By Richard Mammana

William Appleton Lawrence (1889-1968), the author of this article, was third Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, serving from 1937 to 1957. A grandson of William Lawrence, Bishop of Massachusetts from 1893 to 1927, he was educated at Harvard College and Harvard Divinity School. Lawrence served on the Episcopal Church’s Joint Commission on Conscientious Objectors (JCCO) from 1943 to 1946. The other members of the JCCO were Theodore Russell Ludlow, C. Leslie Glenn, John Wallace Suter, Franklin L. Baumer, and George M. Dallas.

The House of Bishops or the General Convention have examined the question of conscientious objection to military service in 1916, 1922, 1928, 1931, 1934, 1940, 1943, 1952, 1962, 1964, 1967, 1968, 1973, 1976, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1988, and 1991. Today the Episcopal Church maintains a Registrar of Conscientious Objectors.

In my transcription of this article, I have retained some peculiarities of reference and punctuation that are different from today’s style. I also maintain the then-current initialism CO for “conscientious objector,” but I have edited out a contemporary racially offensive term for Japanese persons and replaced it with the word “Japanese” in brackets.



“The Contribution of the Conscientious Objector”

By William Appleton Lawrence

From The Living Church (June 2, 1946), pp. 7-8.

The editor of The Living Church has suggested that I give some background and “human interest” stories as an introduction to the formal report of the Joint Commission on Conscientious Objectors, as set up by the General Convention in 1943. This I am more than glad to do.

One of the great satisfactions has been the personal contact with these hundred or more young men of our Church who have had the courage of their convictions to stand up for what they believed was right, in spite of general public disapproval and personal hardship. It is not easy to meet prejudice with understanding, criticism with constructive action, and they have often been thwarted by the limitations placed upon them. Eager to do foreign service in relief and reconstruction in dangerous places, this was early refused them. After a time, however, they were given opportunity to serve as “guinea pigs” in government experimental research. The New York Times of January, 1945, reports that one of the most important medical discoveries that had been made during the war came out of experiments in which conscientious objectors volunteered. Other experiments included those for atypical pneumonia, influenza, cancer diets, and clothing for cold and tropical climates; on the effects and efficiency in very restricted diets; of drinking ocean water; of exposure at sea, in which men were moored on a raft off shore, etc. One man lost his life in an experiment on infantile paralysis, and many will carry the effects of the experiments through their lives.

Other CO’s who have served in many mental hospitals have done such fine, creative work that Dr. George F. Stevens, director of the National Committee on Mental Hygiene, not only expresses deep gratitude for what they have done, but goes on to say, “I am confidently hopeful that their experience in our field will endure beyond the war and extend into the communities where problems, and the opportunity to do something about them, first appear.” This prediction has already proved true, for out of it has come the formation of the National Mental Health Foundation, of which Justice Owen J. Roberts has consented to be national chairman.

Their Work in Hospitals

I remember visiting a mental hospital, and seeing one of our men with a face pretty well mashed up still serving on the ward. I asked him about it, and was told that he had been beaten by two patients the night before. One man lost his life in this way. That it was a dangerous occupation might well be shown by the statistics from Byberry Hospital, just outside of Philadelphia, where many of our men served. It is a hospital with a standard capacity of 3,400, but instead there are 6,100 confined in it. The American Psychiatric Association calls for 879 attendants at Byberry, the hospital budget allows for 486, but actually there are only 180, only 16% of the number actually needed. When one considers that these 180 attendants have to be scattered over three shifts, we discover that from 2:00 to 11:00 P.M. there are 211 patients to each attendant. I admit I was apprehensive as I walked through the wards. Pictures and articles recently released through Life and P.M. were due, I believe, to the instigation of this National Health Foundation, which is working hard to arouse the conscience of the public to the really shocking conditions of which only a few are aware.

Civilian Public Service

Some of the conscientious objectors entered the Fire Jumping Unit in the Northwest, and the story was told of a fire where Civilian Public Service men, convicts from a state penitentiary, and men from army units near by, were all thrown together into the fire line in the emergency. One wore the insignia of a Purple Heart, and upon inquiry told of the wounds received while accounting for 53 [Japanese]. A co-worker, one of the prisoners, scratched his head and with a wry smile replied, “I killed a [Japanese], too, but I guess it was out of season.” And the CO added, “If you think that is funny, let me add that I’m here because I refused to kill [Japanese].” And all three went on fighting the fire together.

One of our men (a brother of one of those who with radar “shot the moon”) served first in a CPS camp; got assigned to geodetic survey work in New Mexico, where he did fine work, but was deeply disturbed by the death of some of his friends overseas. He decided as a result that he would enter the noncombatant service of the Army; was transferred, put into a hospital corps, and served faithfully until he was told he would have to carry arms because the [Japanese] were no respecters of even the stretcher-bearers. He had entered the army on the condition that he would not have to bear arms (and of course the Geneva Convention provides that stretcher-bearers should not do so). He tried, therefore, through various channels, to get transferred back to Civilian Public Service. When his last appeal was finally refused, he decided that the only alternative was to disobey a simple order, which happened to be to carry some bread from one part of the camp to another. He was duly court-martialed and given ten years. This was later reduced to five years when his case was reviewed, but he had to go to prison for several months, until through the influence of some of us outside who got together on the matter, we finally succeeded in getting him transferred back to CPS, where he again served faithfully.

The Episcopal Church had only 15 men in the federal penitentiaries, but it is significant to note that a year ago, every sixth man in a federal prison was there not because he had fallen below the standards of his fellowmen and was dangerous, but because of the very keenness of his conscience, which made him unwilling to kill his fellowmen just because they were of different nationality. It is also distressing to discover that COs in general received longer sentences than ordinary draft violators who were trying to escape from the law, and also had limitations placed upon their probation which did not apply to others. Many of them were serving a second time for the same offense, and one was serving a third term, in spite of the principle of a man not being subject to “double jeopardy.” On a trip to Washington, I had an interesting conference with Mr. Bennett, at that time in charge of all federal penitentiaries. He is himself the son of an Episcopal clergyman, and was most understanding and cooperative.

That these men have real promise for the future is clear by the fact that one in ten plan to go into some sort of religious work after the war, and that, before the war two-fifths had been in professional occupations (compare that, if you will, with the Army and Navy). One of them won the Pulitzer Prize in 1944. One-fifth were in skilled trades, and one-tenth were students when inducted. The educational level was extremely high. In one large camp, 84% of the men were high school graduates, 34% had graduated from college, and 20% had completed one or more years of graduate, study.

Tribute of the Army to the Work of the CO’s

In the Army Medical Corps, one of “Merrill’s Marauders” was called by his captain “the bravest man I’ve ever seen.” Men of the 77th Division on Okinawa hailed a CO as their most courageous comrade. One of the men, Desmond Doss, received the Congressional Medal of Honor, and one of them gained wide publicity by using the barrel of his fountain-pen to keep open a soldier’s torn throat and so saved his life.

We have faith to believe that these men who, unable in clear conscience to render military service, took their stand as did Luther — saying, “God helping me, I can do no other” — stand in a great tradition, and will be heard from in the days to come.

There were many men in the army who had great respect for CO’s. The treasurer of the Commission received a letter from a soldier in Germany, who enclosed a money order, and added, “I, too, would have been an objector if I were brave enough to stand up to the jeers of the people I would meet all the days of my life. Instead, I chose the easy way, face the enemy for a few months, and then it will be all over. I actually wish I had the faith that these men have. My hat goes off to them.”

Then there was the marine who, all through the war, sent his contribution of $30.00 per month to pay for his brother in a CO camp.

I mention all this to show that, whereas we can well be grateful for the self-sacrificing service of those who served in the armed forces, we may also be thankful to these men who gave over 4,498,701 total man hours (up to last December) in various capacities, at no cost to the government, and without the protection of insurance or benefit for themselves or their families. At the rate of the army base pay of $50 per month, they gave the government $8,639,800 in vital services.

Richard Mammana is archivist of the Living Church Foundation.

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