Conscientious Objection

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Conscientious Objection 1

What is Conscientous objection?

People who have religious, moral or political objections either to all war, or less commonly, a particular war.

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Conscientious Objection2


Some religious groups like the Quakers, are opposed to war. This is because in the 10 commandments it says "Thou Shalt not kill" and Jesus told his followers to turn the cheek.


Pacifists believe all war is wrong, and that war doesn't solve problems but just create new ones.


Many Socialists and Communists see wars as being fought to protect or increase the wealth of big companies, so refuse to fight in such wars.

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Conscientious Objection3

World War 1: 1914-1918

Conscription was intoduced in 1916 as not many men were signing up and many had died.

The Quakers orangised the Non-Conscription fellowship and meetings would be violently broke up by the police and members of the public who, because of gov propaganda, thought the CO's were traitors and cowards.

Military Tribunals- special courts made up of army officers and local middle-class people. They decided if a person had genuine reasons for objecting to being involved in the war. Out of 16,000 people, 400 conscientous objectors were given complete exemption. CO's could also be imprisoned and treated harshly by their community.

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Conscientious Objection4

World War 1 Continued

Alternativists- Majority of CO's. They did not take part in combat but would do things involving in the army like driving ambulances and being stretcher-bearers, Some even recieved medals for bravery. However, many employers refused to give them jobs so the gov had to set up their own work camp for them.

Absolutists- About 1,500 of CO's were this. They refused to take part in any of the war as they felt it was fundamentally wrong. They were treated as criminal and were sent to prison, recieving very harsh and brutal treatment from prison warders, and being forced to do hard labour. 


10 COs died in prison, 63 died shortly about their release, 31 had mental breakdowns as a result of being in confinement. CO's were denied the right to vote for 5 years and many found it impossible to get jobs and were beaten up once they returned home.

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Conscientious Objection5

World War 2: 1939-45

The War began in September 39, and conscription started in October 39.

  • As the full horrors of the first war emerged, many people became pacifists. This shows the changing attitude of society.
  • There were many more COs in the second war, there was 16,000 in WW1 and 59,000 in WW2
  • Almost all were given exemption by the gov and treated more sympathically than WW1. They also weren't treated as criminals.
  • Tribunals were set up like the first war, except this time the military was not involved and people from all different social classes had to be representive.
  • The Gov made more effort to give CO's jobs and many worked in factories, on the land or other non-combat roles.
  • Many COs were part of the peace pledge union, which was opposed to war and refused to do war-releated activity, however the authorities were reluctant to send them to prison.
  • People were allowed to campaign agaisnt the war during the war, showing change.
  • However, the public was still hostile and COs were still accussed of being cowards and traitors.

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Conscientious Objection6

Differences in Attitudes-

  • The Gov made more effort to give COs jobs in farming and industry.
  • It was rare for COs to be sent to prison
  • Tribunals were different because the military were not allowed to sit on them and the membership had to be representive of all social classes.
  • Gov treated COs more sympathically and were not treated as criminals
  • Allowed to have anti-war campaigns, meetings

What stayed the same-

  • Still persecuted by the general public
  • Still accused of being cowards/traitors.
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