1. Are you a conscientious objector to war?
Conscientious objection to war may or may not be a term that you are familiar with. Simply stated, it means that you have a deep conviction against killing in war or against participation in military operations.
According to Selective Service, a conscientious objector is one who is opposed to serving in the armed forces and/or bearing arms on the grounds of moral or religious principles.
You do not have to be a religious person or belong to a religious group in order to be a conscientious objector to war. It does not mean that you believe it is wrong to defend yourself if personally attacked. It does not mean that you are a coward or unpatriotic.
Rather, conscientious objection is a central conviction against killing in warfare that you simply cannot violate. If this describes you, you may indeed be a conscientious objector to war.
In times of military conscription, conscientious objectors serve in non-combatant roles, or do alternative service under civilian direction. Soldiers who become conscientious objectors after entering the military may apply for a conscientious objector discharge. While this process is often lengthy, successful applicants receive an honorable discharge.
As you read through the materials below, you will learn more about the meaning of conscientious objection.
We won't kill.
"So, for the record, here is what conscientious objectors object to:
"We object to killing. We object to killing in the name of capitalism, we object to killing in the name of Communism, and we object to killing in the name of religion. We object to being forced to register for war and killing, and we object to being forced to participate in the preparations for war and killing. We object to killing innocent civilians, and we object to killing soldiers. We object to nuclear weapons, and we object to conventional weapons.
"When war comes, many of us will perform peaceful alternative service. Many of us will go to jail rather than compromise deeply held beliefs.
"But we will not fight. We will not kill."
Charles A. Maresca, Jr.
Assoc. Director, Nat. Interreligious Service Board for Conscientious Objectors
Washington, Aug. 29, 1987
The Peacemaker Registration Form asks questions that all conscientious objectors to war would need to answer in the event of a military draft.
2. What if I'm opposed to cooperating with selective service?
Some young people do not wish to cooperate with the Selective Service System, because it supplies youth to the armed forces to be trained for war.
If you have questions about registering, be sure to discuss them with your parents and your pastor. It is important to take your conscience seriously and to be informed about your options.
Failure to register with Selective Service is legally punishable by fines of up to $250,000 and up to five years in jail. However, no young men have been prosecuted or fined for failing to register since the early 1980's. Federal and state governments are using other means to make sure young men register with Selective Service.
For example, failure to register also makes you ineligible for federally-funded student aid, job training, and federal employment. Many states have passed legislation restricting non-registrants' access to state education benefits or employment. More than 35 states have now passed legislation that prevents non-registrants from obtaining a driver's license. For more information on these developments, see: www.sss.gov/FSdrivers.htm
Several Mennonite denominations have passed statements which support non-cooperation with Selective Service as a valid expression of conscience against war. The Mennonite Church USA has a fund which provides loans to assist non-registrants with higher education (Contact: Kathy Harshbarger, Telephone: 574-294-7523). A similar fund (FEAT: Fund for Education and Training) is held by The Center on Conscience and War in Washington D.C. (Telephone: (202-483-2220).
For stories of young men who decided not to register look for the book, The Path of Most Resistance, by Phil Baker Shenk, or check the following Web site: www.mennolink.org/books/
3. What if I'm already in the military when I discover that I have a conscience against killing?
Some youth discover that they are conscientious objectors to war only after they are already in the military. Experiences during basic training, military exercises, or actual combat awaken questions which they may not have asked before. What might have begun as a sense of discomfort during bayonet drills sometimes develops into a clear conviction that it is wrong to participate in war and military service. These youth often search for a path out of the military.
Many people in the military have applied for and received a conscientious objector discharge. It is not unusual, however, for persons to experience some difficulties and delays in the process, especially during times of war. While some commanders and chaplains will support a person's conscientious objector claim, others view conscientious objectors as cowards or even traitors.
Fortunately, there are experienced military counselors outside the military, who are available to provide help and guidance. If you are in the military, and want to submit a claim for conscientious objector status, we urge you to contact one of the following agencies:
G.I. Rights Hotline
Toll Free: 1 877 447-4487
Web site: http://girightshotline.org
Center on Conscience and War
1830 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20009-5706
Telephone: (202) 483-2220
Web site: http://centeronconscience.org
4. If I have already enlisted, can I change my mind?
Most young people enter the military through the Delayed Enlistment Program (sometimes called the Delayed Entry Program or the Future Soldier Program). This program allows you to sign up with a military recruiter for one of the service branches, but receive a report date for basic training for up to a year later. When entering the Delayed Enlistment Program ( DEP), youth sign an enlistment agreement and take an oath of enlistment.
It is very common for young people to change their minds after enlistment in the DEP. Job offers, a decision to go to college, marriage, failure to graduate from high school, and other reasons may lead a young person to re-evaluate their decision. It is important to know that up until you actually report for basic training, it is possible to be released from any military obligation.
The official way to gain release is to write a letter to the commanding officer of the recruiting station, explaining one's decision not to report to basic training. You may or may not receive an official response before the date to report for basic training. Military recruiters are instructed to be understanding of these changes in plans. Nonetheless, in some cases military recruiters may use intimidation or threats to persuade you not to withdraw their commitment to serve. If this happens to you, you can ignore the threats, or simply ask the recruiter to show you the regulations that allowfor the threats they are making. Some young people choose not to inform their recruiters in order to avoid the potential for harassment.
Recruiters typically want to meet with young people once they learn of their decision to withdraw from the Delayed Enlistment Program. We strongly encourage enlistees who choose to meet with recruiters under these circumstances, to take a trusted adult with them.
In the end, simply, not reporting for basic training will result in release from any further obligation. For military regulations on the DEP, see: http://girightshotline.org If you need further help, you can call the GI Rights Hotline at: 1 877 447-4487.
5. What are the restrictions and obligations of military life?
The Military Oath - The following oath is taken by all personnel inducted into the armed forces of the United States, as found in the US Code, Section 502.
I, _________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.
Every military service member signs up for eight years, which includes some combination of active and reserve duty.
Restrictions on Personal Conduct in the Armed Forces
Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces
Do You Know Enough to Enlist?
Behind the Camouflage: A Primer on Military Enlistment for Pastors, Youth Counselors and Mentors
6. What is war like?
Over the years I have come to understand that among military veterans, we can find a deep longing for peace. Many combat veterans, in addition to physical wounds, carry painful images and memories which haunt their minds for decades. Out of this pain, comes the search for a peaceful world.
The reflections below stand in contrast to the words and images in military recruitment brochures, because they speak openly of death, fear and loneliness. These words come from veterans who stand on the other side of military recruitment. In the interest of honesty, their words must be placed alongside the stirring calls to discipline, honor, leadership and courage.
Peace Education, MCC US
War is a very strange predicament because it goes contrary to everything that civilized human beings are taught... in the society that we grow up in you're taught not to kill. We're taught not to steal. We're taught certain ethics. War is something different, because in war you have to kill. It's self preservation. It's survival. It's real tough to put in those terms.
On the other end of my sights is going to be someone, a person, someone else with a family that I will probably have to kill in order to complete my mission. Once the bullets start flying at me, some self-instinct is going to turn in me that's saying if I want to get out of here I have to shoot back, and unfortunately that means probably having to kill somebody.... I'm going to push all the civilized person inside of me saying "don't kill" back somewhere, and do what I have to do to get out of here.
1st Lieutenant Favio Lopez
CNN Interview 1/31/91, Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War
I did what I had to do in Vietnam because I was a soldier. I did what I did because I was scared and I didn't want to die. And I did it because I was ordered to do it, not because I liked doing it.
Some of my friends didn't make it back, and sometimes I feel like they were the lucky ones. Because since I've been back I've been living a life in hell. I haven't been able to find myself. I don't have an identity.
I've been married three times, and I have six kids. But I never gave them anything but material things. I never gave myself because I didn't have a self to give. I don't have a person to give them. What they have is a shell of a person.
Hell, Healing and Resistance, by Daniel Hallock (Farmington, PA: Plough Publishing House of the Bruderhof Foundation) 1998, p. 109
It's easier if you catch them young. You can train older men to be soldiers; its done in every major war. But you can never get them to believe that they like it, which is the major reason armies try to get their recruits before they are twenty....
The armed forces of every country can take almost any young male civilian and turn him into a soldier with all the right reflexes and attitudes in only a few weeks.
War, quoted in On Killing, by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (Boston: Little, Brown and Company) 1995, p. 264.
It was in the staging area to Laos. When we came back from there, there was a small little airfield that had a hangar on it, so it must have been somewhere between Khe Sanh and Dong Ha.... I was really tired, and I went into this little hangar type building... that small aircraft were parked around. I was looking for a place to lie down out of the sun and sleep. I went to sleep on the dirt there, and I slept for awhile. I was vaguely aware when I was sleeping of people moving around me.... I thought other people were also lying down and going to sleep around me. And when I woke up, I was surrounded by bodies.... I think there was an assumption that I was a body and somebody was looking for a place to put some of the bodies, and they laid bodies alongside of me. That came back to me sometimes in dreams. That was one kind of recurrent psychic trauma rather than physical trauma.
interview with Titus Peachey, August 1998
The enemy here is very barbarous and many comrades have been killed and lain down to sleep forever. Last week three members of our squad were buried by the Americans' B-52s. We did not know they were above us until the bombs burst around us; I was lucky to crawl into my bunker in time and only suffered a bloody nose from the concussion. My right ear still rings from the noise. Now I feel death very near whenever I see an airplane coming through the clouds.
This terrible war makes so many strange thoughts race through my head. I would like to jump straight up for thousands of miles to get away from here, from this killing. Before, I did not know what it was to kill a man; now that I have seen it, I don't want to do it any more.
But it is the duty of a soldier to die for his country, me for our fatherland, the enemy for his. There is no choice.
from the diary of an unknown North Vietnamese soldier, 1965
quoted in "Writings by North Vietnamese Soldiers: 1973, Who Was This Enemy," by Fox Butterfield, in Reporting Vietnam, Library of America, eds. (Penguin Putnam) 1998, p. 408
I saw a lot of battles. I can't even remember my first firefight, there were so many. After a while, you get used to it. They attack you, and people die, and it's a normal thing. You fight and kill people and wound people, and it seems normal. After a while, the people who've been with you for a month, two months--suddenly they're getting killed or messed up.
But the worst thing is the fear that grabs you. A horrible fear that won't let you sleep. You can't concentrate. The slightest noise, and you open fire. And since you can't sleep, you don't do anything but think. You have daydreams about your family, your house, your friends. The people you left back home. And you cry at night when you're on guard and nobody can see you. You cry for the suffering, the pain, and for the fear that invades you because you don't know when you're going to die.
By now you have it in your head that they're going to kill you. You just don't know when. You see other people die, and you think you're going to die, too. The terror goes with you all the time.
in Strange Ground: Americans in Vietnam 1945-1975,
An Oral History, by Harry Maurer (New York: Holt and Company) 1989
I remember one incident where we were hovering near a road. We were picking up blivets of fuel. Our rotor wash blew a kid into the rear wheels of a five-ton truck. He got squooshed. I watched this, and my gut reaction was one of horror. I looked toward the ass end of the ship, and my flight engineer had been watching the same thing. We looked at each other in the same way, and then all of a sudden we both changed and started to laugh about it. Ah, we got another gook. We saw a certain humaneness in each other, and in ourselves, and quickly squashed it, because that was dangerous. To open up, to have that kind of crack in the armor, was a one-way ticket to either insanity or death or something. In order to get through, you built this shell and you existed in it. It had certain rules that you obeyed, and one of them was an indifference and arrogance toward the population.
in Strange Ground: Americans in Vietnam 1945-1975,
An Oral History, by Harry Maurer (New York: Holt and Company) 1989, p. 210
I remember one soldier said to me, "I don't want a woman seeing me die. I don't want it. That's why you shouldn't be here. It's not something women should be seeing. War is a man's business." That's the whole idea. What they were saying was, We're here to protect our country and defend our women and children. We've got to stop the Commies here because otherwise they'll be in Hawaii. We're here so our women and children will never have to see war on their own shores. But they were also saying, I don't want you to see me scared. I don't want you to see me cry the way I cry. I don't want you to see me bleed the way I bleed. And I don't want you to see me kill the way I like to kill.
in Strange Ground: Americans in Vietnam 1945-1975,
An Oral History, by Harry Maurer (New York: Holt and Company) 1989, p. 239
I don't think anything can prepare you to actually be confronted with violence, at least it doesn't seem that way to me. Nothing in the training that I was exposed to other than they can simulate the noise level somewhat but they can't simulate the chaos and the confusion of it. And just even the stark realization when you shift from something that you know that is not real to something that is real in a very, very ugly way there is no way training can prepare you for that.
Often it is in the dark or in heavy vegetation. You can't see what is going on. Most of the times I was in places where there was shooting going on... I had no clue where the rest of my side was. It was often in the dark so all I'm seeing is points of light, unsure of which ones are supposedly my side and which ones are the other side. So there is a lot of fear and trepidation that comes just because you are unsure what is happening.... It is totally beyond your control.... There is no way you can get it to stop.... It is going to run its course, and when it is over possibly people are going to be dead....
I saw things that... really broke the spirit of people because... when someone would think the enemy was nearby and it would set off a panic and there would be a whole bunch of shooting and hundreds of rounds would be fired, thousands of rounds sometimes.... And then someone would... call for the firing to stop and discipline would be restored and they would send the point person ahead and they would discover some 12-year-old boy on the trail dead... or a water buffalo or something like that. There were times when this broke out for no reason at all. It was because people were on edge.
interview with Titus Peachey, 1998
7. What does my faith have to do with a decision about entering military service?
Logan Mehl-Laituri (Iraq War Veteran): “I came to the (biblical) passages about turning the other cheek and loving your enemies (Mt. 5), and in the meantime I was an artillery man in the U.S. Army. I had gone to Iraq and back…I wasn’t quite sure how to love your enemies while I’m calling for fire.”
Eventually I came to the point of realization that as a Christian I was called to nonviolence. And that at least meant that I had to drop my sword…it meant that I could no longer be directly responsible for killing people.”
Joshua Casteel (Iraq War Veteran): When you say, ‘I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ the only son of God, you’re not believing in Caesar, you’re believing in Jesus. And in the opening processional of the mass, the cross-bearer comes in with the gospel bearer and with the priest…you’re supposed to make a reverential bow to the cross as it enters the sanctuary. And this is a bow in honor of the absent king…Allegiance was the central issue for me in becoming a conscientious objector. My primary allegiance is to the Kingdom of God and I can give it to no one else.
Conrad Moore (Vietnam War Veteran): It wasn’t a Christian thing but it nevertheless was a spiritual thing for me. It was a real spiritual awakening for me. I decided that I did not like the way that doing violence made me feel….I was turning into a person that I couldn’t like…and I made a very conscious decision that violence was going to be removed from my list of conflict resolution tools…and that makes it tough for you to be a Marine.
Ted Studebaker (conscientious objector who was killed in Vietnam): I believe strongly in trying to follow the example of Jesus Christ as best I know how. Above all, Christ taught me to love all people, including enemies,and to return good for evil, and that all men are brothers in Christ.
I condemn all war and conscientiously refuse to take part in it in any active or violent way. I believe love is a stronger and more enduring power than hatred for my fellow man, regardless of who they are or what they believe...
Glen Guyton (Air Force Veteran, 1990s): The Great Commission says “go ye therefore and teach all nations.” I said, “I can’t teach anyone with an M-16 pointed to their head….I’m not going to be welcomed…in a foreign nation if I’m coming in there to destroy that nation.”
Dennis Boyer (Vietnam War Veteran): “I don’t see how Christ could have lasted more than a few days in the military without ending up in the stockade. I guess I concluded that that is probably where I should have ended up.”
Dick Davis (Former Army Chaplain): “I realized that the type of allegiance that the military calls from young people is an idolatrous type of allegiance. It calls you to a different God…to the god of war…Ultimately I just had to say I have given my allegiance incorrectly to the United States of America…I need to retract that and pull that back and then give it…to Jesus Christ, because he is the only one that has the right …to call from us this kind of allegiance.
It went back to my old Baptist thinking. They said the Bible was true and I began to read the Bible in Matthew 5, 6, and 7 about loving your enemies you know. How in the world can I be part of an organization who kills people?”
8. What did early Christians say about war and military service?
"We refrain from making war on our enemies, but gladly go to death for Christ's sake. Christians are warriors of a different world, peaceful fighters, but in fidelity to their cause and in readiness to die they excel all others."
Justin Martyr, (Apology I ii, 39)
"We who were filled with war and mutual slaughter and every wickedness have each of us in all the world changed or weapons of war... swords into plows and spears into agricultural implements."
Justin Martyr, (Trypho CX)
"In peace, not in war, we are trained.... Various peoples incite the passions of war by martial music; Christians employ only the Word of God, the instrument of peace."
Clement of Alexandria, (Paedagogus I, 12, II, 4)
"We must first inquire whether military service is proper at all for Christians.... The soldier who becomes Christian ought to leave the army.... One soul cannot be due to two Lords--God and Caesar."
Tertullian of Carthage, (quoted in Reconciliation Quarterly, Winter, 1999)
"When God prohibits killing, he not only forbids us to commit brigandage, which is not allowed even by the public laws, but He warns us not to do even those things which are legal among men. And so it will not be lawful for a just man to serve as a soldier."
Lactantius of Bithynia, (quoted in Reconciliation Quarterly, Winter, 1999)
"I am a soldier of Christ; I cannot fight."
Martin of Tours, (Martin of Tours served in the military as a Christian in 339 AD. When faced with the first prospect of battle, however, Martin realized that this was not consistent with his faith in Christ. He refused to fight and stood on the battlefield, armed only with a cross. Martin was granted a discharge from military service.)(quoted in Reconciliation Quarterly, Winter, 1999)