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Armageddon or Calvary: The Conscientious Objectors of New Zealand and "The Process of Their Conversion"


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The war period revealed that there were four types of Conscientious Objectors to Military Service in New Zealand.

On the one hand we had the Religious Objectors, who took much the same view of Military Service as was held by the early Christians. They obstinately persisted in bestowing a literal interpretation on the command of the Galilean Carpenter: "Thou shalt not kill"; and, even as the early Christians were hurled among dreadful serpents, flung into the lions' den, or nailed to the Roman cross, so these latter-day Christians were ready to pay the penalty for their life principles, whether through pitiless years in the gloom of the prison cell or grimly before the guns of the firing party. Stella Benson, in her novel, "This is the End," says: "You must take either Christianity or War seriously—hardly both." The extreme Christians of New Zealand chose to take Christianity seriously, and it was unfortunate for them that our War Legislation forbade literal interpretations of the fundamentals of Christian teaching. Prior to the war there were few indeed who would not have conceded that the anti-war slogan of the Carpenter was a profound morality. The War Regulations, however, made it an offence punishable with a year's jail to propagate the command: "Thou shalt not kill," and it became a matter for the practical Christian of choosing between Christ and the War Regulations.

Different in many ways from the Christian Objectors were the Socialist Objectors; of these there were some thousands. The Christian Objector is always a Pacifist. Sometimes the Socialist is a Pacifist; often he isn't. There are many Socialists who wouldn't fight under any circumstances whatever. Again, the Socialists are legion who—while they would avoid war as long as it could be avoided—would fight to the death in a struggle to liberate mankind from Capitalism. Generally speaking, the Socialist Objector bases his objection on the fact that wars are never made by the workers nor yet in their in-page 6terests, but have their foundations in the quarrels of the national capitalists over markets and for economic supremacy. "The interests of the workers of all countries are identical," said the Socialist Objector; "there is no reason whatever why they should kill one another in their masters' quarrels." And, of course, he immediately found himself up against the Military Service Act and the War Regulations.

Of a different type, again, were the Irish Objectors. Often, of course, the Irishman is a Christian; often he is a Socialist; sometimes he is neither. It is seldom that he is a Pacifist; once in a hundred years you will find a Sheehy Skeffington—and Skeffington was of English descent, anyhow. When, during the recent war, many Irishmen in New Zealand objected to military service, their objection was not based on either a Christian or a Socialist reason; its foundation was historical. They protested that the Irish had never been voluntary, but always compulsory, subjects of England, and that, therefore, they ought not to be required to fight in England's wars. In support of this objection, they called in evidence seven hundred long and terrible years of history—years of oppression and repression, of recurring artificial famine, of overflowing prisons, of cruel evictions numbered by the million, of a country depopulated by misrule. Their history was sound; their case was strong. But the War Regulations reached them notwithstanding.

The Maori Objectors were again of a different type. In some respects the Maori Objector resembled the Irish—with the difference, of course, that the Maori belongs to a different historical period from his white brother. The Maori Objectors came mostly from the Waikato Tribe. They are not Pacifists; from time immemorial they have been a warlike people. The reasons on which their objection was foundationed are to be found in the history books—particularly Rusden's History.

Of course, every Conscientious Objector did not go to prison—nor yet to the hills. Men with families had bitter reason to know that, if they placed high principle first and chose the prison, those most dear to them in life would suffer hardship and hunger, want and misery. And so, out of their great love for the little children whose breadwinners they were, out of the love they bore the good women whose life-mates they were, they made the supreme sacrifice of principle and went "marching down to Armageddon," heavy-hearted, it is true, out still with the pitiful assurance that whether they lived or whether they died their loved ones would be saved, however miserably, from the ravages of hunger. The others resolutely shouldered the Cross, and, "with the moral courage of a God" (as the Dismissed Dominie has written it), unfalteringly directed their steps towards the gloomy summit of the modern Calvary.

For there was no other alternative. It was either Armageddon or Calvary.