The Conscientious Objector’s Path Away from War’s Killings

by | May 27, 2015


When you sign up to be in the United States military, in many ways the deck is stacked against you. You are required to go where you are told and to do what you are told — including, potentially, to kill people. You can forget the rosy representations the recruiter made before you enlisted. Plus, unlike in other jobs, you cannot quit. Nonetheless, there may still be a way out of being forced to participate in war’s killings — conscientious objection.

Bill Galvin, counseling coordinator at the Center on Conscience and War, provided in an interview last week on the Tom Woods Show an informative introduction to how a military member can seek US government-recognized conscientious objector status. While Galvin cautions that, “except for the very end of the Vietnam period, it’s always been difficult to get out of the military as a conscientious objector” in America, he also says that it can be done.

Galvin explains that, contrary to many people’s assumption, a conscientious objector does not have to be a member of a church that includes in its doctrine opposition to participation in war. In fact, Galvin states that even a person who is not religious can be recognized as a conscientious objector; philosophical belief regarding war can be a sufficient basis.

Some people may be skeptical of someone who chose to join the military and later decides that he does not want to take part in warfare. But, people do change their minds, especially when they find themselves in the middle of something that had always seemed rather abstract and is now very real. Galvin further argues that ‘virtually nobody who joins the military knows what they are getting into.” “Recruiters are trained salespeople,” he adds.

There is a big difference, Galvin continues, between saying “in the abstract ‘I would fight to defend my country’” and looking “down the barrel of your gun at a live human being.” Galvin also notes that some non-battlefield occurrences can trigger military members’ thought processes and lead to changes in their beliefs regarding war. He mentions, as examples of such triggering events, taking part in military training designed to overcome people’s aversion to killing, being surrounded by a culture that promotes killing, and being required to conduct searches of people’s private possessions.

Listen to the complete interview here, and visit here the website of the Center on Conscience and War. The center provides education regarding conscientious objection and helps people seeking to obtain government recognition of their conscientious objector status.

Photo: Baltimore Sun.


  • Adam Dick

    Adam worked from 2003 through 2013 as a legislative aide for Rep. Ron Paul. Previously, he was a member of the Wisconsin State Board of Elections, a co-manager of Ed Thompson's 2002 Wisconsin governor campaign, and a lawyer in New York and Connecticut.

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