λ ‘Readings in Nonviolence’ features extracts from our favourite books, pamphlets, articles or other material on nonviolence and related areas, or reviews of important works in the field (suggestions and contributions welcome)
Introduced by Rob Fairmichael
On their conscience
Ireland (North and South) is lucky never to have had conscription into the army, at least not in the modern era. Britain has not had it since 1963. But many countries still do have it – although Germany has just divested itself of conscription – and nonviolent responses vary with countries as well as between them. Some conscientious objectors are willing to do ‘alternatives to military service’, if this option exists in the country in question, while others see the whole conscription system as rotten and violent and become ‘total resisters’ who are, typically, sent to jail. Usually only men are given the opportunity of becoming conscientious objectors but as Norway is introducing military service for women (as Israel currently does), women may have that unenviable possibility in the future. Equality to be exploited by exploiters is no equality at all.
The War Resisters’ International (WRI), with which INNATE is associated, has a Right to Refuse to Kill Programme on conscription and related issues and they currently report, for example, that “The last six months have seen a rapid increase in the persecution of conscientious objectors in Greece. At least six conscientious objectors have been tried or retried, with a range of results. They are Lazaros Petromelides, Nikolaos Karanikas, Michalis Tolis, Dimitris Sotiropulos, Menelaos Exioglou, Charalabos Akrivopoulos.”
The ridiculousness of some such situations is emphasised by the WRI: “The most recent actions were against 46-year old conscientious objector Lazaros Petromelides. Lazaros declared his conscientious objection over twenty years ago, in March 1992, at a time when Greece did not recognise the right to conscientious objection (they did so in a limited way in 1997). He has faced over a dozen trials, and has already been jailed three times. Having been arrested on 20th June, he received a 5431 euro fine in lieu of a 1.5 year prison sentence. The fine he received is in contradiction to Article 14 paragraph 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: "No one shall be liable to be tried or punished again for an offence for which he has been finally convicted or acquitted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of each country." Lazaros is also above the age at which conscription in Greece ends.” How crazy is that – and in an EU country! More information and the opportunity to protest is available on the WRI website at and there is plenty more information on that website.
At the end of May 2013, WRI launched, in association with several other organisations, 'A Conscientious Objector's Guide to the International Human Rights System'. The Guide is aimed to make it as easy as possible for conscientious objectors who wish to utilise human rights mechanisms to do so. The guide is available at co-guide.org and brief information about it at wri-irg.org/COGuide
The alternative to conscription is sometimes labelled by antimilitarists as ‘the poverty draft’, that people desperate for a job join up, perhaps hopeful of learning a trade but in many cases disappointed and perhaps leaving the army institutionalised and less able to cope with normal life. Of course there are some others who, perhaps from an early age are brainwashed by macho and militarist images of the role of a soldier, willingly sign up as their dream job. How sad is that. Another aspect, where all taxpayers are conscripted, is the inability to opt out of war taxes for those who conscientiously object to paying for war, who would prefer to pay for peace; there is a British based campaign on this, see www.conscienceonline.org.uk
Even the role of the Irish Army is changing as it is sucked into the EU-NATO vortex. Although the Irish Army is known for its consistent military peacekeeping role with the United Nations, increasingly it is cooperating with EU and NATO forces and, if the current trajectory continues, will have lost all vestiges of neutrality within a few decades. This is what conservative politicians want; Ireland to be ‘good Europeans’ where the definition of being such is doing whatever the powers that be in the EU and NATO want. The irony of joining with the former imperial (and in some cases, not so former imperial) powers in Europe is an irony which an organisation like PANA www.pana.ie is continually highlighting – along with the additional irony of cooperating with – and eventually being likely to join – NATO long after the Cold War is a far distant memory. It becomes almost beyond irony.
Coverage of conscription issues in mainstream media is unusual. So a detailed article in the London ‘Independent’ is worthy of note; see The Independent from 18th May 2013. It includes the stories of five people who have been, or are, conscientious objectors to war.