I have just finished reading Letters of a Prisoner by Corder Catchpool, a conscientious objector (CO) during World War I. At that time all males of fighting age were conscripted into the forces. Due to high principles, Cordor objected to war, objected to killing another human. He was court marshaled and imprisoned for six months. When his sentence was complete he was sent back to barracks where he refused to fight, was court marshaled again and sent back to prison. This bizarre process went on for the whole war. When the war ended in November 1918 Corder knew he wouldn’t be released until after the peace agreement was signed. He was released in April 1919 having served four years in prison for committed no crime other than to refuse to kill a human. The interesting point he makes in the letters is that the Sinn Feiners, imprisoned for what we would now call acts of terrorism, were released months before the peace loving COs.
It could be believed that a book of prison letters might be depressing and boring. These were neither. The letters were to either his mother or sister and contained details of his life in a small dark cell, with inadequate food and often with toothache. But the eloquent style of writing and the humor injected into the trivial made the letters interesting and educational. Here was an cultured man who learned German and read classics whilst in prison; who crammed, in small spidery script, as much information as he could into the one page of paper he was allocated each fortnight. Here was a man who wrote over a series of three letters (due to lack of space) a touching post war Christmas story about a British soldier billeted in a German household. The letters are filled with love and interest for his fellow man and above all a hope for the future. He notes that wars are started by old men and will never stop until people refuse to fight.
It is Corder Catchpools hope that left me depressed. As we enter this Christmas we have writers imprisoned all over the world who, like CC, have committed no crimes. Pen International fight for these writers but the fact that Pen International exists today proves we have not learned from Corder’s experience.
This year UK’s Christmas number one is set to be The Military Wives Choir Wherever You Are, a heart tugging song for the troops in Afghanistan – a political coup for the war mongers. All week I have been hearing on radio talk shows about our brave troops in the forces. The UK is being manipulated into a nationalistic frenzy, using Christmas as a tool. I do care about the troops but I feel they are being used for political ends.
And now, today, the Falkland dispute is kicking off again – there must be an election coming up somewhere.
I think Corder Catchpool got it wrong, war is not started by old men – it is started by greedy, vain, power hungry men and I believe it will never end until all the power in the world is handed over to mothers.