An Act of Conscience!

by Koozma J. Tarasoff — January 28, 2007
Published in Canadian Mennonite, Volume 11, No. 21, October 29, 2007
Plus 4 Responses

Born in Saskatchewan, Koozma J. Tarasoff is a scholar who has studied and written extensively about the Doukhobor social movement in Canada, USA and the former Soviet Union. His website  provides a link to the past and the present. He believes that the accumulated wisdom of the elders, the struggle of the Spirit within one's own heart, and the challenge of adhering to the principle of non-violence in an increasingly violent world are issues as timely today as they were over a hundred years ago when 7000 dissidents in Russia burnt their guns and then settled on the Canadian prairies.
Some people are persuaded to go to war and follow the drum of patriotism in defense of one's country. Others refuse to follow the herd because their conscience dictates that killing another human being is contrary to everything that they have been taught in a civil society; they follow the moral code of ‘Thou shalt not kill.”

Those who refuse to take the gun usually take one of several paths. One is to totally refuse to cooperate with the government in going to war. Their fate is incarceration in prison, sometimes torture and beatings. Another path is to accept alternative service in some civilian non-killing activity such as building roads or fighting forest fires. For those who are farmers, paying to the Red Cross may be an option. Still another choice is to follow the example of Conscience Canada and refuse to pay that portion of taxes that go to the military.

Those people who refuse to kill are legitimate world citizens who are courageous. Their actions reflect a moral stance on vital issues of humanity as expressed by concerned citizens around the world. In the Southern Caucasus of Russia, 7000 dissident Doukhobors in 1895 burnt their guns and swords in a mass demonstration to the world to get rid of the institution of militarism and war once and for all. Together with Lev Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi they understood that war is both madness and a crime against humanity. The United Nations Preamble confirmed this in 1945 with a mission statement that the peoples of the world must get rid of the 'scourge of war' or else war will consume us.

As we watch on TV the disastrous happenings in the Middle East, our heart goes out to the families whose loved ones are brought home in body bags. The military leaders call them ‘heroes’ while the patriots beat their drums louder to entice young people to become cannon fodder. In the meantime, the military industrial complex lobbies the government for the development of new and more effective weapons of mass destruction, as the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT) has revealed. With its sales of arms and funding of new weapons, Canada is implicated as a contributor to war. The voice of conscience to immediately pull out of Afghanistan is rarely heard above the rhetoric din of patriotism. So what is one to do?

Early in January 2007, a Doukhobor* friend from Saskatchewan sent me the following story of his son who is an entrepreneur with a conscience. His story follows:

‘I now want to share with you my pride and respect for my son Kim. I was sitting in his office last week and he says to me, “Dad, I received an order from the Canadian military; they want me to produce several thousand military badges. What do you think Dad?” he asks.

‘Needless to say I was taken aback because the order is for many thousands of dollars. I then said to him the order represents a lot of money that you can use.

‘He said: “Dad, I know and I have made a decision. I will not manufacture these badges because they promote the military that I am totally against."

‘He then said: “It is more important to me and my family to know the principles I stand for than this money. So I will inform them of my decision.”

‘We sat silent for awhile and it took all my will power not to shed tears. He did inform his family and they were supportive. So, my friend is it not gratifying to know that there are people like Kim in this world whose actions follow their beliefs!’

Kim, you are a hero for taking such a principled high road stand and for refusing to contribute to the war effort. Instead, you are helping to create a nonkilling society. Three cheers for a renaissance man of conscience!

The last word goes to Kim himself, who wrote in response to this article: 

‘I am making sure that my kids see what war and politics are really about. I have said it before that people have the choice to produce good things and bad things in their factories. If each factory owner refused to produce weapons, there would not be any. So if you own a factory that produces a million guns then are you not responsible for a million lives lost? How many people would not have been killed if those weapons were never made? It is not so easy to kill with your own hands because your conscience will get hold of you….’
In Russia,  7000 dissident Doukhobors in 1895 burnt their guns and swords in a mass demonstration to the world to get rid of the institution of militarism and war once and for all. They suffered severe repression from the tzarist government of the time, and with the help of Leo Tolstoy and others, including some Quakers, were able to emigrate to Canada, where they were assured their right to conscientious objection would be respected.


Dear Koozma,

Everything you write has inspired nonkilling clarity. Every essay demonstrates the powerful roots of the nonviolent Doukhobor tradition and the importance of developing such power in every faith.

Amidst wars and continuing bloodshed, we are all your grateful students in search of a nonkilling global future.

With profound respect,
Dr. Glenn D. Paige, Founder and President
Center for Global Nonviolence, Hawaii

Hello Koozma,

Thanks for this Nice piece. This is an interesting answer for people who worry that our younger people “propali” (got lost).

Does the dandelion, as it is beginning to wither and dry up, also worry? Or does it know that it’s seeds have been scattered far and wide?

Again, Thanks for sharing,
Vsevo dobrovo. Paka.
Fred & Elizaveta  Makortoff 

Hi Koozma,

Absolutely wonderful. If you haven't already done so, may I forward it to Jan Slakov and Bruna Notta of Conscience Canada (plus a couple of journalists I know as well as my Science for Peace assoc.). Thanks.

Love and Peace,
Bill  Bhaneja
Ottawa, Ontario

From: Jan Slakov <>
Sent: Friday, February 02, 2007 11:04 PM
Subject: Conscience Canada newsletter on its way

Dear Koozma,

I'm putting together the various articles for our newsletter and thought you would like to see how it is shaping up.

Thanks for your submission, which we want near the front.

All the best, Jan

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