Monday, May 19, 2014

Conscientous objection

May 15th was International Conscientious Objectors Day. The only reason I knew about it was because of a number of my Quaker Facebook f/Friends in Britain posting links to various online Guardian articles and about the events at Friends House, Tavistock Square etc. Britain YM have a handy summary of links to media stories and Geoffrey Durham's 'Thought for the Day' on their website. Given the worldwide spread of my Facebook friends, it didn't feel from here like it was especially 'international', although according to various websites events were held elsewhere in the world, I just didn't get to hear about them. But I guess the fact that there was anything in the media at all is a step in the right direction.

I've been pleasantly surprised by the coverage here about the 100yrs since the start of WWI. Instead of being ridiculed there is a definite sense of respect around for those who refused to fight, and acknowledgement of the other battles they faced - against public opinion at the time, incarceration and field punishment. Radio NZ broadcast an interview with Kevin Clements on ANZAC Day about growing up in a the household of a CO and TVOne broadcast the film 'Field Punishment No1' (preview) in the same week, it is based on the true story of Archibald Baxter. The trailers shown many times for well over a week before broadcast included the lines "'What would happen if everyone felt like you?' 'Then there would be no war.'" ANZAC Day is our equivalent to Remembrance Day in Britain. To have such sympathetic coverage of COs around ANZAC Day is huge.

I do wonder if this shift in popular perception to at least respect and honour those who wouldn't fight, even if many still don't agree with that stance, is partly due to a growing shift against war in general. There seems to be increasing disquiet over the presence of Kiwi troops in places like Afghanistan of late. Too many have come home in body bags for a war that has little relevance to many here and is perceived to be of dubious worth. There is greater skepticism these days about the politics involved, the profiteering of warmongering and protection of the oil giants. When the first war in Iraq broke out in the 90s talk of it being about oil was firmly placed in the conspiracy theories bin by many and not taken seriously. But now such motives for international intervention seems to be accepted - and the lack of overseas oil interests and intervention in Syria has certainly helped add credence to the theory that certain Governments have less than altruistic reasons for sending in troops.

Having been part of the enormous protests around the world against the second Iraq war (which those in power blithely ignored...) I'd like to think that was the tip of an iceberg that is becoming increasingly visible and far more mainstream. The understanding that there is no glory in war, and as much honour in trying to stop one as taking part.

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