“Peace has only recently become the prime objective of politics”

Historian Hans-Ulrich Thamer on the history of peace politics and the peace movement to present day: potential for mobilisation in the face of growing feelings of threat – “Motto of the Katholikentag ‘Search for Peace’ is in the air” – Church and Katholikentag provided for mobilisation and continuity in the history of the movement – Symbols of peace such as the dove and the peace sign linked the diverse peace groups, whether communist, ecological or Christian – Münster conference and exhibition “Peace. From Antiquity to the Present Day” including research results

Press release of the Cluster of Excellence from 9 May 2018

Poster of the peace movement
© Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin, Foto: I. Desnica

According to historians, the political goal of peace has never been as important as it is today. “For example, those who considered peace to be the most important political goal in 1913 belonged to a minority,” says historian Prof. Dr Hans-Ulrich Thamer of the University of Münster’s Cluster of Excellence “Religion and Politics” before the 101st Katholikentag. The motto of the German Catholics Day, which will begin in Münster on Wednesday, is “Search for Peace”. “Today, on the other hand, peace is the number one expectation that the population has on politics. This is surprising because people in all epochs longed for peace and expressed it in many ways in art.” In Europe, the peace movement only gained weight after the atrocities of the Second World War. The positive view of peace only became the majority opinion with the peace movement of the 1980s. Today, according to Thamer, the peace movement is in a “latency phase”. “It is less visible, but there has always been ups and downs: should the international situation worsen and feelings of threat grow, the traditional stock can be activated. Peace demonstrations are likely if the fear grows.”

Protestant Church Congresses and Katholikentage in Germany have always contributed to the continuity of the peace movement, according to the historian. It is no coincidence that the upcoming Katholikentag goes by the motto “Search for Peace” and that exhibitions are dedicated to this theme. “The topic is in the wind; in the face of international crises, many feel war glooming. If this becomes more concrete, a new mobilisation is possible. That was unthinkable a few years ago.” However, the global political situation is perceived as much more complex than had been the case in the bipolar world view of the Cold War. In light of this “new complexity”, belief in the ability to implement peace has declined significantly. “The end of the Cold War had promised the transition to a peaceful world. The people of the peace movement had the feeling that their desire for peace was politically feasible. But the Gulf and Balkan Wars were already sobering, as are today’s asymmetric wars like the one in Syria.”

Posters of the peace movement: images of destruction, not peace

Whether the dove of peace, the mushroom cloud or the peace sign – the historian, who has specialised in the study of social movements, explains that the peace movement’s visual language, which is still known today, was of great importance for this social movement. The visual language held the peace movement together because it consisted of very different actors – from communist to ecological to Christian groups. “The posters of the peace movement, which was only loosely organised, were the common sign of identification. They created a minimal consensus and repeated one theme: the threat and destruction of the peaceful world.”


Prof. Dr Hans-Ulrich Thamer
© Exzellenzcluster „Religion und Politik“/ Holger Arning

The dove of peace, however, which is still very much present today, was only one of many symbols at that time, according to the historian. “Only in retrospect was it assigned central importance.” More often, the posters showed pictures from the Vietnam War, from Hiroshima and other destroyed cities. “Artists and peace actors of the entire 20th century rarely portrayed peace itself, on the other hand. As the exhibition ‘Peace. From Antiquity to the Present Day’ shows, this stands in strong contrast to earlier epochs, in which the ideals of peace of the time were illustrated in various allegories and symbols.”

“Show your outrage”

On 24 May, historian Hans-Ulrich Thamer will give a lecture on the history of the peace movement under the title “Entrüstet Euch: Frieden und soziale Bewegungen” (Show your outrage: peace and social movements). He will speak at the conference "PEACE. Theories, Images and Strategies from Antiquity to the Present Day", which is part of the exhibition project “Peace. From Antiquity to the Present Day”. The exhibition can currently be seen at five locations in Münster. Under the title “Wege zum Frieden” (Paths to Peace), the LWL State Museum shows pictures of peace and peace efforts throughout history, including numerous posters of the peace movement.

In reference to the motto “Search for Peace” of the 101st Katholikentag, the scholar explains: “The commitment of Christian groups has given continuity to the peace movement to this day.” In the rallies, discussion forums and peace prayers at Protestant Church Congresses and Katholikentage, more listeners were reached than at any other event. “Especially in the 1980s, they were important mobilisation places of the peace movement, which became a mass movement in reaction to the NATO Double-Track Decision. It set a more positive view of peace against the glorification of war, which was still extreme in the western countries at that time, and slowly brought about a social change in awareness.” (sca/vvm)


Conference “PEACE. Theories, Images and Strategies from Antiquity to the Present Day”

At the conference of the Cluster of Excellence, to which all interested parties are invited and which will be held from 22 to 25 May 2018 in Münster, internationally renowned researchers will address the question in 21 lectures of why people throughout the ages wanted peace, but never succeeded in securing it in the long term. On the basis of many historical examples of European history, they address strategies, behavioural patterns and processes with which people from antiquity to the present day have tried to establish and maintain peace. The researchers focus on how many of the images, rituals and strategies have remained valid over time. At the same time, they show changes typical of their time and their causes.

The conference is part of the exhibition “Peace. From Antiquity to the Present Day”, which will present the topics in a variety of exhibits at five locations in the city of the Peace of Westphalia from 28 April to 2 September 2018. Historian Prof. Dr Gerd Althoff will talk about the building of trust and the history of an elementary strategy of peace-building (Vertrauensbildung. Zur Geschichte einer elementaren Strategie der Friedensherstellung) in the opening lecture on 22 May at 7 pm. In the public evening lecture on 24 May at 8.15 pm, Prof. Dr Christoph Kampmann, historian of the early modern period from Marburg, will deal with peace norms and security policies, using the example of the Peace of Westphalia to illustrate basic problems of the establishment of peace in the early modern period (Friedensnorm und Sicherheitspolitik: Grundprobleme frühneuzeitlicher Friedensstiftung am Beispiel des Westfälischen Friedens). All lectures will be held in the auditorium of LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur at Domplatz 10 in Münster.