Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Countering War: The Role of the League of Nations Union

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Countering War: The Role of the League of Nations Union

Article excerpt

This article discusses the formation of the League of Nations Union (LNU) as a reminder of those who have resisted war in the past and for those who seek to do so in 2015. Emphasis is placed on the Victorian branch of the LNU which played a leadership role in the Australian peace movement after the LNU's formation in 1921 until the onset of WWII. The LNU has been a neglected area of research and is often dismissed as irrelevant since its existence was attached to the failures of the League of Nations, a world body instituted at the end of WWI to prevent future wars. During WWII, a handful of members remained faithful to LNU principles and goals until its dissolution and conversion into its successor, the United Nations Association of Australia (UNAA). This article seeks to shed some light on the LNU's general legacy to peacemaking in Australia.


The League of Nations Union (LNU) was a voluntary organisation that originated in Britain. It was formed by liberal peace advocates towards the end of WWI to promote the creation of a world organisation for the securing and maintenance of world peace. The new world organisation, the League of Nations, came into existence at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 to ensure that war would never occur again. Thereafter the LNU's goal was to mobilise mass support for the League of Nations and to pressure government leaders to uphold the principles embodied in its Covenant. The movement spread to the Dominions, and LNU branches were established in each of the Australian capital cities.

This article focuses on the Victorian branch in Australia. For purposes of clarity, the League of Nations Union is shortened throughout to the LNU, while the League of Nations is sometimes referred to as 'the League'.

Much of the anti-war effort of the LNU in the first decade of its existence was devoted to the disarmament cause. Europe was still in a state of post-war economic and political dislocation, and the European powers were less than enthusiastic about the new diplomatic methods of the League to resolve conflicts. They were especially concerned that the League's agenda for disarmament would jeopardise their national security. After the breakdown of the 1932 World Disarmament Conference sponsored by the League, the LNU in Australia, as in Britain, turned its attention to education in the hope of bringing about a shift in attitudes towards peace and international understanding. During the mid-thirties, growing fears of another world war mounted. Last-ditch attempts to confront the threat of war and fascism led to a combined effort by the broader peace movement to form the International Peace Campaign, in line with the movement in Britain. After the outbreak of WWII, a reduced LNU membership focused on post-war reconstruction and a more effective world organisation to prevent future wars. In conclusion, the article considers the LNU's relevance for today.

Formation and Activities of League of Nations Union (LNU)

Is it beyond human capacity to advance from international barbarism to an intelligent means of settling international disputes? The hope of mankind in this direction lies in the League of Nations (John Latham c1921).

At the inaugural meeting of the Victorian branch of the LNU, its first president John Latham (leading lawyer and later Attorney-general, Opposition leader, Deputy Prime Minister and Chief Justice of the High Court) explained that 'During the war the people had been led to believe that the object of the war was to end war; that victory would usher in a new era of civilisation and humanity'. While victory was won, Latham insisted the only practical measure that would guarantee the future peace of the world was the League of Nations. And in order for it to succeed, it needed mass support because it would never be a 'perfect' organisation with the backing of governments alone (Argus 13 April 1921).

Like the British LNU, membership in Australia included a number of prominent establishment figures, particularly in the Victorian branch. …

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