Guide Men of Peace: World War II Conscientious Objectors

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In Britain between and some 20, men resisted the call to fight and kill. These were the conscientious objectors. Long before the start of the war thousands of men and women across Europe campaigned against the escalating signs of war and, finally, against the war itself. As the war progressed and the numbers of the dead and injured mounted and volunteer numbers shrank to a trickle, the army urgently needed replacements.

The stage was set for the passing of the Military Service Act which forced men to be trained to fight and ultimately kill 'the enemy' which they did in prodigious numbers. Over 10,, soldiers in total were killed in that war. Refusal by men to be forced into the military is part of a different world view to the one that led to war.

Women played an important role in the support of COs and in the anti war movements. The Army's brutal mindset revealed. International Conscientious Objectors Day is marked around the world each year on 15 May. Draft registration was reinstituted in July ; from then until , over , men refused or failed to register. Twenty persons were prosecuted for not registering from through Students who did not register generally could not receive federal student loans, grants or work-study money; some states also denied educational financial aid.

After , no new cases were brought against non-registrants, and draft registration became almost a non-issue, until the Persian Gulf War. By the time the war was launched against Iraq in Jan. The cease-fire came in March , by which time about 2, soldiers had sought C. Since then, an era of fear has arisen, with much concern, among those who long for peace, over the loss of civil liberties, the build-up of national weapons systems, and the institution of such government efforts as the new Department of Homeland Security.

At this time Feb. Though a great many peace groups and thousands of pacifists have been vocal in expressing their opposition to war, it seems unlikely that it is having much effect on the President and Congress. Historic Peace Churches The roots of the historic peace churches began during the Reformation, where Christians were renewing a voluntary faith as opposed to state-sponsored religion that included nonparticipation in warfare.

Primary among them were the Anabaptists dating from in Switzerland. The Mennonites -- named after Dutch priest Menno Simons who joined the movement in -- survive to the present, in spite of much persecution, and even martyrdom by Catholic and Protestant states throughout Europe in the first centuries of their existence.

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Fleeing Europe to escape this treatment, many responded to William Penn's invitation to join the migration to America where they could live in peace without being subjected to military service. Many Mennonites have come in subsequent years to the United States and Canada for similar reasons, especially from Russia and Prussia in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Amish began in Europe in the late s as a protest against the Mennonites in Germany and Switzerland for their perceived failure to relinquish practices that would separate them more clearly from the world and the state.

They began arriving in America in the s where they settled into tight-knit, mostly agricultural, communities where they could retain their separatist way of life and their pacifism. During the midth century, George Fox led a pacifist-oriented movement against what he saw as the compromises of the Protestant majority in England, which became known as the Religious Society of Friends Quakers. Al Keim writes in his book The Politics of Conscience: Fox stressed the 'Light Within' -- something not quite the same as conscience but rather 'that which shines into conscience.

A third pacifist group to survive until today is the Church of the Brethren, founded in in the German village of Schwarzenau. It was led by Alexander Mack who also sought to bring the church back to its roots in early Christianity. Claiming no creed but the New Testament, they espoused peace as a fundamental principle. This took shape in opposition to war, no coercion in religion, and no litigation in court.

The Brethren began migrating to the United States in the 18th century.


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Since the three groups have been known as the "historic peace churches. At the outset of WWII, the historic peace churches cooperated in developing an alternative service for C. In later years, C.


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  • Because the historic peace churches have been so involved in the issues that surround conscientious objection, and because so many of their men have been C. Women Until recently, women who have opposed war have not been, in any legal sense, conscientious objectors. Currently, however, women who join the armed forces, and then become opposed to war, may be designated as C.

    Threats of drafting women have loomed over the years, particularly when there was a need to ease the "manpower" situation during WWII, but women have not yet been conscripted for service. Though their pacifist sentiments were not usually officially recorded, a limited amount of information about female conscientious objectors can be found in their memoirs, in the files of women's peace organizations such as the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom or Women Strike for Peace, and in newspaper articles and letters to the editor that relate their activities and sentiments.

    Rachel Waltner Goossen writes: Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin of Montana, a contemporary of both Addams and Day, was first elected to Congress in ; a year later she voted against the United States' entry to war. She lost her seat in Congress during the next campaign but was reelected in and cast the only vote against the United States' entrance into World War II.

    These famous women were joined by hundreds and even thousands of women from all walks of life who opposed war publicly, or did so in their homes and work sites.

    Conscientious objector

    If only half the women of the United States would stand together unflinchingly in opposition to war, as conscientious objectors should war be contemplated, would they not gain the great victory of all the ages? Women have often had to bear the burden for their own and their children's upkeep while their C.

    At times this was a cause for divorce, especially if the wife did not support her husband in his convictions. Other women moved so that they could be close to their men and then tried to find jobs nearby. Some women made long treks to visit the men in CPS camps or in prisons as allowed by whatever travel restrictions were in place at the time or those put in place by the prisons etc.

    Other women worked with relief agencies overseas, or served alongside C.

    C.O. Website: History, Swarthmore College Peace Collection

    For instance, twice a month Florence Andrews traveled ten hours on two trains to visit her husband, who was a C. Photo by Paul-Kurt Ackermann. May 15, marked the 70th anniversary of the opening of the first Civilian Public Service camp at Patapsco State Park[ The Civilian Public Service experience left a legacy of reforms in mental healthcare and policy, as well as vibrant new forms of service for peace that are still a live today.

    To learn more, click on the photos below. Civilian Public Service CPS was a program developed at the onset of WWII which provided those whose conscience forbade them to kill, the opportunity to do work of national importance under civilian direction rather than go to war. Nearly 12, men made this choice, and many women voluntarily joined the cause. They fought forest fires, worked in mental institutions, planted trees, did dairy testing and served as subjects for medical experiments in more than camps scattered throughout the United States.

    In files, drawers and boxes lie letters, photos, diaries, journals, and assorted papers of the nearly 12, men of CPS, plus letters of wives and girl friends. In this is a wealth of information that calls for preservation. CPS men, COGs, Conscientious Objector Girls , families and friends are urged to place their records in established historical archives and to report to the website such placements.

    Helping people recover from the devastation of war has been a constant impulse among conscientious objectors who want their lives to make a positive contribution to the peace and well-being of others.