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Young people pledge to resist militarism on Conscientious Objectors' Day

Jay Sutherland speaking at the Conscientious Objectors' Day ceremony in London

Young people pledge to resist militarism on Conscientious Objectors' Day

Young people in the UK have marked International Conscientious Objectors' Day by insisting that they will resist militarism in everyday life

There was an enthusiastic response to Scottish pacifist activist Jay Sutherland, 18 (pictured above), who told an event in London that working class teenagers are consistently targeted by armed forces recruitment campaigns that present life in the military as an answer to poverty. 

Jay, who began campaigning several years ago against military visits to his own school in Ayrshire, said that young people in the UK today are honouring the conscientious objectors of the past by continuing to resist militarism today.

He said, "The same psychological tactics that the armed forces and their allies used then are being used now... In the village I grew up in, which was in a rural part of Scotland and very deprived, I saw the army first-hand come into my community and try and persuade and convince people who were hit hardest by austerity to keep buying into the the very structure and state that had harmed their lives."

International Conscientious Objectors' Day (15 May) has seen major protests against conscription in Colombia. There were also demonstrations in other countries in which conscription is still in force, including Israel and South Korea, and in Sweden where conscription has recently been reintroduced. Events to mark the day have been taking place in six continents. 

In the UK, ceremonies and vigils have been held in cities including Edinburgh, Leicester, Liverpool and Manchester as well as London. 

The ceremony in London's Tavistock Square was attended by people of many ages and backgrounds, including several former members of the armed forces. The event was organised by the First World War Peace Forum, a group of eleven peace and human rights organisations including the Peace Pledge Union

Muslim pacifist Saddya Darr opened the ceremony before handing over to historian Lois Bibbings, who spoke of British conscientious objectors who were imprisoned in the First World War. Spring 2019 marks the centenary of the release of most, but not quite all, conscientious objectors who were still in prison for refusing to fight in World War One. 

Songs were led by Sue Gilmurray and the Raised Voices choir. The names were read out of 85 conscientious objectors from across centuries and countries - only a small representative sample of the many thousands of names that could have been chosen. A white flower was laid for each one. Those present then observed a minute's silence. 

After the ceremony, some of those present chose to join Trident Ploughshares in protesting outside the London offices of mutinational arms company Lockheed Martin, to register their conscientious objection to the arms industry. 

Jay Sutherland, who is a member of the Peace Pledge Union and co-founder of Scotland Against Militarism, said at the ceremony in London:

"Militarism is a youth issue and it always has been - the war machine relies on converting generations of young people to believe their politically charged lies... I’ve heard so many times from people that if young people were forced to join the armed forces that it would somehow sort us all out - as if there is something to sort out in the first place. It’s the society that needs to be fixed, not us!...

"The real issues that are facing young people around housing, the cost of living and education are all said to be solved with us toughening up and joining the army. This narrative must be challenged."