Edinburgh peace rally celebrates resistance to war and militarism
THOSE WHO REFUSED to kill in the mass slaughter of the First World War were remembered for their “spirit of resistance” in Scotland’s capital yesterday (Monday 15 May) as peace campaigners marked the fourth annual International Conscientious Objectors’ Day.
The event - supported by Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre alongside choir group ‘Protest in Harmony’ - also recognised the present struggle of objectors in countries across the world.
Conscientious objectors (men who were called up to fight but refused on moral grounds) and the women and men who were not eligible for service but campaigned against the war, faced a fierce backlash during the war with accusations of betrayal and treason.
“We should honour these brave men and women who suffered prolonged imprisonment, force feeding and hard labour.” Brian Larkin
Yet the war, which many mistakenly thought would be a short victorious affair, led to the deaths of over 17 million people and was only ended by the mutiny of socialist German sailors refusing to perpetuate the bloodbath.
Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre Coordinator Brian Larkin said: “Throughout the centenary of the First World War we have been gathering to remember the important role of COs and others who resisted the madness of the First World War here in Scotland and throughout Britain. We should honour these brave men and women who suffered prolonged imprisonment, force feeding and hard labour. But we also want to raise awareness that Britain was the first country in the world to recognise a right to conscientious objection to military service in law.
“I am convinced that the only way to eliminate war is to refuse to become an accomplice in it.” Edinburgh student William Marwick, September 1916
“Since then most European countries and the UN have done so. But many countries continue to require young men and women to fight when they have a conscientious objection to killing other human beings. Today we will stand in solidarity with hundreds and thousands around the world today who still face prolonged and repeated imprisonment for refusing to kill.”
Historian Dr Lesley Orr set the event in a historical context, describing the peace movement in Scotland led by figures like John Maxton, Keir Hardie, Mary Barbour and Helen Crawfurd.
Dr Orr shared the story of William Marwick, an Edinburgh University student, who in September 1916 at Court Martial said: “In no case can I recognise the legitimacy of an external human authority which demands absolute direction of my conscience. I am convinced that the only way to eliminate war is to refuse to become an accomplice in it. Considering military force to be futile and immoral, I must decline to take up arms in any cause whatsoever.”
Over 6,300 conscientious objectors were arrested in total.
Andrew Barr spoke of his great, great grandfather, James Barr, who was a socialist, pro-peace, and pro-Home Rule campaigner then MP.
— Michael Gray (@GrayInGlasgow) May 16, 2017
Calum Baird, singer-song writer originally from Falkirk, also performed at the rally.
The organisations supporting the event are hoping to fundraise for a Conscientious Objectors memorial for Princes Street Gardens.
A first history of Scotland’s anti-WWI peace movement, written by Rob Duncan, was published in early 2015.
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