Monday, 9 September 2013

Pacifists and the Centenary

Interesting piece in the Guardian on anti-war campaigners challenging the 'glorious conflict' narrative of World War One and planning to highlight the treatment of conscientious objectors:

"Anti-war activists, pacifists and others are challenging the narrative of the official programme marking the centenary of the First world war"

I just glanced at the comments section for the piece. Several readers seem to think that remembering the plight of conscientious objectors, or criticising the glorification of violence, somehow taints the memory of those who died in the war. This argument assumes that conchies and soldiers belong to opposite groups, and should feel hostile towards each other.

In reality, many of the most vocal pacifists in the 1920s and 1930s were former soldiers or ambulance workers who had witnessed the horrors of war first-hand. They were not against soldiers: they were against war.

Dick Sheppard, one of the founders of the Peace Pledge Union in the 1930s, had served as chaplain in a military hospital in France during World War One. A couple of years ago, I interviewed his daughter, who recalled his great sympathy for the soldiers who flocked to his pacifist sermons at St Martin-in-the Fields, Trafalgar Square. They had heard enough firebrand sermons about the glories of warfare. Here was someone who understood them and did not try to glamourise their suffering.

t's a myth that conchies are somehow naive or don't understand war. The truth is that many of them understand war all too well - and know they want nothing to do with it.

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