Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Views on Conscientious Objectors

Conscientious Objector Memorial, Tavistock Square Gardens, London

Wednesday 23rd February 1916: As the Conscription Bill passes through parliament the issue of conscientious objectors has become the subject of lively discussion in the Luton area. Jesse Blaxley of Hibbert Street, Luton, has called for the Bill to be rescinded, putting his case for freedom of conscience eloquently:
“Without stating the arguments for or against, let us admit the fact that there are men who have sincerely arrived at opposite convictions, and by trying to take the other fellow’s view we may have kindlier feelings one toward the other. Amongst those of both sides may be found some of the best and most loyal citizens; their past record is sufficient proof of this. Personally, I do not think there ever was a war more justifiable than this awful struggle, and I can admire those thousands of young men who under a noble impulse have offered their lives for their King and country.
It does not follow that all men can make this sacrifice in the same way. Many years ago I came to the conviction that for me to kill my fellows under any circumstances would be wrong, and this was the result of entering the service of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ. His commands are supreme in the conduct of my life … and if it comes to a conflict with any other power, the final sovereignty rests with Him. I am quite sure there are others equally sincere who have felt it their duty in this war to bear arms. They interpret the teaching of their Master differently. We do not judge them; in fact, we have the express command, “Judge not”, nor do we admit their right to judge us.

We grieve that England has decided to persecute some of her noblest citizens, for that is what it has come to. What is to be the extent is hidden in the future. During this discussion, the murder of Edith Cavell … has been cited as a reason for the destruction of Germans. Let us remember. That noble woman, when facing death, said, “Patriotism is not sufficient. I must have no bitterness toward anyone.” Surely this is the highest possible attainment to man or woman, and turns her awful death into a glorious ending of a glorious life. Let England beware lest in the frenzy of this maddening time it is lured perhaps unconsciously to similar crimes. There never can come a time when all, or anything like all, the men of the country must bear arms. Therefore there must always be occupations in which we can show our loyalty.”
Others, however, are considerably less sympathetic to the voice of conscience. An anonymous correspondent writes:
“I [am] filled with amazement at the attitude of the conscientious objector. May I be permitted to ask what return the conscientious objectors are making for the great privilege of living in comparative safety, due to those who keep watch and ward on the storm-tossed seas and in the mud-filled trenches? … A peculiar sense of the duties of citizenship and the scruples of religious convictions, which too often make the second great Commandment embrace the cultured Hun and exclude the British brother, seem to be the sum total of the gratitude shown for being born an Englishman.”
Source: Luton News, 24th February 1916

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