Memorial Day–Honoring the dissenters

For those of us who believe in peace and oppose war, Memorial Day is a time to reflect on the militarism of this country. I find it especially troubling how the country has shifted away from formal declarations of war, to the declaration of the Korean War as a police action, to the undeclared Vietnam War. To the present day “war on terror” where U.S. military actions don’t respect borders, and armed drones kill those who have been declared, under nebulous authority, terrorists, often with significant civilian casualties. Each step making armed aggression move further away from public scrutiny. Making it more difficult to generate peace actions.

I was struck by the quote from the following article: no one will honor the dissenters who have resisted morally bankrupt wars (although the quote continues “from within the ranks of the U.S. military”, that sentiment it applies to all dissenters).

Amidst all the pageantry and military worship going on around the country this weekend, few people will recognize the millions of civilians and foreign fighters who have perished due to the endless wars fought by the United States, and no one will honor the dissenters who have resisted morally bankrupt wars from within the ranks of the U.S. military.

On Memorial Day, We Should Remember Most U.S. Wars Were Started for Resource Theft, Imperial Hubris and Racist Animus By Matt McKenna, CovertAction Magazine, May 30, 2021

I was at Scattergood Friends school this weekend for graduation ceremonies. In talking with Friends from Kansas City, I asked how my cousin John Griffith was doing. Which led to a discuss of how his example, and that of a number of other Quakers was significant in my decision to resist the draft during the Vietnam War. And I learned new stories of the Friend I was talking with, as he attempted to be classified as a conscientious objector during that war.

Don Laughlin was my friend, mentor and another draft resistor. The letter he wrote to my draft board is included in the book of stories, Young Quaker Men Facing War and Conscription, links to which follow. Don collected a lot of stories of young Quaker men and their experiences related to war and conscription. Prior to the end of his life in 2016 I began to help put the stories together as the following PDF and other formats. But he did all the work of collecting the stories.

Among the stories are a powerful letter that also affected my decision, “An Epistle to Friends Concerning Military Conscription”, that was signed by Don, my cousin Roy Knight, and other Quakers.

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

An Epistle to Friends Concerning Military Conscription

While a student at Scattergood Friends School, I attended the national conference of Quakers who came together to write the 1968  Richmond Declaration on the Draft and Conscription. Richmond Declaration on the Draft

Nineteen years old at the time, with a registration date of June 30, 1942, I (John Griffith) wrote a registered letter on June 29, 1942, to General H. B.  Springs, head of Selective Service in South Carolina.In this letter I wrote: “I take this opportunity to inform you of my position.  I am conscientiously opposed to war, for any cause whatever, and shall refuse to comply with this act, or any act in the future which I feel to be a contradiction of Christian teachings, democratic liberty and individual freedom.”More of John’s story is included in the book,  A Few Small Candles: War Resisters of World War II Tell Their Stories.

Following are the stories Don Laughlin collected of Young Quaker Men Facing War and Conscription.

Young Quaker Men Facing War and Conscription (PDF)

Open as a Flip book: Young Quaker Men Facing War and Conscription

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Don Laughlin
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Roy Knight
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John Griffith

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