International Conscientous Objectors Day

On International Conscientous Objectors Day War School commemorates everyone who has, and continues to, make personal sacrifices in the cause of Peace.

Whilst these extracts from the final pages of Eric Hobsbawm's "The Age of Empire" are a warning of threats to come we see that, despite the impressions that the Imperialist rump of media and politicians want us to believe, popular opinion is Anti-War. We must continue to learn and educate..

The Age of Empire

It is a mistake to believe that in 1914 governments rushed into war to defuse their internal social crises. At most, they calculated that patriotism would minimize serious resistance and non-cooperation.

In this they were correct. Liberal, humanitarian and religious opposition to war had always been negligible in practice, though no government (with the eventual exception of the British) was prepared to recognize a refusal to perform military service on grounds of conscience. The organized labour and socialist movements were, on the whole, passionately opposed to militarism and war, and the Labour and Socialist International even committed itself in 1907 to an international general strike against war, but hard-headed politicians did not take this too seriously.

But governments were mistaken in one crucial respect: they were taken utterly by surprise, as were the opponents of the war, by the extraordinary wave of patriotic enthusiasm with which their people appeared to plunge into a conflict in which at least 20 millions of them were to be killed and wounded, without counting the incalculable millions of births forgone and excess civilian deaths through hunger and disease. The French authorities had reckoned with 5-13 per cent of deserters: in fact only 1.5 per cent dodged the draft in 1914. In Britain, where political opposition to the war was strongest, and where it was deeply rooted in Liberal as well as Labour and socialist tradition, 750,000 volunteered in the first eight weeks, a further million in the next eight months.

The masses followed the flags of their respective states and abandoned the leaders who opposed the war. There were, indeed, few enough left of these, at least in public. In 1914 the peoples of Europe, for however brief a moment, went light heartedly to slaughter and to be slaughtered. After the First World War they never did so again.

For the socialists the war was an immediate and double catastrophe, as a movement devoted to internationalism and peace collapsed suddenly into impotence, and the wave of national union and patriotism under the ruling classes swept, however momentarily, over the parties and even the class-conscious proletariat in the belligerent countries. And among the statesmen of the old regimes there was at least one who recognized that all had changed. 'The lamps are going out all over Europe,' said Edward Grey, as he watched the lights of Whitehall turned off on the evening when Britain and Germany went to war. 'We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.'

Since August 1914 we have lived in the world of monstrous wars, upheavals and explosions which Nietzsche prophetically announced. That is what has surrounded the era before I g 14 with the retrospective haze of nostalgia, a faintly golden age of order and peace, of unproblematic prospects. Such back projections of imaginary good old days belong to the history of the last decades of the twentieth century, not the first. Historians of the days before the lights went out are not concerned with them. Their central preoccupation, and the one which runs through the present book, must be to understand and to show how the era of peace, of confident bourgeois civilization, growing wealth and western empires inevitably carried within itself the embryo of the era of war, revolution and crisis which put an end to it.

Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire

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