During both World Wars, Quakers were known for their pacifism and their efforts to promote peaceful solutions to conflicts. Despite their beliefs against war, many Quakers felt compelled to contribute to the war effort in nonviolent ways. One such way was through the Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU), which provided medical aid to both sides of the conflict. Quakers from New Jersey also played important roles in the war effort, with several individuals dedicating their lives to service.
The FAU was a civilian ambulance service that was formed in 1914, at the outbreak of World War I. It was founded by a small group of Quakers who wanted to provide medical aid to those who were suffering on the battlefield. Over the course of the war, the FAU grew in size and scope, eventually sending over 1,000 volunteers to work in France, Belgium and other parts of Europe. The volunteers of the FAU were known for their strict adherence to neutrality and their willingness to serve all those in need, regardless of their nationality or political beliefs.
The FAU’s work during World War II was equally impressive. Although the organization had technically disbanded in 1920 after the end of World War I, it was reformed in 1939 in response to the outbreak of hostilities. Like during the previous war, the FAU provided medical aid to all those in need, while remaining completely neutral in the conflict. By the time the war was over, the FAU had provided over 2 million ambulance runs and had treated countless patients in hospitals and field stations across Europe.
Despite the FAU’s contributions to the war effort, many Quakers felt conflicted about the organization’s work. Some members believed that any participation in war or its aftermath went against their religious beliefs. Others felt that the organization’s neutrality was admirable, but that it should more aggressively advocate for peace. This debate has continued throughout Quaker history.
To quote the formation of the ambulance core “We purpose to train ourselves as an efficient Unit to undertake ambulance and relief work in areas under both civilian and military control, and so, by working as a pacifist and civilian body where the need is greatest, to demonstrate the efficacy of co-operating to build up a new world rather than fighting to destroy the old. While respecting the views of those pacifists who feel they cannot join an organization such as our own, we feel concerned among the bitterness and conflicting ideologies of the present situation to build up a record of goodwill and positive service, hoping that this will help to keep uppermost in men’s minds those values which are so often forgotten in war and immediately afterwards.” A. Tegla Davies, Friends Ambulance Unit (Great Britain: Headley Brothers, 1947), 5-6.
The majority of Quakers chose not to participate in the war effort. They believed that war, in any form, was morally wrong and that it was their duty to resist such violence. This stance was often met with hostility and suspicion. Quakers were accused of being unpatriotic and were sometimes persecuted for their refusal to participate in the war.
Many Quakers from New Jersey were involved in the war effort as well. One such individual was Stephen Grellet, a French-born Quaker who settled in Burlington County. Grellet was a fervent pacifist and was known for his efforts to promote the abolition of slavery. During the War of 1812, he worked as a negotiator for the American government in an attempt to secure the release of American prisoners of war. Another Quaker from New Jersey who contributed to the war effort was Rufus Jones, an educator and novelist who was also a prominent pacifist. Jones was a member of the American Friends Service Committee, which was founded in 1917 to coordinate Quaker relief efforts during the war. Jones played a key role in the organization, helping to set up programs to provide practical support to soldiers and their families. Despite the contributions of individuals like Grellet and Jones, the majority of Quakers chose not to participate in the war effort. They believed that war, in any form, was morally wrong and that it was their duty to resist such violence. This stance was often met with hostility and suspicion. Quakers were accused of being unpatriotic and were sometimes persecuted for their refusal to participate in the war. Yet, despite this opposition, the Quaker commitment to peace has remained steadfast. In 1947, the American Friends Service Committee was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work in providing relief to victims of war. This award recognized the organization’s efforts to promote peace and reconciliation in the face of violence and destruction.
In conclusion, Quakers played significant roles during both World Wars, both through the Friends Ambulance Unit and through individual efforts. While some Quakers felt conflicted about participating in any kind of war-related effort, others believed that nonviolent service was a way to help promote peace and alleviate suffering. Regardless of their individual beliefs, the Quaker commitment to peace has continued to be a cornerstone of their faith and their actions. Through both their pacifism and their service, Quakers have shown that it is possible to resist violence and promote healing in even the most difficult circumstances.
This article was composed by ChatGPT and fact check by Chris Pensiero and edited by Joshua Ponter
Words from the editor:
This is a revision of the first draft of an article composed by ChatGPT. The purpose of this exercise was to show some practical applications of this new technology. For those who don’t know in very simplified terms, ChatGPT is a language algorithm. This means it uses math to guess at the most likely combinations of words based off crowdsourced user interaction… and that is it. This may seem scary or sentient to some, but it is just math and it compositions should not be taken with any greater degree of faith than anything else you read on the internet. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t often very factual, but so is Wikipedia. Please keep that in mind when reading all posted content and always look for follow-up resources like the Friends Journal Magazine which has professional fact checkers for all their articles.