I finished high school in 1972. The class of 1970 had draft lottery numbers for the Viet Nam war. If a male student’s birthday was among the first 1/3 drawn, he was drafted. If he was in the second 1/3, he might get drafted. The last 1/3 were not likely to be drafted.
The class of 1971 had lottery numbers (the numerical order in which birthdays were drawn), but they weren’t drafted. You see, Nixon got re-elected by promising to end the War, and that meant an end to the draft.
The class of 1972 was the first class with no lottery numbers. My parents and I spent many an evening before learning that considering whether I should join the National Guard or otherwise seek a deferment. We’d seen lots of our friends come back from ‘Nam messed up, and not many of us were keen on going. And unlike previous wars, there was little criticism of those claiming conscientious objector status. All my friends and I were in constant discussion about whether to submit to the draft, volunteer for the Air Force or Navy (commit to serve longer, but with less risk of combat), claim conscientious objector status, or seek to avoid the draft some other way. Some kids shot a toe off, figuring a missing toe would earn them 4-F status — meaning unqualified for the draft.
Then a couple of years ago, one of my sons thought of joining the military. And so I figured it was time to pull out the materials on pacifism and sort through it all, but he changed his mind (quite on his on). And so I put the study off.
But it seems to be the time. I’ve got the books. I just need to see whether I agree with them.
Let’s start with a few observations.
1. I have great respect for those who serve their nation through military service. I may wind up concluding that God doesn’t want Christians to do that. I don’t know. But if I do, it won’t be for lack of respect for what these men and women do. I mean, there’s a certain nobility in risking your life for your country.
I know plenty of people in the military and who’ve been in the military, and I admire them and their courage and their convictions.
2. On the other hand, I have great admiration for those who refuse to serve out of a genuine conviction. The Churches of Christ were once strongly pacifistic. Many of our members refused service in WWI and were imprisoned for it. But by WWII, military service was considered honorable in the Churches of Christ — a remarkable turn around in just 30 years. It wasn’t until Viet Nam that someone could claim conscientious objector status without shame.
According to the Wikipedia,
In the United States during World War I, conscientious objectors were permitted to serve in noncombatant military roles. About 2000 absolute conscientious objectors refused to cooperate in any way with the military. These men were imprisoned in military facilities such as Fort Lewis (Washington), Alcatraz Island (California) and Fort Leavenworth (Kansas). The government failed to take into account that some conscientious objectors viewed any cooperation with the military as contributing to the war effort. Their refusal to put on a uniform or cooperate in any way caused difficulties for both the government and the COs. The mistreatment received by these absolute COs included short rations, solitary confinement and physical abuse severe enough as to cause the deaths of two Hutterite draftees. …
Civilian Public Service (CPS) provided conscientious objectors in the United States an alternative to military service during World War II. From 1941 to 1947 nearly 12,000 draftees, unwilling to do any type of military service, performed work of national importance in 152 CPS camps throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. The work was initially done in areas isolated from the general population both because of the government’s concern that pacifist philosophy would spread and conscientious objectors would not be tolerated in neighboring communities. …
The CPS men served without wages and minimal support from the federal government. The cost of maintaining the CPS camps and providing for the needs of the men was the responsibility of their congregations and families. CPS men served longer than regular draftees, not being released until well past the end of the war. Initially skeptical of the program, government agencies learned to appreciate the men’s service and requested more workers from the program.
3. “Pacifism” is not a precisely defined term. There are pacifists who believe in participating in a war that resists an invasion. There are pacifists who approve a nation going to war but not participation in the war by Christians. There are pacifists who would work in indirect support of a war — in a non-combat role — but wouldn’t personally kill an enemy soldier. And there are absolute pacifists who wouldn’t participate in any way.
There are those who object to all violence, including by the police, while others are fine with being policemen but object to military service. There are those who would participate in a just war but not an unjust war. In fact, in traditional Christian thought, no Christian should participate in an unjust war. Technically, one doesn’t have to be a pacifist to refuse duty in an unjust war.
4. “Just war” theory goes back at least to Augustine, as the church has struggled to draw a line between the obvious truth that we Christians shouldn’t participate in a plainly wicked war, whereas some wars are considered by many to be justified as preventing even greater evils.
5. In the United States, the denominations that have taken strong pacifist positions historically have been the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Quakers, the Mennonites, the Hutterites, and, until WWII, the Churches of Christ. At times, Catholics have refused to participate in wars they considered unjust.
Finally, I need to explain where I’m coming from. I’m not a pacifist. Not now. But I’m open to persuasion. And so I figure I should start with the case for pacificism, as argued by the very best, and see how well it stands up.
PS — The icon at the top is one of those ironic icons I like so much. “Pacifism” in big letters in the format used for those character-building posters that you see here and there, with a 50-caliber gun in the picture. It’s a little something for both sides.