May Object of the Month
International Conscientious Objector Day – Prisoner of Conscience
Every year since 1985, the 15 May has been marked as International Conscientious Objectors Day. A Conscientious Objector is defined as someone who refuses to serve in the armed forces or bear military arms. This may be for moral, religious, political or humanitarian reasons. The day was established by the International Conscientious Objectors’ Meeting (ICOM) at a time when conscription was still in place in many countries around the world and the situation for Conscientious Objectors was problematic. The day was established to raise awareness for the difficult situation of Conscientious Objectors and to offer help and support to modern day Conscientious Objectors around the world.
The museum has many objects relating to Conscientious Objectors, mainly from the First World War, but also from more modern day conflicts. This month’s object of the month is a large three piece sculpture entitled ‘Prisoner of Conscience’ and is one of my favourite objects in The Peace Museum collection. It was created by Malcolm Brocklesby, whose uncle was one of the 16,000 Conscientious Objector’s in Britain during the First World War. The first sculpture is of a distressed human head stretching out from a small opening in a large, square, black box. The text on the sculpture reads,
“Throughout the world many thousands of people are imprisoned for their beliefs, usually without trial and often in conditions of terrible cruelty. But, while ever their voice can be heard, there is a chance that their cause may ultimately prevail.”
The second sculpture is of the same large, square, black box, but this time an outstretched arm is reaching out from the small opening. The text reads:
“If the outside world knows of their existence and some contact, however tenuous, can be maintained, help might still be possible.”
The third sculpture is of the large, square, black box, with the small opening completely closed up and shut with a padlock. The text reads:
“But if their plight is unknown, or if they are forgotten, the doorway to freedom closes and any flicker of hope is extinguished”.
Many Conscientious Objectors have been and still are imprisoned for their beliefs. While it is less commonplace today, it is still important to remember those who have been mistreated and imprisoned for refusing to give up their ‘right to refuse to kill’ or any other right and to keep our eyes and ears open to what is happening in the world today.
Written By Sarah Bartey