BBC's Jeremy Paxman denounced for calling First World War conscientious objectors "cranks"
Conscientious objectors in World War One were "cranks" says BBC's Jeremy Paxman for refusing to kill and be killed in a war that left 20 million dead.
Jeremy Paxman faced a furious backlash last night after calling those who refused to fight in the First World War “cranks”.
The TV presenter made his remarks in the second part of his series, Britain’s Great War, which marks the centenary of the start of the conflict.
“To be honest, the extreme conscientious objectors have always struck me as cranks,” he said. “The war was dreadful and it was bloody. But unless Britain was prepared to see the rest of Europe turned into some enormous German colony it had to be fought, and most British people saw that.”
One Quaker group branded Paxman’s comments “glib”. Philip Austin, of the Northern Friends Peace Board, said conscientious objectors in the First World War “broke important ground in creating the now widely (though, sadly, not universally) recognised right to refuse to kill”.
He added: “That they did so at such cost to themselves and their families is an inspiration to many and so it was particularly disappointing to hear the apparently glib dismissal of them as cranks.”
In the programme, shown on Monday night, the Newsnight presenter said 16,000 men “simply refused to serve” because they felt any kind of killing was wrong.
“Conchies, as they were mockingly called, weren’t exactly popular,” he said.
In the end, many were persuaded to serve as ambulance drivers and medics on the front line. But some, including Norman Gaudie, refused on principle to have anything to do with the war. Their crime was punishable by death, but instead they served out the war in jail.
Paxman, 63, scoffed: “It seems to me remarkable that a country which considered itself in the grip of a struggle for national survival nonetheless allowed individual citizens to decide whether they could reconcile that struggle with their personal conscience. It didn’t happen elsewhere in Europe.”
He asked Gaudie’s surviving relative, daughter-in-law Marjorie, if her ancestor was “just being awkward”. She replied that, because of his Christian faith, he truly believed it was “absolutely wrong” to kill another human being.
She said last night: “Norman felt it was wrong to kill and he stood by what he believed. So I suppose you could say he was a crank because he was different from the majority.”
Juliet Prager, deputy recording clerk for Quakers in Britain said: “When the whole world is heading for war, it takes courage to say ‘we will not kill’. Many chose to go to the front line, unarmed, to collect the dead and tend to the dying. Courage, not cowardice, and certainly not cranks.”
Not everyone disagreed with Paxman’s comments. Conservative Peter Cannon, councillor for Dartford, said: “I agree the absolutist conscientious objectors who refused to serve at all, unlike those conscientious objectors who took up other non-fighting roles, were wrong.”
The No Glory in War campaign will join with UK Quakers in a number of events on Concientious Objectors' Day, 15 May 2014. Details to floow soon.
Source: The Mirror