As of December 31, 2014, I retired from full-time teaching in Humboldt State University's Department of History. While this website will remain online, it is no longer maintained.
History 111 - Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer
Pacifism and Dissent in Times of War
In 1917, George Cohan wrote a propaganda tune, Johnny Get Your Gun, to encourage young American men to enlist in the U.S. army. Remember, this was not a popular war - it was a war that Woodrow Wilson had to "sell" to the American people. This song was one of many efforts to counter the anti-war efforts of some Americans.
As we begin our discussion of pacifism and anti-war efforts in the U.S., keep this potent propaganda in mind so that you can better understand the difficulties encountered by anti-war activists.
Discussion Goals: Pacifism and Dissent in Times of War
- To define relevant terms related to the anti-war movement.
- To illustrate the historical evolution of anti-war and anti-draft dissent, as well as official and public responses to such actions.
- To examine the various ways the U.S. government has tried to stop anti-war dissent during various crises.
Goal #1: To define relevant terms related to the anti-war movement.
- draft (conscription): mandatory military enlistment.
- dissent: to differ in thought or opinion, refuse to conform, or accept an established way of thinking or behaving.
- civil disobedience: to refuse to comply with certain civil laws, usually as a matter of moral conviction and by means of non violent, passive resistance.
- pacifism: to oppose military ideals, war, or military preparedness and instead, support the idea that all civil and international disputes can be settled by arbitration.
In general, those who use dissent, civil disobedience, or pacifism to question U.S. involvement in war or conscription have done so for:
- Individual personal moral, religious, and ethical reasons designed to keep them out of war or a draft, and/or
- collective societal, political, and/or ideological reasons designed to create a movement to keep the nation from entering a war, to encourage a national exit from a war, and/or to change wartime and conscription policies.
Goal #2: To illustrate the historical evolution of anti-war and anti-draft dissent, as well as official and public responses to such actions
Ever since war began to be waged by Euro-Americans when they came to North America, people have either voluntarily or involuntarily served in the military.
The role of the military in our society historically and contemporarily is to protect our nation's territory, protect our freedom as citizens, and provide an example of strength in the international community.
Throughout our history, very few people have questioned the need for military protection – but some have questioned two aspects of military service:
- whether or not we should be involved in warfare, and
- whether those people who join the military should do so voluntarily or involuntarily through conscription.
Consequently, we have a long history of both anti-war and anti-draft activity.
Timeline of Anti-War and Anti-Draft Activity and Government Response
First Era, 1607-1783: Colonial, then state militias – volunteer and conscripted – served short-term military needs at the national level. From the earliest Euro-American colonial period, settlers refused to fight with the Indians or expropriate their land or to be drafted by the King’s army during times of war. The vast majority were Quakers and conscientious objectors. The purpose of their pacifism was to make a personal religious statement for peace and to set a personal example of pacifism and commitment to God. They primarily sought personal exemptions from involvement in the war and thereby refused to cooperate with the draft law.
1607 - 1775
Each colony formed militias from all adult male citizens, largely to fight Indians as well as to fight any battle in which England is involved.
- Resistance: From the first colonial settlement, some settlers refused to fight the Indians, take Indian land, or be conscripted by the King’s army during times of war. Most were pacifists – primarily Quakers and Conscientious Objectors (COs) - who were personally, philosophically, and morally opposed to war and who sought a personal exemption from involvement in the war by refusing to cooperate with the draft laws.
- Response: In general, official and public response was tolerant. In a few instances, pacifists were punished like Richard Keene who in Maryland in 1658 was fined and ”abused by the sheriff” for “refusing to be trained as a soldier.” The sheriff “drew his cutlass and therewith made a pass at the breast of Richard, and struck him on the shoulders, saying, ‘You dog, I could find it in my heart to split your brains.’”
Rhode Island passed the earliest CO exemption in the colonies, making conscientious objection one of the colony’s fundamental liberties. The law excused COs from active military duty and from any type of punishment for reasons of conscience that made COs not want to “train, arm, rally to fight, to kill.” Pennsylvania passed a similar law.
1775 - 1783 The Revolutionary War.
A regular volunteer army was raised by offering enlisted men cash bonuses and promises of free western land after the war is over. When this system did not attract enough soldiers, General Washington called on state militias – all of which were made up of poorly-trained citizens who often needed to return home to tend to their farms. President Washington tried to register all men for service, but Congress refused to pass such legislation, as it continued to do under Presidents Adams, Jefferson, and Madison.
- Resistance: About one-third of all colonists refused to join the war against the King; about 100,000 of these fled to Canada and England.
- Response: Eight colonies recognized CO status grounds for exemption from military duty. The Continental Congress passed a law in 1775 exempting COs from military duty.When the Constitution was written, no law was passed dealing with exemptions from the draft since the Founders believed that the individual states would continue to honor CO status.
1846 Mexican-American War
was the first war in
U.S. history to be fought solely with volunteers. All previous wars relied upon soldiers who had been
conscripted from state militias and who had
volunteered for national service.
- Resistance: An actual movement began to evolve, encouraged in large part by Henry David Thoreau’s “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience” – the goal of which was to encourage persons who were morally opposed to the war to collectively use passive, nonviolent action to protest the war and hopefully force concessions from the government. Several different groups resisted this unpopular war: anti-slavery advocates who saw war as a means to extend southern slave territory; racists who did not want to extend American territory where Americans might be forced to mingle with inferior people of nonwhite races; and deserters who numbered approximately 9,207.
Second Era, 1862-1917: First wartime conscription was enacted at the national level to meet the national emergency of the Civil War. During this era, a few small movements arose of people who were against being drafted to fight in a war that was not of their choosing.
- 1861 - 1865 Civil War. Confederate and Union armies initially called for volunteers. Both sides eventually adoped the first draft laws in the United States.
- The South, in April 1862, passed a law requiring military service of all white men between 18 and 35 years of age. The law permitted substitute soldiers to be hired. The age limit was later extended to include men between 17-50.
- The North, in March 1863, required draft registration of all able-bodied men between 20-45 years of age. The law allowed two ways to avoid the draft: a man could pay the government $300 or he could pay another man $300 to serve in his place. If a drafted man could not do either thing, then had to join the army or risk being shot as a deserter.
- Because both the north and the south allowed for substitutions, the draft and war casualties fell disproportionately on the poor.
- Resistance: Coal miners in Pennsylvania rioted and attacked officials who tried to force them to enlist in the draft. Soldiers were sent to Pennsylvania to put down the riots.
Farmers in Ohio who refused to be drafted attacked soldiers who were sent to arrest them. The worst anti-war riots were the New
York City Draft Riots of July 1863 that involved an angry mob interrupting the selection of registrants’ names, burned the homes of abolitionists and conscription offices, looted businesses, and tortured and killed blacks, as well as those who refused to join the protest. About 1000 people died and 10,000 businesses and homes are destroyed.
- Response: Lincoln personally pardoned the vast majority of draft resisters and in February 1864, Congress amended the draft law to include a CO exemption based upon religious belief. The South soon followed.
Third Era, 1917-1940: First mandatory all-male registration was required for conscription in times of WWI national emergency. The vast majority of dissenters were personally and philosophically opposed to war, as well as morally and politically opposed to war. The purpose of their pacifism was to create a social force for civil disobedience based upon the belief in the power of individuals and the ability of individual action to inspire others to follow. They primarily sought to disobey the law by refusing to participate within a system in order to frustrate its ability to function.
- 1917 World War I. Congress passed the Selective Services Act requiring all men between 20 and 30 years (changed to 18- 45 years in 1918) of age to register for military duty, prohibiting personal substitution, and allowing religious COs to choose noncombatant service within the military. For the first time in U.S. history, COs are placed under military authority before they obtain religious exemptions. About 10 million registered, approximately 2.8 million were drafted, and about a million enlisted.
- Resistance: Several anti-draft demonstrations occurred, but primary opposition was expressed through criticism and evasion: at least 2 million men never registered; 12% (338,000 men) of those drafted failed to report when called or deserted after arrival at training camp; and 64,000 men sought CO status. Of these COs, 20,900 were drafted into the military, 4,000 refused to participate in any military role, and 450 went to prison. Of those, 17 were sentenced to death, 142 to life in prison, and 73 to 20 years in prison. All had their sentences commuted after the war.
- Response: For the first time in history, the federal government sees anti-war dissent as a threat to the very structure of the American way of life. The federal government employs three effective avenues to quell such “un-American” dissent:
- the passage of Congressional Acts designed to prohibit and punish “disloyalty’;
- the creation of governmental agencies to enforce the acts, assemble information on those suspected of disloyalty, and arrest and punish offenders;
- the use of the Supreme Court to uphold the constitutionality of the government’s actions.
Some individuals also responded with vigilante-style violence aimed at those who opposed World War I.
Anti-war propaganda songs also became popular, especially those using the appeal of "the voice of motherhood, "such as Don't Take My Darling Boy Away. The message came through loud and clear in the title of I Didn't Raise My Boy To Be a Soldier (subtitled A Mothers Plea for Peace, respectfully dedicated to every Mother- everywhere). The lyrics preached to mothers worldwide that if they united in the cause, they could put an end to the fighting and save the lives of millions of young soldiers. For instance, "There'd be no war today
If mothers all would say,
'I didn't raise my boy to be a soldier'."
The cover of the sheet music portrays exploding shells bursting around an old gray-haired woman protecting her son.
Fourth Era, 1940-1948: First peacetime conscription and lottery system was established at the national level. Most opposition to war came from Conscientious Objectors, all of whom were personally, philosophically, and politically opposed to war.
1940-1945 World War II
. Congress passed the
nation's first peacetime draft with the Selective
Training and Services Act of 1940
that required all males between 21 and 35
to register for the draft for one year
of service restricted to the Western Hemisphere and U.S. territories,
and established the nation's first national
lottery. As the war progressed, the draft age was lowered to 18 years of age and men are called to service not by lottery number, but by age – with the oldest going first.
In 1941, Congress voted to keep the one-year draftees in the Army beyond their term. After Pearl Harbor in December, Congress extended the draft to men between 18 and 38 years of age (and briefly to 45) for the war’s duration and gave the president the power to send draftees anywhere in the world. Approximately 10 million men were drafted and nearly 6 million enlisted.
- Resistance: Opposition was largely from COs and various other evaders.
- Response: The Justice Department investigated 373,000 alleged evaders and obtained convictions of 16,000. Some 72,000 registrants applied for CO status, 25,000 of whom entered the army as noncombatants, 12,000 entered civilian work camps, 20,000 had their claims rejected, and 6,000 were imprisoned (most of whom were Jehovah’s Witnesses.)
1947 President Truman recommended that Congress allow
the 1940 Selective Service and Training Act to expire
and that the level of required military forces be maintained through
1948 Congress amended the Selective Training and Services
Act and declared that "religious training and
belief" was to be defined as "an individual's belief in a relation
to a Supreme Being involving duties superior
to those arising from any human relation, but [not including] essentially
political, sociological, or
philosophical views or a merely personal moral code."
Fifth Era, 1848-1973: Peacetime and wartime conscription was enacted to fill vacancies in the armed forces that could not be filled by volunteers. Most dissenters were both anti-war and anti-draft and were personally, philosophically, and politically opposed to war. Opposition mounted during the Vietnam War with rising draft calls and casualty rates. By the late 1960s, a strong anti-war coalition existed of students, pacifists, clergy, civil rights and feminist activists, and various other groups who regularly engaged in civil disobedience demonstrations and sit-ins at induction centers, as well as illegal activities such as break-ins at local draft boards and draft-card burnings.
1950-1953 Korean War
. Congress enacted a draft for all men between 18-1/2 and 35 years of age for average terms of 2 years. Men who served in World War II were exempted. Approximately 1.5 million men were drafted and another 1.3 million volunteered.
- Resistance: Opposition was largely from COs and various evaders.
- Response: Some 80,000 alleged draft evasion cases were investigated. The percentage of inductees exempted as COs was nearly 1.5 %.
1964-1975 Vietnam War.
After President Johnson
committed ground troops to Vietnam in March 1965,
draft calls soared from 100,000 in 1964 to 400,000 in 1966. By
1968, 543,000 U.S. troops were in Vietnam;
40,000 Americans had died and another 250,000 had been wounded.
Draftees were a small minority of the
military (16%), but by 1969, they were 88% of the infantry riflemen
who accounted for more than half of the
army's battle deaths. Because of student and other deferments,
both the draft and casualties fell disproportionately upon working-class youths. African-Americans,
11% of the U.S. population, accounted for
16% of the army casualties by 1967 and 15% for the entire war.
, the U.S. Supreme Court broadened the definition of COs to include religious beliefs outside
of the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim traditions.
Nixon instituted an annual draft lottery
and began the
- if a young man was not drafted by 19, he was exempt from future military
service except in the event of
war or national emergency. This allowed deferrals for hardship cases, certain occupations, COs,
clergymen, and high school and college students.
In U.S. v. Welsh
the U.S. Supreme Court added sincerely held ethical and moral
beliefs to the definition of allowable
grounds for CO status.
extended the draft for two more years, eliminated student deferments, and
voted a massive ($2.4 billion)
pay increase for the lower ranks in the hopes of achieving an
All-Volunteer Force (AVF) by mid-1973.
1972 President Nixon
cut draft calls to 50,000 and stopped forcing draftees to go to Vietnam.
On January 27th, a cease-fire was announced.
- Resistance: Opposition
mounted with rising draft calls and casualty rates. By the late
1960s, a strong anti-war coalition
of students, pacifists, clergy, civil rights and feminist activists, and various other groups
regularly engaged in demonstrations, draft-card burnings,
sit-ins at induction centers,
and break-ins at local draft boards. Between 1965-1975, about
570,000 young men illegally evaded
the draft: 360,000 were never caught; between 30,000-50,000 fled to Canada,
Britain, and Sweden; 198,000 had their cases dismissed;
22,500 were indicted; 8,800 are
convicted; and 4,000 went to prison. CO exemptions in relation
to actual inductions grew from
8% in 1967 to 43% in 1971 and 131% by 1972. Between
1965 and 1970, 170,000 registrants
were classified as COs.
Sixth Era, 1973 to the present: Conscription ended and the All Volunteer Army was established. Notable anti-war efforts did not surface until a year after the War in Iraq began. Most endeavors came from enlisted men and women who had served their time, but who did not accept Stop Loss and who did not wish to be sent back to Iraq.
- 1975 President Ford suspended compulsory draft registration.
- 1980 President Carter resumed compulsory draft registration
with the Selective Service System in reaction to the Soviet invasion of
- 1981 President Reagan extended compulsory draft registration
in 1982 and prosecuted some of those who
refused to register. (Estimated number of refusals between 1980-1984
- 1991 Gulf War. In "Operation Desert Storm," approximately
540,000 American volunteer troops joined
over half a million allied troops under United Nations authority with
the purpose of ending Iraq's 1990
invasion of Kuwait.
- 2001-the present. Afghanistan. In October,
2001, "Operating Enduring Freedom" began.
- 2002. The No Child Left Behind Act includes
a provision under Section 9528 that required all high schools to provide military
recruiters with student contact information.
- 2003 "Operation Iraqi Freedom." In March, hundreds
of thousands of U.S. volunteers soldiers
engaged in the war in Iraq, followed by peace-keeping efforts. The Bush administration predicted that it would cost $50 billion to $60 billion to oust Saddam Hussein, restore order, and install a new government.
- Resistance: Iraq Veterans Against the War formed less than a year after “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Lawsuits began from military personnel who refused to either enter into or return to active service in either Iraq or Afghanistan.
- Universal National Service Act
of 2003 (House Resolution 163 and Senate
Bill 89) was introduced declaring
that it is the obligation of every U.S. citizen - including
women - and every other person
residing in the United States between the ages of 18 and 26
to perform a two-year period of
national service either as a member of an active or reserve component of the armed forces
or in a civilian capacity in the Office of Homeland Security
that promotes national defense. Both bills were defeated in 2004.
- U.S. Army adopted the Stop Loss policy for all troops headed to Iraq and Afghanistan, calling it a way to promote continuity within deployed units and to avoid bringing new soldiers in to fill gaps left in units by those who would otherwise have gone home when their enlistments ran out. If a soldier's unit was still in Iraq or Afghanistan, that soldier could not leave even when his or her enlistment time ran out. Additionally, the National Guard and Reserve Draft passed a similar policy and the Individual Ready Reserve was reactivated so that people who had already
served in the military for four
years of active duty could be reactivated.
- National Guard/Reserve Draft. Many Guard members and Reservists who volunteered to stay in their state to help out with civil disasters and do one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer of duty were activated and deployed to Iraq.
- Individual Ready Reserve. The IRR was reactivated so that people who had already served in the military for four years of active duty were reactivated.
- 2004 The costs of the war were estimated at about $144.4 billion (see the article on "Lost Opportunity Costs").
- 2007 By December, the estimated number of Iraqi civilians killed by military intervention was between
77,333 and 84, 250 (see Iraq Body Count)
- 2010 By February, the estimated cost for both the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars was $963 billion - $708 billion for Iraq and $255 billion for Afghanistan. The number of soldiers who died in Iraq totaled 4,696 - 4,378 Americans, 179 British, and 139 "other." The number of soldiers who died in Afghanistan totaled 1,657 - 1,000 Americans, 264 British, and 393 "other."By February, Iraqi civilians killed by military intervention was between 95, 415 and 104,103. To get a better understanding of the full costs of the war - and to your own community - see the National Priorities Project.
- The Costs of War Project registered enormous human, economic, social and political costs of war for Americans, Afghanis, and others involved in the two wars.
- 2012 By the end of the year, the estimated cost for both the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars was over $1,304,540,500,000 - over $801 billion for Iraq and over $503 billion for Afghanistan. The number of soldiers who had died in Iraq by 2012 totaled 4,803 - 4,485 Americans, 179 British, and 139 "other." The number of soldiers who died in Afghanistan by totaled 3,240 - 2,174 Americans, 438 British, and 637 "other." The official number of wounded American soldiers from the war in Iraq was 33,186 and the official number of those wounded in Afghanistan is about 15,500.
- By the middle of the year, more U.S. soliders had died by committing suicide than had died on the battlefield. In the first 155 days of 2012, 154 active duty troops committed suicide - 50 percent more than the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan in 2012.
Almost half of these were soldiers who had served since 9/11.
- 2013 By March, the estimated cost for both the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars was over $1,429,619,000,000 - over $811 billion for Iraq and over $618 billion for Afghanistan The number of soldiers who had died in Afghanistan through February 2013 was 2178 Americans, 440 British, 640 "other - for a total of 3,258. Estimated Afghani civilian deaths was about 15,000.
For more information see the GI Rights Hotline at http://girightshotline.org/ and the following:
Chambers II, To Raise an Army: The Draft Comes to Modern America (1987)
George Q. Flynn, Conscription
and American Culture, 1940-1973 (1973)
Stephen M. Kohn, Jailed for Peace: The History
of American Draft Law Violations,
Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, "The American Militia
and the Origin of Conscription: A
Reassessment," Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 13, No.
4 (Fall 2001):29-77
Goal #3: To examine the various ways the U.S. government has tried to stop anti-war dissent during various crises.
Un-American” Dangerous Dissenters before, during, and after WWI: As we just learned, for the first time in history, the federal government responded to dissent during WWI - dissent that was perceived to threaten the very structure of the American way of life.
Its initial response was to target at least four groups of Americans were perceived to be dangerous dissenters:
“Hyphenated” Americans such as German-Americans who may not wish to fight German soldiers and Irish-Americans who may not wish to fight anyone at war with the British.
Supporters of Socialism and/or the Socialist Russian Revolution which included some hyphenated Americans, eastern European immigrants, as well as American-born liberals and socialists.
Draft resistors, pacifists, or Conscientious Objectors.
Labor unions - individual members and leaders.
All four groups were generally lumped into a single negative category - "Un-American" in thought as well as deed. Their thoughts were believed to be anti-war and anti-American; and their deeds were considered to fall short of the contemporary demand that everyone be "100% American."
Federal actions used to stop “un-American” dissent and the anti-war movement, 1917 - 1920. The federal government used three effective avenues to quell such "un-American" dissent:
1. Passing Congressional Acts designed to prohibit and punish “disloyalty’.
2. Creating federal agencies to enforce the Congressional acts, assemble information on those suspected of disloyalty, and arrest and punish offenders.
Soon after declaring war, President Wilson appoints a journalist, George Creel, to head up a new agency - The Committee on Public Information (CPI).
The CPI employed many of the nations most talented writers to shape the public’s opinion of and support for the war; to create anti-German propaganda and films; to speak at schools and churches; and to encourage citizens to spy on their neighbors and report any suspicious activities to the authorities.
The Department of Justice creates the American Protective League
which organized 12,000 local units across the nation. Its members, primarily business and professional men, spy on draft dodgers, gather gossip about those suspected of disloyalty, and check up on people who failed to buy Liberty Bonds.
The Department of Justice creates a General Intelligence Division (GID),
the predecessor of the FBI
, to assemble information on all suspected “un-Americans.” In November 1919, GID officials descend on Russian meeting places in eleven cities and seize hundreds of members of the Union of Russian Workers, 650 in New York City alone. One month later, 249 aliens are deported from the United States and sent to Russia, via Finland.
The Department of Justice uses federal officials and local police forces to conduct the most overt terrorist tactics against political dissents to date: the Palmer Raids of January 1920
. In 33 cities, over 4,000 aliens and suspected members of the two communist parties are seized at homes, in their officers, at meetings, and in pool rooms by federal officers without search warrants. All seized are jailed and denied council. About 600 are eventually deported. While all were scheduled for deportation, in the wake of the controversy surrounding the raids, the remainder of those seized are eventually were released.
3. Using the Supreme Court to uphold the constitutionality of the government’s actions.
When the Espionage Act is challenged in court, the Supreme Court unanimously decides in Schenck v. U.S. (1919)
that the draft was constitutional and that the First Amendment could be restricted in time of war. In what came to be the famous words of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, “Free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing panic.” Further, if words “are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantial evils that Congress has a right to prevent,” free speech could be limited.
The press was equally as intolerant of pacifists, as illustrated in the Washington Post editorial of April 1, 1917.
"Large advertisements are appearing in the metropolitan newspapers, skillfully written for the purpose of stirring up class hatred and suspicion and thus dissuading Americans from enlisting in the war that is coming... At this time, when the United States is on the verge of war, the Washington Post believes that the advertisements in question are an abuse of the right of free speech. It does not presume to judge other newspapers which print these advertisements, but for itself, it will not print them... An effort to prevent the voluntary enlistment of American citizens for the defense of their country is treasonable in time of war. It is sedition at any time. 'The hope of impunity is a strong incitement to sedition,' said Hamilton. The pacifists will not long enjoy impunity. If they are wise they will cease their agitation before they are legally classified as public enemies and punished accordingly."
Source: Quoted in Jim R. McClellan, Changing Interpretations of America’s Past, Volume II (p. 201)
Pacifism and Dissent in Times of War
Anti-war and anti-draft dissent in America, as well as official and public responses to such dissent, has played a long role in U.S. history. Indeed, the growth of dissent, has been evolutionary - moving from personal religious statements during the colonial period, to collective political and ideological actions during the 19th Century, a melding of the two earlier strategies with the outbreak of World War I and beyond.
The growth of governmental intervention with anti-war and anti-draft dissenters has been evolutionary. Not until World War I when dissent was perceived as a threat to the status quo did the government move from tolerance to oppression.
In contrast to the federal government, the public reaction to dissent has been constant. From the beginning of our history, Americans have rarely tolerated people who deviate from the status quo - people who refused to fight American Indians; who refused to fight King George for independence; who balked at fighting in the Civil War to free the slaves; who refused to fight for political, economic, and ideological convictions during WWI; and who fled to Canada rather than fight the war in Vietnam.
With the outbreak of World War I and the refusal of some Americans to enlist in the war effort, the federal government legalized political repression against anti-war and anti-draft dissenters. Such repression was responsible for two major consequences.
- First, political repression allowed the federal government to institutionalize laws that were designed to destroy popular dissident organizations and imprison their leaders.
- Second, political repression provided the ideological and legal underpinnings of the Red Scare and of future governmental intrusions into the political and religious activities of millions of Americans throughout the 20th Century.
Since World War I, the federal government has continued to deploy the legislative, executive, and judicial branches in the legalized battle against anti-war and anti-draft dissenters.