Analysis of the Conscientious Objectors
This analysis is handed out to the inducted COs when they begin their service of conscription at the COs' school in Slagelse. That the COs are against the conscription is what could be expected, but what does indeed come as a surprise is tha fact that a large number of the COs in fact wishes to preserve the military. Other conclusions are that not all COs are pacifists though they still place their votes to the left, and most often they are the children of the highly-educated.
COs Want to Preserve the Military
Only 40 Per Cent in Favour of Dismantling the Military
- By Øjvind Vilsholm
If we were to have a referendum tomorrow, the result of the MNF's objectors' analysis shows that only 4 out of 10 COs would vote in favour of dismantling the military. Representatives from the National Coordination Committee of the COs (Militærnægternes Landskoordinations Udvalg, LKU) and from the MNF are not surprised: "We have," they say, "been observing this tendency for a while." The Administration of the COs does not see the COs' favour of the military as a problem.
When it comes to upholding the army, the
analysis shows that the COs are split in two groups of equal
size. Approximately 42 per cent want to abolish the military and
the same percentage wants to preserve it. A little more than 16
per cent do not know what to think.
Christian Elverdam from LKU says that he is far
from surprised to see the result of the analysis. "Compared
to other results of the analysis stating that 4 out of 10 COs
object due to matters of convenience, there is an obvious
connection to the figure of 40 per cent who want to preserve the
military. As a secretary of the LKU for the past six months, I
have come to know this kind of objectors. They object because
they do not really see the military as "their league".
Still, they want Denmark to have an army, preferably a
professional one," Christian Elverdam notes. Martin Olsen
from the board of the MNF, agrees. Actually, Martin is surprised
to hear that 40 per cent are stating a wish to actually dismantle
the military. "I was afraid that the number would be
lower," Martin says and continues: "As a former
secretary of the LKU, I have also met a lot of COs who do not
even present a critical attitude to the army. I have even met the
type of CO who claim he would have joined the army if it were of
a higher standard."
Neither Christian Elverdam nor Martin Olsen like the "new type of COs". "When you do object, it ought to be based on ideology. To me, it's a double standard of morality, wanting the military without being willing to contribute," Martin says. Both Martin and Christian stress their distance to the people who object for reasons of convenience. As Christian puts it: "True COs oppose the military!"
Aage Spindler, head of the CO Administration of
the Danish Home Office, has the responsibility of transferring
the conscripts to service of conscientious objection when the
objection is truly a matter of a conflict of conscience. Earlier
on, Spindler has stated that the Administration only transfers
objectors who object due to reasons of conscience, and he does
not agree with Martin Olsen and Christian Elverdam as to the
definition of "true COs". Spindler sees nothing
suspicious about the fact that conscripted objectors want to
preserve the army. "The important matter in cases of
transfer is a person's conflict of conscience about the army.
Their political attitudes in general have nothing to do with the
Administration of COs," Aage Spindler concludes.
Information Is the Way to Go about It
Even though Martin Olsen and Christian Elverdam both agree that a large number of COs do not seem to be "real COs", neither would wish for a clamp-down of the rules about transfer to conscientious objection. "Anyway, people would just learn the right answers by heart," Christian proposes and Martin adds, "We prefer today's system of everybody having to put their name to the fact that their objection is based on a matter of conscience. And we are definitely not going to introduce any kind of police interrogation as was the case in Norway till 1996." Christian suggests that the effort is placed somewhere quite different: "Information is what we need. As it is, the military is constantly in the blaze of the media. We need some counterbalancing and this constitutes a large area to be covered by the MNF. As soon as you succeed in turning the public feeling, I'm sure that the result will be felt among the COs too."
MNF's analysis of the COs is handed out to the inducted COs when they arrive at the CO Administration in Slagelse. This time the question to be dealt with sounds like this:
"If there were to be a referendum tomorrow, would you vote in favour of the abolition of the Danish military?"
Table 0. Is the military to be abolished?
Source: 192 replies of the MNF's analysis of COs in 1996.
COs Are Not Just Turning the Other Cheek
In case of an outbreak of war on Danish ground, 50 per cent of the COs will be resisting actively. This is the result of a questionnaire made by the MNF among the inducted COs at the CO Administration in Slagelse.
A percentage of 35.5 is going to participate in
the struggle of resistance in case of an outbreak of war on
Danish ground. In addition to this, a number of 3.5 per cent
would waive their status as COs and report for active duty. This
means that a total of 39 per cent wold indeed be resisting
actively in case of war.
Do Not Wish to Participate
The same number of COs would either hold back
(26.4 per cent) or prefer to go underground (14.4 per cent) as
soon as possible. Thus a total of 40.8 per cent plan to stay out
of the actual warfare.
Depending on the Situation
One CO in five does not wish to answer the
question either due to matters of unresolved feelings or because
the answer would depend on the nature of the war in question.
(Who would play the parts of the good guys vs. the bad guys).
A Hypothetic Question
Quite a number of COs seem to be of the opinion
that it is one thing to be a CO and another to 'stay out'
completely. COs are people of commitment and will react
accordingly to try to influence the situation they are in. Still,
one must add that it is actually somewhat awkward to ask COs
about their potential plans in a situation of war, when - as we
all know - the whole purpose of conscientious objection is to
avoid warfare. And since the question is after all a hypothetic
one with no indication of any other circumstances (such as
Denmark being occupied by e.g. Muslims, Communists, or Nazis), we
probably had the result mentioned above coming to us. In this
light, the most interesting figure is perhaps the 26.4 per cent
who will remain passive and submit to whatever alternative
service the authorities are might offer. Another conclusion is
that more than half of the COs would 'do something', i.e. either
in the shape of escape (due to fears of persecution) or direct
involvement in the conflict.
The Wording of the Question
What would you do in case of an outbreak of war on Danish ground?
Table 1 : What would COs do in case of an outbreak of war on Danish ground (1992-1995).
Source : The MNF's analysis of conscientious objectors, handed out to approximately one CO in three. The results are based on a total of 451 questionnaires.
Conscientious Objectors against Conscription
Nine Danish COs out of ten are doing their
military service despite the fact that they oppose the existence
of conscription as a matter of principles. The COs simply find
themselves in the system of conscription against their own
convictions, because even as a CO you are in fact accepting
conscription. So actually, people ought to react to their
opposition to conscription by total objection. This would,
however, lead to imprisonment which is probably too large a
mouthful for most people. Instead they chose to get over with the
conscription in the easiest way. As a CO, you don't feel the loss
of liberty as hard as otherwise; you are allowed to stay at home,
and the place where you are stationed is located in the
neighbourhood. Actually, it is no different from being
'activated' by the local authorities. The secretary of the LKU,
Christian Græm, agrees to this : "I see this attitude among
a lot of the COs. They merely think about themselves as
individuals and want to get over with the whole thing as quickly
as possible. They don't think in terms of society as a
whole." Christian Græm regrets that the COs do not seem to
attend to the consequences of their choice which ought to go
deeper than just the individual aspect. "When you see people
putting their names to the statement that killing is against
their conscience, you would expect them to oppose to others
killing each other as well." Christian continues . "It
is my experience that COs even have a positive attitude towards
the military. They don't care if Denmark kills as long as they
themselves do not have follow suit."
We have asked the spokesperson of the LKU,
Sebastian S. Larsen, who is himself against the conscription, why
he has chosen to do his service. He explains : "I became a
CO because it was the lesser evil. I even thought about the
possibility of total objection but I don't believe that prison
would do my health any good." Instead Sebastian has chosen
the more silent way of protesting : "When I encounter some
tough or boring tasks at Rigshospitalet (the National Hospital)
where I'm stationed, I respond by not doing my best. Anyway, I'm
cheap labour so they can't expect me to do as much as an ordinary
person for whom they would be paying full price."
Disapproval of the System
Sebatian continues : "You have to think
about the time when you ask the COs about their attitude to
conscription. They are asked right at the the moment when they
have been forced away from their everyday life. They have had to
give up job or studies. This is their moment of least
appreciation of the system." Sebastian believes that one
could probably get a more positive picture of the COs' attitude
to conscription, if they were asked either before the induction
or when they would have finished their service.
Civic Duty - a Good Idea
Christian Græm belongs to the small minority of COs who acknowledges the existence of conscription, even though he believes that coercion is basically wrong. "Conscription - or civic duty as I would prefer to call it - isn't a bad idea, though I don't quite agree as to the way we see it today. If the system were to change so that we could arrange for the system of conscientious objection to be equal to the other services, then we would see some totally different opportunities," Christian declares. "And if they would equalize the information about the different types of civic duty, then you could focus on doing something beneficial to society. I don't think that many COs today would agree to be doing something beneficial to society, and that ought to be changed. Still, I'd prefer today's system to a professional army at any time," Christian Græm concludes.
Table 1. The COs' attitude towards Conscription.
* The figure for 1996 is based on results collected during the first five monts of the year. Source : The MNF's analysis of COs 1992-96 (566 answers).
The Children of the Highly Educated Become Conscientious Objectors
The first social group is three times more frequently represented among the COs than any other social group.
The results of the analysis show that the
conscript is of uneven nature. Children of social group 1 do not
want to join the army; they prefer to spend their service as COs.
This social group is only constituted by 9 per cent of the Danish
population, but 27 per cent of the COs belong to this social
Conscience - for the Rich
Perhaps it isn't really much of a surprise to
find the children of the highest social group represented in such
large numbers among the COs. Joining the army is not that
prestigeous in the academic environment and at the same time, it
often seems to be among the untrained that we find the more
gung-ho attitude as well as a choice of violence as a means of
Not Enough Information
Another serious problem in this respect is
access to information about conscientious objection : "The
MNF has been stressing for ages that the information about
conscientious objection at induction is far too minimal,"
Piet Mertz from the board of the MNF states. "In a video of
presentation, only about one minute is spent on telling what
conscientious objection is about, and then for the remaining 30
minutes you get to see interesting exercises and military
merchandise from the army, the navy, the air force, and the
mergency force. Still, it isn't just the quantity of information
about the various forces of the military which is of uneven
nature compared to the information about conscientious objection.
Even the quality of the material is beyond comparison : The
defence force is presented in colourful leaflets with a wording
that is easily understood, while the material on conscientious
objection consists of a proclamation-like brochure in a dry,
judicial language. So I guess," Piet Mertz goes on to
conclude, "that the dissemination of information about the
service of conscientious objection is markedly limited among
those people, who do not have a particularly literary
No Conscientious Objectors from the Weakest Social Groups
That people with a background of limited education seem to have difficulties in obtaining information about conscientious objection is stressed by the results of the analysis of the COs. While social group 1 is extremely well represented, social group 5 is almost short of representation. In society, social group 5 represents 18 per cent of the population, but only 7 per cent of the COs come from this part of the population.
Table 1. The social grouping of COs, 1992-95. (All numbers in percentage)
Source : The MNF's analysis of the COs handed out at the Administration of COs to approx. one CO in three. Also : "Danskernes levevis" by Erik Jørgen Hansen, 1986.
Definitions of the social groups :
|The Social Democrats||10 %||15 %|
|The Radikale Venstre||6 %||11 %|
|The Conservatives||4 %||3 %|
|The Central Democrats||1 %||2 %|
|The Retsforbundet||3 %||0 %|
|The Socialistisk Folkeparti||37 %||32 %|
|De Grønne||6 %||8 %|
|The Kristeligt Folkeparti||1 %||2 %|
|The Venstre||8 %||11 %|
|The Fremskridtspartiet||3 %||1 %|
|The Enhedslisten||21 %||14 %|