Women against the Good War: Conscientious Objection and Gender on the American Home Front, 1941-1947

Women against the Good War: Conscientious Objection and Gender on the American Home Front, 1941-1947

Women against the Good War: Conscientious Objection and Gender on the American Home Front, 1941-1947

Women against the Good War: Conscientious Objection and Gender on the American Home Front, 1941-1947

Synopsis

During World War II, more than 12,000 male conscientious objectors seeking alternatives to military service entered Civilian Public Service to do forestry, soil conservation, or other 'work of national importance.' But this government-sponsored, church-supported program also attracted some 2,000 women most of whom were part of Mennonite, Amish, Brethren, or Quaker families with deeply held antiwar beliefsto 151 alternative service locations across the country. Rachel Waltner Goossen tells the story of these women against the 'good war,' women who identified themselves as conscientious objectors. Despite cultural hostility and discriminatory federal policies, they sought to demonstrate their humanitarian convictions by taking part in Civilian Public Service work.

Based on little-known archival sources as well as oral history interviews and questionnaire responses, Goossen's study reveals the extent to which these women's religious and philosophical beliefs placed them on the margins of American society. Encouraged by religious traditions that prized nonconformity, these women made unusual choices, questioned government dictums, and defied societal expectations, all of which set them apart from the millions of Americans who supported the war effort.

Excerpt

In the 1990s U.S. citizens give little thought to conscription, the compulsory drafting of civilians into military service. The Americans who served in the Gulf War were enlisted and career personnel, unlike millions of drafted American soldiers who served before them in the Civil War, the two world wars, and in Korea and Vietnam. The recent shift away from conscription is a function of both technology and post-Cold War diplomacy: "smart bombs" and international suasion do not depend on mass mobilization of labor. To be sure, Americans continue to harbor fears about the potential for war. But we breathe more easily than did previous generations on the question of whether national leaders will "send our boys to war." At present, enactment of mass conscription is so unlikely that we have almost no collective memory of the anxieties it created for citizens a half century ago.

During the Second World War the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 dictated the terms by which more than thirty-four million American men, ages eighteen to forty-four, participated in the war effort. Because American women remained exempt from draft legislation, they faced choices that differed from those of their husbands, brothers, and sons. Most stayed on the home front but were deeply affected by the absence of male family members and friends. Many entered the labor force, responding to government campaigns that mobilized workers to meet war production demands. Others volunteered for Red Cross work and entered service-oriented vocations. Still others ran households efficiently in spite of wartime shortages and assumed responsibilities on farms and in family businesses that, except for the war, would have been shouldered by men.

A small minority of Americans were pacifists, even in this most popular of wars. In recent years it has often been called the "good war," a term . . .

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