100 years on, pacifism is just as important

Regular readers of my blog (a small but much appreciated group of people!) will know that I’ve been writing for a while about the peace movement during World War One.

It’s 100 years ago this year since conscription was introduced in Britain. I had intended to blog about resistance to conscription on every date that marked a significant centenary. Pressure of work and occasional health problems have meant that I’ve not kept up with this aim as well as I would have liked, but I believe the reasons for remembering the peace activists of the first world war are as strong as ever.

In December, I blogged about how the cabinet had decided in December 1915 to introduce conscription, a decision with caused the Home Secretary, John Simon, to resign in protest.

On 27th January, I blogged about the passing of the Military Service Act by Parliament on that date in 1916. This was the law that conscripted all unmarried men aged 18-41 in England, Scotland and Wales. It listed only a few exemptions, including people with a “conscientious objection”. This was not defined and in practice, rarely observed.

On 2nd March 1916, conscription came into force. I’m sorry I did not blog about this on 2nd March this year, but I’m glad there was a fair bit of coverage around.

One reason for my limited blogging in recent weeks is that I have begun a new job. I have taken up the role of Co-ordinator of the Peace Pledge Union (PPU), one of Britain’s oldest pacifist networks, founded as a union of people who have pledged to oppose war.

White poppies

I am delighted to work at the PPU, an organisation that has been resisting war since many decades before I was born. I am honoured to be part of many things that the PPU has been working on for years, and to have the opportunity to work in building on them and developing the PPU’s work and external communication.

This doesn’t mean that I will stop blogging! I will still be blogging here, and writing elsewhere, although such writing is of course an expression of my own views rather than those of the PPU as a whole.

If you would like to keep up with anniversaries relating to the peace movement of World War One – as well as vital issues of war and peace today – you can follow the PPU on Twitter at @PPUtoday.

Thankfully, in Britain we are no longer physically conscripted to fight. Around the world, however, many people still are and they need our support. In the UK armed forces, those who develop a conscientious objection after signing up are in practice often denied the chance to leave and many are unaware that they have a legal right to do so.

Also, while our bodies are not conscripted, our minds are. We internalise hateful doctrines that present violence as the only solution to conflict, dehumanise our enemies and encourage us to view unquestioning obedience as a virtue rather than an abomination. Our money is conscripted to fund the world’s fifth highest military budget. Even our language is conscripted, so we unconsciously talk about “defence” when we mean war and refer to the UK government’s armed forces as “our” troops.

A hundred years ago, conscientious objectors were going to prison in their thousands. Today, pacifist resistance to militarism is as important as ever.

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