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Matters of Conscience

People join the military for a variety of reasons — to serve their country, to get money for college, to carry on a family tradition of military service, to have a steady job when there are few other opportunities. Often it’s a combination of reasons.

Hardly anyone joins out of a desire to kill people. But killing people and destroying things is what the military is organized to do.

That reality hits home when a new recruit goes to basic training or boot camp. One of the main goals of the training is to rid recruits of any resistance they have to killing other human beings. Recruits are immersed in the idea of killing. The military wants to make them ready and willing to kill, without question, when ordered to do so.

For many people in training, this is deeply troubling. As one Marine recruit wrote us from boot camp:

“Everything that the DIs have taught is killing. They say that we’re in the killing business. I never thought of it that way, and when I do it makes me feel bad. . . . I’m gonna be in aviation, but even though I won’t be killing, I’ll be helping someone else do it. And that makes me an accomplice in a way.”

It’s a conflict of values — recruits are made to suppress their own and adopt the military’s.

Trainees who experience this conflict often become depressed, anxious, or homesick and may develop various physical ailments as well. They may not have a word for it yet, but many are beginning to formulate a conscientious objection to what they are being trained to do. They are becoming conscientious objectors (COs) to war and the military.

Many kinds of experiences in the military can lead people to question what they are doing, and to conscientious objection. Some soldiers become conscientious objectors after being deployed and experiencing war firsthand. They often see the war as pointless and needlessly brutal, and no longer want any part of it.

Conscientious objectors can obtain a discharge from the military, though the process of applying for it and having the application approved can sometimes be difficult. GI rights counselors have helped many through the process.

Military service is highly esteemed in our country, so feeling that it’s not for you or that you are in conflict with military values can be extremely unsettling. We at RCNV can help people in this situation sort through their thoughts and articulate their principles. And, if it’s appropriate, we can help them put together a CO application that meets the requirements and can be approved for a discharge. Call us.

Information on conscientious objector discharges can be found here:

GI Rights Hotline
877-447-4487 toll-free, nationwide
or 831-316-5367 for the RCNV counseling group
girightshotline.org