Peace union calls for 'conscientious objection in everyday life'

By staff writers
May 16, 2016

British pacifists have urged opponents of war to become 'conscientious objectors' by challenging militarist values and attitudes in everyday life.

The call from the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) coincided with International Conscientious Objection Day, marked around the world on 15 May.

In countries where conscription is still in force, the day is often a focus for action by anti-conscription campaigners. In the UK, the focus has tended to be on the historical legacy of conscientious objection. But the PPU insisted that conscientious objection remains as relevant as ever in Britain.

As examples of 'conscientious objectors' in modern Britain, the PPU cited engineers who have reduced their prospects by refusing to work in the arms industry, along with people who withhold taxes in protest against military spending.

As an example of what they call “everyday militarism”, the PPU cited the plan for an RAF 'flypast' over London LGBT Pride. The PPU argues that the armed forces are misusing a human rights march for their own ends.

This year marks the centenary of the introduction of conscription in Britain in the first world war.

"In Britain, our bodies are no longer conscripted”, said Symon Hill, co-ordinator of the Peace Pledge Union. “But our taxes are conscripted to pay for the fifth highest military budget in the world. Our minds are conscripted as we are taught from an early age that violence is the solution to conflict and that unquestioning obedience is something to be admired. Even our language is conscripted, with preparations for war described inaccurately as 'defence' and 'security'”.

Hill added, “As everyday militarism becomes more and more visible, we need to resist it with everyday objection."

International Conscientious Objection Day was marked with vigils and demonstrations around the world. In Venezuela, 43 men chose the day to declare in public that they would resist conscription and become conscientious objectors (COs). In Turkey, a group of COs were prevented by police from observing the day by marching and planting trees.

In South Korea, protesters joined a mass cycle ride to call for the release of imprisoned COs. Over 700 COs are imprisoned in South Korea alone.

Events were held in at least ten towns and cities in the UK. New memorials to conscientious objectors were unveiled in Leicester and Carlisle, although in Penzance, councillors refused to allow the planting of a tree to honour COs in the town's War Memorial Park.

Around 200 people attended a vigil in London's Tavistock Square, included representatives of peace groups from around Europe.

Speaking in Tavistock Square, Hannah Brock of War Resisters' International insisted that conscientious objection is not simply about securing individual exemption from joining the armed forces.

“The final goal is a society that is free of war and is demilitarised,” said Brock. “Conscientious objection is a nonviolent method of resistance to war.”

She concluded, “I'd like to consider how I – and how we – can be conscientious objectors in everyday life”.

[Ekk/1]

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