Salient: Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32, No. 5. 1969.
Conscientious Objection — and how to do it
and how to do it
Finlay Downs and Lindsay Pope give a personal viewpoint
The Conscientious objector highlights an ethological problem centuries old: "To what ultimately does man owe his allegiance?" Is it to himself, to the State, to God or to what?
Military systems, because of conscription and their Compulsory Military Training policies, are the focal point of conscientious objection today. However the New Zealand National Military Service Act 1961 makes no attempt to define the term "conscientious objection" except to say:
"If any person subject to registration claims that he conscientiously objects:
(a) To serving with the Armed Forces; or
(b) To performing combatant duties he may instead of applying for service in the army, apply to be registered as a conscieutious objector."
A person can C.O. to military service on various grounds depending on his own personal ideology — whether humanist, religious, political apolitical or whatever.
The pacifist believes in the sanctity of human life and he adheres to the doctrine that the abolition of war is both desirable and possible. Obviously, he is diametrically opposed to the religion which trusts only in the power and ultimate triumph of material forces. Injustice and violence can be overcome by positive action, sacrifice and devotion which does not carry with it the foreboding chain reaction of hatred.
The Christian Pacifist relies on the Christian Faith—"Thou shall not kill"—to manifest his belief that human body is sacred. Christian Pacifism is no merely individualistic concern for man's own purity or the salvation of his own soul, but a compulsion to champion a truth that seems to him vital to the soul of the nation and more importantly mankind.
Gandhi said that—"Non-violence does not mean meek submission to the evil-doer, but it means the putting of one's whole soul against the will of the tyrant."
To deal with the political C.O. is not within the scope of this article. It will suffice to say that a person's political ideology may prohibit his co-operation with the State in a war. Witness the thousands of American student's avoiding the draft. This is a militant protest against the Vietnam war after considering the political, moral and social aspects of the war.
Conscience is the faculty by which we discriminate between right and wrong in conduct, as taste is the faculty by which we discriminate the wholesome from the poisonous in food. To deny it's authority is therefore to deprive a man of his moral personality. We come now to answer our initial question. The conscientious objector finds that his final allegiance is to his conscience. The state does not possess either the alchemic power to convert wrong into right or the supreme authority to compel men to do what they think is wrong.
Thoreau said: "Must the citizen ever for a moment or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has everyman a conscience, then? I think we should be men first and subjects afterward."
Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought; conscience and religion" —recognises and respects a man's conscience.
In New Zealand the state attempts to crush a person's moral conscience by the imposition of military service on all minors that "win" the ballot. It is the confrontation with the bloody-minded techniques of the war-machine and its subordinate ally the R.S.A. and its subsequent erradiction of conscience that is offensive.
Since the formation of governments it has been their habit to encroach on individual munity". Men who believe in freedom have freedom for the so-called "good of the comfound themselves pressed into army services and—lacking initiative—they helped support many vicious regimes Albert Einstein said it was every man's duty to refuse military service. But he later supported the war against Hitler. This wasn't inconsistent. It was one man exerting freedom to fight for what he believed. But if government conscipts a man to fight against people for whom he bears no malice it is his duly to use every possible subterfuge to evade such service.
If a person has registered as a C.O. and draws the ballot he will face the Objection Committee. This committee consists of three members appointed by the Minister of Labour.
One of these gentlemen will be appointed chairman—he can be a member of R.S.A. One member will be a minister of religion (often a ex-army chaplain therefore member of R.S.A.). The third is a member of R.S.A. Thus the C.O. is faced with a heavily prejudiced group of people which will give him and his ideals short-shift unless his case is well-prepared. Remember the committee's decision is final and cannot be questioned in court, (N.M.S. Act 1961 cl. 45. s.cl.2).
The C.O. will be expected to hand in a statement at the time of registration. Do Not Do This Hand in your form at the inquiry not before. A parent, friend, clergyman or lawyer is permitted to attend with applicant to testfy as to the sincerity of his views.
He will be given the choice of serving with the Armed Forces or serving the army in a non-combatant role. The C.O. hearing committee takes pains to ensure that he has the most favourable impression of non-combatant activity in the army as possible. In fact the first seven weeks a non-combatant spends in the army he is subjected to drill and rifle practice: his spirit is crushed and the Prussian disciplines and doctrines of the army are instilled into him before he commences on his non-combatant duties.
The hearing consists of five steps:
If a statement is provided. You are obliged to take an oath; You read your statement to the committee; They question you on your statement; Your witness testifies on your behalf; He is cross-examined.
You will have to state your views ad lib if a statement is not provided.
So far only one approach to expression of man's conscience with respect to Military Service has been expounded i.e. the government's method involving all the bureaucratic refinements of C.O. boards and such assorted paraphanelia.
Another more radical approach is to completely ignore the whole situation. Why should you comply with the process of registration— after all it was their idea not yours. However the person taking this course of action must be prepared to face the civil arm of the military—the police and possible imprisonment if you are caught. However some students change addresses very rapidly often leaving no forewarding address. This can easily give the impression that the person has disappeared if not actually deceased.
If you are imprisoned it is essential to have a lawyer and your own doctor. Contact Amnesty International, they can provide valuable assistance. A prisoner of conscience can be very embarrassing to the government in "peace-time". Hunger strikes have been used by political prisoners to great effect-every possible means of publicising your predicament must be utilised. The prison term corresponds to the amount of lime you would have spent being brain-washed at the training camp.
If you have the strength of your convictions by going to prison you can bring far more attention to the authoritarian government's persecution of men who believe in freedom.
On being forced into the army the radical Conscientious Objector can now strike some positive blows in the name of human freedom namely SERVE and SABOTAGE.
This was the theme of a controversial pamphlet printed in Australia by "The Resistance". It said;
Ferment revolution—use any means to lower morale—anything from a dead rat under the floor boards to losing yourself on a crosscountry exercise. But do not become recognised as a leader.
Inspections should always be chaotic and visitors antagonized. Many mechanical objects and facilities, if they are broken or borrowed effect the military machinery and personal morale. Fires are easy to Start, The old trick of a matchbox closed on a burning cigarette still works. Remember 'accidental' fires are always the best, Radios are expensive and easily broken. Firearms don't break easily, but missing parts are hardly ever found. Engines don't work so well with sweetened petrol. Fuel leads often break— and then there is no spare in the tool-box, . . . you could sit around all day waiting on fresh supplies. Even in the shit house use your nail-file—undo screws and spike Cisterns. Little things mean a lot in the long run. Soldiers get lost on exercises all the time, just as often they give wrong directions. Sometimes signposts are altered or even lost. Careless soldiers sometimes start fires in the underbrush.
Be smart. Have faith in yourself. You're fighting for freedom. Freedom is the catchword. Get yourself a grab-bag full.