Friday, 15 May 2015

International Conscientious Objectors Day

Today is International Conscientious Objectors Day.

There is an interesting article on the ABC's Drum website which you can read here.

As you will see, that article, calling for a national monument for Conscientious Objectors, has resulted in a number of comments, and a lively discussion.  Its a shame that some people only see Conscientious Objectors as 'shirkers' and refuse to acknowledge the moral stance that being a Conscientious Objector involves. 

When I was in London 2 years ago, I came across this memorial in Tavistock Square, by coincidence on May 15. Up until then I hadn't realised there was a Conscientious Objectors Day.

The stone reads "To commemorate men and women conscientious objectors to military service all over the world and in every age. To all those who have established and are maintaining the right to refuse to kill : their foresight and courage gives us hope."  The stone was laid on May 15, 1994.  In Tavistock Square there is also a memorial to Gandhi, and the Hiroshima Tree.  You can read more about this memorial and what it means at the Peace Pledge Union website.

Another memorial I discovered in London was this one.  Erected by Sylvia Pankhurst in Woodford Green (north east London), this one is prescient, sad and forgotten.

 It is an anti aerial bombing memorial, so in a way its not a memorial at all, but a protest.  Sylvia wrote 'there are thousands of memorials in every town and village to the dead, but not one as a reminder of the danger of future wars'.  It was erected in 1935 and that is why I find it so poignant.  Its message is as valid now, with drone attacks in Afghanistan and elsewhere, as it was then, when London had not yet faced the Blitz, and firestorms were as yet unknown. You can read more about Sylvia Pankhurst and 'the stone bomb' here

The use of white feathers in WW1 - handing them to men it was deemed should have 'joined up', inferring they were cowards - is mentioned in one of the oral histories the Library holds.  Here is an excerpt from Doug Cotton's oral history (no. 40) relating something that happened to him in WW2:
I was mainly interested in ARP [air raid precautions] because I'd been rejected for service in the AIF on medical grounds, and also because I was over 35 in a reserved occupation ... how people reacted and the dreadful ways we treated each other in the war time ...  I was on a tram going up Sturt Street, home, and a lady came in and there wasn't a seat so I popped up and said "here you are, madam." She didn't say 'thank you' or 'kiss my foot' but she sat down, got something out of her purse and passed it to me for everybody to see: a white feather! That was one of the worst moments I had but I was fortunately able to think quickly enough and say "Is this one of your own madam, did you pluck it out yourself?"  Oh dear its a mad memory, it stirs me up a bit I really was rocked with that.
 Doug Cotton was an outstanding Ballarat citizen. In this case he was not a Conscientious Objector - he'd been rejected from the AIF - but he still had to withstand the derision of others for not 'joining up.'  

Conscientious objectors are courageous - to hold out against violence and killing when you face public hostility and hatred, when you are going against the tide of popular opinion – to maintain a stand against all this, and then to be labelled a ‘shirker’ - all this takes a great moral conviction.  It is a day with a valuable message today, May 15. Truly, Lest We Forget. 

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