Book review: Conscientious Objection: Resisting Militarized Society

Edited by Özgür Heval Çınar and Coşkun Üsterci, Zed Books, 9 April 2009, ISBN: 978-1-84813-278-8 (pb). £19.99

The modern state (nation-state) monopolizes the use of violence and puts an end to the war of everyone with everyone else on the social plane. However, having monopoly over violence requires an unprecedented amount of disciplined organization. The modern state achieves this discipline by becoming institutionalized according to the organizational principles of capitalism. This is a system of control whereby the location and function of each element is determined, and each member of the society is made to function as a part of this system. It essentially relies on a relationship of submission formed within a web of duties and responsibilities. Thus, the modern state is institutionalized as an organized force that carries on the one hand the tools for shaping humans in accordance with the principle of organization and the apparatus that will preserve that organization on the other. As an important aspect of this institutionalization, the mass army that depends on conscription plays such a central role that it ends up shaping the daily life of the entire population during ‘peace’ time as well as wartime.

On the other hand, the objection to participation in war is as ancient as war itself. Throughout history, different forms of military organizations have caused people to refuse military service for various reasons. One of the most direct forms of resisting war and military service is conscientious objection. In its most general sense, conscientious objection can be defined as a rejection of conscription due to one's conscience, religious or political beliefs and convictions.

This wide-ranging and original book brings together four different bodies of knowledge to examine the practice of conscientious objection: 1) Historical and philosophical analyses of conscientious objection as a critique of compulsory military service and militarization, 2) Feminist, LGBTT and queer analyses of conscientious objection as a critique of patriarchy, sexism, and heterosexism, 3) Activist and academic analyses of conscientious objection as a social movement and individual act of resistance (in the case of Chile, Greece, Israel, Mexico, Paraguay, South Africa, Spain, Turkey and USA), 4) Legal analyses of the status of conscientious objection in international and national law (especially Turkish law).

In conclusion, conscientious objection is an increasingly important subject of academic and political debate, particularly in the USA, Israel and Turkey. This collection provides a much-needed introduction and tool for making sense of the history of nation-states in the twentieth century and understanding the political developments of the early twenty-first century.

Özgür Heval Çınar