Joseph Briand


Libertarian militant from Rennes who in August 1939 refused to answer the call to report to the Fleet in Brest. He was arrested on 18 September 1939 and taken to prison in Rennes, before transferring to the naval prison in Brest to answer charges before a court martial of refusing to answer the draft. On 20 March 1940 he told the court:

"I have only one aim: to offer the briefest possible excuse for my stance vis a vis current developments: and only one care - to tell the truth as my conscience sees it.

To this question: Why are you a die-hard pacifist? let me answer: because war resolves nothing: because after a war, logic dictates that the preparations for the next be started: because war is ruination, bereavement, millions dead, widows and orphans: because in the last analysis war is the greatest blight of all.

After the millennia during which men have resorted to arms and after the sad experiences of the past, can we honestly believe in their effectiveness? I say no! The appeal must no longer be to such weapons of death but to reason.

Finally, I am against war because it is made by peoples who genuinely do not want it: because these people murder and tear one another asunder without knowing precisely why, for the real reason is always kept carefully from them: because these people have no reason to hate since everything in fact tends to bring them closer together! because each of these peoples reckons it is fighting the good fight and that there will be no more wars after this one. Alas! Just as the same causes produce the same effects, these peoples carrying spinning around in the same vicious circle from which they must break free or die.

When scientists have managed to banish the natural blights which seemed so inexorable, can it be that men have yet to banish the blight that they themselves have created - war?

In bygone days when the necessities of life were rare, men fought one another in order to lay hands on them. Although those methods of struggle are an affront to reason, they could justify themselves. But is that so today? Of course not. Thanks to mechanical advances the world is awash with wealth and yet human suffering is undiminished. Must we conclude from this that men once fought because of shortage and these days fight because of plenty?

Let me just say with the writer Victor Margueritte: 'What the world needs is not a new war but an economic reorganisation.' And, again: 'Above and beyond party stands Humanity.'

Yes, in the wake of the ghastly hecatomb that had the world awash with blood for four years, we should have stepped off the beaten tracks: let each of the belligerents acknowledge its own mistakes and replace the policy of force by mutual comprehension and trust. Now, given that, thanks to progress, nations had become real fictions, national planning should have been dropped in favour of human planning and international economic cooperation - the only guarantee of peace - organised.

Alas! The lords of gold and steel, thanks to a venal press that screeches or stays mum according to need, and thanks also to a gang of unscrupulous politicians, began again to poison peoples, only to end up leading the world into the present catastrophic situation.

Besides those few remarks, it might be useful to cite a few documents as well. And bring up the raw materials needed for war and preparation for war, 85% of which are under the control of the democracies, given the disarmament of Germany which even Marshal Foch has admitted became effective in 1927.

And need we add that in September 1938, with tension in Europe running high, iron ore was still being shipped from France to Germany. To what end? Moreover, if we are to analyse these matters thoroughly, we should go into detail. That is beyond my capability and I have no further wish to do so. War should not be resisted only after it has been declared. I realised that a long time ago. And today there only regret I have is that the voice of reason has not been heeded.

So, in the face of so much craziness, cruelty and incomprehension, the only thing left to man is this movement of the soul: conscientious objection. I have embraced it as my own and I have no regrets about that. Had I to start all over again, I would do the very same thing, confident that I am on the right track and certain also that in weaker moments I could look for comfort to the beautiful ideal of all-out pacifism - which has only one aim: to afford joy and a happy life to the peoples, to all the peoples."


The court sentenced Briand to five years. He was taken to prison in Bougen and was freed in September 1940. In January 1946 he was arrested by the military authorities intent upon having him serve out the remainder of his sentence. He was eventually freed under an amnesty in June 1946.


From: Nicolas Faucier - Pacifisme et Antimilitarisme dans l'entre-deux-guerres (1919-1939), Paris, 1983. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.