Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Brief History of Pacifism

Brief History of Conscientious Objection (CO), Pacifism, and Anti-war movements in the U.S.

Presented by Veterans for Peace Chapter 89 Middle TN

The New York Peace Society, founded in 1815 by David Low Dodge, was the first official peace society in America, but the true story of American pacifism should begin with certain Native Americans who wished to live in peace. Since then, hundreds of peace groups and thousands of individuals have worked to promote peace and work against war. This presentation is intended as only a brief introduction to the historical setting for the topic of conscientious objection to war.

Colonial Period 1492-1776
The first documented conscientious objectors in America were members of religious sects whose faith principles forbade them the use of arms in warfare. These include: Quakers, Mennonites (and related groups, the Amish and the Hutterites); the Brethren (sometimes called Dunkards, Tunkers, Dunkers) and smaller sects -- the Shakers, Christadelphians, Rogerenes. America was not necessarily a safe haven for pacifists. At times they were considered heretics whose freethinking would be subversive to law and order. During the years before the Revolutionary War, Quakers and Mennonites did not join in when their neighbors fought the Indians and worked on their forts.

Revolutionary War (1775-1783)
Resistance to the Revolutionary War came mostly from the groups mentioned above. The tax issue was a particular cause for much discussion and soul-searching. Many Quakers refused to pay taxes, asserting that they went directly to pay for the war effort. In addition, many refused to take the loyalty oath, considering this as part of their witness for peace. The Revolutionary authorities imprisoned conscientious objectors, for as long as 2 years.

Constitutional Convention and Ratification (1788-1789)
In what was to become the 2nd Amendment (the right to bear arms), James Madison initially proposed recognition of the rights of what we would call conscientious objectors:
"No person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person."

Today, we recognize the rights of conscientious objectors, but they have not received the explicit Constitutional protection that Madison desired. Madison also proposed 3 restrictions on the states: "No state shall violate the equal rights of conscience, or the freedom of the press, or the trial by jury in criminal cases."

War of 1812
After the War of 1812, Rep. Daniel Webster (D-NH) successfully argued against reinstatement of the Federal draft arguing that the US "has no powers which render it able to enforce such laws". Thus, conscription remained a matter for individual states to decide. Peace church members continued to resist military service and to refuse payment of fines or war-related taxes. As a consequence many, such as pacifists in Baltimore, had their property confiscated.

Mexican War (1846-1849)
Such organizations as the American Peace Society and the New England Non-Resistance Society linked Christian ethics, abolition of slavery, and pacifism. In 1846, both groups led an organized campaign against the Mexican War.

The Transcendentalist movement: Thoreau’s essay “Civil Disobedience" (1849) is the best-known anti-war document of the period. He was sent to jai for failing to pay poll tax. The famous and influential essay is the result of that gesture. Its message is simple and daring - he advocated "actions through principles." If the demands of a government or a society are contrary to an individual's conscience, it is his/her duty to reject them. Inspired by Thoreau's message, Mahatma Gandhi organized a massive resistance against the British occupation of India. Thoreau's words have also inspired the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., the peace marchers and the numerous conscientious-objectors to the Vietnam War.

Civil War (1861-1865)

The Civil War brought with it the first national conscription acts (April 1862 –Confederate & July 1863-Union). Both Congresses provided an exemption for anyone who could find a substitute for himself or provide or pay a commutation fee. The laws recognized only those CO’s who were members of religious denominations who prohibited armed service. In the Confederacy, the draft law of 1862 exempted Quakers, Mennonites, Brethren and Nazarenes, with the understanding that they would either hire a substitute or pay $500. Many COs could either not meet the monetary demand or would not hire someone else to go to war for them. The CO’s often found himself moved to camps in states where no one knew of him. For the 1st time, there are records of COs who were tortured. Some COs joined the army as cooks and/or would shoot over the heads of the enemy rather than kill them. Others, such as Mennonites in Virginia, hid out in the hills until the war was over.

World War I (1916-1918)

By 1917, CO’s had become a larger and more diverse group. The historic peace churches mentioned above were joined by pacifist sects from the newer waves of immigrants, such as the Molokans and the Doukhobors who came from Russia in 1903. There were also Jehovah's Witnesses, who claimed exemption from military service, not as CO’s but as ministers (each JW adult male was considered a "minister"). In addition, there were political objectors such as the Anarchists, Socialists and members of the I.W.W. (International Workers of the World). The COs of World War I were sent to army camps where they had to convince officers & other officials that they were sincere in their objection. Occasionally, the COs were taken to prisons instead; 450 were court-martialed and sent to prison; and 940 remained in camps until the Armistice was fully enacted.

The absolutist COs who refused to drill or do any noncombatant service were court-martialed and sentenced to several years in federal prison at Alcatraz or Ft. Leavenworth; many suffering persecution, manacling, and solitary confinement. Most COs who had been imprisoned were released by May of 1919, though some of those thought to be the most recalcitrant were kept until 1920.

Anarchist leader Emma Goldman, and Socialist party founder Eugene Debs were outspoken supporters of CO’s and of the 1st Amendment rights of all Americans to oppose war. The government and most citizens, however, viewed objectors as subversive radicals and silenced the antiwar position along with other dissenting voices by suspending constitutional rights to freedom of the press, speech, and assembly. Goldman, along with several thousand suspected alien "subversives," was deported without formal trial under the Alien Act of 1918. Debs, charged with violating the Espionage Act of 1917 for giving an antiwar speech, was sentenced to ten years in prison. The Espionage Act, strengthened by the Sedition Act of 1918, virtually destroyed the American left wing through government-sanctioned censorship of its press and prosecution of its leadership.

Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973) was the first woman to be elected to the US House of Representatives (March 4, 1917-March 3, 1919 from Montana); elected to the Congress a second time (January 3, 1941-January 3, 1943); only Representative to vote against US entry into WWII; Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom; member, National Council for Prevention of War; remained leader and lobbyist for peace

War Resisters League: Organized in 1923 by men and women who had opposed WWI, many of whom had been jailed for refusing military service. The WRL believes that all war is a crime against humanity and does not to support any kind of war, international or civil, and to strive nonviolently for the removal of all causes of war. Many of its members do not pay income taxes. The founders, including Jessie Wallace Hughan, leading suffragette, socialist, and pacifist, believed that if enough people stood in total opposition to war, governments would hesitate to go to war.

The Catholic Worker Movement, founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in 1933, is grounded in a firm belief in the God-given dignity of every human person. Today, over 185 Catholic Worker communities remain committed to nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry, and forsaken. Catholic Workers continue to protest injustice, war, racism, and violence of all forms.

Major General Smedley D. Butler (USMC) 2-time Congressional Medal of Honor winner; pamphlet War is a Racket (1935)
The Center on Conscience & War (CCW), formerly the National Interreligious Service Board for Conscientious Objectors (NISBCO), was formed in 1940 by an association of religious bodies. CCW works to defend and extend the rights of conscientious objectors. The Center is committed to supporting all those who question participation in war, whether they are U.S. citizens, permanent residents, documented or undocumented immigrants--or citizens in other countries.

World War II (942-1945)
During WWII, the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 dictated the terms by which more than 34 million American men, ages 18 to 44, participated in the war effort. There were 72,354 who applied for conscientious objector status. Of those, 25,000 accepted noncombatant service in the military. In the end, 6,086 COs (4,441 of them Jehovah's Witnesses) went to prison for refusing to cooperate with Selective Service. Another 12,000 men entered Civilian Public Service (CPS), a program under civilian direction designed to accommodate COs by having them do "work of national importance."

Roughly 1000 radical pacifists affiliated with the War Resisters League, the Catholic Worker movement, or the Socialist party, were imprisoned. Approximately four hundred African-Americans also refused to serve in the military in World War II. Some belonged to the Nation of Islam, which viewed the war as a "white man's conflict." Others refused to serve in a Jim Crow army or to fight for a country that denied basic democratic freedoms to its black citizens.

Korean Conflict (1950-1953)

At the end of WWII, there was much debate about the efficacy of Civilian Public Service and whether there were alternatives to this that COs could engage in. The program became official in July 1952, and it made a wide variety of service opportunities open to CO’s.Approximately 4,300 were granted CO status

Vietnamese Conflict (1964-1975)

The Vietnamese Conflict produced a very organized network of draft resisters and supporters. In the 1960s the WRL was the first peace group to call for US withdrawal from Vietnam and played a key role throughout the war-organizing the burning of draft cards, rallies, civil disobedience at induction centers, and assisting resisters. Rejection of conscription stemmed from opposition to militarism and war itself, to disagreement with US foreign policy in Indochina, and/or to the belief that the draft epitomized injustice as it was weighted heavily against African-Americans, the poor, and the less educated. During this time, draft counseling services expanded sizably, and groups were formed all over the country to provide support for draft resisters. As dissent spread, it polarized new constituencies among professionals, civil rights groups, and women's organizations. Massive anti-war rallies were held, as well as rallies in which hundreds of young men turned in or burned their draft cards. GI resister groups spread, so that dissent was coming from the armed forces as well as those not yet in the military.
The language of the conscription law had specifically excluded the CO who did not believe in a Supreme Being; thus, the agnostic and atheist had no legal basis on which to claim exemption. It also excluded selective objection, those whose objection was based on the specific war involved rather than on long-standing religious pacifism. This held true until 1965, when the Supreme Court ruled that COs need not believe in a Supreme Being; this was expanded in 1970 to say that any individual may object to military service on ethical and moral grounds, if such convictions "are deeply felt." A total of 170,000 men received CO deferments; as many as 300,000 other applicants were denied deferment. Nearly 600,000 illegally evaded the draft; about 200,000 were formally accused of draft offenses. Between 30,000 and 50,000 fled to Canada; another 20,000 fled to other countries or lived underground in America.
Conscription ended three years before US involvement in Vietnam did. President Nixon thought that ending the draft would end the massive opposition to that war, but in this he erred. Ending the draft neither ended the war nor the opposition to it.

Student for a Democratic Society was the largest and most influential radical student organization of the 1960s. At its inception in 1960, there were just a few dozen members, inspired by the civil rights movement and initially concerned with equality, economic justice, peace, and participatory democracy. With the escalation of the Vietnam War, SDS grew rapidly as young people protested the destruction wrought by the US government and military. Polite protest turned into stronger and more determined resistance as rage and frustration increased all across the country.

Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW); started in 1967, with six Vietnam veterans marching together in a peace demonstration. Now, thirty-nine years later, VVAW is still going strong-- continuing its fight for peace, justice, and the rights of all veterans
Post-Vietnam Era / Persian Gulf War

The first years of the post-Vietnam era were dedicated by pacifists to calling for amnesty for draft resisters and draft dodgers. President Jimmy Carter granted immunity to Vietnam draft deserters in 1977. Draft registration was reinstituted in July 1980 after the Iranian hostage crises (1979-1980), from then until 1985, over 500,000 men refused or failed to register. Twenty persons were prosecuted for not registering from 1980 through 1990. 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 1986, 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. 1991, several dozen men and women in the armed forces or the reserves had publicly refused orders to deploy. In Nov.-Dec. 1990, the military gave less than honorable discharges to a number of resisters, but as the war began, there were rapid trials and jail sentences imposed. The cease-fire came in March 1991, by which time about 2,500 soldiers had sought CO discharges; in the months ahead, military courts sentenced at least 42 Marines to terms of six to 36 months in prison.

The late 1980s and early 1990s brought dramatic changes to the world with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of US-Soviet rivalry, which had shaped much of the world-and much of the thinking of the peace movement. There was hope that world peace was at hand. But the crises of Bosnia, Haiti, Rwanda and Somalia offer new challenges to those seeking nonviolent change.

The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC) is a coalition of groups from across the U.S., formed in 1982 to provide information and support to people involved in or considering some form of war tax resistance (WTR). Affiliate organizations and individual supporters are joined together in a common struggle peace. We oppose militarism and war and refuse to complicity participate in the tax system which supports such violence. Through the redirection of our tax dollars NWTRCC members contribute directly to the struggle for peace and justice for all. NWTRCC promotes war tax resistance within the context of a broad range of nonviolent strategies for social change, and is firmly embedded in the peace movement.
School of the Americas Watch 1990: SOA Watch (SOAW) is an independent organization that seeks to close the US Army School of the Americas through vigils and fasts, demonstrations and nonviolent protest, as well as media and legislative work.

On November 16, 1989, six Jesuit priests, their co-worker and her teenage daughter were massacred in El Salvador. A U.S. Congressional Task Force reported that those responsible were trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA) at Ft. Benning, Georgia. In 1990 SOA Watch began in a tiny apartment near of Ft. Benning GA. SOAW drew upon the knowledge of many in the U.S. who had worked Latin Americans in the 1970's and 80's. Today, the SOAW is a large, diverse, grassroots movement. The goal of SOA Watch is to close the SOA and to change U.S. foreign policy in Latin America by educating the public, lobbying Congress and participating in creative, nonviolent resistance. The Pentagon has responded to the growing movement and Congress' near closure of the SOA with a PR campaign to give the SOA a new image. In an attempt to disassociate the school with its horrific past, the SOA was renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation in Jan 2001.

Veterans for Peace is a national organization founded in 1985. It is structured around a national office in Saint Louis, MO and comprised of members across the country organized in chapters or as at-large members. There is an annual convention each year attended by our members, families and supporters from across the nation. Members receive periodic VFP publications.
The organization includes men and women veterans of all eras and duty stations including from the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), World War II, the Korean, Vietnam, Gulf and current Iraq wars as well as other conflicts. Our collective experience tells us wars are easy to start and hard to stop and that those hurt are often the innocent. Thus, other means of problem solving are necessary. Veterans For Peace is an official Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) represented at the UN.

Current (2001-2007)

The United States declared a "war on terrorism" after thousands of people were killed at the Pentagon (DC) and the World Trade Center (NY) by terrorists who flew airplanes into those buildings on Sept. 11, 2001 (also, one of their hijacked planes crashed in rural Pennsylvania). 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.

Applying for CO status:


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.
HOW TO APPLY In general, once a man gets a notice that he has been found qualified for military service, he has the opportunity to make a claim for classification as a conscientious objector (CO). A registrant making a claim for Conscientious Objection is required to appear before his local board to explain his beliefs.
He may provide written documentation or include personal appearances by people he knows who can attest to his claims. His written statement might explain:
how he arrived at his beliefs; and
the influence his beliefs have had on how he lives his life.
The local board will decide whether to grant or deny a CO classification based on the evidence a registrant has presented.
A man may appeal a Local Board's decision to a Selective Service District Appeal Board. If the Appeal Board also denies his claim, but the vote is not unanimous, he may further appeal the decision to the National Appeal Board. See also Classifications.
WHO QUALIFIES? Beliefs which qualify a registrant for CO status may be religious in nature, but don't have to be. Beliefs may be moral or ethical; however, a man's reasons for not wanting to participate in a war must not be based on politics, expediency, or self-interest. In general, the man's lifestyle prior to making his claim must reflect his current claims.
SERVICE AS A CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR Two types of service are available to conscientious objectors, and the type assigned is determined by the individual's specific beliefs. The person who is opposed to any form of military service will be assigned to Alternative Service - described below. The person whose beliefs allow him to serve in the military but in a noncombatant capacity will serve in the Armed Forces but will not be assigned training or duties that include using weapons.

ALTERNATIVE SERVICE Conscientious Objectors opposed to serving in the military will be placed in the Selective Service Alternative Service Program. This program attempts to match COs with local employers. Many types of jobs are available, however the job must be deemed to make a meaningful contribution to the maintenance of the national health, safety, and interest. Examples of Alternative Service are jobs in:
caring for the very young or very old
health care
Length of service in the program will equal the amount of time a man would have served in the military, usually 24 months.

Reference web links for this presentation


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