Conscientious Objectors

Program 215 • 29 mins


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After entering World War One in 1917, the US government established a military draft to call up young men to serve as soldiers. 65,000 of them applied to be excused from combat and to be recognized as Conscientious Objectors (COs) by their local draft board. They opposed the war either on religious grounds (some traditions, like Quakers and Mennonites, forbid participation in the military) or on secular moral and political grounds. Here we recall some of the history of what happened to these men. Many were ostracized and resented as cowards. Some were imprisoned and subjected to severe brutality. The experience was so difficult, that the rules for COs were somewhat liberalized in World War Two. We hear from historian Scott Bennett, co-editor of “Antiwar Dissent and Peace Activism in World War I America” as well as excerpts from historical speeches, popular songs and a Hollywood film about the war.

Conscientious ObjectorsThis was a way to try to recognize and honor those people who had a deep-seated, bona fide, genuine, religious-based opposition to war, but, at the same time, had some type of check and verification to prevent folks who were not sincere from simply claiming that they were religious objectors, and avoiding military service. In the terminology of the day, the second group might be called the shirkers, or the slackers, the dodgers, as opposed to the bonafide principled objectors.”

—Scott Bennett, Historian at Georgian Court University


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