Conscientious Objector

Very few people in my family have ever served in the military.  A lot of this has to do with our Mennonite heritage–Mennonites are pacifists. So this Memorial Day, I’d like to talk about those other people on the battlefield…

A Conscientious Objector is someone who refuses to fight in a war, who will not carry a gun, or any other type of ordinance. Most often these men and women have some sort of religious affiliation–like the Quakers or the Mennonites, and usually it would only occur if there is a military draft in place. (Why would someone morally against killing join the military if not forced to? I suspect there are examples, but in the US now, most would just stay home.

While being a Conscientious Objector in the US has always been available (the Supreme Court even broadened the rules on who can object in 1971), it has not always been respected. In fact, through the middle of WWII, Conscientious Objectors were not allowed anywhere near a battlefield and were, if drafted, given garbage tasks around the US.  One such man, Warren Sawyer, exposed abominable conditions in insane asylums in the US (

Because of men like Sawyer, the US Army changed its position and allowed Conscientious Objectors onto the battlefield as medics. The most famous of these is Desmond Doss who won the Medal of Honor for his actions at Hacksaw Ridge.

My uncle was also a battlefield medic during WWII in Burma. He was a great guy, very accomplished, as long as you weren’t a family member.  He accomplished a lot–like being a medic, and helping Jonas Salk with the Polio vaccine. (As a side note, I find it ironic that the anti-vax movement would not exist without vaccines–polio and smallpox alone would have people running for vaccines.) My uncle die a few years ago and is now buried at the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego.  It lies atop the peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and the San Diego Bay, overlooking both. If you get to San Diego, it’s worth a visit.

So, this Memorial Day, here is to all the other people serving in alternative ways.