Pacifism and Conscientious Objection

During the 20th century America has been involved in many conflicts that have led to war or the taking up of arms against other humans and nations. Although the vast majority of Americans have blindly accepted these actions throughout the century, more and more people are seeing war as morally wrong.

Reasons for this epiphany are based off of a variety of things and encompass many other aspects related to war and killing examples include: due to moral and ethical principles, objection to war due to strong religious beliefs, the objection to violence due to the same ideals above, objection to the government’s use of force, and the objection to the use of weapons of mass destruction. Many of the core beliefs of conscientious objection derive from the teachings or beliefs of pacifism.

Pacifism has been a system of thinking and living for hundreds of years, and, in the 20th century many objection and pacifistic movements have sprung up all around the nation, more so than in any other time. Pacifism and conscientious objection in the United States have been moral issues that have fallen under question due to the belief of the participants that killing, war, and the act of violence is wrong and immoral. To begin to understand the workings of conscientious objection, it is important have a clear view of what pacifism is.

The roots of pacifism reach back for literally hundreds of years. Practically all of the messiahs of all the chief religions of the world preached for pacifism including: Allah and Muhammad from the Muslim Koran, Jesus and God from the Bible used by Catholics, Christens, and Quakers, and in the Jewish Torah. Other teachers of pacifism include: Plato and Socrates. The moral and ethical principles of pacifism and conscientious objection have been present throughout United States history.

There have been known objectors in every single war that America has been somehow involved, Including: The French and Indian War, The Revolutionary War, The War of 1812, The Civil War, The Spanish American War, The Mexican American War, World War One, World War Two, The Korean War, The Vietnam War, The Persian Gulf War, and into the ongoing War Against “Terror”. Pacifism is the refusal to participate in any violent actions and or killing. This can be derived from the belief that all life is sacred and that it is morally wrong to take another persons life.

This may apply to all war and violent actions against all others as well (Becker 925). Pacifism may be derived from personal or religious beliefs. There are many religions and religious groups that include pacifism as core beliefs in their teachings. Quakerism teaches that people have the light of God within them, and therefore it would be wrong to harm another person (Pearson 1). The Quaker Declaration of Pacifism states: “We utterly deny all outward wars and strife, and fighting’s with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretense whatever; this is our testimony to the whole world.

The Spirit of Christ by which we are guided is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil, and again to move unto it; and we certainly know, and testify to the world, that the Spirit of Christ, which leads us into all truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world. ” (Www. gol. com) The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is a pacifist organization started in 1917 by young Quakers who did not wish to fight in World War One due to their religious beliefs.

They provided conscientious objectors with opportunities to aid civilians in Europe during the war. The AFSC is a Quaker nonprofit organization that works on social justice issues throughout the world (also called the Religious Society of Friends) (Pearson 1). “The American Friends Service Committee is a practical expression of the faith of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). Committed to the principles of nonviolence and justice, it seeks in its work and witness to draw on the transforming power of love, human and the divine. ” (Pearson1)

Many people disagree with pacifism and its beliefs and charge that pacifists lack courage and cannot be taken seriously. This accusation usually forms along with war propaganda during times of military conflict. The charge of inconsistency is also brought to bear upon pacifists, based on the ground that they accept the benefits of wars they do not serve in (Becker 925). This is a very disquieting argument because it assumes that he or she should be responsible for the actions their government takes: it is after all other people who chose to use force to keep the public peace.

Still, this objection does have merit against pacifists who object to the use of force in all human affairs (Becker 926). Conscientious objection refers to an individual’s moral opposition on the basis of conscience to the demands or requirements of some out-side authority, usually the state; objection relates to military service or participation in war. Conscientious objection recognizes the value of individual belief as part of process of making decisions based on morals (Roth 190).

Conscientious objection establishes a moral based relationship between the individual and external authorities. The key element of conscientious objection being that claims of authority are not absolute and cannot claim total obedience over the individual, especially when obedience would violate that individual’s conscience. Therefore, conscientious objection stands as a limit to the extent of the power of the state. In claiming so the individual seeks to justify opposition to the action or demand that the state deems necessary and may require of others.

The selective service act of; 1917 established strict guidelines for conscientious objection assertion, however, the applicant was required to show membership within a religious tradition that upheld conscientious objection or beliefs held within pacifism as part of the teachings. This made it impossible for those outside the peaceful church traditions to be granted objector status. This held firm with little flexibility though WW2 and into Vietnam (Roth 191). However, a Supreme Court decision challenged the basis for objector assertion.

During the US vs. Seeger case in 1965, four men raised the question of the constitutionality of the portion of the selective service act that defined: “religious training and belief” was required to show the individual’s “relation to a supreme being” (Bourne-Schlissel 260). Andrew Seeger was classified A-1 by his local draft board but declared he was conscientiously opposed to war in any form due to his “religious” belief; that he preferred to leave the question as to his belief in a Supreme Being open, rather then answer yes or no.

His skepticism or disbelief in the existence of God did not necessarily mean lack of faith in anything whatsoever, but simply that his belief was a belief in the devotion to goodness and virtue, and that a religious faith in a particular creed was unnecessary (Bourne-Schlissel 260). In this case the court ruled that sincere and strongly held beliefs were sufficient for granting an individual status as an objector to military service. While the requirement for opposition to all war remained, there was no longer a religious test for conscientious objector assertion (Roth 191).

Two basic types of objectors exist: universal or absolute objectors focus on the idea that war is wrong and use ethical arguments based on that of concept to argue that of that killing is wrong and immoral. The second types, selective objectors, focus on single conflicts. The individual may not be morally opposed to all wars, but to a specific war. Moral basis for this is the Just War Theory, which designates the difference between just and unjust wars (see below). An individual would hold that it is wrong to fight in an unjust war. Selective objectors rarely receive legal recognition.

The moral opposition would center on refusal to bear arms not military service itself (Roth 191). The “Just War Theory” supposedly specifies under which conditions war is just. Since such conditions are seldom realized, just war thinkers often oppose wars. Opposition differs from that of other pacifists and this is because they oppose particular wars but not all war. Their opposition is based on principals of justice rather than principles of pacifism (Becker 926). Pacifists can agree that their country has the right to fight and still rationally refuse to participate on the grounds that fighting is immoral or violates their principles.

A different reply to this is that the hypothetical conditions for war are never actually obtained. It is certainly true that if the just war theory collapsed, or if it were revealed that there is no just war, than the case for pacifism would be immeasurably approved. However, the converse does not hold: a viable just war theory does not present a formidable obstacle to practical pacifism (Becker 925). Currently the United States government recognizes two types of conscientious objectors: Conscientious objectors, who are persons by religious, ethical, or moral belief, are “conscientiously opposed to the participation in war any form.

These people, if enlisted, may be discharged from military service. These persons are also exempt from military service, and in the event of a draft, if called upon; they may perform alternative service as civilians. Non-combatant conscientious objectors are people who by religious, ethical, or moral belief are opposed to killing in war in any form, but who do not object to performing non-combatant duties, such as a medic, in the armed forces. These people are reassigned to non-combatant duties, if already enlisted or in case of a draft, are trained without weapons and assigned to non-combat service (www. jector. org).

Presently under United States law, non-registration for the draft is illegal. If a young man fails to register within thirty days of turning eighteen, it is possible to face criminal penalties of up to five years in prison and or a fine of up to $250,000. Failure to register can also forgo federal financial aid for higher education and job training as well as employment in any governmental jobs. Some states have similar penalties, which even prohibit enrollment in state colleges or universities (www. objector. org).

The process for Conscientious Objector assertion is presently a difficult one. Although applicants are no longer required to prove membership to a religious organization, deity, or sect, an extensive process still exists. To prepare for the assertion alone, an applicant is recommended to compose a letter stating why he or she believes that they are a conscientious objector and the reason for it as well. He or she should then obtain letters of a similar nature from certain people, who will defend the applicant’s position as an objector.

If a male applicant is not yet eighteen when the time arrives to register with the draft board, he should state somewhere on his draft notice that he is an objector. However, if the individual has already registered, the change of information card should be sent to the Selective Service Board and should state that the individual is an objector. If a draft does occur or if the individual enlists in the armed forces, the applicant will have to fill out a variety of forms and a questionnaire stating why he is an objector.

The applicant will then have to sit through a variety of psychological examinations and be asked an even wider variety of questions on why he considers himself an objector (www. objector. org). It is important to have all this information assembled, because, the time frame for exemption from military service is short, as little as nine days. Early submission of this information can be vital because it shows a greater level of sincerity. The Center on Conscience and War will accept and keep copies of your statement whether or not it is based on moral or religious grounds.

Counselors there will review the information and inform you if any additional steps need to be taken to ensure the applicants success. If the claim for conscientious objection is accepted to serve a minimum of two years of alternative service in some civilian agency or non-combatant service in the armed forces, if the applicant is drafted of course (www. objector. org). As stated earlier, an individual may object to the actions of his or her government due to military actions. The greatest objection to any military action without a doubt occurred in the 1960’s with President Johnson’s declaration of War against communist North Vietnam.

Initially protest was centered on the bombing campaign, which was taking place there, but they escalated with the announcement that the draft was to be initiated (Burns 65). Unfortunately, not many young men were able to achieve objector status, simply because they did not realize how to do so, or simply did not have enough time to file their claim. An example of this would be Benjamin Sherman. Benjamin Sherman at the time (1966) was classified 1-A by his local draft board. He was not a pacifist or conscientious objector, but simply opposed the Vietnam War and his government’s involvement with it and therefore he refused to serve in it.

The basis of his claim came from the belief that he and hundreds of young men like himself had the right to as citizens and as men to make moral distinctions between the justness of one war and another (Bourne-Schlissel 439). Others went about their objection in different fashions. A popular method of objection and defiance was to burn one’s draft card. Draft card burning during demonstrators from 1965 to 1966 against the Vietnam War were regular occurrences. Objectors would burn their draft cards in public as evidence of their strong aversion to the government’s military conduct.

An amendment to the Selective Service Act by congress made it illegal to do this. Some sixteen people were prosecuted under this law; twelve convicted (Bourne-Schlissel 271). Even today conscientious objection still presents itself to young men as an option of showing their opposition to the United States government actions. It is common knowledge by all who live in this era of our history that the military actions of our nation may not be a moral and ethical as the majority of the populous have so blindingly accepted.

Indeed, as we assess our actions we must ask a simple question: Why do “rouge” nations hate the United States to a point of scarifying themselves to murder thousands of innocent people? Perhaps if we had paused for a moment as the dust settled on Manhattan Island, and pondered this, our actions would have changed from that of revenge to one of forgiveness and attempted understanding. It appears that people are only willing to connect until a certain extent with others, and then no more.

If the population can learn to put aside these self-imposed boundaries then perhaps we can begin to understand ourselves better, and even further, understand the problems our enemies have with us, and by that learn to fix problems that have been created though this misunderstanding. The problem with seeking revenge and inflicting twice the damage upon someone as means of justice is that it spurs a never-ending spiral. Every time some one is killed, there still exists a person who grieves for those people lose, and wishes to only seek revenge for that death.

This inevitably ends up with thousands dying and the process only continues to grow, and will continue until someone along the line learns to forgive. Unfortunately, the population of the world and the American public has let to come to this vital realization. Hopefully as time passes people will begin to look in to the teachings of famous pacifists such as: Dr. Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Jesus, Muhammad, God, Allah, Plato, Socrates, and Thoreau; then perhaps we will begin to not question Pacifism and objection not as moral and ethical issues in question, but as way that we should lead our lives by.

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