In any centenary year, publishers churn out books to commemorate the date. The outbreak of WWI in 1914 has been no exception. With few exceptions, this event has produced a fine selection of books and, even where one campaign, or one battle, has been covered by several authors, each has offered fresh insight and provided a valuable additional book. This book fits into this situation. The author has covered a subject that continues to generate heated debate. It is also a subject that has received little balanced coverage. This book is well researched and presents credible arguments. It may do little to change established positions, but it provides the detail to consider positions. A book that deserves to be read.
NAME: Conscientious Objectors of the First World War, A Determined Resistance
AUTHOR: Ann Kramer
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword,
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: Mons, Ypres, 1914, BEF, WWI, The Great War, 1914-1918, The Old Contemptibles, The Contemptable Little Army, trench warfare, River Aisne, Ypres Salient, machine guns, cavalry, field guns, Gallipoli, pacifists, political objectors, war at sea, war in the air
DESCRIPTION: In any centenary year, publishers churn out books to commemorate the date. The outbreak of WWI in 1914 has been no exception. With few exceptions, this event has produced a fine selection of books and, even where one campaign, or one battle, has been covered by several authors, each has offered fresh insight and provided a valuable additional book. This book fits into this situation. The author has covered a subject that continues to generate heated debate. It is also a subject that has received little balanced coverage. This book is well researched and presents credible arguments. It may do little to change established positions, but it provides the detail to consider positions. A book that deserves to be read.
For thousands of years, war had been a way of life. Some had rejoiced in it, some had suffered in silence, but all considered it a natural part of life, as inevitable as rain and snow, sun and good harvests, hunger and predators. The natural animal instinct is to avoid conflict because it potentially risks injury that can immediately, or progressively, extinguish life. That does not mean that the natural state of animals is pacific, rather that they seek combat on terms of their own choosing. Fear and flight on every occasion probably meant a short life because there is competition for resources in any species and any society.
As recently as the early 19th Century, individuals were impressed into military organizations to make up the numbers, with a much smaller number as willing professional warriors. When the press gang was coming, most of the eligible males took flight until the danger was passed. Society could not afford to have evaders and some effort was expended to round up all who avoided military service. Once in service, discipline could be coldly violent and any who fled could expect little mercy when they were eventually caught. Military service and effective slavery in the colonies was frequently used as a punishment, as an alternative to the draconian punishments of imprisonment and death.
By the 20th Century, many societies were wrestling with the concepts of duty and honour that had previously gone largely unchallenged. Conscientious Objection became acceptable in some parts of these societies, Literacy and education was causing so many social traditions and devices to be questioned. There was a fundamental problem for society because it was clearly unfair to those who accepted military duty in defence of home and country if some we simply allowed to shrug of their obligations. That debate still runs and a solution continues to be elusive.
Those who refused to fight offered a number of reasons. Some were very credible and principled and some were self-serving excuses to avoid duty. Society just did not know how to respond or how to identify the opportunist coward from those who had firmly held beliefs that would not permit them to fight. As a result, all were treated in much the same way and that was a brutal way. Some were sentenced to hard labour, some threatened with death, many forced into the services and then treated with great brutality by their comrades. Some were to suffer from shell-shock, flee and be brought back to be executed by their former comrades. A hundred years on and society still does not know how to respond to those individuals who live in society, benefit from its advantages, but refuse to participate in some action that society calls for. There may be more humanity today, but a solution still proves elusive.
The author has followed a number of cases, showing why they refused to serve and what happened to them. It is a grim collection of stories and some readers will feel that the individuals should be judged by society of the time, rather than attempting to impose some current politically correct views that were not present at the time.
What was true at the time was that there were those who felt they could never injure someone or to take a life, but were prepared to join the forces and work hard in some non-combatant job or experience all of the terrors of the trenches, providing medical services to their comrades. Other went to sea in merchant ships and braved all that the enemy could throw at them without the ability to fight back. The fact that many, who held principled views against combat, did serve as non-combatants, but faced direct threats from the enemy, did little to help society resolve the issue of consciensous objection, or those who felt unable to take any part in the conflict.
This contentious area deserves to be addressed and this book does that.