February 1917

February 1917 was a tumultuous month in world history. It would see the Tsarist regime in Russia take it’s final tottering steps towards dissolution and the growing momentum in the United States would soon lead to the balance of the war tilting firmly towards the Entente.

But in early February the major issue dominating the Tribunal was still the Germany Peace Proposals of December 1916. With the matter still to be settled decisively - an outright rejection by the Entente, one that made the British Government realise they had entered a war without aims or goals, would follow soon after - the Tribunal staff held out hope that a negotiated settlement was within reach.

8th February 1917 - Why Does the War Go On?
The Tribunal opened the 8th of February issue with a question that must have been a pressing one to millions of men and women around Europe in the early months of 1917. With no coherent aims for an Entente victory, and the National War Aims Committee producing increasingly vociferous, hateful propaganda, Britain seemed to be trapped in an endless war with no “chance of a result at all”.

Why?In it’s discussions of the political character, origins and likely character of the war, The Tribunal stands as a remarkably clear and reasonable, even prescient, voice. Rejecting outright the entirely manufactured fear of an invasion and subjugation under Germany, the article denies “there is, or has ever been, any desire on the part of the German government or people for the conquest of England”. It points out the inconsistencies of the popular patriotic position - that England, a bastion of freedom, was warring with Tyrannical Autocratic Germany, pointing out both the huge numbers of political prisoners in Britain and the brutal and cruel system of Britain’s Tsarist allies. Looking towards the end of the war, the article asks a question difficult even now for historians to answer honestly without being influenced by patriotism - would “A German victory make the slightest difference to the liberties of small nations?”

Honesty in international analysis was consistently one of the Tribunal’s strong points. It saw the war between Britain and Germany for what it was - two similar nations, with similar aims and goals, the same methods and the same casual disregard of freedom, the same lust for empire. z

8th February 1917 - Peace Demonstration
A reminder that peace demonstrations, marches and protests continued despite the war,Demonstration this short piece advertises a peace demonstration in East London. The route would have been one very familiar to the participants, tracing the traditional Trade Union route through Canning Town and Beckton up to Victoria Park. Peace demonstrations, headed by the Unions, were held in this area of East London throughout 1914-1918.

15th and 22nd of February - Conscription in New Zealand
The Tribunal covered, when it could find news, the development of Conscription in both Allied and Entente nations around the world. Few Conscription laws provided legal protection for Conscientious Objectors, so the case of New Zealand, where men were given the legal right to Object to Conscription, was followed closely. Though, as in Britain, Conscription was passed into NZ law in 1916, the nature of communication during the war meant that news from New Zealand arrived with the NCF months later.

On February 15th The Tribunal revealed New Zealand’s provision for Conscientious Objectors to be significantly more restricted than the British equivalent. Men applying for exemption on grounds of Conscience would have to prove their pre-war membership of an approved Christian sect whose principles were avowedly anti-war. This not only removed the right of Conscientious Objection from all political and most religious COs but attempted to make it a technical right only - one to be limited, perhaps, to New Zealands vanishingly small Quaker and Christadelphian populations.

New ZealandA week later, The Tribunal covered the inevitable resistance to this draconian restriction. Both religious and political organisations were protesting the Conscription decree, and West Coast miners, a highly unionised and politicised group, were fronting the majority of the active resistance. As in Britain, marches and protests ensured the anti-conscription voice was not ignored. The government and army of New Zealand would go on to subject Conscientious Objectors to punishments as harsh as any devised by their British counterparts.

The 22nd of February also saw The Tribunal cover the situation in the USA. Though not (as yet) officially involved in the war, increasing jingoism and militarism led to the extension of compulsory military training. In a story that would have been familiar to anti-militarists in Britain, Socialists in the working class areas of major cities became one of the strongest opponents. This article covers the resistance of schoolchildren to “compulsory exercise” - a euphemism for military drill that they easily saw through.