the men who said no
We were in prison - to-day we are free, but the world is still in prison. It can be released by the spirit of unconquerable love. " Ye that have escaped the sword, stand not still.''  





"Three years ago there assembled in this hall a very notable gathering. It represented men who held every variety of religious and political opinion. We were on the eve of a memorable experience. We were setting out on a voyage of discovery; discovery not only of the working of conscription, which was new to us and the British people, but a discovery of our own ideas. We stood here in silence and made a pledge. That pledge was to resist conscription and the military power.

To-day we re-assemble. We have survived the test, and I suggest to you that that fact is in itself of very great significance. It demands from us humility. I am not prepared to accept that criticism which urges upon us what I conceive to be a false and sentimental humility; but, on the other hand, it seems to me that every one of us must be only too conscious of how terrible is the comparison between the anguish of those who have died and been mutilated in the war and the test to which we have been subjected. Although it is an established fact that prison has greater terrors for the soldier than the trenches, not one of us would dare to compare our suffering with that of the men who were actually engaged in warfare. Many of them are dead, but we have still the opportunities of life before us. Our lives are now forfeit.

Let me recall for a moment the mood of the world in 1916. The human race was in the grip of contrary instincts. On the one hand were bitterness, hatred, and terror, so that men were afraid to be isolated from the life of the nation. On the other hand you had from countless individuals what I suppose is really the most wonderful exhibition of self-sacrifice and unselfish heroism of which history has record. Above all things men were held by a world spell, and that was the spell of the military machine. Fearless men, keen-minded men, gentle men, believed it their duty to bow before that machine. Others held it to be infallible and irresistible.

We, like others of our generation, were called upon to become part of this world adventure; we were challenged by the community to bow before the military power; we were expected to engage in war and acquiesce in conscription. It is not possible for any man or woman to estimate the mental and spiritual struggle of facing that challenge unless they have in fact been potential conscripts. I know that often we expressed ourselves with arrogance, but I beg our friends to realise that situated as we were - cut off as a minority from the community, brought before Tribunals where we were placed always on the defensive, always on the look out for traps set for us and our creed - we were forced to become self-conscious, so that it became difficult to say what we wished to say in a really convincing and genuine fashion.

Spell of military machine broken
Once we were involved in this resistance we pursued many different lines of policy. The choice of those policies depended upon the emphasis we laid on the incentive of an individual consciousness of right and wrong, and the incentive of a citizen's duty. Whenever we tried to organise consciences we blundered, but it is a significant fact that every section of conscientious objectors achieved one object in common; all broke the spell of the military machine.

It matters not whether we were in the Non-Combatant Corps refusing to bear arms, whether we took alternative service, whether we became part of the Home Office scheme, or whether we were Absolutist and remained in prison - all of us shattered the infallibility of Militarism. That, to me, is a mighty achievement, and I am not willing to allow any false sense of humility to prevent my glorying in it.

We are proud to have broken the power of the military authority. We have witnessed its brutalities. We have seen the cruel degrading of human personality upon which its discipline depends. We have seen how it leads to contemptible forms of punishment - often men are crucified to gun wheels as a means of breaking the human spirit. We have seen how it deprives its victims of that most sacred right, free judgment in right and wrong, how the system makes men hate each other, bully each other, despise each other, till they become so dehumanised that they can be made even to kill their fellow working men at home. We have defeated it; we will defeat it again if conscription should be continued.

So much then for our resistance to conscription. What positive views had we for this negative action? Such views as we hold are by no means static; they have been constantly developing and changing, and I think it would be true if I were to say that probably the opinions we hold are rather the result of our experience than its cause. That experience has made clear to us ideas which we only partly understood when we determined to refuse military service.

Pacifism means human respect
I will deal only with two main groups of opinion. Some of us hold the view, based either upon religious opinion or philosophic creed, that all warfare is not only wrong but must be abstained from. It is our belief that war is evil not so much because of the suffering it involves, others preach that; but because it depends for its process and very existence upon a fundamentally wrong conception of the relationship of human beings to each other. Our basis contains a much criticised phrase: "The sanctity of human life." I do not wish on this occasion to argue the merits of that phrase, but what we meant by it was this: that Pacifism is a philosophy which teaches men to respect each other. It is because our attack upon war arises from this fundamental philosophy as to the relations between human beings that we cannot permit other arguments to sway our decision.

Together with our fellow Pacifists we declared the foreign policy of our country to be a dangerous policy before the war. We were not heeded. War came. We believed it to be our duty as a minority still to maintain our position and to preach the gospel of peace in season and out of season. Such a minority will constantly fail; it will be constantly overwhelmed by the tide of warlike passion, but it must stand apart, not idly, but seeking peace. It is clear that such action must be unpopular, and not the cleverest tactician among us can make it acceptable to public opinion in time of war; but as the ages go by that minority will increase, and we must hope that each war will produce a larger and larger number of people in all lands who will desire to create the machinery of Peace.

We believe that you cannot decide this issue by consenting to weigh up the comparative justice of each successive war. That method will never compel our statesmen to put real zeal into framing policies which will preserve peace. They must have a defined conviction that war is fundamentally wrong because it places men in an immoral relationship to each other. Then and then only will the will to peace really inspire our foreign policy. It is only by such conviction that our statesmen will come to insist upon the only practical policy - that of proposing to all nations mutual and simultaneous Disarmament.

The right of the state
Other members held an opinion which was different and yet similar. They were concerned chiefly with conscription. They agreed that war was a terrible thing, but could not bring themselves to say that on all occasions should men abstain from it. None the less, they were profoundly convinced that public opinion throughout the world should be urged to agree that engaging in war must be left to the free judgment of the individual. The State may compel our lives in many directions, but it has no right to deny men freedom in deciding for themselves this issue of life and death. It involves actions that are so fundamental, and results that are so irreparable, that only the most passionate belief in the righteousness of a cause can justify a man in giving up his life or inflicting death. It is a fatal debasement of human dignity to force men to do these things against their will or without conviction as to the justice of their actions. In these conscript days it will be only when governments are aware that they must depend for support upon the voluntary consent of their peoples that they will exercise some measure of caution in developing those foreign policies which lead to war.

If you examine the opinions of these two groups of resisters you will see that there is a common philosophy behind. In each case it is a belief that no international policies and no political or religious creeds can ever achieve happiness for the world which do not recognise the dignity and value of human personality. We in our prison cells have therefore expressed consciously or unconsciously that vision of the future of the world which inspires the new Labour movement. And thus, strange though it may appear, we are linked by our negative action with the most vital ideas motivating men's actions to day.

Why do I say this? Let me explain. In the old days Social Reform was concerned with material readjustments in the economic system; it did not challenge the relationship of master and man, it kept the incentive of profit-making which causes men to exploit each other; it was therefore prepared to tolerate poverty. And all because no recognition was given to the value of human personality or the importance of respect between human beings. To-day the most vital social forces in the world stand for a contrary opinion. It is true they are still concerned with wages and hours, but those demands are playing only a small part in their programmes. The cry of the working classes to-day is for responsibility, for new status, for the opportunity to be free servants of the community, for the chance of carrying into the era of Peace the spirit of National Service they learnt in time of war. The responsibility of man to man is the keynote of the new social outlook, and that is precisely the ideal for which we have stood.

If this be a true description of the views that have inspired our resistance, I think it is clear to all of us how definitely our negative action has taken the form of positive and constructive social service. And yet these ideas may be admirably conceived and our achievement memorable, but if now that men are willing to listen we fail to live out our lives in service, the world will become once more disillusioned. It did not heed what we said when it was suffering. It is prepared to listen now. We have declared that hate destroys and love is creative. But men are in a cynical frame of mind and need convincing of this. They are rejecting many of their old political myths; they are amused with religion. It is true that they need new political programmes, but they need far more a new motive which will inspire their lives, and we have a chance now to take no small part in rebuilding constructive hope in the world.

I cannot see how we could avoid the charge of disloyalty to our nation, but I would now plead that we may be considered genuine in our citizenship, believing, as we did, that if we remained faithful, we might help in preserving those very ideas of liberty for which the nations had gone to war. Our fellow Pacifists, who by reason of sex or age were not personally liable to military service, were devoting their lives to advocating these same new conceptions of national wellbeing and international co-operation, of justice between nations built upon a righteous peace. We were younger; we had not their experience or their influence, but we had a chance of giving some evidence of personal sincerity and willingness to suffer for the ideas which they were spreading. It seemed to us to be the highest contribution we could make. Perhaps we did it clumsily, perhaps we did it in much the same spirit of pride in which the militarists of each nation waged war. But we did believe that our stand was a genuine expression of citizenship.

The discovery of Prison
There have been times when I wondered if the struggle was worth while. But the certainty of hope for me lies in this. It was not some outworn isolated creed that we cherished. We have discovered in our prison cells that very notion which is to-day challenging the old world order - the notion that men will only feel obliged to serve the community, of which they are a part, when they have come to respect each other's Liberty.

We were in prison - to-day we are free, but the world is still in prison. It can be released by the spirit of unconquerable love. " Ye that have escaped the sword, stand not still.''

Clifford Allen



War Id Over

At the end the meeting adopted the following resolution:
Throughout the war we have stood for the brotherhood of man, and in the name of that ideal have resisted conscription. We now re-affirm our unity of aim with those in all countries who have given their lives that they might serve the cause of freedom, but declare our belief that it is not by bloodshed that freedom can be won or militarism destroyed.
We acclaim the new hope of human llberty now challenging ancient tyrannies in industry, within the State and between the nations, and dedicate the liberty we have regained, to such service as shall contribute to the healing of the wounds inflicted by war, and to the building of a world rooted in freedom and enriched by labour that is shared by all.
It is in this spirit that we go forth to meet new tasks, confident that through its long and bitter suffering mankind must yet come into the way of love.

The future
The meeting then agreed to appoint three committees to carry the work forward
an anti-conscription committee
a pacifist committee
a committee to oppose military training in schools

to Fenner Brockway remembering the meeting

no more war movement

red line