All of the conscientious objectors sacrificed in some way – either financially or by giving years of their life in alternative service. But so did everyone else in Canada during the war years. The soldiers who died paid an even greater price. So did their families. While the COs are proud of their service and their pacifist stand, they are not so arrogant as to ignore Canada 's protection and support.
This puts the hardships the COs endured into perspective. Sometimes it is surprising that COs were treated as well as they were. One CO puts it this way.
“Most of us at one time or another experienced times of humiliation during those years in confronting our non-Christian, non-Mennonite neighbors, especially those who had sons of their own overseas, some killed in action. I feel much credit is due to these people who tolerated us in spite of these facts and the friendly relationship we can enjoy with them today. We Mennonites have much to learn from our fellow Canadians.” [MHC 1015-24]
Erwin Giesbrecht continues on the same theme.
“But, all in all, I must say the people of our nation were kind and understanding to us. We were respected wherever we went. The nation, its people not only accepted our non-resistant stand in days of great trouble, but also sheltered us from the evil within. In our homes when thieves came to rob, the government charged the offenders on their own, without our laying a charge and fighting for ourselves. We cannot thank our government enough for the shelter they have supplied when we were molested.”
“We made a trip to Europe in the spring of 1990. We spent one day on World War I and another day on World War II fields. I was moved with compassion when we beheld a cemetery of 21,000 graves of German soldiers. The American cemetery was much larger and very beautiful with the green lawns and flowers. All the trials and tribulations we encountered [as COs] became very small, when we stopped to meditate about how they all met violent deaths. Many, no doubt, had come from well-to-do families or were educated, and all was destroyed…. One could not but feel thankful that our country had a way for the COs, thankful that our forefathers left their good farms and climate to start from scratch in a wilderness country just because they were not satisfied with the CO deal Russia offered them. We reap the benefits. Let us give God the honour and glory.” [ASM, 75-93]
W.I. Enns served in the Canadian Army Medical Corps. He saw the devastation war caused in both England and in Germany.
“Back home we might have complained about inconveniences caused by the war and of course we were concerned about the lives being lost. Our inconveniences seemed so trivial when you saw civilians going through garbage cans looking for food or befriending soldiers so they would bring food from their camp kitchens. I am convinced that people in general, no matter in what part of the world, are basically peaceful and suffer as a result of power struggles, greed in some cases, long-standing animosity between nation.” [ASM, 110]
Stories like this help to put the CO experience in perspective. Millions and millions of soldiers and civilians died during the Second World War. Others were injured or endured starvation or the destruction of their homes and property. These stories, like the stories of the COs, must be told and understood for us to have a more complete understanding of war. On the whole, Canada's COs were sincere in their beliefs, just as, for the most part, Canada's soldiers were sincere in their beliefs. It isn't easy, but it is important to remember COs and soldiers both stood up for what they thought was right.