Challenging Militarism

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

Peace History Conference: 1917

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Salford. – a day exploring the effects of the Russian Revolutions on the British labour and peace movement. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/peace-history-conference-1917-tickets-357...

Creating a better world: Some lessons for the next 25 years

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR)‘s 25th anniversary conference – London – http://www.sgr.org.uk/events/creating-better-world . –
With the world facing heightened risks – the conference will draw upon some of the latest research to look at what could be achieved in the not-so-distant future.

Take Action on Militarism

Saturday, October 21, 2017

at FriendsHouse in London: Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) and ForcesWatch are launching a pack on taking action on militarism in the UK – workshops, speakers etc. Booking via https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/take-action-on-militarism-gathering-ticke...

News of Our Comrades Abroad: India

From The Tribunal, August 23 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

Some interesting news from India, where several men have appealed to Tribunals under the “Indian Defence force Rules, 1917.” Among st them is Mr. W. Bevan Whitney, B.Sc., A.M.I.C.E., who appealed to the District Magistrate at Poona, in the following terms:-

“I wish to say first of all, that I believe that service to one’s fellow men must be the guiding motive in every sincere man’s life. And secondly, make it perfectly clear that I base my objection to serving in any military capacity on my deeply-rooted conviction that war in its methods and ethics is utterly incompatible with the whole teaching of Christ as interpreted by his life. I hold this religious conviction so strongly that it would render me useless in any part of the military organisation, all of whose units have for their objects the efficient prosecution of the war…”

“I therefore beg that the conscience clause in the Law at home be taken as a precedent with cases such as mine in India, as I believe that not only is there nothing contrary in the terms of the Defence of India Bill, but that it is definitely stated that in certain exceptional cases, it is in the power of the Authorities to grant total exemption.”

Eventually Mr. Whitney was allowed to leave for Mesopotamia on Y.M.C.A. work, work he had accepted while his appeal was pending, and of which he writes, “I did not tell them the Tribunal had not given me exemption, as I was afraid that I was trying to evade the penalties by joining them. I had made up my mind I might have to go to prison, and felt quite glad at the thought.”

The following paragraph tells of how the fight is being carried into the guard-room in far away Scundarabad:-

“Cowper (Plymouth brother), Scundarabad, was court-martialled for not carrying arms on parade. I have heard he got 72 hours’ detention or something. I have not heard since what happened to him. I saw in the paper there are about half-a-dozen other “C.O.‘s” also mentioned as appluing before tribunals. None of them got exemption. I have not heard what has happened to any of them.”

Pontefract public meeting on Nuclear Convoys

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Hosted by Yorkshire Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament – 19:00–21:00 – Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/161722344388003 – This meeting is being organised by Yorkshire CND in conjuction with local residents, and is for anyone who is interested in, or would like to find out more about nuclear convoys. It will be in St Joseph’s School hall. All are welcome, and refreshments will be provided.

Avoiding Apocalypse: Alternatives to a war-based foreign policy

Monday, October 2, 2017

18:00–20:00 – Mechanics Institute, 103 Princess Street, M1 6DD Manchester.
Facebook event link – https://www.facebook.com/events/247210055803338/?active_tab=about>OCT2
… part of a week of actions and events to mark the return of the Tory Party conference to Manchester, coordinated by People’s Assembly.

Keep Space for Peace Week 2017 Demonstration at Menwith Hill, Yorks

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

http://www.caab.org.uk/events/tue-10102017-1800/keep-space-peace-week-20... – 18:00 – 19:30
Arranged jointly by Menwith Hill Accounability Campaign with Yorkshire CND. Peaceful demonstration at the Main Gates of Menwith Hill drawing attention to the urgent need to return space to peace. Speakers, food and music. All are welcome to participate, sharing and learning about the difficult and complex consequences of militarising space.

From Militarisation to Peace

Friday, March 2, 2018 to Sunday, March 4, 2018

Building a Diverse and Transformative Movement for Change

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