The Conscientious Objector
“Because liberty is so fragile, its true defender recognizes that war is its greatest enemy, and therefore the true patriot is often the courageous individual who opposes a particular war because he recognizes that it is unjust — that it would be fought for the wrong purposes or that the risk for the loss of liberty is greater than any benefit to be gained by the war.” - John V Denson
If we have freedom: are we not responsible for what we do and what we fail to do? History is littered with stories about valor and bravery on the battlefield. Men who went off to war, who fought, and died. But what about the men who refused to fight?
The World War II draft operated between 1940 - 1946, and inducted some 10 million men into forced military service. Of those 10 million men, approximately 72,000 were conscientious objectors, of which 25,000 entered the military in noncombatant roles, another 12,000 went to civilian work camps, and as Robert Higgs points out in the book, The Cost of War :
The government also imprisoned nearly 6,000 conscientious objectors- three-fourths of them Jehovah’s Witnesses- who would not comply with the service requirements of the draft laws.
One of those American conscientious objectors was Desmond Doss. During World War II he refused to carry a weapon and kill the enemy. Despite this, he is credited with saving 75 of his fellow soldiers during the Battle of Okinawa. To this day he is the only conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor for his actions on the battlefield.
Franz Jägerstätter was not as lucky as Desmond Doss. He was an Austrian conscientious objector during World War II who refused to fight for Nazi Germany. On February 23, 1943, he was drafted to serve and on March 1, 1943, upon entering into the Wehrmacht garrison, he declared his Conscientious Objector status and offered to serve as a paramedic instead. His offer to serve as a paramedic was ignored and he was arrested and later killed for refusing to fight for Hilter. He left behind a wife and three children.
These were men who dared to say no to war and murder and these are just two examples out of 1,000’s of men during that war. Why did these men oppose war? People may profit from studying their examples. For, As Lew Rockwell once pointed out :
“We don’t oppose the state’s wars because they’ll be counterproductive or overextend the state’s forces. We oppose them because mass murder based on lies can never be morally acceptable. So we don’t beg for scraps from the imperial table, and we don’t seek a seat at that table. We want to knock the table over.”
Conscientious Objectors refused to be pawns and knew that war was morally unacceptable, with some paying the ultimate price. Sadly, in a sense, there is a case to be made that these Conscientious Objectors were the only ones who truly did their job and upheld their oath.1 For all members of the military are instructed: they have a duty to obey all lawful orders, and conversely, they also have a duty to disobey unlawful orders. This principle is embedded in the precedent of the Nuremberg Trials whereby Nazi war criminals invoked the “just following superior orders defense” and were nevertheless found guilty as the orders were found to be illegal. It is worth noting at this point, that illegal orders can happen at any time, wartime or peacetime, civilian or military.
Does ‘Conscientious Objection’ relate only to war and military personal? Or, are there other circumstances to which this term may be applied? I contend that conscientious objection can and should apply to a variety of circumstances other than war, for example whenever morality and ethics are at play. Objections based on one’s conscience may arise in numerous and more mundane circumstances. The world would be a much better place if the principles of conscientious objections were more universally applied, and daily.
Consider this, the category of human action can refer to either an action, or an inaction. Both actions and inactions potentially have value, as Ludwig von Mises noted:
“For to do nothing and to be idle are also action, they too determine the course of events.”2
Let’s ask ourselves: Is Patriotism defined as blind obedience to governmental authority? Can saying ‘no’ be more heroic than saying ‘yes’, when your conscience tells you its wrong that the Government requires innocent blood on your hands? As the Afghanistan war enters its 18th year, it’s long past time we reconsider the examples set by those who conscientiously objected to war. In the words of the late Justin Raimondo,
“We have to show the American People that war is not patriotic.”
- 1. Murray Rothbard noted that “ There have been only two just wars in American history that were, in my view, assuredly and unquestionably proper and just.”
- 2. Murray Rothbard also stated in Man, Economy, and State that “Action does not necessarily mean that the individual is ‘active’ as opposed to ‘Passive,’ in the colloquial sense.”; See also Carl Menger’s discussion of useful inactions in Chapter 1, Principles of Economics.