Click the image to learn more. An anti-war crowd gathers at UWM in May 1970 during a month that witnessed the invasion of Cambodia by U.S. military forces and the shooting of student protestors at Kent State University by National Guard troops.

Peace. A word considered by both religious and secular society as an ideal condition for human well-being. Too often, the concept of peace itself is linked to war or stopping war, with less focus on how societies achieve well-being.

Peace scholars define peace as an absence: of war and physical or institutional violence. People who accept this definition center “war” in images and words, and engage in actions directed toward ending war and violence, actions associated with anti-war movements and protests against injustice. Some peace scholars define peace as a presence: of justice, wholeness, cooperation, equality, development, human rights, global understanding, and care for the environment. People who acknowledge this definition center “peace” in images and words, and engage in actions that promote and protect practices, policies, and systems necessary to sustain a culture of peace.[1]

Anti-war groups, which work against war, violence, and injustice, have shaped a significant part of Milwaukee‘s history. During the Civil War, the local militia urged people to “prepare for war and prepare for peace.”[2] Instead, men resisted service during the Civil War and every subsequent war, right up until 1973 when the draft ended. Volunteers have counseled those considering alternatives to military service and have aided those applying for conscientious objector status.

Resistance occurred in other ways, too. Socialists used slogans, referring to the Great War as a “Big Businessmen’s War”; pamphlets, asking “What are We Fighting For?”; and questions asking why and when wars actually start,[4] questions asked about every subsequent war, including the current “war on terrorism.” The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) worked to stop US involvement in the Great War; successfully advocated the Wisconsin legislature to support the outlawing of war in the 1920s; urged an end to the draft; and advocated for nuclear disarmament. Wisconsinites resisted participation in air raid drills during World War Two; ignored civil defense drills during the Cold War; protested military oppression in Central America; and protested various weapons systems, most recently, drones.

The Milwaukee Fourteen brought the Vietnam War home in dramatic fashion in 1968 when they entered Milwaukee’s Selective Service offices, removed 10,000 draft cards, and burned them as a statement of resistance to the Vietnam War.[5] The Milwaukee Peace Action Center also organized resistance to the Vietnam War. A number of people who protested wars in the 1970s and 1980s did so as members of local chapters of groups that centered “war” in their name and/or in their protests against war, including Clergy and Laity Concerned, Mobilization for Survival, Beyond War, and Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. Peace Action-Milwaukee has taken the lead in protesting wars in the twenty-first century.[6]

People also recognized the links among jobs, injustice, and peace. The “Bay View Massacre” occurred when the state militia fired upon workers protesting unjust working conditions in 1886, killing seven workers. Socialists have protested a war-fueled economy during every war, often joined by peace activists.[7] Peace activists have also supported protests against various forms of injustice, such as racism, apartheid, homelessness, and community violence.

Milwaukeeans also actively worked for peace during these centuries, work that always begins with an ability to imagine and then act to generate new possibilities.

One war that affected people in what later became Milwaukee is known as the Bridge War of 1845. The war ended when people on both sides imagined new possibilities and considered what they might accomplish by cooperating to achieve a common goal. Milwaukee was established in 1846 because people put aside their differences and worked “together for the good of the city.”[8]

Following centuries of wars, government leaders and citizens who began to imagine a world at peace gathered for the World Congress for Peace in the Hague, Netherlands in 1899 to identify criteria indispensable for a lasting peace.[9] Wisconsinites embraced this new concept and later incorporated it into the “Wisconsin Plan for Peace” during the Great War. This proposal served as a model for Wisconsin and all nations seeking a sustained peace.[10] Socialists, too, urged that the “peaceful settlement of disputes by conference, conciliation, arbitration, and judicial determination be strengthened.”[11]

Local organizations also provided information about peace and justice. WILPF, the World Federalists Association, the UN-USA, and the Institute of World Affairs at UWM’s Center for International Education all sponsored public lectures.[12] The Fellowship of Reconciliation, Church Women United, the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, and local congregations did likewise from faith perspectives while fostering interfaith relationships related to peace and justice.[13] Peace groups also advocated for practices, policies, and systems necessary for protecting families and their communities. Socialists and Jobs with Peace worked for a peace-centered economy.[14] The Milwaukee Alternative Life Fund used resisted federal taxes to support schools, playgrounds, and food cooperatives.[15]

Currently, artists, actors, and musicians invite people to imagine and to create a more just and peaceful world through performances. WILPF, Peacemaking Associates, Serve2Unite, and Summer of Peace 365 promote peace programs for children. Peace Gardens foster healthy eating and healthy neighborhoods. Franciscan Peacemakers and WILPF aid victims of the sex trade. Jewish Voices for Peace seeks peace between Palestinians and Israelis. Milwaukeans also celebrate their efforts for peace with justice with gatherings such as Lanterns for Peace and the ChardhiKala Run to honor victims of the Sikh Temple shooting.

Milwaukee area congressional leaders, peace groups, and citizens have long supported national efforts for peace with justice, including Peace through Law, the United States Institute of Peace, the International Court for Justice, and a cabinet level Department of Peace because it “is fitting that a nation, which places a primacy on peace, establishes within the highest councils of its government, a department and a section whose sole function is the pursuit of peace.”[17]

Intersectionality refers to the growing awareness of the interconnectedness among issues that affect people whose very lives embody the concept of intersectionality: in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation, generation, ability, disability, and religion, among others. Intersectionality poses challenges for people regarding both personal identity and personal responses to this complexity of issues. Peace workers are beginning to recognize this intersectionality in their on-going work to create a just and peaceful world for all people.[18]

Footnotes [+]

  1. ^ Johan Galtung, Sixty Speeches on War and Peace (Oslo: International Peace Research Institute, 1988). See also Jacqueline Haessly, “Defining Peace as Absence” and “Defining Peace as Presence” in Weaving a Culture of Peace (Milwaukee: Peace Talk Publications, 2001), which offers a comprehensive review of existing literature on these two definitions of peace. For further information about the concept of a culture of peace, see International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World, 2001-2010, Resolution Adopted by the General Assembly, November 5, 2001, last accessed September 10, 2017, which describes the United Nations Declaration of 2000, and the decade 2000-2010, as a year and a decade dedicated to “Education for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for All the Children of the World.”
  2. ^ See Martin K. Gordon, “The Milwaukee Infantry Militia, 1865-1892,” Historical Messenger of the Milwaukee County Historical Society, 24 (March 1968): 10.
  3. ^ See Frank L. Klement, “Peter V. Deuster, The ‘See-Bolt,’ and the Civil War,” Historical Messenger of the Milwaukee County Historical Society (December 1961): 5-6; see also Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO) Records, 1948-2010, Swarthmore College Peace Collection, last accessed September 11, 2017.
  4. ^ See Victor Berger, Milwaukee Leader, June 6, 1917; Socialists: Jobs, War, and Peace, folder 1, Milwaukee County Historical Society Archives Department; and “What Are We Fighting For?,” pamphlet of Young People’s Socialist League, Socialist Folder, Milwaukee County Historical Society Archives Department.
  5. ^ See the collection of articles accessible through The Nonviolent Cow website, edited by Bob Graf, one of the participants in the Milwaukee Fourteen Action, last accessed September 10, 2017; and The Ultra-Resistance: on the trial of the Milwaukee 14, Jim and Nancy Forest website, by Jim Forest, also one of the participants, last accessed September 10, 2017.
  6. ^ See Clergy and Laity Concerned Records, 1965-1983, last accessed September 10, 2017; Mobilization for Survival, Wisconsin Peace Action website, last accessed September 10, 2017; Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War website, last accessed September 10, 2017; Beyond War, National Peace Academy website, last accessed September 10, 2017.
  7. ^ See Socialist Papers, Box 1, Milwaukee County Historical Society Archives Department; Socialists: Jobs, War, and Peace, Folder 1, Milwaukee County Historical Society Archives Department; and “Bay View Tragedy Commemoration Is May 3,” Bay View Compass, May 1, 2015, last accessed September 10, 2017.
  8. ^ See Bridge War, MKEMemories blog, last accessed September 10, 2017; and “Milwaukee History Comes to Life,” s.v. Bridge War, Milwaukee County Historical Society website, last accessed September 10, 2017. See also Milwaukee’s Bridge War, Milwaukee Riverkeeper website, last accessed September 10, 2017.
  9. ^ David D. Caron, “War and International Adjudication: Reflections on the 1899 Peace Conference,” American Journal of International Law 94 (2000): 4-30, available at Berkeley Law Scholarship Repository, accessed July 2, 2015.
  10. ^ Walter I. Trattner, “Julia Grace Wales and the Wisconsin Plan for Peace,” Wisconsin Magazine of History 44, no. 3 (Spring 1961): 203-213, last accessed September 10, 2017 See also Julia Grace Wales, The International Plan for Continuous Mediation without Armistice, which became known worldwide as the Wisconsin Plan for Peace, accessed June 26, 2015, available on
  11. ^ Socialist leaflet on war and peace, Box 2, File 31, Milwaukee County Historical Society, Archives Department.
  12. ^ All of these organizations continue working for peace with justice throughout the Metropolitan Milwaukee area today.
  13. ^ The Fellowship of Reconciliation is an interfaith organization founded in Europe in 1914, at the beginning of the Great War. Church Women United was organized in 1920 as a means to educate women to speak up against war efforts and has continued to support an ever-expanding range of social, economic, political, racial, religious, and environmental issues through their education programs, as well as days of prayer and worship. The Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee brings together people of multiple religious and faith traditions to address a complexity of local, regional, national, and international issues from a faith perspective.
  14. ^ See Jobs, Peace, and Freedom March, 1983, Box 14, Folder 9, Plymouth Church, United Church of Christ Records, 1841-2009, Archives Department, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries; and Socialists, Jobs, War, and Peace, Folder 1, Milwaukee County Historical Society Archives Department.
  15. ^ See Peacemaking Associates, and records of the Milwaukee Peace Education Resource Center, which coordinated the Milwaukee War Tax Resistance Movement and the Milwaukee Alternative Life Fund between 1971 and 1990.
  16. ^ For information about the specific work of peace education during the past one hundred eighty years, see the entry for “Peace Education” in The Encyclopedia of Milwaukee.
  17. ^ See Henry Reuss, May 1, 1969, HR 19650, S 953, Cabinet Level Department of Peace, Press Release, Februay 6, 1969, Box 56, Folder 25, Henry Reuss papers, Archives Department University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries,; Peace through Law, Box 58, Folder 17, Reuss papers; Henry Reuss, Institute for Peace, Box 58, Folder 17, Reuss papers. See also History, the United States Institute for Peace website,, accessed 2015, information now available at, accessed September 10, 2017; and the International World Court for Justice website, last accessed September 10, 2017.
  18. ^ See Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw on the topic of intersectionality, and its meaning for today” Kimberlé Crenshaw on intersectionality: “I Wanted to Come Up with an Everyday Metaphor That Anyone Could Use,” New Statesman website, accessed June 20, 2015.

For Further Reading

Duffy, Michael. Peacemaking Christians: The Future of Just War, Pacifism, and Nonviolence. New York, NY: Sheed and Ward, 1995.

Haessly, Jacqueline. Weaving a Culture of Peace. Milwaukee: Peace Talk Publications, 2001.

Harris, Ian, Dick Ringler, Kent D. Schifferd, and William Skelton. “History of the Wisconsin Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies.” Journal for the Study of Peace and Conflict (2005-2006): 77-88.

Mendlovitz, Saul H., ed. On the Creation of a Just World Order. New York, NY: The Free Press, 1975.

Shifferd, Kent D. From War to Peace: A Guide to the Next Hundred Years. New York, NY: McFarland, 2011.

Wales, Julia Grace. The International Plan for Continuous Mediation without Armistice. Chicago, IL: Woman’s Peace Party, 1915.


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