Conservative Friend

    An Outreach of Stillwater Monthly Meeting of Ohio Yearly Meeting of Friends

Peace and Conscientious Objection to War

Click for Printable Registration Form for Conscientious Objectors
Click for Online Registration Form for Conscientious Objectors

Peace merits its own topic in any discussion of the Religious Society of Friends.  From very early in our history, we have recognized that violence or forcible coercion is contrary to the teachings of Christ, who told us not to resist evil, to turn the other cheek, to walk the extra mile, and to give up our cloak as well as our tunic to an oppressor.

Participation in warfare was religious apostasy to the first Christians, and modern Conservative Friends regard it in the same way.  Preparation for warfare in the form of training, stockpiling weapons, or support of a military arm of our government is equally inconsistent with the commands of an incarnate God who told us to love one another.  Some Friends go so far as to refuse to pay taxes to a government that will use it to wage war on other people.

Peace is so important to the Religious Society of Friends that some people assume it to be a foundational belief, rather than the secondary consequence of more important and more fundamental religious expectations.  Nonetheless, Quakers have always been in the forefront of resisting warfare, forced conscription, and of seeking non-violent resolutions to the conflicts that plague a fallen world.  In Ohio Yearly Meeting, our membership contains people who represent the entire spectrum of Christian attitudes towards warfare:
  • Some members decided to serve in the military in various wars, enlisting as medics and gravediggers in order to avoid carrying weapons.
  • Some members became conscientious objectors, forming the first smoke-jumping teams of firefighters, paying their own way and suffering serious injuries.  Others volunteered to serve their country as official guinea pigs in medical and starvation experiments conducted during war.  Many took part in other alternative service in the United States and overseas.
  • Some members refused to participate in government war programs at all, reasoning that registering for the draft or volunteering for non-combatant work merely freed up a substitute soldier to carry a gun in their place.  These members spent time in prison.
Injuries and mortality among the conscientious objectors was higher than in the general military that they refused to participate in.

We are assembling photographs and short accounts of the experiences of Conservative Friends involved in conscientious objection and alternative service.  If you have anything to share, please let us know on our Contact Us page.  We will be contacting people as fast as our over-committed schedules permit.

In the United States today, there is currently no forced military conscription, nor is there any way for a citizen to formally register as an "official" Conscientious Objector to war.  Citizens must still register with the Selective Service Administration, however, and suffer various penalties if they refuse to do so.  Should the draft be re-instated and a citizen told to report for conscription, there may be only a week or two available to apply for Conscientious Objector status, and the resolution of the case often depends on being able to document that the beliefs of the draftee have been long-standing.

Ohio Yearly Meeting Peace and Human Relations Committee provides a means for  citizens to record their beliefs about war in a way that will let them provide a Draft Board with dated evidence of their beliefs.  We provide a Registration of Position for Conscientious Objectors, a one page document that a potential draftee fills out, dates, and returns to us.  We store the document in a fire-proof vault, where it remains until the draftee notifies us that it is necessary to use it in a Draft Board interview.  The dated document provides one way that the Board can verify that the objection to military service is long standing.  Remember that it is only one piece of evidence, however, and may not be enough by itself.  Should you decide that this avenue is appropriate for you, please link to the document, print it, and send it to us.  The form is confidential, and no one  will see it but you and the members of OYM charged with its preservation.

 We also provide the same document in an online form, available to you through this website.  Fill it out in the same way and click SUBMIT to automatically send it to the administrator of this site.  The administrator will forward it to the OYM Peace and Human Relations  Committee.


Our Own Stories

Conscientious objection to warfare is a corporate testimony of the Religous Society of Friends. but the personal decisions and actions of individuals is how it has historically been best expressed.  Many Friends made great personal sacrifices for their beliefs and served both their God and their country in ways that should never be forgotten.

During the American Civil War a young member of Ohio Yearly Meeting found himself on the wrong side of the dominant culture when it came to taking up arms against his fellow man.  Nathan Blackburn was a Pennsylvania reisident who was drafted in 1863.  Conscientious objectors were treated severely at that time.  Nathan was shipped off with the troops.  After cooperating in initial drill training, he decided that to continue was inconsistent with his beliefs.  Nathan writes of a typical week, "I again attempted to regain my position by refusing to take my part in the performance and one day they had me bucked and gagged (as they call it) most of the day.  The next day I was jerked around, knocked down, beat over the head, kicked several times and tied up by the thumbs for a while, then put on the ground on my back with a bayonet through my mouth with the ends tied to two sticks, and my hands tied and then left to lay in the sun for some time, then tied up by the thumbs, so changed back and forth two or three times..."

Ultimately Nathan was released by direct order of the Secretary of War, who also added, "..and if the name of the officer who maltreated him is furnished he shall be dealt with in such manner as will prevent any repetition."  Nathan's account of a few days reflects similar weeks and months that other CO's underwent in the American armed forces of this time.  COs were forced to stand through staged firing squads, beaten, starved, strung up by their thumbs, and imprisoned throughout the war.

Treatment of American COs during the First World War was similar.

In 1937, the young Richard Hall turned 18, and as were all young Americans, faced the routine task of registering for the draft.   To Richard, though, a life-long Friend, the responsibility was clear cut: "I felt that I was called to take a stand that anybody could take.  I didn't want to be excused from military service just because I was a Quaker," he remembers.  Richard informed his draft board that he refused to register.  He was arrested and sent to the county jail, where he was invited to post bail and go home.  "I said that it wasn't right to pay money to be excused from this,"  he says, and spent the next four months in jail.  His cellmates were unsypatheitic, and amused themselves by setting fires to newspapers in attempts to drive Richard from his upper bunk and out of their cell block.  Richard spent an additional month in jail in Columbus, Ohio, awaiting sentencing.  With the second world war looming, the judge chose to use Richard as an example, and sentenced him to five years in Federal prison.

Richard spent the next four years and two months at the Federal Prison in Chillicothe, Ohio.  He spent five days per week on the work crews, and two days per week at the prison farm's greenhouse.  Richard remembers that Federal prison was easier than county jail, because, the prison staff was aware that his crimes were of a different nature than most other inmates.  Today Richard is a recorded minister of Stillwater Monthly Meeting, where he quietly serves as an example to all of us.

Some members of Ohio Yearly Meeting served as human guinea pigs in wartime medical research.  Cliff Guindon started his CO assignments in 1945 in New York State, where he planted, weeded, dug, and packaged forest seedling trees to be delivered to landowners for reforestation projects.  Then Cliff travelled to Oregon, working on surveyor and fire crews.  Towards the fall of '45, he returned to New York, where he and four other young men were used in frostbite and frozen-tissue studies.  Each subject had six areas of their body frozen for various lengths of time, and then the anti-coagulant drug heparin was administered.  Over the next few weeks, doctors used flurescent dyes to study the development of lesions in their subjects.

Cliff believes that being raised and educated as a Friend was critical in cementing his beliefs regarding the draft.  He frankly enjoyed the workcamp community, where many of his co-workers were also from Ohio Yearly Meeting.  "We had a group of fine individuals to fellowship with," he recalls.

Today Ed Kirk is a recorded minister of Stillwater Monthly Meeting, but as a young man in 1944 he was of one of the first smokejumpers in the United States.  At that time various Quaker, Mennonite, and Brethren conscientious objectors were assigned the high-risk job of parachuting into northern forests using the primitive equipment of the time to fight forest fires on the ground.  The work was very dangerous--note the neck armor and the helmet with the steel mesh faceshield to protect the firefighter as he dropped into the treetops.  Ed broke his back in his last jump and volunteered to finish the rest of his assignment doing clerical work in the camp office.

Myron Johnson, also of Stillwater Monthly Meeting, was drafted into the US Army as young man during the Korean War.  Although a lifelong Friend and committed to non-violence, Myron felt obligated to serve his country in some way during the conflict and did not protest his induction.  During training, he explained to his commanding officer that his beliefs did not permit him to carry a gun, but that he would do whatever else he could to serve faithfully.  His options at that time were immediate discharge, gravedigger, or medic.  Myron was reassigned as a medic, and returned home to Ohio after the war.  He is the soldier second from the left.

When Bob Rockwell turned 18, his draft board permitted him to take on alternative service through the World Council of Churches.  Bob was sent to southern Italy, to a small mountain village with 2500 people and 13 bars.  The work consisted of agricultural advisement, explaining the value of improved strains of seed and livestock and mechanical advances such as hand-cranked corn shellers.  Housing improvements included the novel concept of building inexpensive concrete pigpens, which allowed the farmers to house the pigs somewhere besides their own houses for the night.

Bob believes that it isn't enough to just oppose war, or the preparation for it.  He states, "CO's have an obligation to participate in some kind of work which will reduce human suffering, promote understanding between different peoples and nations, or in some other way reduce the tensions and other causes of war.  I think that only when we as CO's can offer and participate in constructive alternatives to military service can we make positive steps towards the elimination of military service."

Today, Bob grows apples and repairs the  Stillwater Meeting House in Barnesville, Ohio.

Lewis Stratton, of Short Creek Meeting, believed that it was important to serve his country in some manner that would be beneficial.  As a Friend, he cooperated with his draft board and opted for one of the formal Alternative Service work plans.  In 1957, Lewis and his wife Wanda were sent to Madhya Pradesh in central India.  As an Ohio farmer, Lewis became the "Agriculturalist" and Wanda worked as a nurse.  The project was administered by the American Friends Service Committee.  Lewis taught modern irrigation techniques (not always successfully), and helped dig modern wells for both irrigation and household water.

Lewis writes, "I want us always to be careful to not just be opposers.  It is important to not just make clear your opposition, but beyond this, we each must work in one or more avenues of positive contribution to achieve the right end.  In this case it is understanding, well-being, trust, and honor,  We are US citizens, and I think none of us wish to throw that away, in spite of how disgusted and discouraged we sometmes become with our government's actions.  In alternative service, we have the opportunity to meet many of the hardships a fellow in the armed forces might have, but above this we have the opportunity to build a little better world."

In 1942, the 20-year-old Ray Stanley was classified 1-A by his draft board, and discussed the matter at length with them in the subsequent hearing.  Ray agreed to take on non-combatant service and was sent to Maryland to clear trees from the Pocono swamp.  Soon afterwards, Ray volunteered to serve in the American Friends Service Committee's medical unit as a human guinea pig.  Ray's assignement was to undergo dehydration study, which involved no and low-protein diets for a year while various foods were tested, including gum arabic, soybeans, and various amino acids.  The studies were not benign.  One volunteer died, one was discharged on mental grounds, and Ray was hospitalized twice.

Ray next transferred to high-altitude research, conducted in a two-man evacuation chamber.  One day his oxygen hose disconnected at an equivalent of 42,000 feet, and Ray lost consciousness.  The technicians opened the dump valve to keep Ray from dying, and the sudden increase in pressure seriously damaged his eardrums.

"Though at times the rigors of the guinea pig experiments seemed devastating to my physical health," writes Ray, "I have never doubted that this was the testimony required of me."

Bill Taber spent almost 40 years as a recorded minister of Stillwater Monthly Meeting.  When he turned 18 in 1945, he refused to register for the draft.  Bill's Olney High School roommate David Jensen also refused to register.  Both Bill and David were tried in Ottumwa, Iowa, and sentenced to 1 1/2 years each.  They were sent to Sandstone Federal Penitentiary in Minnesota, where they served 9 months before being paroled.  For a time they refused to cooperate with the prison system and were placed in segregation with other COs who took that position.  After becoming uncomfortable with the attitude toward the guards of some of their fellow protesters, Bill and David each arranged to return to the main prison population.  Bill had a work assignment in the library, where he was in charge of the mimeograph room.

By the time of the postwar draft in 1948, Bill had decided to give up the absolutist position and to register as a conscientious objector.  From 1955 to 1957 he performed alternative service as Moses Brown School, a Quaker Prep School in Providence, Rhode Island.

These are just a few of the many stories of Friends and their peaceful service to their God and to their country.  We will continue to add more, and hope that they will help you in remembering that first, Jesus told us to love our enemies, not to kill them, and second, that a conscientious objection to war is a testimony that Friends have maintained for generation after generation.  We encourage you to continue the story within your own life.

Conscientious Objector Links

Here are some of the links you should look over:


Burial Set April 3 At National Cemetery For Medal Of Honor Winner Desmond Doss
posted March 23, 2006

Click to Enlarge
Photo by Wesley Schultz
Desmond Doss
Desmond T. Doss, Sr., the only conscientious objector to win the Congressional Medal of Honor during World War II, has died. He was 87 years old.

Mr. Doss never liked being called a conscientious objector. He preferred the term conscientious cooperator. Raised a Seventh-day Adventist, Mr. Doss did not believe in using a gun or killing because of the sixth commandment which states, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13). Doss was a patriot, however, and believed in serving his country.

During World War II, instead of accepting a deferment, Mr. Doss voluntarily joined the Army as a conscientious objector. Assigned to the 307th Infantry Division as a company medic he was harassed and ridiculed for his beliefs, yet he served with distinction and ultimately received the Congressional Medal of Honor on Oct. 12, 1945 for his fearless acts of bravery.

According to his Medal of Honor citation, time after time, Mr. Doss’ fellow soldiers witnessed how unafraid he was for his own safety. He was always willing to go after a wounded fellow, no matter how great the danger. On one occasion in Okinawa, he refused to take cover from enemy fire as he rescued approximately 75 wounded soldiers, carrying them one-by-one and lowering them over the edge of the 400-foot Maeda Escarpment. He did not stop until he had brought everyone to safety nearly 12 hours later.

When Mr. Doss received the Medal of Honor from President Truman, the President told him, “I’m proud of you, you really deserve this. I consider this a greater honor than being President.”

Mr. Doss’ exemplary devotion to God and his country has received nationwide attention. On July 4, 2004, a statue of Mr. Doss was placed in the National Museum of Patriotism in Atlanta, along with statues of Dr. Martin Luther King, President Jimmy Carter, and retired Marine Corps General Gray Davis, also a Medal of Honor recipient. Also in 2004, a feature-length documentary called “The Conscientious Objector,” telling Doss’ story of faith, heroism, and bravery was released. A feature movie describing Doss’ story is also being planned.

Mr. Doss died Thursday morning in Piedmont, Ala. He is survived by his wife, Frances; his son, Desmond T. Doss, Jr., and his brother, Harold Doss.

Visitation will be held from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, March 31, at Heritage Funeral Home, located at 3239 Battlefield Parkway, Fort Oglethorpe.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, April 1, at 3 p.m. at the Collegedale Seventh-day Adventist Church located at 4829 College Drive East in Collegedale.

Burial will take place on Monday, April 3, at 11 a.m. at the Chattanooga National Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, the Doss family requests that donations be sent to the Desmond Doss Museum Fund at the Georgia-Cumberland Conference office (P.O. Box 12000 Calhoun, Ga., 30703).