Draft resistance and conscientious objection

The Selective Service System still requires males aged 18-25 to register for the Selective Service System.

In addition,The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service was created by Congress to consider and develop recommendations concerning the need for a military draft, and means by which to foster a greater attitude and ethos of service among American youth. Established on September 19, 2017, the Commission intends to issue its final report no later than March 2020 and conclude its work by September 2020.”

Next week (Tuesday, May 29) the focus of the Iowa Poor People’s Campaign will be on the destructive forces of the war economy.

Quakers have always worked for peace. Following are some resources/stories about that work from a few Quakers of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative).

Don Laughlin, Quaker and Scattergood Friends School teacher, was imprisoned for resisting the draft around 1950. One of his last life’s projects was to collect the stories of Iowa Quakers (Friends) who opposed militarism. I was helping him work on those stories, and you can find the current version of Young Quaker Men Face War and Conscription here.  Below are some of the Iowa Quakers who resisted conscription.

Another Iowa Quaker, John Griffith, wrote his story, War Resistance in World War II.

I was keeping a Journal during my Senior year at Scattergood Friends School. I was struggling to decide whether to apply for conscientious objector status, or to be a draft resister. Although I did apply for, and was granted conscientious objector status while I was trying to make up my mind, in the end I felt I had to resist the draft and turned in my draft cards. The Journal entries related to that are here, Scattergood Journal.

During the time I was trying to decide whether to resist the draft, I joined the Friends Volunteer Service Mission (VSM), located on the near southwest side of Indianapolis. In those days, someone granted conscientious objector status was required to do two years of civilian service. By the time I finally decide to be a draft resister, which meant not doing the two years of alternative service, I was finding the work I was doing with the neighborhood kids so rewarding that I stayed with the VSM project anyway. You can read the story of my Volunteer Service Mission here. Interestingly two of those kids recently connected with me via Facebook and shared their memories of those days.

I’ll end with the Epistle to Friends Concerning Military Conscription that was written around the time of the Vietnam War, and signed by Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) Quakers Don Laughlin and Roy Knight.

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






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