Britain’s glorious war resisters

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According to Adam Hochschild about some anti-war heroes from nearly a century ago

It was in Britain that significant numbers of war resisters first acted on their beliefs and paid the price. They did not even come close to stopping the bloodshed, but their strength of conviction remains one of the glories of a dark time. By the conflict’s end, more than 20,000 British men of military age would refuse the draft. Many, on principle, also refused the noncombatant alternative service offered to conscientious objectors, and more than 6,000 served prison terms under harsh conditions: hard labor, a bare-bones diet, and a strict “rule of silence.” This was one of the largest groups ever jailed for political reasons in a Western democracy. War opponents behind bars also included older men—and a few women—as well. If we could time-travel our way into British prisons in late 1917 and early 1918 we would meet the nation’s leading investigative journalist, a future winner of the Nobel Prize, more than half a dozen future members of Parliament, one future cabinet minister, and a former newspaper editor who was now publishing a clandestine journal for his fellow inmates on toilet paper. It would be rare to find a more distinguished array of people ever imprisoned together.

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