The Canterbury Amnesty Group has held a very successful commemoration of the courage of those were conscientious objectors in World War 1. It comprised a five act “radio drama” of various scenes involving conscientious objectors and their supporters and opponents, followed by a discussion on the extent that an individual can conscientiously object to the requirements of the state.
The group felt that since conscientious objectors were early examples of prisoners of conscience in the UK it would be entirely appropriate to remember their actions in this centenary year.
Members of the group researched information on conscientious objectors and prepared a script of five scenes. The first scene depicted a meeting of the No Conscription Fellowship offering support to the families of conscientious objectors.
The fourth scene showed a number of short tribunals illustrating the range of the views of objectors. Finally there was a scene showing the court martial of a conscientious objector who had disobeyed a military order and whose sentence of death was only commuted to ten years hard labour after the intervention of the Prime Minister.
The audience appreciated the power of the scenes and then there followed a discussion chaired by an elder of the local Quaker group, John Hills, and introduced by Richard Norman, Emeritus Professor of Moral Philosophy. The discussion was intense, well informed and wide ranging, examining all the issues relating to the extent to which it is appropriate to allow our consciences to enable us to break the laws of our country. The issues involved are complex, but there was a consensus that the conscientious objectors of World War 1 had had a lasting effect which was wholly positive – that if a country calls on its citizens to sacrifice themselves in war then it must also recognise the rights of those whose consciences will not allow them to kill.
It was felt that the issues raised by the discussion are highly relevant to Amnesty’s world wide work today.