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Articles from the Peace News log: Conscientious objection

Articles from the Peace News log.
For articles in this category from the whole site, look here

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In some ways it is hard to believe it has now been over a century since the guns of the First World War fell silent. The 'war to end all wars' is so deeply engraved on our national consciousness that even now, when there is no living memory of the conflict, people gather to speak, remember and reflect on that awful, bloody war.

I observed the two minute silence at 11am in front of my television at home, unable to face the militarism (not to mention the crowds) taking place down the river at the Whitehall Cenotaph. The service in Tavistock Square, politely timed at 1pm for those who wished to attend both services in person, is far more my speed. Here there is no marching, no saluting, no talk of the glorious dead. Instead there is quiet reflection, poetry, and a deep sadness that far from ending all wars, 'The Great War' sowed the seeds for the next major conflict, and the Cold and proxy wars that followed. There was a theme this year at Tavistock Square, and a pledge – 'No More War – Let's Make Peace Happen'.

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The case of Henry Rivett Albrow, a conscientious objector.

Devils on HorsebackIt is the case of Henry Rivett Albrow that forms much of the plot of Devils on Horseback. When he is called before the tribunal he is erudite and eloquent in his impassioned defence of his conscience, calling himself a ‘dissident Christian’ – mainly because he cannot reconcile ‘love thy neighbour’ and ‘thou shalt not kill’ with the church’s acceptance of warfare. He is berated mercilessly by the members of the tribunal, with the usual nonsensical questions that are asked of pacifists; ‘what if a German raped your mother?’ Calmly and clearly Albrow states that he would not take a life to save one, but he would gladly give his own to save another – rendering moot the argument that pacifism is based in cowardice.

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Blending theatre, art and politics, the Peace History Conferences go from strength to strength

Michael Mears performs This evil thing

The Movement for the Abolition of War (MAW), organiser of the series of Peace History Conferences, has a strong and creative relationship with the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in London. This works because, on MAW’s side, there is an attitude not of dogmatic pacifism but of reasoned opposition to the legitimacy of war; and on the Museum’s side, war is not glamorised but commemorated in all its aspects. This makes it a fitting venue for a conference like the one on 10 June, especially as the IWM in London is also currently running a major exhibition on the history of the peace movement.

The previous evening, actor and writer Michael Mears presented his one-man play This evil thing at the nearby Oasis Hub. The story of conscientious objectors in the First World War, and especially of CO Bert Brocklesby, was brought to life by Mr Mears as he rearranged the wooden crates which served as props to suggest platforms, trenches or rooms. He also played every role, putting on a jacket to indicate a new character, and switching accents and mannerisms with ease. The play, which first won praise at the Edinburgh Fringe, is accessible to all, a riveting story for those with no prior knowledge of the subject, and one that will probably shed new light on this topic even for seasoned peace campaigners.

The day which followed illustrated both the diversity and the consistency to be found in those working for peace.

Frank Cottrell-Boyce, writer and screenwriter famed for his opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics, read extracts from a work written in 1517 by Desiderius Erasmus, The Complaint of Peace, in which Peace, personified, wonders why humanity persists in the use of violence. Both the issues and the wit with which they are described are surprisingly relevant for a modern audience.

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On 17 May 2017, Peace News and Housmans Bookshop celebrated the release of Chelsea Manning, along with dozens of her supporters.

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Chelsea Manning is a whistleblower who was working for the US military as a data analyst during the US-led coalition war in Afghanistan. She was sentences to serving 35 years in military prison for leaking classified US government documents to the Wikileaks website, and revealing to the public that the US army, the CIA and Iraqi and Afghan forces committed human rights violations. The crimes she exposed have never been investigated.

In one of his final acts before leaving office, US President Barack Obama commuted Chelsea Manning's sentence; the 29-year-old transgender US Army private, born Bradley Manning, was freed on the morning of 17th May 2017, instead of her scheduled 2045 release.

Ben Griffen spoke from Veterans for Peace UK and showed a short extract of the Collateral Murder footage as a reminder of the shocking war crimes, and the everyday acts of atrocity, sanctioned by warfare, that Chelsea's actions revealed when she became a whistleblower.

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