When the US still had "mandatory" conscription for males it was still possible to claim exemption on the basis of a conscientious objection to war. While this usually required a religious basis and was almost impossible for doctors because of a supposed non-combattant role, we were still given full C.O. status as a doctor without a religious basis. The explanation for this legal certification is not relevant and it didn't happen without a protracted struggle which we had no reason to believe would turn out as it did. Its lack of relevance is because the end of the draft or the war did not end our status as a conscientious objector. We have objected -- publicly, conscientiously and strenuously -- to every US war and military misadventure since Vietnam and there have been quite a few: Grenada, Panama, Gulf War I, Iraq, Afghanistan, not to mention the covert and blatantly illegal wars on Cuba and Nicaragua and who knows where else. We have objected out of conscience.
"Conscientious objector" is not a legal status. It is a declaration we are not on Death's payroll:
Conscientious Objector by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I shall die, but
that is all that I shall do for Death.
I hear him leading his horse out of the stall;
I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba,
business in the Balkans, many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle
while he clinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself:
I will not give him a leg up.
Though he flick my shoulders with his whip,
I will not tell him which way the fox ran.
With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where
the black boy hides in the swamp.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death;
I am not on his pay-roll.
I will not tell him the whereabout of my friends
nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much,
I will not map him the route to any man's door.
Am I a spy in the land of the living,
that I should deliver men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city
are safe with me; never through me Shall you be overcome.
Wonderful music, great poetry--this site has it all! I used to know this poem by heart. I particularly love these two lines:
"Am I a spy in the land of the living,
that I should deliver men to Death?"
Thank you for reminding me of this.
There are those who - religiously or otherwise - feel a conscientious objection to war after they experience it, or even simply after enlisting in the military.
The Quaker-run Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors is not presently able to provide the counseling for such individuals that they have for many years, but those who need to apply for CO status can still contact the GI Rights Hotline for advice and assistance.
Back when I faced the prospect of being drafted for the Viet Nam war (I was not yet a doctor), I investigated Conscientious Objector status as well as immigrating to Canada.
The Quakers published a very useful book on applying for CO status. They advised that you needed to have a strong organized religion foundation objection to all war. I did not have any religious beliefs then (or now) so I could not use that argument. Fortunately for me (but not others) I was given a high number in the draft lottery so I could continue with my life.
However, the entire experience was a good opportunity to examine and solidify my beliefs in the evils of war and the evils of the US capitalist-colonial world view (which has unfortunately not changed in the 40 years since that time).
I am amazed that young men and women are still volunteering to ensure the US supply to oil and corporate profits. It is a tribute to the power of fear, the media and lack of progressive education in the US.
So, thank you for this poem which is an eloquent expression of our basic humanity and duty to our fellow man.
Please visit www.draftresistance.org for more info on conscription.
A very moving poem. And thanks for the reminder to the rest of us who will not be called to put our life on the life in a nation far away that has long been a battle zone of great powers, usually to their detriment.
But the poem reminded me that I should not keep silent at home when the search for enemies might trample all the freedoms hard fought for here. I've become middle-aged and complacent in a government job, half-heartedly waving the next generation on, hoping for the best, expecting the worst, just hoping to squeak by before I'm done with my 70 or so years. Before things get really nasty and life as we have known it in the U.S. no longer exists.
Thanks for reminding me how utterly selfish it is for me to invite death to the young because I'd hoped to just shut up and coast. Sometimes you can run around death by speaking up and insisting on sanity rather than sacrifice, a different sort of poem.
Mary Travers sang a beautiful musical version of this poem on her "Morning Glory" album. It's really worth listening to, but I haven't found it at any music download sites.
(I have it on the 37-year old record album)
bc: Didn't know of its existence. Would sure like to hear a version some time. I'll keep my eye out for it.
Check out "Soldier of Conscience".