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.

Not Surprised

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."

"Wrong" COs

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?

Numbers in per cent 1996
Yes 41.7
No 41.7
Do not know 16.7
Total 100.1
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?

  1. Join the resistance as during World War II
  2. Report for active duty.
  3. Remain passive and submit to one form of service of objection or another.
  4. Go underground.

Table 1 : What would COs do in case of an outbreak of war on Danish ground (1992-1995).

Sum total in percentage 92 93 94 95 Total
1.Join the resistance 32,9 28,5 43,0 40,0 35,5
2.Report for active duty 3,5 1,9 6,3 2,5 3,5
3.Remain passive 31,8 27,8 21,1 26,3 26,4
4.Go underground 12,9 17,1 15,6 8,8 14,4
5.Do not know 18,8 24,7 14,1 22,5 20,2
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."

Silent Protesting

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.

All numbers in per cent 92 93 94 95 *96 Ialt
Supporters of conscription 12 5 13 9 7 9
Opponents 87 90 86 89 88 88
No answer 1 5 1 2 4 3
* 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 group.

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 solving conflicts.

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 background."

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)

Social group 92 93 94 95 Ialt total population
1 28 % 23 % 37 % 21 % 27 % 9 %
2 14 % 16 % 12 % 21 % 16 % 14 %
3 20 % 23 % 18 % 18 % 20 % 28 %
4 30 % 31 % 28 % 33 % 30 % 31 %
5 7 % 8 % 5 % 7 % 7 % 18 %
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 :
Social group 1 : Scholars and people with various sorts of graduate backgrounds, large-scale business entrepreneurs (more than 20 employees), and top officials (more than 50 subordinates).
Social group 2 : People of further education, business entrepreneurs (6-20 employees), and officials (11-50 employees).
Social group 3 : Small-scale business entrepreneurs (0-5 employees), farmers, officials (1-10 subordinates).
Social group 4 : Smallholders, trained workers, subordinate officials.
Social group 5 : Untrained workers.


COs Still of Left-wing Politics

- but the Left Has Moved towards the Right

What has been a matter of general opinion for many years has now been proved : The Danish COs are much more left-wing than the rest of the population. If votes for referendum were only to be cast by the COs, then Socialistisk Folkeparti (the Socialist People's Party) would be the biggest party in the Danish parliament followed by Enhedslisten (the Radical Socialist and Communist Cooperation).

The attitude of the Cos towards the military is reflected in their choice of political direction : The majority of the COs (70 per cent) will vote in favour of parties of a strong traditional scepticism towards the Danish military, i.e. parties like the SF, the Enhedslisten, the Radikale Venstre (the Radical Liberal Party), and De Grønne (the Green Party). Still, it is apparently possible to be a CO and vote for a party of "hawks" : In 1993, 17 per cent of the COs would cast their vote in favour of the Central Democrats, the Conservatives, the Venstre (the Liberal Party), or the Fremskridtspartiet (the Right Wing Party9.

When looking at the figures from 1992 to 1993, one will see the Enhedslisten dropping by a third from 21 per cent to 14. This means that the percentage of voters of the SF and the Enhedslisten now have to look for assistance from De Grønne or the Radikale Venstre, if an anti-militarist government is to be formed. Though the left-wing has seen a decline in support from 1992 to 1993, this development has not touched the Venstre, the Conservatives or the Fremskridtspartiet : Instead the parties that have benefitted are the Social Democrats and the Radikale Venstre; both parties have advanced by 5 per cent.

The COs Choice of Political Parties

  1992 1993
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 %
In 1992, 85 replies were collected. Of these 71 named their preferred party, 10 indicated that they would either return a blank ballot paper or none at all, whereas the remaining 4 did not reply at all or cast their vote for Batman.
During the first 10 months of 1993, 133 replies were collected. 96 named a parted, 15 would return a blank ballot paper or none at all. The remaining 22 had not replied or had named several parties.