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INTRODUCTION: SAYING NO TO WAR, DRAFTED OR OTHERWISE
Our readers may already be wondering why we've chosen to spend a bulletin on the topic of conscientious objection when US citizens aren't facing a draft.
It is important to remember that conscientious objection does not only affect draftees -- it affects anyone who is considering or is currently involved in military service. And it's more about determining one's personal beliefs and opinions that it is about legally qualifying as an objector.
But while we are not currently facing a draft, it is not outside of the realm of possibility. In every war since Vietnam, the US has managed to conduct military operations using the resources of the volunteer-based military alone. The campaign against Iraq may buck that trend. According to plans leaked to the New York Times, it's likely that after a war the US will occupy Iraq and put a military government in control for five years or more. And US military personnel remain engaged in operations around the globe, from the Philippines to Georgia. As the armed forces are stretched thinner, the likelihood of needing to find the personnel to supplement them increases.
Some leaders are calling for a draft for reasons other than personnel shortages. They believe that the change to an all-volunteer army has contributed to a generation of young Americans with no sense of duty or obligation to their country. A draft would supposedly correct this problem, while also helping to increase safety and security at home.
In fact, after years without any legislation on the subject, a new bill was introduced last year that would reinstitute the draft. It continues to languish in the House, but the possibility remains that the bill could be given more serious consideration if a need arises for replacement troops -- or if the idea of making young Americans more patriotic by enlisting them gathers more support. 18-year-old men are still required to register (in many states, they can't receive their driver's license unless they do so), meaning that it would take little time to begin calling people up for a draft once Congress approved it.
A new draft remains unlikely for the moment -- but is not nearly as far-fetched as we may wish. What does this all mean to the person who opposes war? Ultimately, it means that it is still important to understand what conscientious objection means, and how to legally qualify to become one of the two federally recognized types of conscientious objector. And it means giving some serious consideration to your own beliefs and principles as they relate to war and peace. Although the term "conscientious objection" can certainly be limited to the legal meaning of refusing to participate in some or all military service because of religious or moral objections to killing others, at heart conscientious objection is simply opposition to war. Asking "am I a conscientious objector?" means reviewing the moral, spiritual, political, and personal beliefs that help you determine the code of conduct for your own life and balancing a love of, or devotion to, the principles of your country versus other principles that guide you.
This is why we believe that learning about conscientious objection is important whether or not a new draft is instituted. Whether legally recorded or not, the root of the matter remains the same -- determining one's beliefs about war and peace. It is an essential part of any antiwar action.
ONE LINK: ALL ABOUT CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION
This excellent page answers important questions about why conscientious objection is important, what it is, what types of conscientious objection are recognized by law, what other types of conscientious objectors there are, and what obligations a person has to fulfill as a conscientious objector. It also includes a brief worksheet to help prepare for filling out the appropriate legal forms (relevant only in the event of a draft, but useful to have prepared beforehand).
CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION AND THE DRAFT
This is a chronology of conscription in the United States. Currently, "the U.S. operates under an all-volunteer armed forces policy. All male citizens between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six, however, are required to register for the draft and are liable for training and service until the age of thirty-five."
This is a brief page about what to do if you are facing draft
registration (all men residing in the United States who were born
on or after Jan. 1, 1963 are required to register for the draft
within 30 days of their 18th birthday or face a possible penalty
of $250,000 or five years in jail.)
It is unlikely that a draft will be instituted during the current
phase of the war on terrorism. Still, if you have any questions
about the draft, this quick page of questions and answers provides
a good introduction.
This is a valuable explanation of what kinds of beliefs can
qualify a person as a conscientious objector in the eyes of the
People who are drafted for military service and successfully apply
to become conscientious objectors will probably be reassigned to
alternative service for the same amount of time as they would have
served in the military. This service could include working in
health care, education, conservation, or another job which is
"deemed to make a meaningful contribution to the maintenance of
the national health, safety, and interest." This is the official
fact sheet on alternative service.
CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION AND TAXES
The Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill was introduced into the House in 2001. It would ensure that conscientious objectors could pay taxes to a Peace Tax Fund, and thus still pay taxes without supporting the military.
Rather than waiting until this or another bill is passed, some
people still refuse to pay part or all of their taxes as a form of
protest and civil disobedience. Different methods carry varying
degrees of risk, but for a person of conscience, this risk may be
a reasonable alternative to funding a war effort that is killing
You may also consider contributing to the War Tax Resisters
Penalty Fund, which helps pay the taxes of American conscientious
objectors who are being prosecuted for war tax resistance. This
action carries much less personal risk and still expresses a
financial objection to the war effort.
A group of Quakers in New York and Connecticut has set up an
escrow account where you can send the "military portion" of your
federal taxes as a form of civil disobedience. The funds are
returned if the IRS levies them from other assets. They are
considered to be taxes paid on time and in good faith, even if
this is not recognized by the US government.
Take a quick look at war tax resistance over the last 30 years as
told through pictures:
CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION, THE WAR ON TERRORISM, AND IRAQ
Who is opposing war on Iraq? This article provides an overview of recent polls that show how support for the war is plummeting, and also that the core supporters of war on Iraq are rural, white, male, southern Republicans without a college diploma.
For many of the 133 House members and 23 senators who voted
against war powers for Bush last week, their vote was a vote of
Would those who support war on Iraq still do so if it meant
enlisting, or a draft? Or do most of the people calling for a war
on Iraq want "war on the cheap?" While this article sometimes
reads more like a call to enlist to protect the country than an
anti-war statement, it still offers a compelling argument that
"[b]eing unwilling to offer our flesh and blood is tantamount to
confessing that overtaking Iraq has nothing to do with democracy
Whether or not there is a new draft, those people currently
enlisted in the military also have the option to reconsider their
service and become conscientious objectors. David Wiggins of
Alternet calls on all US soldiers to resist and refuse to attack
In 2001, the Pentagon denied that a new draft was being considered
to help supply troops to the "war on terrorism." Senior officials
noted that no draft has been needed to help fight any war since
the volunteer system has been introduced, even the first Gulf War.
However, some analysts noted that a draft could still be more
likely now than in the past, especially as the war on terrorism
increases in scope and length, since draftees would then be needed
to "fill personnel gaps."
Others have argued that a new type of draft needs to be instituted
to train people to protect America from terrorist threats at home.
"After September 11th, the only thing likely to happen is that
which was previously inconceivable. Could war in Iraq bring
terrorism back to our country? Could it lead to a regional
conflagration in the Middle East? Could it lead to another draft?"
According to the author of this article, the answer is very
possibly yes to all of these questions. In fact, on Dec. 20 of
2001, a bill was introduced to the House which calls for the
drafting of all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 22 for
HR 3598 The Universal Training and Service Act has been introduced
but is not currently moving through Congress. It is unlikely that
it will be passed in its current form. However, the fact that it
has been introduced leaves room for a less extreme version to
possibly be passed, meaning that the end result of the bill could
still be conscription. This page includes information on the key
points of the bill and who to write in order to oppose it.
Meanwhile, in April of this year, Rep. Ron Paul introduced a bill
in the House to eliminate the Selective Service System and the
Selective Service Act.
EXAMPLES OF CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION
In Israel, a number of soldiers have refused to serve in the occupied territories. Israel does not recognize conscientious objection and many of the men must serve time in prison for their refusal. This is a brief overview of the history of this group of "refuseniks."
This is another article about the Israeli refuseniks which gives a
more visceral sense of the emotional strain which prompted them to
become conscientious objectors.
Alternative service has, in the past, been very dangerous. During
WW II, American COs participated in road building and
reforestation projects -- and scientific experiments that "gave
COs the opportunity to prove themselves ready to serve in
dangerous situations that would not require taking human life."
This review of the PBS movie "The Good War and Those Who Refused
to Fight It" describes the lives and roles of conscientious
objectors during the extremely popular second World War.
PBS has a lot of information online related to "The Good War and
Those Who Refused to Fight It." Perhaps the most interesting point
of the film is that conscientious objectors contributed
significantly to many aspects of life within the US both during
and after the war, including powerful social movements and the
arts. Includes pictures, a timeline, biographies and quotes
related to individual conscientious objectors, video clips, and
The singer/songwriter Joan Baez has long been involved in anti-war
activism, and has often refused to pay portions of her taxes as a
method of conscientious objection.
Center on Conscience and War.
Peace Taxpayers is a site meant to provide information, resources,
support, and actions geared towards conscientious objection
through not paying taxes.
The National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund is an organization
devoted to supporting and instituting legislation that allows
people to withhold part of their taxes as a form of conscientious
Links for Military Conscientious Objectors. List of organizations
that offer counseling to military personnel seeking a discharge.
This is a list of links to programs around the world that aid
conscientious objectors. It also includes a brief list of articles
related to conscientious objection.
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