. I was sure that no one, be it individual or government, engaged in enslaving and exploiting at home, could have the integrity or the desire to free people in other lands.”
Emma Goldman, American socialist

“Public opinion is becoming shocked and alarmed at the thought that this country could be dragged into the horrors of a general European war, although she has no direct interest in it and is, admittedly, bound by no treaty obligations to take part.”
The Manchester Guardian, August 1st 1914

“Is Europe to be drenched in blood? And are we to be involved because, in an obscure town, a madman kills a prince? It is incredible that a Liberal government, whose members have spoken eloquently for peace, should abandon our impregnable independence. Let the people revolt against so criminal an act. Were we to fight, the consequences would be too awful to contemplate.”
Edwin T Heys, British citizen, August 1914

“If [Sir Edward Grey] had come here today and told us that our country is in danger… we would be with him and behind him. If this is so, we will vote him what money he wants… But he has not persuaded me… If the nation’s honour were in danger, we would be with him. There has been no crime committed by statesmen of this character without those statesmen first appealing to their nation’s honour. We fought the Crimean War because of our honour. We rushed to South Africa because of our honour. [Grey] is appealing to us today because of our honour. There is a third point. If [Grey] could come to us and tell us that a small European nationality like Belgium is in danger, and could assure us that he is going to confine the conflict to that question, then we would support him. What is the use of talking of coming to the aid of Belgium, when as a matter of fact, you are engaging in a whole European war?”
Ramsay MacDonald, British politician, August 1914

“The crime we should commit in taking part in the war, which the government has stated we are not under obligation to do, should impel every humane man and woman to exercise all the influence of which he or she is capable to secure our neutrality and non-intervention.”
Harry Nuttall, British politician, August 1914

“Nationalist passions cannot excuse this attitude, which is unworthy of what the world has hitherto called ‘culture’. It would be a grave misfortune were this spirit to gain general currency among the intellectuals. It would not only threaten culture as such, it would endanger the very existence of the nations, for whose protection this barbarous war was unleashed.”
Manifesto of 93 European scientists, September 1914

“I am absolutely and completely desolated. It is utterly unbearable to see day by day the youths going away, first to boredom and discomfort, and then to slaughter… It is horrible, a nightmare to be stopped anyhow. May no other generation live under the cloud we live under.”
John Maynard Keynes, British economist, 1915

“I do not see this war as one which has welded governments and peoples into complete and sympathetic solidarity, as against the common enemy… I see both nations duped by their Junkers and militarists into wreaking on one another the wrath they should have spent in destroying Junkerism and militarism in their own country. And I see the Junkers and militarists of England and Germany jumping at the chance they have longed for… of smashing one another and establishing their own oligarchy as the dominant military power in the world.”
George Bernard Shaw, British playwright, 1915

“Large numbers of young men, the most courageous and physically fit in their respective nations, are killed, bringing great sorrow to their friends, loss to the community, and gain only to themselves. Many others are maimed for life, some go mad and others become nervous wrecks, mere useless and helpless derelicts. Of those who survive, many will be brutalised and morally degraded by the fierce business of killing, which may be the soldier’s duty [but] must shock and often destroy the more humane instincts. As every truthful record of war shows, fear and hate let loose the wild beast in… combatants, leading to strange cruelties which must be faced but not dwelt upon, if sanity is to be preserved.”
Bertrand Russell, British philosopher, January 1915

“The armies and navies of the world are kept up by three causes: cowardice, love of dominion and lust for blood.”
Bertrand Russell, British philosopher, August 1915

“If it were necessary to give the briefest possible definition of imperialism, we should have to say that imperialism is the monopoly stage of capitalism… They are fighting a war for the purpose of retaining the colonies they have grabbed and robbed.”
Vladimir Lenin, Russian socialist

“The war [is] imperialist (that is, an annexationist, predatory, war of plunder) on the part of both sides. It is a war for the division of the world, for the partition and repartition of colonies and spheres of influence [and] of finance capital.”
Vladimir Lenin, Russian socialist

“There is such thing as a man being too proud to fight.”
Woodrow Wilson, US president, May 1915

“All this madness, all this rage, all this flaming death of our civilization and our hopes, has been brought about because a set of official gentlemen, living luxurious lives, mostly stupid, and all without imagination or heart, have chosen that it should occur rather than that any one of them should suffer some infinitesimal rebuff to his country’s pride.”
Bertrand Russell, British philosopher

“Against the vast majority of my countrymen… in the name of humanity and civilisation, I protest against our share in the destruction of Germany. A month ago Europe was a peaceful comity of nations: if an Englishman killed a German, he was hanged. Now, if an Englishman kills a German, or if a German kills an Englishman, he is a patriot who has deserved well of his country.”
Bertrand Russell, British philosopher

“I am as anxious as anyone can be for a successful issue and for an honourable peace. I hope and believe that that peace can be secured without conscription. For conscription is a hateful thing and is almost certain to bring evil in its train… Australia has done her full share – I am inclined to say more than her full share – in this war. Australians, brave as they have proved themselves to be in the field, are a peace-loving people. They will not easily give conscription a foothold in this country.”
Daniel Mannix, Irish-Australian archbishop, September 1916

“We oppose conscription because we are internationalists, anti­-militarists and opposed to all wars waged by capitalistic governments. We will fight for what we choose to fight for; we will never fight simply because we are ordered to fight. We believe that the militarisation of America is an evil that far outweighs, in its anti­-social and anti-­libertarian effects, any good that may come from America’s participation in the war.”
No Conscription League (US) manifesto, 1917

“The [Soviet] government considers that to continue this war, simply to decide how to divide the weak nationalities among the powerful and rich nations which have seized them, would be the greatest crime against humanity, and it solemnly announces its readiness to sign at once the terms of peace which will end this war… equally just for all nationalities, without exception.”
Manifesto of the new Soviet Russian government, October 1917

“Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder… The master class has always declared the wars, the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose — especially their lives. They have always taught and trained you to believe it to be your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at their command. But in all the history of the world you, the people, have never had a voice in declaring war, and strange as it certainly appears, no war by any nation in any age has ever been declared by the people.”
Eugene Debs, American socialist, June 1918

“Every solitary one of these aristocratic conspirators and would-be murderers claims to be an arch-patriot. Every one of them insists that the war is being waged to make the world safe for democracy. What humbug! What rot! What false pretence! These autocrats, these tyrants, these red-handed robbers and murderers… the men who have the courage to stand face to face with them speak the truth and fight for their exploited victims. They are the dis-loyalists and traitors. If this be true, I want to take my place side by side with the traitors in this fight.”
Eugene Debs, American socialist, June 1918


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