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  • And If Your Sister Was About to Be Raped…? September 10, 2017

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

    conscientious objectors

    When the insufferable Lytton Strachey was asked, in WW1, what he would do if he saw a German trying to violate his sister, he responded ‘I would try and get between them.’ Strachey gave this answer in a legal setting. He wanted to be certified as a pacifist and Beach was curious about the question, which seems to have been very popular for a time in Britain in the Great War.  Boards assessing the right of citizens to declare themselves conscientious objectors would trot this out to test the mettle of the men who were brought up before them. Here are some of the resulting dialogues from 1916 when this matter was at the very forefront in Britain. Some of the conscientious objectors (COs) appear rather priggish, others were clearly wrestling with larger questions. These little debates are fascinating and deserve a larger study.

    Board Member: You know what has happened in Belgium. Supposing your womenkind were improperly interfered with

    CO: I could do nothing then.

    Board Member: Supposing you could, and the Germans were here and were going to molest your mother and sisters, and you had a pistol handy, would you do anything?

    CO: In the first place, I would never have such a weapon in my hand.

    Board Member: But supposing you had?

    CO: I would not use the weapon. I would put my body in front them.

    Board Member: You mean that you would let your mother and sisters be sacrificed?

    CO: I would sacrifice my own life.

    Board Member: Supposing a man tried to rob you of your watch to-night, what would you do? If he was stronger than me, I would give it to him. (Laughter.)

    CO: And supposing he was not?

    Board Member: Well, I don’t think he would try. (Laughter.)


    CO: ‘My kingdom is not of this world, or I should fight.’

    Board Member: ‘Unfortunately you are in this country?’

    CO: ‘I am in it but not of it….’

    Board Member: ‘What would you do if your sister was being carried off by the German soldiers?’

    CO: ‘I do not think Christ would ever allow it.’

    Board Member: ‘Would you think more of saving your own soul than your sister’s honour. [dubious theology here]’

    CO: ‘I should obey the law of the land, which says…’

    Board Member: ‘Did Christ allow them to kill and violate women in Belgium?’

    CO: ‘It was done.’

    Board Member: ‘Are not the Belgians as good as you?’

    CO: ‘From a Biblical standpoint I do not think they are.’ [wth??]


    Board Member: ‘I am going give you a picture: A main square town; half a dozen tables, half a dozen girls tied naked to those tables. German officers standing there and in their presence, with their approbation, if not their orders, those girls are violated. Houses in the town about to set fire to. Inhabitants of those houses forced into cellars at the point of the bayonet. Houses set fire to; inhabitants roasted alive. If brave enough to have escaped they are shot down, men, women and children. Small child runs across street, gets into the way of German soldier. He bayonets the child and carries it at the end the bayonet. You can see its little arms flapping and then it dies. Husband and wife together. Husband beheaded. Wife, about to become a mother; her body is cut open and the husband’s head put into the cavity, and remains there till she dies. That is the character of the enemy we have against us. It is to prevent that kind of thing coming into England that the Military Service Act was passed. Have you still conscientious objections?’

    CO: ‘I have sir.’

    Some real beauties, with other conscientious objectors, including the young man who would do nothing to save his sister, but had recently, on public record, beaten up a man who had insulted his sister: awkward. Beach’s favourite though, without any question came from 13 May 1916 Exeter where a man was asked what he would do if a German soldier attacked his father: without missing a beat the conscientious objector said that he would run away.

    Other examples from this debate: drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com