I like being introduced to new ideas in public. I like sitting awkwardly, uncomfortably, surrounded by strangers, and hearing and seeing their reactions as new information is presented.
So, here’s some new information for you: during World War II, my paternal grandfather was a Conscientious Objector. Or, for short, C.O. He was sent to work on a farm in Saskatchewan. He got on very well with that farmer, and named my dad after him. That’s pretty much all I knew about that.
My grandpa was pretty quiet, and highly creative. I still have many items that he created in his workshop: a bookshelf, a clock, a lamp. He was also musical: I inherited his mandolin. Andrew plays it in church sometimes. And he was a reader. His library was ever-growing, and when I was a teenager, I borrowed many books from him. And… I never asked him questions.
Why didn’t I ask him about what it was like to be a C.O.?
When I was a kid, I suddenly get really into learning about World War II. I asked my dad if grandpa had fought in the war. Dad said no, adding that many Mennonites had been Conscientious Objectors instead. I found this decidedly unromantic, disappointing.
I really hadn’t thought much about the C.O.’s after that. But I’ve read a lot of books since then. (Such as War Is a Racket by General Smedley D. Butler. And… well, he would’ve known.) And I’ve long since lost my youthful infatuation with the notion of war.
Here in the East Reserve, it seems to me that the traditionally Mennonite notion of peace was shattered early on, replaced by American Evangelicalism… which, well, isn’t exactly all about non-violence. And so, I’m not sure my grandpa even had a way to talk about his C.O. experiences. I’m not sure it would’ve been well-received. I wonder if he ever felt misunderstood.
Even so… I hadn’t really thought much about grandpa’s history as a C.O.
Until The Last Objectors.
We first heard of the film when it was being publicly screened at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. A screening of a film about Conscientious Objectors? This we had to see.
I watched with rapt attention. I hadn’t known it was so difficult for a Manitoban Mennonite to get C.O. status. I’d always assumed it was automatic, having been negotiated with the government when the Mennonites first arrived. I thought of my quiet, shy, gentle farm-boy grandpa, making the journey to Winnipeg to stand before an unsympathetic judge and explain his peace stance, and what it had to do with his faith. And for the first time, not only was I paying attention to what my grandpa had done, but I also felt proud of his C.O. status.
After this, we also watched the film’s public screenings at the Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach, and at the Steinbach Mennonite Church. Then we proceeded to find it on MTS On Demand, and watched it at home too.
If your grandpa is still alive, and a C.O., maybe thank him. You might be the first person to do so.