Challenging Militarism

International Notes: Canada & Holland

From the Tribunal September 13th 1917

This is a further update in a series of extracts from the No Conscription Fellowship’s Journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918
For other extracts go to: http://nfpb.org.uk/tribunal

Canada
The latest news from Ottawa is that in the new Franchise Bill necessitated by the coming General Election itis proposed to disenfranchise conscientious objectors relieved under the Military Services Acts from combatant service. This is not the law yet, but it will presumably become so. Our friends need not worry, however, the time is rapidly coming when the common people will be all conscientious objectors – in those days the Canadian Burgess Roll will be a very slender volume!

Holland
An article in the “Nieuwe Amsterdammer” (Dutch Independent Weekly) of August 25th 1917, says about the Dutch C.O.‘s that since they published a manifesto last year, for which they were prosecuted the movement has gained steadily in strength. The manifesto was scattered broadcast over the country, and the speeches for the defence of the signatories in the law courts have served as splendid propaganda. The C.O.‘s are actuated by different motives; such as: hatred of every form of the State, especially of the present one; considerations of humanity such as find expression in vegetarianism and the anti-vivisection movement; love of one’s fellow-creatures, and the feeling of Christian brotherhood; the opinion that the war is a purely capitalist affair, in which no Socialist can join; less elevated sentiments such as an innate aversion to any form of obedience to superiors, and the allurement of martyrdom; all these pure and less pure motives mixed together have helped to raise the numbers of Dutch C.O.‘s to 15). Some of these C.O.‘s were punished after they had served their term in prison by taking from them the right to wear a military uniform, a punishment they will probably accept with resignation! The writer further warns us against the mistake of treating the C.O.‘s as common criminals, and bids us remember that they are martyrs for their opinions, that they are giving proof of their readiness to sacrifice for their conscience and convictions more than the general mass of the docile public. The severe methods of old Russia have not yet disappeared, but have crept into every State, both belligerent and neutral, as a result of the circumstances of the war. The writer considers it an unsatisfactory solution to make exemption depend on the seriousness of the conscientious objection. On the other hand he says that if every C.O. was let off, all barracks would soon be emptied. Especially in such times as these, the state cannot disarm, but must maintain itself. A better solution would be not to test the seriousness of the objection to military service, but to impose civil duties which would be heavier than the military ones.

The Editor of the “Nieuwe Amsterdammer” adds a note to the above article in which he refers to an article in “Der Telegraaf” of Aug. 9th, which proposes that in view of the possible refusal of the C.O.‘s to do any work connected with the war, the State should force them to do work at sea, either at the fishing or other commercial trades. The editor highly recommends this solution.

Building peace, from local to global

Report of NFPB’s meeting in Darlington on 14th October

The remit of NFPB is to promote ‘peace in all its height and breadth’. The range of issues addressed at our most recent meeting in Darlington shows the continuing relevance of this brief.

Protest and Community

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Right to Protest v. the rights of a community with Ian Conlan, Bishop Cray and Supt Adam Thompson 7-9pm Friargage Meeting House, York [email protected] http://www.yorkquakers.org.uk/news.html

Why War is No Solution to World Problems

Thursday, October 19, 2017

with Wayne Sharracks of Veterans for Peace 7-9pm Talking of Peace, Friargate Meeting House, York [email protected] http://www.yorkquakers.org.uk/news.html

Edinburgh World Justice Festival

Saturday, September 30, 2017 to Monday, October 16, 2017

Theme of two weeks of events “Creating Hope Through People Power” Full programme of events – many with a peace focus – and information – http://www.ewjf.org.uk/

Discussion on the arms trade with Andrew Feinstein

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Edinburgh – 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm – Venue: Quaker Meeting House http://peaceandjustice.org.uk/events/event/discussion-on-the-arms-trade-...

Peace Crusades in Glasgow and Manchester

Saturday, September 30, 2017

SIX MONTHS FOR SPREADING TRUTH

From The Tribunal September 6th 1917

This is a further update in a series of extracts from the No Conscription Fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918
_For other extracts go to:_http://nfpb.org.uk/tribunal

Friends of truth and humanity are few in these days, but all of them will be indignant at the prosecution of Mr. E.D. Morel. Of those who criticised the policy of the Government in connection with the war, Mr. Morel is the one who has suffered most from calumny and misrepresentation. The Press, day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, has devoted itself to stating, or insinuating, that he is an agent of Germany, until at last through sheer reiteration it has produced an unshakable belief in his wickedness in the great bulk of the population, and a measure of suspicion even among many who should know better. He is, as I can testify from personal intimacy and friendship, a man actuated to an extraordinary degree by horror of cruelty and love of truth. These passions are criminal nowadays, and those in whom they are strong can hardly avoid committing illegal actions.

Mr. Morel’s “ill-judged activities began with his successful campaign to make known and to put an end to the atrocities in the Congo, in the course of which he necessarily made enemies of the British, French and Belgian Governments. The Clerical Party in Belgium was associated with King Leopold, and opposed tooth and nail any reform which might diminish the revenue derived from the the tortures of helpless negroes. The French Government dreaded an exposure, because a not dissimilar system existed in the French Congo. The British Government objected to Mr. Morel’s activities because of the official attitude of France. Nevertheless, he succeeded in so rousing public opinion that the necessary reforms were instituted and the old, bad system was brought to an end. Public men who knew of his activities mostly assumed he must have some sinister motive, for they held that no man does anything in politics from disinterested reasons – a view presumably based on self-examination. The harder it was to discover a wicked purpose, the more deep and cunning his plans were assumed to be.

It is hardly to be wondered as if on his side, with his experience of the unwillingness of the Allied Governments to put an end to atrocities far more systematic and widespread, and quite as horrible, as those of the Germans in Belgium, was unable, when the war broke out, to adopt quite the usual romantic view of it. His book on Moroccan diplomacy, published before the war, has shown conclusively how large a share of blame must be attached to the Entente. Whoever has made a disinterested study of the cause of the war must agree with the man Morel in thinking that, if wars are be brought to an end, the nations will have learn some deeper understanding of their causes than is involved in merely attributing them to the wickedness of the enemy. Mr. Morel has devoted himself to the dissemination of the truth, both here and abroad, but in these days it is illegal to attempt to communicate the knowledge of facts, even to so eminent a writer as Monsieur Romain Roland.

The use of punishment instead of argument is proof to all thinking people that the authorities are unable to refute Mr. Morel’s assertions amd have to rely upon brute force to prevent their being heard. Every honest man who loves truth and humanity would be willing to commit Mr. Morel’s “crime.” If honest men were not so rare, all the prisons in the country would be too few to hold the criminals who preferred truth to the encouragement of butchery.

Bertrand Russell

Manchester & Warrington Quakers withness & worship during Conservative Party Conference

Monday, October 2, 2017 to Wednesday, October 4, 2017

“In this fractured world, how can we respond? What does love require of us?” (BYM Epistle 2017)
• 1–2pm Daily silent vigil on the Meeting House steps –
• 10am–4pm Daily silent meditation in the Meeting House –
Further information: [email protected] or call 0161 834 5797

Echoes of Conscience

Selecting extracts from The Tribunal has been a highly enjoyable but quite hard task. What to choose out of all the often passionate, often insightful, often moving stories from the First World War which might otherwise be forgotten?

The Tribunal was a newspaper published by the No Conscription Fellowship from 1916, when the Military Service Act introduced conscription into British law. The story of conscientious objection in this country has been seriously neglected; the dominant narrative being that, however tragic the war was, people went to war without complaint and did largely as they were told. This is very far from being the whole truth.

In picking these extracts, however, I make no claim to the historical relevance or importance of all or even any of them. It would be best to consult the actual newspapers themselves if you wish for that kind of information. Nor do I claim any kind of neutrality; but then The Tribunal itself was hardly neutral in its support for the C.O.’s.

Instead, I have been looking out for human stories, humour, wit and, in the case of several of them, just plain good writing. The writers of these articles were not simply chronicling facts and figures; they were making a case for conscience as a guide to behaviour in the public sphere, whether tied to religious faith or not. Highlighting the stories of those who were treated abominably by being sent to France and “sentenced to death” before having their sentences “commuted”, as well as one tragic story of a young man dying of consumption due to ill treatment, we see how high the cost of conscience was for many.

An example of the sometimes gallows humour of the writers would be “How It Is Done”, a sketch of how an encounter between a C.O. and an officer might go. (I used this as source material for a poem for Conscientious Objectors’ Day.) I have taken some extracts from longer pieces, such as one by Bertrand Russell and one complete article, “Improving The Race”, to show the quality and the passion of argument often displayed by the writers.

I’ve also tried to highlight seldom-seen parts of the story, such as C.O.’s from “the colonies”, or “friendly aliens” living in Britain who may have had to join up. So we have stories of Russian exiles, Indian tribunals and a (nameless) Caribbean.

I hope these extracts both inform and move the reader.

Steven Waling

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