Conscientious Objectors


Conscientious Objectors 1

What are Conscientious Objectors? People who disagree with war for religous, moral and political reasons.

What caused Conscientious Objectors to become a problem? Noone in WW1 was signing up for the army so they introduced consciptions, which meant that people refusing to take part in war could now be imprisoned. 

Religous -> Some religious groups, most famously the Quakers are opposed to all war. Christians for example are against war because one of the 10 commandments says, "Thou shalt not kill" and war involves killing - so it's a problem and also Jesus Christ advised his followers to turn the other cheek when attacked. 

Moral-> People who believe that all war is morally wrong are called Pacifists. They believe that war never solves problems but creates them.

Political-> Many socialists and communiists see most wars being fought to protect or increase wealth of big companies, so they refuse to fight in such wars. 

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Conscientious Objectors 2

Conscientious Objectors in WW1

Conscientious Objectors(around 16,000 men) were treated with great hostility by the general public during WW1. There was a law, that those who refused to help in the war due to conscience reasons could be excused, but some were still imprisoned and were treated harshly in their community. 

Special courts were set up to see which people could be excused for military service. They were made up of army officers and local middle class people like doctors or clergymen. If the tribunals accepted their reasons were'genuine' enough for objecting to involvement in war, they were giving exemption certificates however, although there were 16,000 Conscientious Objectors, only 400 certificates were given. 

Alternativists - Did other types of war work like driving ambulances, but refuse to injure or kill someone. Several won medals for this type of work, but many employers refused to give jobs to such people, so the government had to set up seperate work camps, such as quarries.

Absolutists - Refused to support the war in any way. They were treated very harshly, and punished by the authorities. (1,500) 10 died in prison, 63 shortly after release, 31 had mental breakdowns. All COs not allowed to vote for 5yrs, many couldn't get jobs and were beaten up when returned home.

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Conscientious Objectors 3

Conscientious Objectors in WW2

Many more COs than before, as they saw how much of a waste of time war is. They still had the tribunals, but this time the military were not allowed to be in them and the membership and to be representative of all social classes. The government made more of an effort to give COs jobs in farming or industry, and rare for them to be sent to prison.

There was 59,192 COs, all except 12,204 were giving exemptions. 29,000 worked in factories or on the land. Some agreed to do non-combatant work.

Many part of the PEACE PLEDGE UNION --> opposed to war and try to encourage people not to fight. 

Authorities had changed, but many local opinions had most certainly not, still treating them harshly and beating them up.

Key Points

  • There were more COs in WW2 than WW1
  • During WW2, the authorities were more sympathetic and fewer were punished, but still persecuted by general public.
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