Conscientious objectors of every generation have heard some version of this: “Your freedom to be a conscientious objector was won for you by the military you refuse to join and the wars you refuse to fight.” Yet, those same generations have seen the military used to suppress the very rights it claims to protect. This year the Center on Conscience & War counseled dozens of military members whose conscientious objector (CO) beliefs solidified after seeing the protests or seeing other soldiers being mobilized in that way. For these recent COs, their moral, ethical or religious beliefs guided them to not only oppose being called to take up arms against civilian protesters, but also to realize that they could no longer support the mission of the military in general, which is, of course, to fight wars. Under military regulations, which also apply to the National Guard, these COs have the right to be honorably discharged or to be reassigned as noncombatants who do not bear arms.
In his application for discharge, a Navy officer wrote how his conscience was awakened even after an immersion in militarism. “I’d occasionally think, ‘Am I complicit in suffering?’ No, I’m not personally killing anyone. And I never stood on George Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes, suffocating him to death, while another officer watched, with his hands in his pockets. This certainly wasn’t the first time that police brutality happened to an unarmed Black man in America. It unfortunately won’t be the last time it happens. So, what has that to do with me? I’m the officer with his hands in his pockets.”
How many of us are not standing around with our hands in our pockets?