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(DV) Harker: Is There a Case for War Resistance?







Is There a Case for War Resistance? 
by Jay J. Harker
November 30, 2006

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It is fair to assume that war resistance may not be popular in a lot of circles, but in the long haul what really are the accomplishments of war? Few to nil in my opinion except for mass destruction and death. The question is: has the time come for war resistance and will it at some point become a force for mighty social change? 

War resistance is simple. You "don't sign up." You fail to register for the Selective Service System. You refuse induction in the Army. You "fail" to serve on purpose. 
Men have refused to serve in small numbers over all of the last century in all wars and have served prison sentences. There has also been conscientious objection, which was set up by the government to allow those with a religious objection to do alternative service. There have been several of them also. Alternative service means that those people with the CO status did work that was deemed useful to society. In World War Two they worked in mental hospitals, as guinea pigs in medical experiments or in the Civilian Conservation Corps. Some did forest fire fighting. 
So, considering that you could do alternative service why would you ever go to prison? Hopefully, by not cooperating with the system you are changing the system, you are doing a stronger act, an act of civil disobedience that contributes to a world that is free from war, that helps the world consider that there may be alternatives to the use of violence to solve its problems. Just think if we had a million COs or war refusers. That might get people to sit up and take notice. 
Conscientious objection is based on a religious objection and is only granted if you have what the draft board considers a sincere belief. Some people's objections to serving are not based on this, so this becomes a problem for them too which should be changed. Many others don't know they could be COs. They haven't heard of it. And they could qualify for the status on religious grounds easily. Maybe we need Congress to change the laws and spread the word about conscientious objection. 
In the 1960s we were heavily involved in fighting the Vietnam War and there were massive protests. The Civil Rights had been going on and many people were growing their hair long and "dropping out". As a youth in those days you could not help but be affected. 
In High School, I was an honor roll student, an active participant in soccer and baseball, a co-president of the student body and when I met another boy who was doing this, who was not going to register, I said, "Yes, this is it." 
Ah, the folly of youth, eh? But I thought it was the right thing to do. It made a clear statement that I would not participate in a system whose sole purpose was the taking of life. This is conscientious, religious objection based on an interpretation of Jesus's message to us. I also think that it is a logical choice in a mad world. At some point we have to say no more of this nonsense. Jesus, too, would have been a "draft dodger"! 
My last point is that with all the disease and  poverty and nuclear bombs and famine in the world we need to do something, anything. My hope is that war resistance or conscientious objection may serve these ends. Human life has evolved for thousands of years. Maybe someday war resistance will be a part of that evolution towards a more peaceful, just world.

Jay Harker was a war resister during the Vietnam War and served a year and a half in prison. He is a Quaker and lives in Silver Spring, MD. He can be reached at: jayharker@juno.com