Conscientious Objectors

conscientious objector

conscientious objector, person who, on the grounds of conscience, resists the authority of the state to compel military service. Such resistance, emerging in time of war, may be based on membership in a pacifistic religious sect, such as the Society of Friends (Quakers), the Dukhobors, or Jehovah's Witnesses, or on personal religious or humanitarian convictions. Political opposition to the particular aim of conscription, such as that maintained by the Copperheads during the Civil War, by radical groups during World War I and, to a more limited extent, during World War II, and by large numbers during the Vietnam War, is usually considered in a separate category. The problem of conscientious objectors, although present in different forms since the beginning of the Christian era, became acute in World Wars I and II because of the urgent demands for manpower of the warring governments. The United States and Great Britain allowed members of recognized pacifistic religious groups to substitute for combat service: (1) noncombatant military service, (2) nonmilitary activity related to the war effort, or (3) activity considered socially valuable. Pacifists without recognized claim to exemption were liable to harsher treatment, and about 5,000 conscientious objectors were imprisoned in the United States between 1940 and 1945. The postwar Selective Service Act, passed in 1948 and amended in 1951, required that conscientious objection be based on religious belief and training that included belief in a Supreme Being. In 1970 the Supreme Court removed the religious requirement and allowed objection based on a deeply held and coherent ethical system with no reference to a Supreme Being. In 1971 the Supreme Court refused to allow objection to a particular war, a decision affecting thousands of objectors to the Vietnam War. Some 50,000–100,000 men are estimated to have left the United States to avoid being drafted to serve in that war.

See G. C. Field, Pacifism and Conscientious Objection (1945); M. Q. Sibley and P. E. Jacob, Conscription of Conscience (1952, repr. 1965); L. Schlissel, ed., Conscience in America (1968); G. C. Zahn, War, Conscience, and Dissent (1967); M. Ferber and S. Lynd, The Resistance (1971).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Conscientious Objectors: Selected full-text books and articles

Conflicts of Law and Morality By Kent Greenawalt Oxford University Press, 1989
Librarian's tip: Chap. 14 "Conscientious Objection and Constitutional Interpretation"
A World without War: How U.S. Feminists and Pacifists Resisted World War I By Frances H. Early Syracuse University Press, 1997
Librarian's tip: Chap. 4 "Feminist Pacifists and Conscientious Objectors"
American Political Prisoners: Prosecutions under the Espionage and Sedition Acts By Stephen M. Kohn Praeger, 1994
Librarian's tip: Discussion of conscientious objectors begins on p. 27
The Military Obligation of Citizens since Vietnam By Burk, James Parameters, Vol. 31, No. 2, Summer 2001
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Accommodation and Equal Liberty By Bressman, Lisa Schultz William and Mary Law Review, Vol. 42, No. 3, March 2001
The Separation of Church & State Defended: Selected Writings of James E. Wood, Jr. By James E. Wood Jr.; Derek H. Davis J. M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies, 1995
Librarian's tip: "Conscientious Objection and the State" begins on p. 95
Democracy and the Case for Amnesty By Alfonso J. Damico Florida Presses, 1975
Librarian's tip: Discussion of conscientious objectors begins on p. 33
An Encyclopedia of War and Ethics By Donald A. Wells Greenwood Press, 1996
Librarian's tip: "Conscientious Objection" begins on p. 99
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