Flashback: Conscientious Objection

In anticipation of the shutdown of Apple’s MobileMe service, I am re-posting some of my old blog entries before they become harder to retrieve.

This entry was originally posted on July 11, 2005.

On Harry Chapin’s last album, there’s an often-overlooked little ditty called “I Miss America .” Depending on how you look at it, you could see it as a thinly veiled jab at the media and how they try to project their vision of the world onto us in the form of television, or it could be the way forced conformity can stifle dreams. The first verse is the story of a beauty pageant winner, the second is the sports hero, and the third is the sitcom family.

There’s a line in the verse about the sitcom family that, every time I hear it, it makes me pause; the context of the line, as it pertains to the song, is not entirely relevant.

“If it brings us to battle, babe, it must be worth our fighting for.”

Must it? I’m not saying there aren’t things worth fighting for; there absolutely are. I’m just not convinced that, if we end up fighting over something, that it’s a certainty that the fight is the proverbial good fight.

It can’t be easy to be a conscientious objector. Some people have a relatively easy time of it; some religions are steadfast against fighting in all circumstances, and if you are devout enough in those religions, I suppose it would be a relatively easy declaration.

But for most of us, it’s not so black and white. Looking over the wartime history of the United States, if I had been of the age to be fighting for my country, it seems that about half of them I would be willing to fight for, and half I wouldn’t. The two I definitely would have declined to fight were the 1848 War with Mexico, and Vietnam. Both world wars, and the War of 1812 I would have wanted to fight in.

And I probably would have wanted to fight in both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Any hesitation I might express about these two wars would have been derived directly from the question of what our true mission was. If we regard the Revolutionary War as a war of defense, rather than as one of offense, I can justify it. As far as the Civil War is concerned, I realize that the debate had long since broken down, but would it not have been acceptable to see if economic forces could have prevailed and allowed the south to re-enter the union financially broken?

The Spanish-American War and Korea, I probably would have preferred to sit out, for reasons that roughly parallel my opposition to the wars in Mexico and Vietnam.

The two Gulf Wars I could have been persuaded to fight, however I don’t believe that either President Bush sold me on any good reasons for fighting.

Based upon the above, I could never have been a conscientious objector. It’s an all-or-nothing thing. You can’t selectively say, “I object to this war.” You have to object to war in general. Not many people think in those kinds of absolutes, so I can see why the process of being a CO is a long, drawn-out process. I wonder how many people apply to be a CO and only get it granted after the peace is finalized….

I think of Bill Clinton’s letter to the army in opposition to the Vietnam War, where he said that the war was not a moral one and how it defies what America means. Opposition to one war does not a conscientious objector make. Assuming he didn’t meet some other exclusion for fighting, if his number had been picked, he would have either had to fight, or dodge the draft. He kind of dodged a bullet by not being in a position to go…

Is it any wonder so many people pretended to be either gay or insane to get out of serving?


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