There has been a group of people historically who have faced tremendous judgment, ridicule, and contempt. They are often ignored, and when they are acknowledged, it is rarely without contention. In a world where patriotism and service are highly rewarded, conscientious objectors (CO’s) are often seen as cowardly and disloyal.
But can it be called cowardly to choose to abstain from war? To hold fast to your morals in the face of popular backlash? War is so often regarded as brave and necessary, but how necessary is it to solve political and economic problems through violence and murder? When the outcome of war is a treaty signing anyway, how necessary is the act in the first place? Moreover, why are domestic and noncombatant service actions of CO’s not considered newsworthy, legitimate, or admirable?
All I know for sure is that soldiers are so often indiscriminately lauded as heroes, their actions negligible in comparison to their title. And I am not here to talk down on the real sacrifices that soldiers do make, frequently with the best of intentions. But I do know the types of behaviors that war and service require, as well as the type of person that such conditioning and such a mentality can create. So I am weary to blindly praise soldiers for a job I do not believe to be the best course of action and behaviors I know nothing about.
But I do know a lot more about the actions of conscientious objectors throughout American history. However, most of that knowledge was gathered through my own personal research and interactions with CO’s from WW2 and the Vietnam War. When there are hundreds of monuments dedicated to the soldiers who served our country, where are all of the conscientious objector monuments? Where are they in our history books and debates? When conscientious objectors have existed as long as war has and have served in all of the ways that they could, where is the recognition for their sacrifices?
CO’s have built infrastructure, railroads, and maintained crops during times of war. They have served as medics and noncombatants on the war-front. They have risked and endured jailing, public ridicule, and substandard conditions to uphold their personal values of peace and nonviolence. Some were even used in America as participants in starvation experiments to simulate the experiences of concentration camp victims, of which the findings are still referenced today in treatment and recovery for victims of starvation and nutrition deficit.
Most importantly to me is that CO’s are people who asked for acceptance and protection from their country and were failed on that front. Still today, most nations do not recognize conscientious objector status as legitimate or legal. And if they do allow it, it is made almost inaccessible and comes with the price of stigmatization or even harm. I recognize that conscripted service and the necessity of war are contentious issues with many valid arguments on all sides. However, I still strongly affirm an individual’s right to uphold their religious and moral beliefs through abstention or alternative service. Moreover, we cannot ignore the sacrifices and tangible contributions of CO’s just due to their debated status. They deserve to be recognized and treated with the same dignity as any other service member or citizen.
I'm a bi female undergraduate student majoring in Psychology, with minors in Women and Gender Studies and African American Studies. I am passionate about issues of domestic violence and sexual assault, and intend to get my masters in social work in order to serve those populations.