During the Vietnam War, the last time the US was involved in a multi-year military conflict, over 170,000 men were granted conscientious objector status and did not have to go to war. The number was so high because of the draft which, especially in the latter years of the war, meant many men wanted to avoid going to southeast Asia in any way they could.
We haven’t had a military draft since that war ended, but even with our current all-volunteer army, we still have conscientious objectors. The difference is that these are not men (and women) who refuse to join the military. They have worn the uniform of the United States, but once they’ve been exposed to the brutal kill-or-be-killed nature of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, have realized that it’s a job they can’t handle.
The Pentagon defines conscientious objection as “A firm, fixed, and sincere objection to participation in war in any form or the bearing of arms, by reason of religious training and/or belief,” but there’s a lot more to it.
Bill Galvin of the GI Rights Hotline joined me on KTRS/St. Louis to talk about the modern-day objectors, from what it takes to be granted CO status, what it means when they’re discharged, and how the military tries to dissuade them from leaving. We also talked about a new breed of conscientious objectors who want out before Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is repealed because the thought of fighting alongside a gay soldier is so repulsive to them. The irony is that there are plenty of closeted gay troops now, but these homophobes don’t want them to be free of the Pentagon’s restrictions.
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At the beginning of this podcast, I mention the interview I did the previous day with Jere Van Dyke, the reporter who was kidnapped and held by the Taliban for 45 days, who offered great perspectives on the war in Afghanistan, the Wikileaks document drop, and much more. If you missed it, you’ll find that podcast here.