1st Place: Sophie O'Neall, Columba College

Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.
— John F. Kennedy

Words coming from the assassinated president of the USA, John F. Kennedy, are still poignant today – and will be until the world is no longer fit to live in, or there is nobody to live in it – unless we end war, soon. Archibald Baxter, New Zealand’s famous conscientious objector, once said: “All wars are deeply atrocious, and no war can be called just.” This statement most certainly illustrates the truth of the matter, for no human has the right to kill another, be it in war or at any other time – we should all be free to live in peace. This essay will argue that war is a plague to humankind. The reader will also read about the sincere lack of benefits from war, why “no war can be called just,” and why conscientious objectors should be commemorated.

Those who take part in war out of choice, organise war, or encourage it are the “symptom as man’s failure as a thinking animal”, according to John Steinbeck, an American author. On average, the world spends two trillion US dollars on war every single year ($2,000,000,000,000,000,000). This is indisputably a wholly ridiculous amount to be spent purely on destruction of people, places, and our environment. This vast sum could, and should be spent upon creating a better world: helping those in third world countries, educating people, improving working conditions, scientific research, preventing climate change – the list goes on. People cannot claim to be an advanced race, when they are less humane than the creatures in the animal kingdom, which do not kill their own kind. What is the point of war? It is purely for acquiring land or resources, in an effort to become a more powerful country – and the only people who truly benefit are the big corporates who supply countries with weapons and ammunition – they are making billions of dollars for tools used to kill. That is so completely and utterly unfair, for in truth they should be locked up in prison for gaining at the expense of other people’s lives. If these people are happy to enable the bombing and shooting of people, are they also happy to be killed? Are they happy for their multi-million mansions to be bombed to smithereens, and their family slaughtered in front of them? If so, then by-all-means, continue – but there is no way anyone would want that, to have all of their family killed and their life falling to pieces around them, and all this destruction coming from people who sit in an office and press some buttons, as if killing was a computer game. Nobody should wish that upon anybody, for any reason.

“All wars are atrocious, and no war can be called just.” Death is inevitable, so why cannot people use their highly developed brains, and let people have the chance for a long and happy life? Everyone has a right to remain unscarred by the horrors of war, something no sane person should wish to be subject to. These deaths do not benefit anyone, they only cause sorrow and pain to those close to them. The definition of war is a state of armed conflict – meaning a fight using a firearm, which will always, always, always result in injury, and more often than not, death. There are four types of death; natural causes, suicide, accidental death, and the worst of all, homicide – this is the killing of one person by another. When someone dies in war, it is a choice someone of the opposition has made; to pull that trigger, to press that button. This is premeditated killing – murder. Therefore, as Albert Einstein, the famous theoretical-physicist stated: “It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder.” This statement is accurate – if one would not kill someone in peace-time, why kill someone during war? It is the same, yet deemed lawful by the government, thus people believe it is acceptable. In war, one is not against an individual person (for in truth there is the chance they could have become friends) but against the opposing government. So why kill innocent individuals when it’s actually one government against another? Realistically, if leaders, politicians and so on believe war to be justifiable and acceptable for innocent civilians to die “for the good of their country”, then surely they themselves should be the ones fighting, for it is supposed to be in their best interests to look after the people. It is easy to imagine the objections to this, and they would think themselves too important to die – and as everybody is equal, everyone is too important to die, too important to others. This is why it is unjust. Nobody, not a single person, no matter their ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation, should be forced to give up everything, all their dreams, their family, their friends, for the mediaeval-like way of dealing with problems. Because war doesn’t solve anything. It creates hostility, pain, grief, poverty, destruction, sickness, all the plagues released from Pandora’s Box, and we are left with the last of the creatures in the box – hope. Hope that war will end, and we have peace instead.

Some of the least commended people are the true heroes in our world. The advocates for peace and anti-violence, pacifists, conscientious objectors. They are discriminated for believing in what is right and for standing up for this belief. Archibald Baxter, born 1881, in New Zealand, nearly volunteered to take part in the Boer War, but he heard a Dunedin lawyer’s plea for peace, which truly changed his mind. In 1916, he was arrested, soon after military conscription was introduced, due to his conscientious objection. The following year, Baxter and thirteen others were forced to sail to Britain, and then sent to the front line in France. Whilst on the journey, and when he arrived, he was subject to much physical and mental abuse, which was intended to stop him from believing in pacifism. In effect, it probably only strengthened his ideal. Whilst on the front line, he was often given Field Punishment No. 1, which consisted of being tied to a post with his hands tied behind him, and his knees and feet bound, for up to four hours a day, in all weathers. One year later, he was sent home, due to apparent ‘poor mental health’, for his pacifist views. This was the fate of many conscientious objecters – discriminated against and treated badly for refusing to treat others badly. They are the ones who truly deserve to be commended, for they upheld their beliefs in the face of danger and anger, and tried to keep peace.

In conclusion, war is indeed an atrocious and unjust plague upon all people, although some people call it a ‘necessary evil’. This is wrong – it is not necessary. In fact it is necessary not to have it, for war will be the downfall of life and the earth, unless we end it. War benefits no-one, and can never be called just – killing thousands of innocents will never be acceptable. Ever.