UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds
Courtesy of NFB

The Pacifist Who Went to War

Canada's conscientious objectors are brought into focus in new documentary

By Lisa Van de Ven

The Pacifist Who Went to War
Directed by David Neufeld

Church or nation? That’s the question at the heart of the documentary The Pacifist Who Went to War, portraying Mennonite communities in Manitoba who, seven decades ago, were forced to choose. Either fight in the Second World War, as their government asked them to, or stand up for their religious beliefs, calling for peace and non-violence.

Director David Neufeld focuses on two brothers, John and Ted Friesen, both eligible for combat. John enlisted, feeling a responsibility to defend his country, while Ted became a conscientious objector on religious grounds. “Our traditional view was always that war was completely incompatible with our belief,” Ted tells the camera.

But while the brothers are at the centre of the story, the film pans out, tracing the history of Mennonites who first came to Canada with the promise of military exemption. That exemption was lifted at the start of the Second World War, and many of them — like Ted — became conscientious objectors, forced to work on home soil for the duration of the war to build roads and work in hospitals and mines. Of the 10,000 conscientious objectors in Canada, 7,000 were Mennonites. The film lingers on the fight they encountered by upholding their religious beliefs. They weren’t alone in their struggle: the men who went to war faced stigma within the Mennonite community upon their return home. For older Mennonites, it’s a wound that has never quite healed. At the same time, the film shows that younger-generation Mennonites are no longer learning the same lessons of pacifism that so clearly made an impact years ago.

Neufeld’s documentary offers a fresh take on a war that feels like it shouldn’t have any fresh takes left. The film is straightforward but the story is not, and the decisions those men made are still reverberating through their communities today.


Lisa Van de Ven is a writer in Toronto.



Lisa Van de Ven is a freelance writer in Toronto.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Interviews

Courtesy of Pixabay

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Promotional Image

Editorials

Jocelyn Bell%

Observations: It’s a long road toward full equality for women

by Jocelyn Bell

'It’s a wonder that we continue to see male ministers as normative and attach shame to female ministers’ biology and sexuality.'

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Playing by Heart

by Observer Staff

United Church music director Kara Shaw was born prematurely, became almost totally blind and was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Today, the 28-year-old showcases her unique musical ability, performing piano on local and national stages.

Promotional Image

Faith

May 2018

Toronto church builds interfaith friendship

by Vivien Fellegi

Faith

May 2018

This parent found no support for her autistic daughter — and decided to change that

by Kieran Delamont

Suzanne Allen talks about raising a daughter on the autism spectrum and bringing all autistic girls together

Faith

May 2018

Church retreat helps first responders with PTSD

by Joe Martelle

Interviews

May 2018

Why this woman is leaving the Catholic Church in her 60s

by Angela Mombourquette

After a lifetime devoted to Catholicism, a Nova Scotia teacher is settling in with the United Church of Canada. Here, she explains why.

Ethics

May 2018

Pregnant in the pulpit

by Trisha Elliott

Ministers who take a maternity leave still face discrimination in their own congregations

Interviews

May 2018

The two words Rev. Cheri DiNovo wants to hear from the United Church

by Alex Mlynek

The Toronto minister talks about her disappointment over the church’s silence when she officiated the country’s first legalized same-sex marriage 17 years ago – and why she wants an apology.

Promotional Image