75 Years of Support for Conscientious Objectors

By Maria Santelli, Executive Director of the Center on Conscience & War

As we begin our 75th year of work in support of conscience, the Center on Conscience & War (CCW) is busier than we have been in recent memory. Our caseload of conscientious objectors seeking discharge from the US military is higher than it has been in years. Thanks in no small part to the steadfast and generous support of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, we have been working steadily to increase our outreach efforts, making it possible for so many soldiers of conscience to find us and get the technical support they need to succeed in achieving discharge from the military.

While 2014 has been a wonderfully busy year for CCW, still, we know there are many more members of the military out there struggling with their "mission," not knowing where to turn. We have been hearing for months now that they are being briefed to expect deployment orders. When a soldier (or marine, or sailor, or airman) of conscience gets orders like these, they often feel that their options are limited: violate your orders or violate your conscience.

We understand the consequences of violating your orders, and they are finite, measurable, and manageable: maybe you’ll be court martialed; serve some jail time; lose rank and pay; even get kicked out with a bad discharge. Not the greatest parting gifts, to be sure, but certainly all of these consequences are predictable, measurable, and manageable by most people.

The consequences of violating your conscience, on the other hand, are immeasurable and infinite, and we are only just beginning to understand the harm that is caused by transgressions against the conscience. We are happy to see community-based programs to help veterans heal from moral injury sprouting up all over the country. Yet, these programs do not replace the critical work we must continue to do to be sure that those still in the military, facing these questions of conscience, know they have a choice.

For three quarters of a century, the Center on Conscience & War’s primary mission has been to defend the right to follow one’s conscience, and to provide technical support and expertise along the way. These recent months have been hopeful for us, but they also have been challenging, as we witnessed the loss of a veteran friend and colleague to suicide; the escalation of violence once again in the Middle East in our name; and the struggles of those who reach out to us for help. These challenges won’t slow us down.

As we embark on our 75th revolution around the sun, we do so with more commitment than ever. We look forward to sharing the journey with you. To learn more about the CCW, visit centeronconscience.org.