Between 1954 and 1973, 522 conscientious objectors volunteered as human test subjects in the US Army’s biological weapons defense program. Conscientious objectors are people whose religious beliefs forbid them from participating in war. In the United States, most of them our Christians, but they can be of any religion, or of no religion at all. These men believed so firmly that killing people was wrong, that they decided to risk their lives as medical experiments rather than be drafted as a soldier.
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Bruce Phillips believed that killing people in war was wrong. After fighting in Korea, he became a conscientious objector. But he was certainly no coward: he volunteered as a smokejumper. Smokejumpers parachute into forest fires to extinguish them while the fire is still remote, before it becomes a direct threat to the public. Conscientious objectors during WWII pioneered the practice, and by the end of the war, 240 were deployed smokejumping across the country. Due to the success of the program, the US Forest Service continues it to this day.
I cried when I first read this poem. It testifies to the conscientious objectors’ courage, and nonviolent convictions. They were real men.
This is a collection of government files I have collected concerning the conscientious objector (CO) process in the United States. Many of these files are outdated; whatever analysis they provide is probably no longer relevant. They are probably not of interest to you, unless you are doing some serious historical work.
Government Accountability Office (GAO) Reports
- GAO-07-1196 (2007) “Number of Formally Reported Applications for Conscientious Objectors is Small Relative to the Total Size of the Armed Forces”
- GAO/NSIAD-94-35 (1993) “Conscientious Objectors – Number of Applications Remained Small During the Persian Gulf War”
- GAO/NSIAD-98-199 (1998) -”Gender Issues – Changes Would be Needed to Expand Selective Service Registration to Women”
Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC) Publications
- “An Assessment of Health Status Among Medical Research Volunteers who Served in the Project Whitecoat Program at Fort Detrick, Maryland” (2005) – 2000 conscientious objectors volunteered to have biological weapons tested on them rather than fight in combat
- “Restructuring the In-Service Conscientious Objector Program” (1993) – Army JAG argues that in-service CO regulations are too lenient and need to be restricted
- Technical Report 70-1, and Appendix (1970) – Army manual about training medical corpsmen who are also 1-0-A conscientious objectors
Department of Defense Regulations
- DODd-1300.06 (1971) – All changes after this date appear to be trivial. This regulation is a significant deviation from previous regulations, however, which I do not have copies of.
- DODd-1300.06 (1975)
- DODi-1300.06 (2007)
Publications by Military Law Journals (Army Lawyer and Military Law Review)
These are full journals, not just the relevant article. Do a search for “conscientious objector” to find the relevant section.
- “‘I Won’t Participate in an Illegal War’ – Military Objectors, the Nuremberg Defense, and the Obligation to Refuse Illegal Orders” (2010)
- “Reclaiming the In-Service Conscientious Objector Program: Proposals for Creating a Meaningful Limitation to the Claim of Conscientious Objection” (2008)
- “Time to Exorcise Another Ghost from the Vietnam War: Restructuring the In-Service Conscientious Objector Program” (1993)
- “Religious Accommodation in the Military” (1987)
- “Religion and the Military: Recent Developments” (1985)
- “Free Exercise of Religion and Selective Conscientious Objection: A Judicial Response to a Moral Problem” (1979)
- “Conscientious Objectors and Courts-Martial: Some Recent Developments” (1971)
- “Nuclear Weapons: The Crisis of Conscience” (1985) – Discusses conscientious objection in relation to nuclear pacifism and denunciation by Catholic Bishops of nuclear weapons
- “They Step to a Different Drummer: A Critical Analysis of the Current DOD Regulations vis-a-vis In-Service Conscientious Objectors” (1970)
- “Selective Service Litigation and the 1967 Statute” (1970)
One common myth about conscientious objectors in the US is that they are reservists who took the government’s money to pay for college but then refused to fulfill their end of the bargain. This graph, however, shows that most conscientious objectors are in fact full-time, active duty personnel:
The data was obtained from two Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports on conscientious objection. Report GAO/NSIAD-94-35 covers conscientious objection during the First Persian Gulf War, and report GAO-07-1196 covers conscientious objection during Operation Iraqi Freedom.