This is partly due to how the war itself is considered. The ruthless social Darwinism of the German elites, the pitiless approach they took to occupation, their aggressively expansionist war aims and their scorn for the international order all made resistance more than justified. And this is certainly how Germany was presented in the British press and propaganda from the very start of the war, mainly driven by atrocities — some imagined, some all too real — committed by the German troops during the invasion and occupation of Belgium.
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Listen to Ingrid Sharp talk about conscientious objectors on The Anthill podcast episode on World War I here , or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. Germany in was a society dominated by military values.
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But it would be wrong to think that this was accepted without opposition — that World War I was fought without any dissenting German voices. Pacifist, anti-war voices were effectively suppressed by military censorship, and those working for peace were isolated, persecuted and imprisoned. But they were not completely silenced.
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Although there was no provision in German conscription laws for exemption, as there was in the UK , there is evidence that there were cases of conscientious objection. Soldiers from these groups were often informally accommodated in non-combatant roles. As there was no legal basis for their objection there were no legal cases. They most often found themselves in mental asylums or prisons on the grounds that a German man refusing to do his military duty was either mad or criminal.
There are no reliable figures, no memoirs, no supporting organisations for these people.
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Such references to them as exist are in medical journals. Sending conchies who refused non-combatant service for psychiatric assessment was one way of discrediting their position and also getting rid of potentially troublesome individuals.
The best-known example of a German conscientious objector is the radical anarchist socialist, Ernst Friedrich. Friedrich refused to serve in and was sent for psychiatric assessment. When called up again in , he ended up in prison for an act of sabotage and was only released by revolutionary troops in He joined the revolutionary barricades, showing that he was not unwilling to fight, but only for social justice and against the causes of further wars.
Ernst Friedrich went on to achieve international notoriety in the post-war period for his famous book Krieg dem Kriege War Against War , published in In it he argued that children were socialised into war by their parents and by playing with war toys, and that war benefited the social and economic elite. He also debunked claims about the glory of war and death on the battlefield by reproducing photos of soldiers committing atrocities, with prostitutes, ignominiously dead and unburied on the battlefield or grotesquely injured.
These images were often ironically juxtaposed with photos that expressed the civilian view of the war, or extracts from sermons or comments by the military or governing elite. Towards the end of the Weimar Republic, Friedrich was subject to repeated prosecution.
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