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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 3, No. 6

Conscientious Objectors — A Symposium

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Conscientious Objectors

A Symposium

In view of the recent legislation regarding compulsory military service, Salient has compiled the following symposium on conscientious objection: The views expressed are those of well-known personalities and should be of interest to all readers.

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?

The [unclear: Communist] Says ...

With the passing of the powers when mean that the introduction of military conscription for home and over seas is imminent, the workers, everywhere are saying, "What shall I do if the [unclear: oranised] labour movement is unable to prevent the operation of conscription?"

We state [unclear: categerically] that we are opposed to Conscientious Objection as a weapon against the war.

At the 7th. World Congress of the Communist Internet [unclear: and] [unclear: Ercoli] stated clearly what in our opinion is the correct attitude.

"We are not anarchists. Boycott of mobilisation, boycott of the army, sabotage in factories, refusal of military service, and so on, these are not methods of fighting war, because they separate us from the masses and can only help the [unclear: bour-geesie] to strike still more savagely at the Communist vanguard."

An Imperialist war can be ended by refusal of military service-- this is as illusory [unclear: as] to think that exploitation can be ended by refusal to work for a capitalist exploiter.

Lenin in "Notes to the Delegation to the Hague" written in 1922, argued against these who advocated a boycott of military service in this fashion.

"Boycott of war is a stupid phase. Communists must participate even in the most reactionary war."

We must not be guilty of the betrayal of the masses of the workers in the army by isolating the class conscious workers from them.

Karl [unclear: Liebknecht] did not refuse to go to the front when con- page break scripted during the last war. The French Communists did not refuse in the present war. The French Communists did not refuse in the present war. The Bolsheviks in Russia entered the [unclear: Tzarists] Army and [unclear: Vorishiloy] and Budyonny received their first training in the Tzar's Army.

Whilst being very definite in our [unclear: opposition] to Conscientious Objection as a weapon against war we support the right of [unclear: pac] [unclear: itists] and C.O's to refuse to be conscripted and we will protest against their persecution.

J.A. Lee, M.P., S.M.S ...

The Conscientious Objector should have the same rights and privileges of exemption in New Zealand as in Britain, and no doubt will be accorded same. While we can protect him from military service, only the man in uniform can protect him against Hitlerism. I cannot work up any great nation over the imprisonment of anyone engaged in peace activity at a moment like this, when millions are being killed in Europe trying to resist [unclear: Fascim], other men can trench, and if men risk life to destroy Fascism, other men can put up with the difficulties associated with their type of propaganda. War is atrocity. Fascism is a [unclear: greater] atrocity. I'll give the genuine C.O. exemption from both.

Mr. Judge Ostler Says...

Mr. Judge Ostler does not say what he is reported to have said in an issue of the Post. When Salient saw a black type heading on the leader page of the Post entitled "Make them Go" they were naturally curious, and it was decided immediately to try to secure an interview with the Judge who was responsible, when we were ensconced in his room the Judge indignantly denied being the author of the statement "make them go." He had been [unclear: misreported]. What he had said was "I always feel at home among a gathering of returned solders because I know I am among friends with common interests and aspirations, a common pride in our Empire, a common love of our country, and a common belief that the fit men who have the privilege of living under our flag should be compelled to fight and [unclear: train] in its defence. That principle seems to me to be the very essence of democracy. But I also think that not only should no person be allowed to make any profit out of the war, but that those persons who be [unclear: reaon] of age or other disability are unable to stand in the front line, or whose work or skill is more valuable at home, should be compelled to contribute their utmost in work and in surplus income; for it is only fair that while the fit men are risking their lives these remaining at home should be prepared to contribute their work and property. That principal also seems to me to be the essence of democracy, and I for one am willing and anxious to see it brought into operation."

The Judge said that he had not given very much thought to the problem of conscientious objectors. If they were genuine objectors of sincere religious convictions they should be exempted from actual service but should be made to do some useful work behind the lines (such as digging latrines?) But if they were men who were desirous of hindering our war effort, or who wanted us to lose the war, the case took on a different complexion. They should not be treated so easily.

I believe that we should have compulsory military training even in peace time," said the Judge. "If we had done that we might not now be in this position."

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When asked about the trial of Objectors the Judge stated that he assumed that tribunals would be set up as in England. Thus the interview terminated, very unsatisfactorily, we thought, since from one who had been reported (in black heading) as having said—Make them Go" we had expected something else than the traditional socialist position.

Mr. Adam Hamilton Says ...

"I can hardly understand the attitude of a Conscientious Objector, a man who will enjoy all the privileges of a country but is not willing to fight for them. Nevertheless I do not object to a man who has conscientious objections to actual fighting but will do other service, e.g. ambulance work. Those who object to fighting could do national service at home, if there were not too many of them. But if advantage was taken of this concession, and the numbers of the fighting, farces affected, leniency should stop.

Conscientious objectors refusing to participate in the national war effort at home or overseas should pay some [unclear: penals] dependant on their numbers. They should not get off soot free.

The general attitude to C.O.'s would depend on their number and on their effect on the war effort. Some C.O.'s are first class citizens whose thinking is misdirected. It would not do to martyr on or two of these.

Consideration should be given to the views of genuine C.O. 'S—according again to their number and their effect on the war effort. Right of appeal should be allowed if not taken advantage of—there should be no open cheque for People to stay home."

"Truth" Says ...

Whatever may be called civilised and what uncivilised about the present war, it is obvious that a broader and more humane attitude is being adopted in Great Britain towards those who are comprehensively described as Conscientious Objectors, than that which obtained in the last war. Returned soldiers remember vividly the cruelties and atrocities suffered by a number of New Zealand objectors in the Great War after conscription had been introduced. It is no longer a crime to be a "[unclear: Censhie]" to judge by the deliberations and findings of the English tribunals hearing objectors' pleas. Of the first 670,000 conscripted in Great Britain 14000, or 2% were C.O.'s compared with only 15000 out of nearly 9,000,000 mobilized in the Great War. Just because a young fallow comes along and says he is a Conscientious Objector does not mean that he is immediately exempted from war service. Not at all. A man's conscience is not a self-evident fact. Hence tribunals are sitting all over England hearing the evidence of these [unclear: conscience-men] and their witnesses. In their alert examination of these (mostly) well-educated, talkative young men, the tribunal look for signs of sincere pacifism exhibited socially before the war brake out.

Broadly speaking the tribunals attitude is that some [unclear: citizens] of a democracy hold opinions that set them apart from the national effort as completely as [unclear: 10] lunacy, criminality or sickness.

What a contrast to the Great War experience of [unclear: Mark] Briggs (now Hon. M. Briggs, M.L.C. ) and others who were shanghaied to France after conscription had been introduced in 1916. Briggs's case is an alost unbelievable story of sheer [unclear: swism], and vicious atrocity, perpetrated in the name of patriotism and freedom, the details of which almost make the blood run cold. But the facts are amply vouched for.

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Having been arrested for falling to answer his notice of being draughted to the forces, Briggs, was dumped on the military authorities who promptly sentenced him to clink in the camp and later to the civil prison at Wellington. From here he, and thirteen others were forced aboard ship without warning and sent to England for the Home authorities to deal with as unwanted Conscientious Objectors ... such punishments as kicking, punching, starving, and being tied to a post in bitter snow for hours on end, culminated in his being [unclear: dragged] by a wire around the shoulders for a mile long duck walk, and finally through a water, bogged shell hole, his back and thigh for a large area by then being simply raw flesh.

Truth goes on to mention the incidents which occurred in the Wanganui detention barracks which resulted in an enquiry (after the war) and the subsequent court martial of the officer responsible, who however was acquitted by the military court on all charges.

Mr. Hislop Says ...

That the tribunal appointed to inquire into the sincerity of [unclear: conccientious] objectors should start with a conviction that there is no such thing as a conscientious objector. This should not be an immoveable conviction, but there should be this prima facie assumption in each case. It is right to respect the convictions of a C.O. if they are sincere, but it is difficult to find out who is sincere. It must be made impossible for anyone who is not sincere, but nerely cowardly, to make this an excuse not to do his duty.

The tribunal must be composed of men who have a broad outlook on life—the judicial, mind is perhaps too narrow—and, most important of all, they must have a thorough knowledge of life.

A [unclear: study]; of a man's: past- life should, provide at insist into the [unclear: sincerity] his views. In general if a man claims exemption on religious grounds while his church permits or, even [unclear: exhort its members] to fight against Nazidem his claims may not be admitted.

There will be men, however who are sincere [unclear: iii] disagreeing with, their church on this point; but to their case it will be more than over necessary to inquire into the morality and public [unclear: spiritedness] of their past life.

There should be no appeal from the decision of the tribunal. No useful purpose could be served by any such right. This Investigation of the tribunal would be as searching and as fair as possible in the first instance.

Cases should be given full publicity in the press, [unclear: since t[gap — reason: illegible]] is would probably serve as an [unclear: deterrent] against those who were [unclear: not sincere].

A C.O. should be willing to serve as a stretcher bearer or in some other humanitarian capacity. Mr. [unclear: Hislop] would say with Edith Cavell that to help suffering people was more than patriotism.

* * * * * * * *


Anyone who has a copy of the third issue of "[unclear: Student]," Prep Discussions Club publication of 1933, and who would be [unclear: willing] to donate it to the V.U.C. Library, is asked to leave same with The Librarian, V.U.C.