When I became a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, the primary issue was conscription. The secondary issue was the concept of an unjust or unnecessary war. The draft ended in 1973, but the concept of needless wars did not.
Today, many who are willing to join the military to protect the country, become uncomfortable–as many did during the Vietnam War–with combat and casualties which appear to serve no viable purpose. In recent years, people have asked the same kinds of questions about Iraq and Afghanistan that were once asked about Vietnam: should we be there?
In the 1960s, many of us sought practical help from the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO) and their handbook which outlined how to apply for a CO status and outlined the kinds of questions one would be asked if they did. This group is more or less no longer active.
Today, if one is against all wars and rejects even non-combatant participation, then (if you’re a man) you still have to register with the Selective Service Commission. However, as long as enlistment is voluntary, there are fewer issues to face unless you disagree with the concept of registration.
If you join the military and consider conscientious objection due to the role you’re being asked to play, two organizations can help you sort through what (if anything) you can legally do. You will see on their sites routes you can take along with information about such issues as the so-called endless war, the morality of drone strikes, and even the militarization of police forces.
- The Center on Conscience & War is a non-profit organization that advocates for the rights of conscience, opposes military conscription, and serves all conscientious objectors to war. Founded in 1940 as the National Interreligious Service Board for Conscientious Objectors, CCW can help you find alternative service to the military and/or help you through the maze of regulations should you wish yo file as a CO.
- The American Friends Service Committee, where many of us also went for help during the Vietnam War, is an active organization today with multiple programs. Their programs seem more extensive than those of CCW, because they address such things as the refugee problem and the military budget.
Today’s conscientious objectors hope to see rights and procedures codified into law rather than remaining dependent on the regulations of military branches where they can be and have been suspended for various reasons. Larger issues, such as the demilitarization of police forces, the legality of drone attacks, and solving refugee problems by addressing basic issues causing conflict rather than looking at refugees as charity cases are in my view outside the conscientious objector framework. (That is not to say that we shouldn’t address them.)
I wrestled with the problems–and stigma–of becoming a CO during the 1960s and think that many of the same issues are with us today even without the draft.
The issue is by no means settled and the stigma is by no means gone.