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Conscientious objectors (War)

20 Jul 2015

Our Subjects / Ā Mātou Kaupapa:
History, Society and culture

Where can I find information about conscientious objectors during World Wars One and Two? How were they treated?

LEVEL: Intermediate / Secondary

During both World Wars there were people who did not want to fight, either for religious or political reasons. Both the people who objected and the treatment they received has been controversial. Nowadays there is a lot of information online about conscientious objectors in New Zealand and around the world. 

For an overview of the subject a really good place to look is Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. If we scroll down to the bottom of the page we can see that the website belongs to the Ministry for Culture & Heritage, so the information is well-researched and reliable. To find the story, choose 'stories A-Z' from the options along the top, then choose letter 'C' from the options and scroll down quite a long way until you come to a story called Conscription, conscientious objectors and pacifism. Not only does this story look at conscientious objection in both world wars, it also covers the related subjects of conscription and pacifism

Another excellent place for information is NZHistory. To find an article about conscientious objection in World War One, choose the 'New Zealand at War' section from the middle of the page (scroll down a little), then choose the 'Home Front' section in the 'First World War' area. You will then see the Conscientious objection article.

NZHistory also incluides a couple of articles about this topic during the Second World War. They are both in the 'Second World War' area of the 'New Zealand at War' section. One is a page under 'Second World War - overview' called 'Opposition to war'. The other is in the 'Second World War - at home' area and is called 'In dissent'.

HOT TIP: NZHistory is a great website for information about New Zealand Aotearoa. If we go all the way down the page we can see that the website belongs to the Ministry for Culture & Heritage, so the information is well-researched and reliable. 

Some New Zealand conscientious objectors have become well-known, and NZHistory is a good place to find out about them. In the video area of their images and media section you can find a video and biography of Ormond Burton, and, in alphabetical order, in the biographies area you can read about Archibald Baxter. You may also like to take a look at this ManyAnswers entry about Te Puea Herangi.

For an overview of the topic of conscientious objection and a good selection of links the National Library has created a research guide. To navigate to it, choose 'For researchers' at the top left of the home page and then 'research guides' from the right hand side. Scroll down a little to see the conscientious objectors guide.

HOT TIP: We like sites like this because they’re reliable. You can tell because of their web address – they have either .govt or .ac, meaning they are from government or educational organisations. They’re also New Zealand sites, so relevant for us.

For an international perspective, you may like to look at the article on Pacifism and Conscientious Objection in articles area of the British Library's World War One website. Also, this guide to 'Conscientious Objectors in their own words' from the Imperial War Museum may be of interest. The British Library and the Imperial War Museum are both well-respected institutions, so content on their website will be reliable.

EPIC is a collection of reliable databases covering lots of different topics. It’s put together especially for New Zealand school students and helps to answer questions like this. From the home page select Opposing Viewpoints in Context from the Gale Cengage list. In the 'War and Conflict' area there is a section on Pacifism. Although not exclusively about the world wars, there is a lot of interesting international information about conscientious objection, peace activism and pacifism.

HOT TIP: To get to the EPIC databases you will need a password from your school librarian first. Or, you can log on to between 1 and 6pm Monday to Friday, and one of the librarians can help you online. Some EPIC databases may also be available through your public library.

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