PIONEERS O! PIONEERS

From The Tribunal 25th July 1918

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

Twelve hundred men in prison to-day have become popularly known as “The Absolutist Conscience Men.” It is a tremendous tribute for the world to have paid them. Even in the midst of a great war most people pause now and again to listen to a voice which is commonly believed to speak within all men: a voice quickly hushed amid the din of battle. To one little handful of men the people look and call them “Absolutist Conscience Men,” expecting them at all times and under all circumstances guided by that voice: following wheresoever it may lead and whatever the consequences may be. It need hardly be said that these men did not set out to make such a stupendous claim, neither do they claim such mastery over self.

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” So with Conscientious Objectors. Some have been born with great ideals, some have achieved a wider outlook than their fellows, but most have had the championing of a great cause thrust upon them.

To simple people like Archbishops who doubt if these men know the duty of citizenship; to honest politicians like Robert Cecil who fear that these men are not all “religious”; those who urge compromise, – these men have but one answer: The great cause, the high ideal, the wide outlook that may be summed up in one word “Fellowship.” Fellowship is Love of Humanity, Hope for Humanity, Trust in Humanity. Fellowship transcends Citizenship. And having championed this great cause, these men have become free citizens of the world. To do good is their religion, to make no compromise with evil their determination.

These men have been taken in almost every case from useful occupations, and very many stayed in the midst of philanthropic and valuable work for their fellows; their posts in many cases remain open for them, in others they have sacrificed all, but many are eager enough to have their services were they free to render them, for they know that these men have always worked hard and well, and the voluntary service some have rendered to their fellows in the past has been generally recognised. Yet they will make no promise to do this or that at the will of a government, they will not even bind themselves to go back to their previous occupations, although this is what most of them hope and intend to do; they will make no bargain with any Military Service Act, the object of which is the prosecution of war and the subjugation of people.

Their motto may be taken as Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, – which does not mean they are are all Socialists or all Christians, neither are they Agnostics of believers in any set of doctrines, but they are one in common brotherhood of humanity; they recognise that Fellowship and Liberty with equal opportunity for service go hand in hand, and to bargain away liberty as a price of exemption from Military Service is as immoral as to acquiesce in the demand that somehow and in some way they shall lay aside their principles and become tools in the bloody work in which all nations are now engaged, and for their immediate gain to become instruments used to shackle conscription and slavery upon themselves and fellows. No! these men will not sell themselves to avoid the penalties and help to fasten conscription on the country; they will take no part in such disservice, for they believe that the highest work of national and international service which they can render at the present time is to demand first and foremost Absolute Exemption from the terms of all and every Military Service Act. Make them free men and they will again be of service to the nation. Bind them and they will do nothing to further the ends of their tyrants.

They are not claiming special treatment, they claim in their own person the right to serve not as slaves serves, cringing before the lash, but as free men who have never bowed the knee to threats and tyranny. They are making the path for you to follow; where one can travel, all can travel. If you let tyranny have its way, if you succumb to religious and moral persecution, you will close the path of liberty to yourselves, but these men will not be conquered, they will not retreat. Two years ago they burned their boats behind them, some did many years ago; if you fail them they will take the consequences.

H.R.B.

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