Today’s entry appears on the Guardian Books Blog, and marks International Conscientious Objectors Day. Researching it was a riveting and sobering experience: war is never an easy subject to pontificate on, but you can’t look into this subject and think that refusing to fight was an easy or cowardly option.
This is part of the piece:
The pacifist group Peace Pledge Union are holding their annual ceremony in London to mark International Conscientious Objectors Day. PPU has a fascinating and affecting archive of testimony from COs, but it occurred to me that conscientious objectors are underrepresented in the literature of war. There are many references to conscience: to soldiers who signed up but later doubted the rightness of the cause and to deserters, to those who were, by our standards, wrongly accused of cowardice. But references to actual conchies, as they were known, and not affectionately, are thin on the ground.
Ford Madox Ford's tetralogy Parade's End, produced in the 1920s, has some mention of them. However:
'The son,' Tietjens said, 'is a conscientious objector. He's on a minesweeper. A bluejacket. His idea is that picking up mines is saving life, not taking it.'This might not fit everyone's definition.
|a conscientious objector in court in Belgium in 1950|
Historian and writer Lytton Strachey was famous for having faced down a tribunal to get conscientious objector status – and his reputation survived this. Strachey's biographer Michael Holroyd says the correct version of a famous anecdote is that he was asked: "What would you do if you saw a German soldier trying to rape your sister?" Strachey replied: "I would attempt to come … [significant pause] between them."
Lytton Strachey has featured on the blog with his book about Elizabeth I. The piece also features Sarah Waters classic of wartime London life, Night Watch, on the blog here. Sebastian Japrisot’s A Very Long Engagement – a French book about World War I – has provided two entries.