Conscientious Objectors

   The Selective Service Act of 1940 exempted from combatant service in World War II any individual who objected “by reason of religious training and belief . . . to participation in war in any form.” This excluded those who objected on nonreligious, moral grounds. Of the 34.5 million men registered for the draft, 72,354 applied for conscientious objector status, mainly from the traditional peace churches—the Quakers, Mennonites, and Brethren. Of these, 25,000 accepted military service in noncombatant roles, primarily in the medical corps. Another 12,000 accepted alternative service in civilian public service camps, many of them former Civilian Conservation Corps camps, and worked in conservation, forestry, firefighting, and other tasks. They had to pay the federal government for their room and board and relied on the churches for financial support. About 500 of these men took part in medical experiments as guinea pigs.
   Almost 6,000 conscientious objectors were “absolutists” who refused to support the war in any way, directly or indirectly, and were sentenced to jail. Almost three-quarters were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Among those who refused to accept military service were members of the Nation of Islam, or Black Muslims, several hundred of whom, including their leader Elijah Muhammad, were jailed for their opposition on a mixture of religious and racial grounds. During the Korean War, 4,300 people were conscientious objectors.

Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era . . 2015.

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