Conscientious Objectors: World War II
Eleanor Roosevelt, My Day Column, JUNE, 20, 1944
Editor’s Note: For additional information about the contributions of conscientious objectors in the area of mental health visit: Training Schools – And Civilian Public Service: 1944.First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt [View Image]
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt
HYDE PARK, Monday—Ever since I answered in a magazine a question about the rights of the families of conscientious objectors, I have been getting innumerable letters from the conscientious objectors themselves and their friends and relatives. I think there should be a clearer understanding of their point of view and what has been done by the government as I understand it.
At the beginning of Selective Service, the Federal Government took cognizance of the rights of these men and I am now quoting from a document which some of the religious groups have sent me:
“On May 15, 1944, the United States completed its third year of moral and legal recognition of the right of drafted men to register conscientious objection to war and to perform, in lieu of military service, designated work of national importance. (Editor’s Note: Civilian Public Service) During these three years, this wartime minority of less than 8,000 drafted men has worked without pay to render to our country more than $25,000,000 in public service. Except for the cost of transportation and technical supervision, this work was done without cost to the Federal Government. In most cases, the men themselves, their families and their churches pay for their living costs, which amounts to nearly $2,000,000 a year.
“The ‘work of national importance’ which Selective Service assigns these conscientious objectors (classified 4-E under the draft law) to perform, consists of helping to protect and conserve our homefront resources—both our natural and human resources. To this end, Civilian Public Service camps and units have been set up across the country in areas where conservation needs are great and the war effort has seriously reduced the supply of essential personnel. For instance, 2800 men in 35 camps are engaged in fighting forest fires, draining swamps, building dams, maintaining national parks, and wildlife resources, and in reclaiming sub-marginal land. Nearly an equal number of men are performing essential work in 120 small special units throughout the country. They serve as attendants in state hospitals, as dairy men on farms, as ‘teachers’ in state training schools, as farm hands and technicians at state agriculture stations, as human ‘guinea pigs’ in medical research experiments, and as ‘sanitation engineers’ in rural public health projects.”
This is certainly a good record of work and it is work which is of national importance. It is, however, not the work which the country really requires of these young men. They would not have been drafted had they previously been working in jobs which the Selective Service Board considered important to the war effort. Many of them feel that in doing the work assigned to them, they are not using their capacities to the limit and that they could be more useful in other ways. However, the work in which they could be more useful is work in which their conscientious objection prevents their taking part.
I will continue the discussion of this in an ensuing column.
(COPYRIGHT 1944 BY UNITED FEATURE SYNDICATE, INC.)
Source: Eleanor Roosevelt Project, George Washington University, http://www.gwu.edu/~erpapers/myday/displaydoc.cfm?_y=1944&_f=md056827