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Conscientious Objection

The Tribunals
Tribunal Decisions
Public Opinion
Public Opinion
In the years after the First World War public opinion towards pacifism had shifted considerably from the white feather hostility of 1914-18, and the Peace Pledge Union attracted widespread support. Abhorrence at the horrors of WW1 did not however equate to a popular acceptance of conscientious objection. There was mounting awareness of the threat of Fascism and the feeling that the forthcoming conflict would be a fight for the survival of Britain and its liberties. The view that this was therefore a ‘just war’ weakened the public’s capacity to accept the position of conscientious objectors.

Objectors frequently encountered suspicion, hostility and accusations of cowardice and treason within the press and media including the BBC, from their employers, within their communities and even in their own families. Curiously, many of them, including those undertaking non-combatant service and FAU members, reported receiving generally less hostility from servicemen than they did from the civilian population.

Some sections of the press drew a distinction between objectors they saw as ‘doing their bit’ and others whom they believed were ‘funks’ or shirkers – but who were nevertheless contributing to the national effort by working in other roles. Many conscientious objectors and their dependents suffered considerable hardship during the war, often obliged to undertake poorly paid work at locations isolated from their families and the wider society.

Gradually, as the likelihood of the Allies’ defeat diminished, attitudes to objectors began to soften. This was also helped by growing recognition of the contribution they made particularly in relief work, yet a core of residual animosity remained.