How Effective Are Peace Movements?


78 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 0-88772-217-2






Reviewed by Greg Turko

Greg Turko is a policy analyst at the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and


In this essay the author examines peace movements from a number of perspectives including type, organization, strengths and weaknesses, and potential for success or failure. This analysis is from the point of view of one who has had extensive involvement with the peace movement in both Europe and North America.

According to Overy, peace movements can be divided into three basic groupings. The first includes those movements that seek to eliminate all wars (e.g., Quakers, pacifists); the second includes those movements that seek to eliminate a particular aspect of war (e.g., anti-nuclear groups); and the last includes those movements that seek to stop a particular war (e.g., the anti-Viet Nam War movement, the Northern Ireland Peace People).

The question of how effective peace movements are overall is somewhat more difficult to answer, primarily because it is very difficult to establish uniform criteria on which to make a judgment. Overy himself favours organizations such as the anti-Viet Nam movement where a small dedicated group focuses attention on an issue and in the process mobilizes extraordinary public opinion. It would, however, be unwise, according to Overy, to measure effectiveness strictly in terms of wars prevented or nuclear missiles dismantled. To do so would be to rule out a wide range of idealistic goals which cannot be realised but which serve as a potent motivational force. In addition, measuring effectiveness solely in terms of concrete achievements would invite debilitating blows to the morale of a specific organization. Thus, peace movements must also act as a type of social conscience or social idea.

Overy never fully answers the question of whether or not peace movements are effective, partially because it is virtually impossible to draw such a conclusion about movements with such a wide range of activities and partially because he is not acting as a disinterested observer. This, however, does not seriously detract from the value of this book. He has written a very readable and thoughtful essay of interest both to those active within peace movements and to students of peace movements.


Overy, Bob, “How Effective Are Peace Movements?,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 21, 2024,