Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 3, No. 6
Bernard Shaw Says . .
Bernard Shaw Says . . .
One of Shaw's lesser known classics is the fat volume entitled What I Really Wrote. About the War. In typically Shavian fashion he analyses the war, its causes and results, its blunders and its revelations, casting into his dialectic a welter of paradox that almost, holds the reader spellbound. Two chapters are particularly applicable for citation in this salient. They are "Compulsory Soldiering" and "Conscientious Objectors." Although, being over military ago, Shaw said that he would have fought if he had come within the limit. Therefore he does not hold the objector's [unclear: attitude] himself. See whether any of these paragraphs apply in this year of disgrace, 1940.—
"The change went far deeper than that. It brought the war literally home to the nation. It made an end to the rhetoric about individual liberty with which the British have doped themselves for so many centuries. I speak for the nineteenth at first hand. No article of faith was better established than that Englishmen would never stand conscription. In the twentieth we had to put up with it as holpless—-as sheep have to put up with the shambles.
"But the old pretence was kept up by a clause in the act which reserved the liberty of the Briton to refuse to serve if he had a conscientious objection to war. Only, lest all those who had not onlisted under the voluntary system should nullify compulsion by giving a conscientious complexion to their reluctance to serve, the authorities took care to make the lot of the Conshy, as he was called, much less eligible than that of the ordinary soldier. He was vigorously persecuted.
"As, like the rest of the public, I have no information concerning the nature and extent of the special emergency that the Conscriptionists allege, and no conviction that it exists except in their imaginations, nor indeed any means of distinguishing these who want Conscription for its own sake from those who are morely being frightened into it, I have an open mind on the subject; for if the vital inters to of the nation are really at stake we shall clearly have to resort to Conscription, just as we should have to resort to compulsory marriage & even compulsory polygamy, if our population were reduced by war or otherwise to a dangerous degree . . .
Conscription must not be introduced merely because a general declares that it is necessary. It is the busines of a general to think it is necessary, just as it is the business of a cobbler to think that there is nothing like leather.
"The accepted figure for the full fighting force of a nation is ten percent of its population. If the figure is wrong it had better be recalculated, [unclear: Meanwgile] it seems probable that we can reach that figure without conscription ...
"Conscription should not be introduced without the largest safe- page break guards of the liberty of the subject. If it comes it will come to stay.
"If the decision is to be conscription let it be faced, not as a temporary expedient, but as an advance in social organisation; and let the citizen bo guaranteed that on his turn comes to serve he will serve with all his rights intact, and not as the Hessian serfs and British wastrels of the Prussianized British, army of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had to serve ....
"Mr. Chappelow was employed in the Education Department of the London County Council. The decision therefore means that public education is of no service to the country; and that to take a man of special literary aptitudes from the work of national education, and to set him to sweep barracks, dig latrines, or wait at table on an officers mess is to effect a stroke of national economy which will materially help to win the war. The ignorant folly of such a conclusion would be disheartening enough even if Mr. C. were now actually sweeping the barracks or digging the [unclear: latrinos]... But Mr. C. is neither sweeping nor digging. He is not only eating his head off in prison, but holding the labour and energy of other [unclear: non] guarding him,; feeding him, book-keeping and reporting about him, and talking and writing a great deal of nonsense about his case. In view of so idiotic a result, I can only say that if the military author- [unclear: ities] are proud of themselves, and feels that the Germans are reeling under the effects of its activities, its facility in self-satisfaction is to be envied.
"It must not be inferred that I am justifying the logical position of the [unclear: Ocnscientious] objector. In that matter I am entirely on the side of Lady Ophelia, whose Socialist position is unassailable. The State, has beyond all question the right to put Mr. C. [unclear: Millon] into the army, however much he may dislike it, as it has to put lady Ophelia into a munition factory [unclear: duration] the war, and thereafter into a laundry or jam factory until she is seventy arid retires on an old age pension...
"But—for there is a but--the art of government is not the art of arranging human life [unclear: syllogivticall].... For example, the war is killing out millions of human being at the very moment when it is [unclear: derionstrating] that [unclear: yh] [unclear: ton] is the [unclear: very] basis Of military strength. Yet there are in this country large numbers of women of child-bearing age and sound condition living in religious houses in obdurate celibacy. There is not a single argument in favour of compelling C.O.'s to serve in the army that is not also an argument for enacting that if these women d0 not in a year supply the country with a baby apiece they will be punished. And there is no possible justification for proceeding in the case of a C.O., not by [unclear: specialy] penalty, that would not justify a similar [unclear: compulasion] applied to [unclear: cooalcitrani] [unclear: run].
"I am here not quite so far from [unclear: otic].." possibilities as some of our compulsionists may think The time to come when we shall have to maintain the population if it is be maintained, either by endowing voluntary parentage, or else making four children the condition of the marriage license, and enforcing the condition by severe penalties when its [unclear: fulfilnon] is possible, and by dissolution of the marriage when it is not. I could open an [unclear: appalling] vista of coming compulsion before the women and the men turned forty-one who are at present so anxious to see everyone else stabbing sacks with [unclear: payonets] in page break propartition for the trenches. If, when their own turn comes, they feel nothing but an overwhelming anarchistic indignation at the interference with personal liberty, it will not console them very much to remember that they themselves asked for it.. for other people.
"My conclusion is that the Conscientious Objector clause, though very bad logic, is very good sense, and could save us a great deal of trouble and waste of energy if some of its good sense could be slipped into the heads of the tribunals and the military authorities.
Later on in his chapter on C.O.'s Shaw ridicules the stupidity of a government that enacted the C.O. clause and yet committed to state a penalty for its evasion. The result naturally was such as we had in N.Z. during the last war, under the National Government. Conscientious objectors take [unclear: archibald] Baxter and Mark Briggs found themselves deprived of all rights, whether civil or military, and since no penalty had been, specified, they were at the mercy of any piece of red tape that wanted to throw its weight about.
In England the moral pointed out by Shaw's discourse seems to have been followed. Will it be followed in New Zealand, where the Labour Government is reputedly just and humanitarian, end where the [unclear: conscrrption] of wealth has long been regarded as the only condition for the conscription of life?