Jonathan Atkin

Opposition to the Great War took many forms. Of a wartime total of 3,964 conscientious objectors referred to the adjudicating Pelham Committee by local tribunals, 1,716 declared themselves Christadelphians and hence possessed a religious objection to the war. There existed, of course, other denominations of religious opposition within the almost 4,000 declared conscientious objectors in Great Britain – in particular the Quakers. It is worth pointing out how even within the ‘organised’ forms of anti-war protest, there was a great variety of personal response. While religion of all denominations played a large part in determining responses to the war, both for and against, in many cases the boundaries between ‘recognised’ opposition and humanistic anti-war reaction could become blurred. There were individuals who exhibited a drier, more ‘rational’ and (especially) moral stance in relation to the war. Some examples show that the existence of a moral element to objection to war and military compulsion was not only documented in post-war studies but also in contemporary publications.

in A war of individuals
Jonathan Atkin

The Cambridge mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell was able to articulate with extraordinary clarity a fully humanistic opposition to the Great War. At times during the war's course, Russell was truly a man alone, despite his seemingly secure position in 1914 amidst the Cambridge University establishment. To Russell, armed conflict was ‘so irrational as to be literally unthinkable’. Although later in the war he might rethink and reshape his particular pacifism and his views on the pacifism of those around him, Russell's basic opposition to the war from the outbreak of hostilities was fundamental and stemmed directly from deep personal conviction. Russell was always distrustful of politics, especially during war. Once he realised that there was little chance of bringing an early end to the war, he commenced his work on the psychology behind not only the war in progress, but also war in general. For Russell, the ‘ideal’ of patriotism was only partial and inadequate, and hence not valid.

in A war of individuals