Counter-Recruitment and Fomenting Desertion, Two Promising Strategies

Much of the anti-war movement has lately turned away from marching and pleading with legislators and such and has decided to try to make the U.S. less eager to make war by exacerbating its “human resources” shortage.

I think this new focus shows promise. It has a concrete, measurable goal that can be reached incrementally, results can potentially be seen both on a large scale and on a very human scale, and it is an actual, non-symbolic impediment to militarism, making it more difficult and more expensive.

There is a danger, though, that by focusing on encouraging desertion and conscientious objection within the military, and on discouraging recruiting, the anti-war movement will fall in to the easy habit of regarding its struggle as something that mostly involves other people — members of the military and potential recruits — changing their behavior.

As Thoreau chided the American anti-war movement of a century and a half ago: “The soldier is applauded who refuses to serve in an unjust war by those who do not refuse to sustain the unjust government which makes the war.”

One way to address this is to remind people that conscientious objection is for everyone. A good example of this is provided by the Church of the Brethren Christian Citizenship Seminar, which was held in New York and Washington, D.C.:

Former conscientious objectors (COs) Enten Pfaltzgraff Eller and Clarence Quay shared the stories of their struggles, as did more more recent COs Andrew Engdahl and Anita Cole. Eller and Quay each chose not to register and instead did alternative service, although Eller’s service came after a lengthy court case. Engdahl and Cole arrived at their decisions after entering the military, and they asked for reclassification. “When Jesus said ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,’ that has to be now, not later,” Eller said. “You have to struggle with where God is calling you and how you’re going to follow.”…

Several speakers addressed a different form of conscientious objection, war tax resistance. Phil and Louise Rieman of Indianapolis and Alice and Ron Martin-Adkins of Washington, D.C., explained why they had decided not to pay the portion of their taxes that support military operations — and the consequences that can come with that choice. Marian Franz of the National Peace Tax Fund provided additional background on this form of witness. “If we say that war is wrong, and we believe war is wrong, then why would we pay for it?” Louise Rieman said.

“It was more than I expected,” said Chrissy Sollenberger, a youth participant from Annville, Pa. “I didn’t think there was so much about conscientious objection to talk about. I just thought it was saying no to being drafted, but it’s so much more than that.… It feels like we have more power now to make those choices.”