Opposition to the Second World War – Conscience, Resistance & Service in Britain, 1933-45, John Broom

Opposition to the Second World War – Conscience, Resistance & Service in Britain, 1933-45, John Broom

This book covers a wide range of topics. We start with pre-war opposition to the idea of war in general, including the famous debate at the Oxford Union early in 1933 which ended with the Union voting not to ‘Fight for King and Country’. After the rise of the Nazis the question becomes more specific and we gain a new group – those opposed to war with Nazi Germany in particular (either because they believed the Germans had been harshly treated after the First World War, or because they were Nazi sympathisors). The rise of the Nazis also saw the genuine pacifists faced with a problem as it became increasingly clear that Hitler’s regime was re-arming, and began to make demands of its neighbours. At this point many changed their minds, and the behaviour of the Germans during the war further increased their numbers. Those who wanted a peaceful approach to the Germans do look rather foolish now, with one group wanting to raise a corps of unarmed people to stand between the warring armies in the hope that they could be convinced to stop. 

After the outbreak of war the focus moves on to how conscientious objectors were treated. Ironically the general approach was more sympathetic during the Second World War, where limited conscription had been introduced even before the outbreak of war than during the First World War, when the government had resisted the idea for years, but then treated conscientious objectors very harshly. However the treatment of conscientious objectors wasn’t even across the country and there is interesting material on the organisations that supported them and campaigned against abuses of the system. There were also some problems created by flaws in the law, such as when conscription for some sort of war work was introduced for single women with a wider age range than the original law on conscientious objection allowed for, leaving some people too old to register as an objector.

Once the war began several different types of objector emerged. Some were unwilling to do anything that might in any way help the war effort, even taking jobs that would free someone else to do war work. Others were willing to carry out all sorts of war work but objected to being told what to do. At the opposite extreme were men who were unwilling to kill, but otherwise willing to serve, many of whom ended up with the medical corps. One of the most interesting sections here looks at a group who agreed to work as human guinea pigs for medical experiments, including work on scabies and on diet.

The author also looks at those who objected to the way the war was being fought, and in particular the strategic bombing campaign. Some of these campaigns now look rather naïve, but some of the arguments against the night bombing of industrial cities are hard to argue against, and the campaign remains controversial. We finish with a look at the post-war influence of the pacifists, many of whom ended up in CND or the post-war anti-war movements, 

Chapters
1 – The International Situation
2 – The League of Nations Union
3 – Pacifist Organisations – the No More War Movement and the Peace Pledge Union
4 – Pacifism and Politics
5 – Pacifism and Religion
6 – Refusing to Serve – Conscientious Objection
7 – Humanitarian Work
8 – Human Guinea Pigs
9 – Female Conscientious Objectors
10 – The Campaign against the Prosecution of War
11 – The Post-War World

Author: John Broom
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 232
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2018


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