'These Strange Criminals': An Anthology of Prison Memoirs by Conscientious Objectors from the Great War to the Cold War


505 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 0-8020-8661-6
DDC 355.2'24'0922




Edited by Peter Brock
Reviewed by Tim Cook

Tim Cook is the World War I historian at the Canadian War Museum. He is
the author of No Place to Run: The Canadian Corps and Gas Warfare in the
First World War.


This is an anthology of prison memoirs from 30 Australian, British,
American, and Canadian conscientious objectors in the 20th century.
Refusing to fight for political, moral, or religious reasons has often
resulted in prison sentences. Many of “these strange criminals” have
been ill-treated, subjected to physical and psychological abuse to break
their spirit. It is particularly interesting that many used their grim
experiences to reform the penal system.

The accounts offer insight into the inner turmoil and overt pressure
placed on them to support war. Their pacifist resistance proves that
dissent was possible. Refusing to serve or support a war that one finds
morally wrong is no doubt hard, but is it harder than serving on the
front lines? Editor Peter Brock leaves little room to address such
complex issues. How, for instance, does one remain a conscientious
objector in the face of Hitler’s evil regime? Moreover, because the
book supplies memoirs only from conscientious objectors, we receive a
lopsided view of this important experience; and with most of these
accounts produced by members of articulate, literate elites, one wonders
what that imbalance reflects: do the poor and uneducated leave no
written account of their experiences, or is conscientious objection
class-related? The work would have been strengthened by longer
supporting historical narratives for each of the wars in question, as
well as an overview of conscientious objectors in history.

It is disappointing that this anthology contains only one Canadian
account. Its appeal will be limited.


“'These Strange Criminals': An Anthology of Prison Memoirs by Conscientious Objectors from the Great War to the Cold War,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 12, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/30582.