Conscientious Objectors

Last week saw the 100 year anniversary of the Military Service Act, which both introduced compulsory conscription, and allowed for conscientious objection to conscription. As a Quaker school, many of our old scholars were conscientious objectors, some, such as Corder Catchpool, pictured here, spending years in prison for their pacifist convictions.

One of our more recent old scholars, my daughter Holly Wallis, is currently working for an organisation called Conscience.

On 2 March, the centenary of this act is coming into force – Conscience will be holding the parliamentary launch of a Taxes for Peace bill. In a statement from their website: www.conscienceonline.org.uk 

TAXES FOR PEACE NOT WAR, works for a world where taxes are used to nurture peace, not pay for war. We campaign for a progressive increase in the amount of UK tax spent on peacebuilding, and a corresponding decrease in the amount spent on war and preparation for war. We also campaign for the legal right of those with a conscientious objection to war to have the entire military part of their taxes spent on peacebuilding.

On this site individuals are encouraged to register as conscientious objectors, filling in a simple form, and writing a statement of conscience.

Ross Wallis
Quaker / Head of Creative Arts

Below is the statement that I wrote when I registered on this site:

I accept that I might be idealistic, but I believe that it is only through idealism that we might hope to change the direction of human kind, as my grandfather did when he objected to conscription 100 years ago. A few brave individuals changed the course of history by standing firm in the face of misunderstanding and abuse, and stating their conscientious objection to conscription. 

I can see no justification for the enormous amount of money that is being spent on Trident in the face of a changing world where the enemy is no longer necessarily a nation state. There is no guarantee that such a deterrent will deter even a nation state whose leaders believe in the myth of martyrdom. I object also to financing UK defence forces, to encourage and support though my taxes an industry that sells weapons of death and destruction across the globe, often, even indirectly, to groups who will use these weapons indiscriminately, and often against UK nationals.

There is only one truly moral stand that I feel that I can take, which is to follow the words of George Fox, the founder of Quakerism "[I lived] in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars" and the Quaker Peace Testimony "We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretence whatsoever. And this is our testimony to the whole world." Conflict and violence in any form tends to begat more of the same. It comes from a place of hatred and fear, bigotry, nationalism and greed. 

In a truly globalised world there should be no 'us and them', ultimately we are all the same species, flawed as we are, and will only develop our global civilisation, and solve some of the immense challenges that we face as a species, through understanding, negotiation and compromise. War has no place in this process, and even if the preparation for defence in the face of an imperfect world is necessary, this preparation should be weighed towards peaceful solutions rather than solutions that depend on weapons.

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