FOR HIS NAMES SAKE - CHAPTER 7
For His Name's Sake.
Being a Record of the Witness given by Members of Churches of Christ in Great Britain against Militarism during the European War
W. Barker, Printer, Mansfield Road, Heanor
BY SLATER WILSON
"WHAT are you in for?" Almost invariably this was the greeting one received as he entered the guard room.
"Refusing to obey orders!"
"Oh! You'll get a D.C.M." (District Court Martial).
"Yes, I know that."
The calm reply astonishes most soldiers. "Remanded for Court Martial," were words a soldier hated and dreaded to hear. They meant, in most cases, weeks or months spent inside the walls of a military prison, with a more stringent discipline than in camp; drilling exercise at the double, less food, more work, and worst of all - loss of liberty.
For the Conscientious Objector it possessed no terrors. Rather it meant another opportunity to voice his convictions, of spreading the principles of the Prince of Peace, and now and then an interesting discussion on the merits of the war, and of its efficiency, or otherwise, as a means of settling the disputes between nations.
The award of a Court Martial never worried the Christian objector. He knew that no matter what defence he had to offer, the end was just the same - PRISON!
Courts-Martial, for the conscientious objector for that reason alone, were simply a farce.
The government would have saved themselves a great amount of worry and anxiety, if the C.O. had been left to be dealt with by the civil law. How much disaffection among the troops was caused by their witnessing the stand made by the C.O.'s against a whole nation in arms may never be known. For how much of the back-bone in many of the ex-service men's organisations they are responsible may never be estimated, but certain it is that they exerted a great influence for good on the rank and file, which the combined efforts of a world of force could not counteract.
There is nothing in all the proceedings, preceding and attending a Court Martial, which has a tendency to promote confidence in the prisoner. Suppression of individuality seems to be the one thing aimed at. At every step he is made to feel the ignominy of his position as keenly as possible. The whole camp seems to be full of officers. No wonder that, with such a weight of authority confronting him, the poor soldier feels that submission is wisdom's way.
Time after time, he is remanded until the day fixed for the Court Martial. (The writer was remanded seventeen times). But at last, the day arrives - all too soon for the soldier, but waited and wished for by the C.O., for after a C.O. has been in camp some time he is glad even to get back to prison.
The following defence made at the third Court Martial is similar to those made at previous ones:
"The position which I occupy today is not the result of the want of respect to properly constituted authority, but out of respect to that which I believe to be far above all principalities and powers - the authority of God himself; and I feel compelled to repeat the question asked by one of the disciples of Jesus in the earliest days of Christianity: 'Whether it be better to obey God or man; judge ye!
"God has said, and He whom God sent to be Saviour of the world, repeated it, 'Thou shalt not kill.' From my childhood I have been trained in the fear and knowledge of God. Eleven years ago, I became a Christian, and the Churches of Christ, of which I am a member, have always, up to the present war, consistently opposed all war, as their literature can testify. Many of these Churches separated members who became soldiers and who refused to be bought out of the Army. It is no wonder, therefore, that I feel compelled to refuse to participate - either directly or indirectly - in war.
"I believe war to be the most inhuman expedient the world has ever used in settling disputes between nation and nation. War never dethroned power, it only enthrones one power in the place of another.
"Science has prostituted her knowledge to the destruction of human life in devising and inventing weapons of war, so desolating in their effect that Europe, part of Asia and Egypt have been turned into one great field of slaughter, where millions of precious lives are being sacrificed. What profit then the material wisdom and power! A great responsibility lies at the door of the professing Christian churches. A Staff Captain in the Army, interviewed by the Daily News said, "War is now so utterly unholy a business that, though we grant that the man of God should be where sins are thickest, yet in some obscure way, we feel that the Church is much to blame for the whole horrible affair. What in God's name has it been doing for centuries?" This is an assertion that if the Churches had been faithful to the Prince of Peace, whom they call Lord, war would be an impossibility. I believe this. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only power on earth which will remove this dreaded evil, for its one great design is to take possession of the heart of man, to transform him into the image in which God created him, pure, peaceful and loving. God, however, is able to make even the wrath of man to praise Him, and I rejoice in this, that the principles of the Prince of Peace are more known today than ever. The Government may permit
the persecution of those who choose to follow in His footsteps, but the banner of Peace and Good Will still moves forward, and ultimately all men will be persuaded to beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. It is in this hope, and through the grace that is given to me in Christ, that I am cheerful and willing, for His sake, to face whatever the future may hold.
"I have stated my conscientious reasons first, because had the Military Service Acts provided no exemption, my position would remain unaltered. The Act itself is a usurpation of authority. It usurps the authority of God and blatantly exalts a company of the created, above the Creator. It does what God has never done; demands that every man, with certain exemptions, shall deliver himself, body, soul and spirit into the hands of the Government, and if he fails to comply takes forcible bodily possession of him. For this reason, too, I could never consent to submit to such a demand. I have said that there were certain exemptions provided by the Military Service Act. One of these exemptions is that those who were acknowledged to be genuine Conscientious Objectors were to receive absolute exemption. Parliament clearly intendedd that such exemptions should be given, but the Tribunals, in the vast majority of cases, openly flouted the authority of the Acts.
"I am one of those acknowledged to be genuine but refused the exemption claimed under the provisions of the Act. The Act itself exempted me through the administration of the Tribunals, and there I can never be deemed a soldier and consequently am not subject to military discipline. Therefore, though the evidence against me may be true, I deny that the commands given to me were lawful. Further, in my refusal to obey such commands, I only seek justice and that which the law allows. Again, I deny the authority of commands issued in this camp. This is a combatant camp and I am entitled to be placed in a non-combatant camp. If I had obeyed the orders given to me, I would have forfeited my title to the certificate of non-combatancy given to me by two tribunals. Therefore, the commands were illegal. The authorities in this camp knew that I was entitled to be sent to such a camp and ought to have transferred me as a matter of simple justice. However, in justice to the Court, I must say that I should have taken up the same position had I been placed in such camp.
"In conclusion I cannot take part - either directly or indirectly - in the slaughter of my fellows and must, as often as I am returned to the Military Authorities, continue as I have begun, knowing that the ultimate victory lies with those who put their trust in Him who is greater than all." *
Through camp and prison alike, I was sustained by the conviction thast the course I was pursuing was the right one, and the one which would most surely bring, in its fulness, the Kingdom founded, not on force, but on the loving constraint of the meek and lowly Nazarene; the Kingdom for which he died.
Two days after the trial, the sentence was promulgated in public - on the sea shore. The Battalion was drawn up four square. I was placed in the centre and the commanding officer read out the sentence: "Two years imprisonment with hard labour, for disobeying a lawful command given by his superior officer, when on active service."
Amongst the audience was a Church of England minister. As he stood listening I could not help wondering what were the thoughts of the so called servant of the Prince of Peace. My thoughts then turned to the Churches of Christ, and I wondered still more.
* Reprinted from The Apostolic Messenger.
Fettered Yet Free.
(Written on the day that Leigh Hunt left prison).
What though, for showing truth to flattered state,
Kind Hunt was shut in prison? Yet has he,
In his immortal spirit, been as free
As the sky-searching lark, and as elate.
Minion of grandeur; think you he did wait
Think you he naught but prison walls did see -
Till, so unwillingly, thou turnedst the key?
Ah, no! far happier, nobler was his fate!
In Spencer's halls he strayed, and bowers fair,
Culling enchanted flowers; and he flew
With daring Milton, through the fields of air,
To regions of his own, his genius true
Took happy flights. Who shall his fame impair
When thou art dead, and all thy wretched crew?
FOR HIS NAME'S SAKE INDEX