Advice for Conscientious Objectors in the Armed Forces
March 14, 2003 6:44 AM   Subscribe

Advice for Conscientious Objectors in the Armed Forces (html version). "A comprehensive, step-by-step guide to applying for conscientious objector status. This edition....builds upon a tradition which began in 1970 with the First Edition. Advice has since reached over 40,000 military men and women who had decided that they could no longer in good conscience remain in the military. The 1970 Advice spoke to a generation troubled by the war in Vietnam. This generation of conscientious objectors, too, has seen war--most recently in the Persian Gulf, and before that in Panama. It has experienced the end of the Cold War and the flowering of hopes for peace; and it has watched as those hopes turned to disappointment in the chaotic, dangerous post-Cold War world." The G.I. Rights Hotline has recently reported they "fielded a record number of calls, mostly from military personnel and families seeking advice on conscientious-objector and other discharges."
posted by fold_and_mutilate (7 comments total)
Good link, foldy. People who seek conscientious objector status need to be aware that it is not an easy out.

As in the case of some Quakers who got CO status in WWII. The rule was they had to do unpaid non-combatant service in lieu. And their service happened to be as the subject of some medical experiments done by U.S. researchers - they were deliberately starved for a period of several months so that the doctors could study the effect of starvation on the human body.
posted by orange swan at 6:57 AM on March 14, 2003

Do you have a link to document that, Orange Swan?
posted by Pinwheel at 7:08 AM on March 14, 2003

SF Weekly has an article about how some US reservists are trying to get out of their obligations because they're shocked--shocked!--to realize that the military might send them to war. Maybe they should've thought about that before they volunteered.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:21 AM on March 14, 2003

Here's the link to the GI Rights Hotline page on CO status for volunteer soldiers. Oh, wait, you got that already.

I have always had the notion — dating back to the late 1970s, when Selective Service registration was reinstated in anticipation of reinstating the draft and I began to think about what I would do — that it is harder to do once you have served in the military for some time, and it seems that your objection has to do with war generally, not this war in particular. You have to document activities and other evidence reflecting your belief over a long period of time. Volunteering for the forces or reserves tends to support the conclusion that you didn't object at the time you signed up.

It was Nixon, believe it or not, who dumped the draft, probably so that he could rely on volunteer forces to undertake adventures like the Clone of the Attacks we're about to embark on without dissension in the ranks or in the society at large.
posted by hairyeyeball at 7:26 AM on March 14, 2003

Pinwheel, I read that in a book, an anecdotal history of the Quakers entitled A Procession of Friends and written by Daisy Newman.

But to verify my information without actually reading the book you can go to this site for a PBS documentary on WWII COs, entitled The Good War and Those Who Refused to Fight It.

From that site:

Human Guinea Pigs
Nearly 500 COs competed to volunteer as guinea pigs in dangerous and life-threatening medical experiments seeking cures for malaria, infectious hepatitis, atypical pneumonia and typhus. Some CO subjects were inoculated with live hepatitis virus.

We were very concerned of course that we had been called all kinds of names, yellow bellies, and things like that. I had volunteered for an ambulance driver and got turned down, American Field Service, they said they didn't want any more COs, they had too many, but I was young and I wanted to show that I was not a coward, so when they offered me this chance of being a guinea pig, it fit right in with my scheme of things of proving that I was willing to take risks on my own body, but I just did not want to kill someone else.
- CO Neil Hartman

Neil Hartman served as a human guinea pig and was repeatedly injected with live hepatitis virus. Former Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop, then a medical resident performed two biopsies on Hartman.

Other CO volunteers were covered with lice and sprayed with DDT, or subjected to high altitudes, extreme temperatures and lengthy periods of immobility. The starvation experiments conducted at the University of Minnesota were among the most dramatic test for the COs. Healthy, young men committed to the cause were reduced to angry and emaciated skeletons. The dramatic results of the experiments were so severe and long-term that they helped to inspire the Marshall Plan which, as a keystone of U.S. foreign policy, set a precedent for helping countries combat poverty, disease and malnutrition after the war.
posted by orange swan at 8:24 AM on March 14, 2003

Yo, Pinwheel!
posted by y2karl at 8:25 AM on March 14, 2003

Instead of the "ambulance drivers" of yore, the proper question of a CO today is "would you be willing to branch transfer to the Medical Service Corps?"
Ironically, since there is now on the order of a 15:1 ratio of "combat support" and "combat service support" soldiers to "combat" soldiers, claiming CO status gets interesting.
MSC is the preferred question, because it is the closest thing to being the "opposite" of a combat soldier. But it is far from the only option for someone who wishes to be a non-combatant.

Nowadays, the largest branch in the US Army is the Signal Corps, only a fraction of whose jobs are in direct support of combat units. Combat branch soldiers are almost by definition 'elite', and are specialty-trained for their assignments. So a CO in a combat branch is as peculiar as a person who has graduated medical school, interned, and is ready to start a private practice who suddenly decides to not be a doctor.

And not ironically, because of the intense specialty of combat soldiers, the combat branches would *prefer* to *not* have a CO in their ranks. Why force someone who doesn't want to, when there are plenty who do?

So what do you do with someone who just doesn't like the idea of being "exposed" to war or personal risk, or has a strong political or social opposition to a *particular* war?

Often, a person becomes a legitimate CO because they have bumped into someone who is intensely religious, who has given them that same fervor. The military usually respects someone who has become fanatically pacifistic.

But when you find somebody in the ranks who either expresses overt cowardice or spouts political dialectic and obstinacy, I am not terribly surprised when their demands are met with a lack of sympathy. Nobody likes a coward or an asshole. And even most of them can passably *fake* being a legitimate CO.

So most of the ones who get nicked are not just cowards and assholes, but stupid ones as well.
posted by kablam at 9:43 AM on March 14, 2003

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