GOSHEN, Ind. — In every generation, young people have responded to the drum of war as military volunteers or draftees, paying with service, and often with their lives to resolve conflicts between governments. Yet others choose an alternative by becoming conscientious objectors (COs), to serve their country by refusing to take up arms.
These individuals are recognized in the documentary film “The Good War and Those Who Refused to Fight It,” which aired on public television in 2002. Judith Ehrlich, writer, director and producer of the film, and Suzanne O’Brien, national outreach coordinator, were guests of Goshen College on Jan. 7 for a special screening of the film and discussion on educating youth, their mentors and society, on the history of conscientious objection and its current status as an alternative when registering for the draft.
Their visit came just days after the announcement that the film was awarded the John E. O’Conner Film Award from the American Historical Association.
Ehrlich had a special interest in Civilian Public Service (CPS), a project set up for COs during World War II to substitute unpaid work of national importance for military service. In making the film, she wanted to raise consciousness about CPS.
“I thought I knew a lot about the draft,” said Ehrlich, “but I didn’t know about CPS camps. I thought if I didn’t know about CPS camps, no one knew about CPS camps. I thought I’d take them out of the trash bin of history.”
Sam Yoder, professor emeritus of education, was interviewed in the film about his experience in CPS as a young man coming from an Amish community near Goshen. CPS was the primary alternative for many young Mennonite men, and some women, who refused military service during World War II.
In the discussion after viewing the film, participants shared their struggles with the question of military service, conscientious objection and refusing to register.
Doug Hostetter, adjunct professor of peace, justice, and conflict studies, told the audience of his experience during the Vietnam War. As a CO, Hostetter chose for his alternative service to be a volunteer for Mennonite Central Committee in one of the most dangerous regions of Vietnam. Hostetter served without fighting, and was able to win the respect of many of the U.S. soldiers in the area.
Hostetter refuted the criticism that conscientious objectors choose the position out of fear of combat, saying “There are many opportunities for pacifists who want to put themselves in situations of conflict to do so. There are many types of service to one’s country and the world,” said Hostetter. It is only a few who are called, voluntarily or by the draft, “to put their lives on the line,” he added. During the Vietnam War, Hostetter estimated that a proportionate number of relief workers to U.S. soldiers were killed.
Discussion and workshops during the day also included current options for young men who must decide if they will register for the draft, ways for colleges and churches to provide scholarships to alleviate the financial stress that pushes many youth into the military, and the importance of CO history as a part of U.S. history.
Ehrlich and O’Brien are traveling throughout the U.S. with the film and holding discussion groups to get advice on spreading the message to a wide audience. The group at GC included students, faculty, retired professors, high school students, pastors and peace activists.
Goshen College is a national liberal arts college known for leadership in international education, service-learning and peace and justice issues in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. Recognized for its unique Study-Service Term program and exceptional educational value, GC serves about 1,000 students in both traditional and nontraditional programs. The college earned citations of excellence among U.S.News & World Report, Yahoo! and Barron’s Best Buys in Higher Education. For more information, visit www.goshen.edu/.
– Celeste Kennel-Shank for the Record
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