Conscientious Objectors and Their Legacy

The First World War had its fair share of conscientious objectors, people who did not wish to raise arms regardless of their views toward patriotism or the causes behind the war itself. Many of these people were put on trial, as a great deal of them were what would be referred to today as “draft dodgers.” There were thousands of these conscientious objectors, and they are still remembered today.

Tribunals were held to process these men, in which they had to give cause for their decision not to fight. This was easier on some men than it was on others. The majority of men who were not prosecuted gave religious or otherwise ethical/moral reasons for becoming conscientious objectors, but others were put in jail or forced to draft anyway. Some of those whose reasoning was accepted were still given alternate duties to fulfill, such as becoming a part of the Friends Ambulance Unit and lending a hand to those who did fight and were wounded in the fray.

Those forced to fight were not likely to see the decision reversed. Attempts to go AWOL were considered treasonous and could easily result in death. Men whose decisions were upheld were not met peaceably by their peers. Europe was highly aware of the number of men it was losing, and the conscientious objectors were looked down upon and despised for allowing it to happen without adding to the war effort. As years progressed later into the war, many of them were punished by receiving less salary for their alternative service work, and being removed far from their home regions.

Some of the so-called Conchies refused to take part in the war effort at all, even in the capacity of the ambulance workers. These absolutists often received even harsher treatment and were more likely to be imprisoned. Conscientious objectors had a number of reasons for their protest, some of them religious, others political. Some felt the war was a capitalist endeavor. By the time WWII rolled around, Conchies were more likely to protest atomic weaponry and were less abused for their standpoint on the issue, the BBC News reports.

The conscientious objectors of yesteryear are now being honored in lieu of the upcoming WWI centenary. The honor ceremony is being hosted and conducted by Pax Christi, the peace organization related to Catholicism. Those who became conscientious objectors during WWI are often heralded as having led the way for those who did the same in WWII, not to mention the draft dodgers of Vietnam.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE