Will Amish ever face military conscription again? We can’t know the answer to that question, but Amish and other conservative Anabaptists are preparing for such a worst-case scenario.
Amish beliefs about non-resistance include not doing violence against others, extending into prohibitions on serving in law enforcement, political office, and even bringing lawsuits.
Amish have faced the military draft many times in the past, with a number of less-than-favorable outcomes.
These include prison time, alternatives like orderly work in city hospitals, and even paying others to serve in their stead in the Civil War era (see “Military Service and Conscription” by Albert Keim for a good history of Amish and the draft).
While in Ohio last month I heard about a pilot program called the Conservative Anabaptist Service Program (CASP).
This is a proactive effort, going on for a couple of years now, to develop an alternative program of service for Amish and other conservative Anabaptist youth. From the Christian Aid Ministries website:
This program’s purpose is to provide a SSS (Selective Service System) approved place of employment for conscientious objectors to serve, should the draft be activated by the United States government.
Our goal is to provide alternate places of employment that have an ethical and moral environment. Such projects would also benefit our country’s health, safety, and other interests. In order to be prepared for a possible draft and to ensure that the program meets the SSS standards, CASP has operated numerous pilot projects that provide opportunities for service.
A recent news release describes how Indiana Amish CASP volunteers are helping preserve historic cabins in a national park in Maryland. This story (no longer online) describes how CASP workers helped renovate a home for a Kansas woman who lost a leg. Another details how Amish volunteers improved natural areas around Lake Michigan.
The draft ended in 1973, though each American male is required to register with Selective Service on turning 18. This document advises Mennonite and other conscientious objectors how to navigate the draft registration requirement.
Given its unpopularity, and the development of an all-volunteer military, I don’t know how likely it is that the draft will ever return. But by having an alternative program with a track record in place well beforehand, Amish and other conservative Anabaptists hope to be prepared if it does.
CASP volunteer photo: christianaidministries.org
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Draft and Conscientious Objection
The way the Selective Service System is currently setup, with changes implemented during the administration of G.W. Bush, Conscientious Objector status is no longer an option at the time of registration. CO status now is determined at the time of conscription, by the local draft board.
As someone who left military service as a CO (15 yrs USMC) in 1991, and having worked as a CO counselor, I know how difficult it may become to maintain CO status in the future since the composition of many local draft boards have become politically conservative and pro-military.
This is an interesting subject as I start my day, having viewed “American Masters” program about Joan Baez last night on PBS. I came of age during the Viet Nam war period when there was a draft. Today with an “all voluntary” military when only 1% of Americans service, I think we should return to a draft! I never thought that I would uttered these words. But, we would not be in the mess we have today in Iraq and Afghanistan if sons of those “in power” were subjected to the draft. Old white men have sent the young and poor to war thru out history. I am a proud American who thinks that Conscientious Objectors add an opposing view in our society when we feel that violence is the only solution to complex problems. At this holy time for Christians go in peace.
Tom the back roads traveller
Draft, Service levels and exemptions
There has never been more than 15-20% of eligible adults who are veterans, even during WWII.
The draft is not a good way to avoid war, like taxes, there are loopholes for those who don’t want to go can use. G.W.Bush used the National Guard, Bill Clinton used a Rhodes Scholarship. The majority of those drafted are low-income and/or rural. The politicians and wealthy can always find an out.
That being said, Community/Public service is a good alternative to military service, and usually results in a more positive outcome. Although many of the CO’s during WWII were looked down upon by the society around them, those that the CO’s served, I have not read or heard of anyone who would not do it over if they had to.
Warmongers don't want the draft
The draft isn’t coming back, ever. If we had had it in 2001, we wouldn’t have gone into Iraq. We would have left Afghanistan long ago. Vietnam was the last war when affluent Americans were willing to have their sons (and daughters?) yanked out of college and sent abroad to die in a pointless war. No one wants the draft. Some people talk about mandatory community service for every young person, but that’s not going to happen either. The draft would be great for preventing future wars, which why it’s never coming back.
The draft from a Vietnam Vet's perspective
I was of age during the ‘nam era but had a 4f classification because of braces on my teeth so I didn’t have to go. I did decide to enlist because one wasn’t going to get a decent job ( so I thought) until one got military service out of the way one way or another.
I also didn’t try very hard in high school so my grades weren’t acceptable enough for college scholarships. The GI bill was a big influence in my decision to join. At the time, the ethics of ‘nam weren’t as understood as they were nowadays so that didn’t bother me.
I think the alternative service programs are a great idea for helping the country in it’s time of need without having to choose the violence option. ‘Nam did scar my soul, but not because of the “bad guys” but by the way my fellow Americans treated us.
Me too, Tom
RE: ‘Nam did scar my soul, but not because of the “bad guys” but by the way my fellow Americans treated us.
Tom, I was 18 years old when the VNW ended. I was fairly interested in how it was going to play out because my draft lotto number was 63 & I was classified 1A (or was it 1E?) … at any rate I was then currently eligible to be called up. I couldn’t have honestly said that I had a moral conflict in serving. I also wasn’t thrilled about going, either. Going to Canada or elsewhere to avoid the draft would not have been an option for this son of a WWII marine.
I suspected at the time and nothing that I have seen since has changed my mind that the public probably wasn’t being told the whole, entire truth about motives and agendas by both those that were promoting and defending the war … as well as those that were protesting and decrying it.
The one thing that I was sure about though, was that our boys coming back from VN did not deserve the poor treatment that they received upon their return. Realistically, most never ASKED to be sent to VN (yes I know there were some volunteers) as a majority were drafted. I am sure most of those young men would have really rather been just about anywhere else than serving in Viet Nam, yet they were treated as if they had all WANTED to go over there (and commit war crimes).
If ever I have been ashamed of being an American, it was at that time. I would like to thank you (and everyone else that served in VN) for your service; whether or not you agreed with the war or even wanted to be there. I also would like apologize on behalf of the all of the ignorant clowns that ever abused you and your fellow VN veterans, because I know that most of them do not have the integrity to do so.
amish and the draft..
I am in favor of the draft and tho I enlisted,believe ALL should do some compusary service for the country. actually, why don’t more “enlist” in vista,or some other U.S. based service to our citizens. If you don’t want to fight…and who does..why don’t the annabaptists and other non-resistants find something altruistic to do that does not just benefit the church? foreign missionary and domestic service is great but you should consider the blanket of protection you sleep under is provided by those of different beliefs.NO…if you don’t want to be in the military,FINE..I wouldn’t want you there anyway…but DO something SACRIFICIALLY for your country!
I don’t want the draft back ever! I was a little girl during Vietnam. I heard about this was when I lived in one state and then a few years later after we moved again. I couldn’t understand then what the fighting was all about and why it took so long to settle differences. I still don’t.
Perhaps if instead of registering by mail you had to go to a recruiter’s office it might help the TRULY CO’s. a local recruiter MIGHT know who the youth are. So if an Anabaptist kid came in they’d be able to know and spot him. It isn’t enough to dress the part. I think family history and key words should be a part of being able to pass a litmus test that you are Anabaptist and not trying to dodge the draft.
Serving community service is a great alternative for the true CO.
I have seen the war on horses grow by leaps and bounds in the past weeks. I don’t understand the need for violence and for shedding blood. It’s a given that those who abuse animals as youngsters have a higher incident of domesticate abuse and other violent acts against others. This will eventually express itself in another totally unsupported and unpopular war. WWII was considered popular because everyone did their part to support the troops. Vietnam has been an awful thorn for those wounded in the War and then the nightmares that have been their lives since.
I said it as a kid and I’ll say it again. Why don’t the two heads of state (President, King whatever)get together (in a neutral country)have a chess game. The winner wins the war. No blood split. The loser faces going home and having to clean up his mess. It’s a whole lot simpler, quicker and less bloody.
Throughout our history there has always been a reason for war; whether you agree with it or not. History does repeat itself; trouble is we don’t learn from it. Where would we be today if the Revolutionary War didn’t happen.
I had two sons in the National Guard. The main reason they volunteered is the rewards of furthering their education without debt. My youngest son served in Iraq. Both of them went into basic training as boys and returned as men. PROUD! PROUD!
Forget the Draft. Why don’t we do what little Israel does. Every able bodied man or woman serves two years automatically. Here in the U.S. every high school graduate or of age eighteen serve two years of discipline in the military. Following that the person could decide whether to stay in or leave. I think then the young people would have more respect for our country. Any religious reason such as the Amish have would be exempt.
I was drafted into the Army in WW II. I’m 90 remember. I don’t think it will come back but who knows. I asked my son, Mark, about this CASP. I had never heard of it. He told me that a boy from the Belle Center Amish Community had just gotten home last week from a month long period of service with CASP at Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina.
Mark said that the Amish Steering Committee ( a committee of Amish bishops) had met with the Selective Service Aministration concerning a draft. The SSA told them that in the future there would be no blanket exemptions for Amish or Mennonites as CO’s. Also, only those churches that had previously established volunteer service projects would be cnsidered as viable CO projcts. Mark said that the Amish don’t want their young men involved in the government sponsoed CO projects, anymore. Previously in the Viet Nam and other wars they served in hospitals, etc. as orederlies. This took Amish boys out of the Amish comunity, away from Amish superviion and placed them in big cty environments. Working in hospitals, especially, these boys were in daily contact with non-Amish, especially non-Amish females like nurses, etc. There were many that were never able to make the transision back to Amish life after their term of service was over. The Amish don’t want that happening, again. CASP provide service projects that remain under the authority and supervision of the Amish church.
A bit off the topic (sorry!), but Don, just saw what you said about WWII.
Thank you for your service to and protection of our country. Thank you.
Sorry about typing
I just read my post and I surely had a lot of typos. I’m sorry but my 90 year old hands are getting more and more stiff and arthritic. Mark sent away and got me some shirts that have velcro under the fake buttons because it’s getting so hard for me to button my shirts. Oh well. “What can’t be cured must be endured.”
Thanks for asking Mark, Don. I really had never thought of this topic before. I can certainly see how the community wouldn’t want their impressionable youth away from home for an extended amount of time, especially amongst “wordly” things. The CASP seems to be a wonderful alternative for them.
I really appreciate your comments. I feel as if I know you and Mark even though we’ve never met. No need to apologize for typos. I make them even in my 30’s! Thanks again for contributing to this insightful blog.
You are doing just fine Don Curtis.
I think your posts are just fine. Every time I see something that you post I have to stop and remember … this man is 90 years old! Just to do what you do is a major accomplishment in my eyes.
My mom is 92 years old and has Alzheimer’s, but long before she was diagnosed with that dreaded disease she wanted to learn how to use a PC. My sister got one for her and set her up on the internet etc, but she just wasn’t able to learn how to use it. That was probably 12 years ago or more. I would go over and try to help her get started, but she just couldn’t grasp what she needed to know to even log on. I would be disappointed that I wasn’t able to show her how to use it, but a friend put it in perspective for me; this is a woman that grew up with Model T Fords and learned to drive in a Model A … the fact that she was even interested in trying to learn how to use PC is amazing. So if you make a typo or two, don’t worry. We all just hope that we are doing ½ as well as you are when we are that age!
Oh, and thanks to you as well for your WWII service. I often wonder if the current generation could repeat what your generation did. I think our soldiers probably are up to the task, but I am not sure our nation would stand for app. 10,000 casualties in a single day like occurred on D Day. I think our citizens just had more resolve back then than we have today. I also think that if Hitler were alive today we would all just have to learn how to speak German pretty darn quick.
I find this conversation on a site dedicated to the Amish both interesting and disturbing.
The Anabaptists as a whole (Amish, Mennonite, Brethren) have pretty consistently held a non-violent/non-resistant stance since the 16th century. I guess I’m surprised that those who show an interest in the Amish have suxh an “english” view. I am a great-grandson, a grandson, a son of veterans, my son and stepson are also vets. I am a vet, I left the USMC after 15 years, and a Conscientious Objector.
The only way that an individual an receive CO status is by approval of their local draft board. Recruiters only exist to put bodies in the service. The last thing you would want them to determine is if someone rated a CO status, because there would never be any. It is hard enough in many places to get CO status because the Draft Board doesn’t believe in it. Also, other Christians, and other religions, outside of the traditional Peace Churches (Amish, Mennonite, Brethren, Society of Friends) are consistently denied CO status because that is not the traditional position of their church.
Amish for all the wrong reasons?
I was raised Quaker and solidly behind the peace testimony. I am no longer a Quaker, but to have a son of mine take up a weapon against another human being would be devastating.
This is but one of many issues that has my husband and I wondering about the future for our family. Another issue we will soon have to grapple with is mandatory healthcare, as we have chosen to opt out. We feel similarly about all types of insurance, although I do think that mandatory car insurance is reasonable, since you put others at risk any time you drive a car. Thank goodness we can choose to home school, rather than put our children in public schools.
What do you do when you have a strong, faith-based conscience against these things, but no church to support you, and no label to write on a religious exemption form?
I had a conversation with an Amish lady yesterday about what happens when and “English” person tries to join their church. Wow. What an insurmountable cultural barrier! It seems that their prejudices turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy against the seeker. Otherwise, we might be the next to try.
Hi Naomi Wilson,
What you wrote piqued my interest:
“I had a conversation with an Amish lady yesterday about what happens when and “English” person tries to join their church. Wow. What an insurmountable cultural barrier! It seems that their prejudices turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy against the seeker.”
“It seems that their prejudices turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy against the seeker.”
Would you mind elaborating on that? I don’t have an opinion one way or the other, I’m only interested. Just wanted to hear more about what the Amish lady said that made you feel that way. Thanks!
Lattice, hopefully I can give a quick but fair answer. My interpretation of what she said was this: Have you ever paid attention to how people in our culture (I think women especially) tend to have extremely affected behaviors? Like exaggerating a reaction, or dramatizing a past conversation, or briefly assuming an accent? I believe this is a result of constant media saturation. Constantly being around “fake” personas.
Anyways, this Amish lady was talking about this phenomenon, and saying that every woman she has known who has tried to join the Amish, was so different in all mannerisms, both speech and gesture, and ways of relating to people, that the other Amish women considered every potential convert to be “off,” “not right,” perhaps mentally “unhinged.” The idea of letting an outsider in seems to be deeply abhorrent to them. Apparently this community has only had terribly negative experiences in dealing with those who have tried to join from outside. I asked her if there had ever been any successful converts, and she said yes, but not for several decades. That the cultural gulf has just gotten too wide in recent years. To some, her words might have sounded downright hateful. I was grateful for her apparent honesty.
Naomi, yes, that is amazing that she was so candid with you. She must feel very comfortable around you (says a lot about you!).
Thanks so much for explaining her response. I recognize exactly what she is talking about, and for the most part, couldn’t agree more.
The rare Amish person who for whatever reason developed an animated, loud, or humorous personality, despite attempts by parents/others to tame it, definitely stands out. When others refer to them, there seems to be a tone of exasperation. They kind of smile and shake their heads when talking about them, but you surely don’t detect any evidence of “respect.”
Thanks again for responding 🙂
Maybe we are thinking of different personality types, but my take is different on this one Lattice. I’ve more often than not found the knowing smile along with warmth when I hear other Amish talk about the talkative folks and personalities in their communities. I guess I’ve seen more appreciation for those unavoidable differences in people in the Amish circles I’ve been in.
Erik, the perspective I got was so different from the dominant perspective on this blog, of Amish willing to share their culture, at least to a limited extent with outsiders. I was told that “we” (I’m not sure if this means one family, many or most community members, or the entire community) would never consider allowing a non Amish person to eat a meal in their house. That this would (and has in the past) opened up huge problems.
Wow, that doesn’t sound too inviting Naomi. I’m not totally surprised some may be like that…I have met some downright mean Amish people before, though they were usually the exceptions to the rule (except in one or two communities where the cold shoulder was probably more the rule than the exception).
I can certainly sympathize with how this type of perspective might develop. On the other hand, sadly, it is neglecting one of the primary Christian teachings. People everywhere have their flaws. I intend to gently pursue this relationship. Thanks so much for what you share through this website.
I’m glad to hear that, Erik. I wonder, too, if it has something to do with the way women communicate together vs the way men do.
I don’t think there will be a problem. I am a Conscientious Objector and I was drafted many years ago. I wanted to serve my country, but not as a solder. Even as a medic, you were still required to go through “killing training” so to me the service was out. Fortunatly the Quakers (well know for human rights) had lawyers to help anyone in this situation. With the elimination of the draft they haven’t been active in recent years, but Amish, Quakers, Mennonites, or anyone can seek help through one of the Quaker organizations. My draft board didn’t know what to do with me. Finally at one of the meeting they said “why don’t you join the Peace Corp”. They apparently didn’t know that the Peace Corp was not considered an alternative to being a solder. Don’t ask me why. My wife and I had talked about the Peace Corp, so we joined and I never heard from the draft board again. Amen to that.
This was a most interesting post. In The Budget I read quite
often of young people doing service work through CASP. I was glad to learn more about CASP through Erik’s information and Mark’s information via Don about CASP’s history.
I’m surprised that Canada does not have a larger Amish population because of the country’s attitude toward military service. To my knowledge, at present, military service is voluntary. This was not always the case, in the First World War Canada enacted conscription, but it was short lived and unanimously unpopular, particularly among the politically important “solitude” of the Province of Quebec, so much so that conscription might have been considered later, but service was left voluntary after WW1. As an option conscription might be on the books, but it is not likely a political hot potato that governing or opposition parties would want to toss about.
There is a history of conscientious objection in Canada, and people serving in alternate methods. People have been “detained” also in this country, as in the USA, but that’s not what this post is about, but, I think we ought to be honest, people like the Amish have both been criticized in the history of the country and found alternative methods of service over the years.
I don’t think that Canada will conscript or draft people for future conflicts, and so the Amish will probably find a haven here in Canada if there is future changes in places like the United States.
they will only move to canada if they can get CHEAP land there as they do here in the U.S. ! and they will probably complain about the taxes they pay while getting the benefits of living there! maybe canada will have a better immigration policy than the U.S. so they will not be a drain on resources that ILLegals do in the U.S. BLESSINGS!
Reading over these comments really got me to thinking about the topic. My parents were Amish untill I was around 9 years old I was raised in the “Amish Culture” (most of my memories are from that time), Pennsylvainia Dutch is my mother tongue, and I’m around Amish daily so I know what is important or has the biggest priority to the majority of Amish.
I have read of people getting CO status in past drafts, yet inwardly they were cowards shrinking from percieved doom. Because of this I believe draft boards will be increasingly sly and crafty to find the real beliefs of an applying CO. Saying all this leads me to my next point. I think that many applying Amish will be rejected of a CO status. I say this because I am around Amish every day (even extended family is all Amish) and I see that most are not COs. They swear, are prejudiced against others, hold tremendous grudges, hate and call each other names…-all signs of Christ being missing from their lives. When I share this I need to include that they are not all that way. You cannot group all people together and say they are the same. There will always be some bad apples in the barrel.
So when the question is asked, “will the Amish face the draft again?” I would say that they will. If I was a recruiter, I would definetely look into the matter. I am a CO and honestly if my beliefs are just a cloak to keep from being sent off to fight, then I sincerely hope that I would never be granted a CO status.
In the end, it is not about your family history or your affiliation. It comes down to what you truly believe!
I don’t think the draft will come back as long as enough Baby Boomers with memories of the Vietnam debacle are around to vote against it. I am sympathetic towards the Amish view on nonviolence and it is one that I share and I believe no one should be made to do what is against their religious beliefs. But for the vast majority of non-Amish youth, I would support the idea of the U.S.A. adopting an Israeli-style system of military service.. two years compulsory and then you opt in or opt out. The people and the military are getting extremely estranged from each other as the military becomes a caste- sons, grandsons etc. all serving in a hereditary occupation- and few today have any idea of what it takes to belong to and protect a nation. Also the current Army ads are blatantly marketed to those who most need what the army can provide.. the vulnerable and poorest.
I see so much urban violence in the news.. young people in the streets killing each other or killing innocents caught in the crossfire. The military would be a good place for these people as a model to show them discipline, adult values, and the real cost of taking a life.
BTW, I had a Quaker cousin who spent about 6 months in prison as a CO. It was a shame since he could have been much more productive out in society. He later edited a book written by John F. Kennedy.
I certainly understand how hard it would be to insure the sincerity of someone claiming to be a CO. If it had not been an issue for the military draft, it wouldn’t really have mattered. Is it so hard to believe that some of us just would not take another human life even if it meant ours might be taken? A re-visit of the Northhill Amish Massacre posted May 3, 2011 may be in order.
I was in high school during the Viet Nam war era, and I remember (in my Catholic, all-girls high school) seeing girls break down into tears when their boyfriends got a low # in the draft—an almost certain trip to ‘Nam and a very uncertain future. I was thankful when the war and draft ended. Not too much later, our son was born, and I knew that if the draft ever involved him, I’d willingly go to live in Canada with him—I’d never felt this strongly before I became a mother!
I’d have to agree with the idea of old men sending young men to war/to die. I am hoping my grandchildren survive to know what a world run by (primarily) females will bring—I can only hope, peace & less bloodshed (again, the influence of motherhood on survival instincts.)
I respect all who have fought & died for this country. I would only hope they were proud they did, and that it would give comfort to their loved ones knowing their sacrifice was willingly chosen. I have such mixed feelings, I can only pray to accept them and try to live in peace, myself.
Some sort of mandatory community service after high school (as mentioned here), especially far removed from one’s family & familiar surroundings, would be good for most of us. So many teens are so needing to find guidance, and I feel this would be a help to them and society in general.
amish-military-draft/ what about women?
Back in the 1970s there was a lawsuit brought by feminists who wanted women in combat. The Supreme Court at that time said NO to women in combat because Congress had specifically barred women from combat zones.
Whether by legislation or going around the law, the present government has been sending women into these zones. If there is a future draft (which many Democrats are pushing for because they feel there will be fewer wars if all classes of society must participate), it is likely that women will be drafted as well since they now go into combat zones. Where a husband and wife are both in the military they are already deploying both people, forcing any children to be cared for by grandparents.
Have the Conservative churches given any thought to what they will do if women are drafted?
Paula in PA
mother of a daughter
Eight Amish young men from Nappanee, Indiana are restoring historic cabins in Maryland this month via the “Indiana Amish Anabaptist Service Program”: