An Epistle to Friends Concerning Military Conscription

Although yesterday’s post was intended to be about privilege, the context was war and conscription, specifically the Vietnam War.

I was reminded of a letter to Friends on the same subject, that was published earlier than the Richmond Declaration of 1968, I think.

Roy Knight and Don Laughlin were members of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) and both were prosecuted and served time in Federal prison because of their draft resistance stand.

An Epistle to Friends Concerning Military Conscription

Dear Friends,
It has long been clear to most of us who are called Friends that war is contrary to the spirit of Christ and that we cannot participate in it.  The refusal to participate in war begins with a refusal to bear arms.  Some Friends choose to serve as noncombatants within the military.  For most of us, however, refusal to participate in war also involves refusal to be part of the military itself, as an institution set up to wage war.  Many, therefore, become conscientious objectors doing alternative service as civilians, or are deferred as students and workers in essential occupations.
Those of us who are joining in this epistle believe that cooperating with the draft, even as a recognized conscientious objector, makes one part of the power which forces our brothers into the military and into war.  If we Friends believe that we are special beings and alone deserve to be exempted from war, we find that doing civilian service with conscription or keeping deferments as we pursue our professional careers are acceptable courses of action.   But if we Friends really believe that war is wrong, that no man should become the executioner or victim of his brothers, then we will find it impossible to collaborate with the Selective Service System.  We will risk being put in prison before we help turn men into murderers.
It matters little what men say they believe when their actions are inconsistent with their words.  Thus we Friends may say that all war is wrong, but as long as Friends continue to collaborate in a system that forces men into war, our Peace Testimony will fail to speak to mankind.
Let our lives speak for our convictions.  Let our lives show that we oppose not only our own participation in war, but any man’s participation in it.  We can stop seeking deferments and exemptions, we can stop filling out Selective Service forms, we can refuse to obey induction and civilian work orders.  We can refuse to register, or send back draft cards if we’ve already registered.
In our early history we Friends were known for our courage in living according to our convictions.  At times during the 1600’s thousands of Quakers were in jails for refusing to pay any special respect to those in power, for worshiping in their own way, and for following the leadings of conscience.  But we Friends need not fear we are alone today in our refusal to support mass murder.  Up to three thousand Americans severed their relations with the draft at nation-wide draft card turn-ins during 1967 and 1968.  There may still be other mass returns of cards, and we can always set our own dates.
We may not be able to change our government’s terrifying policy in Vietnam.  But we can try to change our own lives.  We must be ready to accept the sacrifices involved if we hope to make a real testimony for Peace.  We must make Pacifism a way of life in a violent world.
We remain, in love of the Spirit, your Friends and brothers,

Don Laughlin
Roy Knight
Jeremy Mott
Ross Flanagan
Richard Boardman
James Brostol
George Lakey
Stephen Tatum
Herbert Nichols
Christopher Hodgkin
Jay Harker
Bob Eaton
Bill Medlin
Alan & Peter Blood


Don Laughlin

IYM 020

Roy Knight

This entry was posted in civil disobedience, peace, Quaker Meetings, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to An Epistle to Friends Concerning Military Conscription

  1. jakisling says:

    Thank thee for sharing this important epistle. Within its lines and within the hearts of those who wrote it and who put their signatures upon it rests the Eternal Truth that not only must we uplift our own individual humanity but we must also actively protect the humanity of one another–the stranger, the neighbor, the sister and brother in the Spirit.

    This is ever more true in these troubled times of mass deportation, corporate encroachment on Tribal lands, religiously based discrimination against GLBTQ people, and the reassertion of anti-Black white supremacy in American society.

    Liz Oppenheimer

  2. Peter Blood says:

    I had forgotten about this epistle. I and my brother Alan were two of the signers. Alan was never prosecuted. I was prosecuted and convicted for refusing alternative service, but ended up not going to prison, in large part because the judge in my case felt that what I had done was morally right – or at least not deserving of prison time. I will be posting this epistle on my own website in the section on Quaker witness for peace.

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