Web resources on the history of conscientious objection

Civilian Public Service (CPS): http://civilianpublicservice.org

This website features the stories and experiences of conscientious objectors in the United States, focusing especially on WWII and the Vietnam War. The main body of the website consists of a wealth of material on WWII and includes two databases:

  • a searchable database of the nearly 12,000 CPS workers
  • a searchable database of the more than 150 CPS camps

Stories, images and primary source documents abound on the website, bringing to light the deep meaning and tensions that surrounded this experiment in honoring the conscience of a minority during a time of war. A significant legacy of the CPS experience in the U.S. is the reform in mental health that arose out of the work of CPSers in state hospitals.

The Story Continues section of the website features the experiences of conscientious objectors (Mennonite, Brethren and Quaker) who served in Vietnam during the war. Video interviews and diary excerpts are a primary feature.

In addition, the site includes stories of the post-WWII Seagoing Cowboys, the American Friends Service Committee’s early work in Gaza, MCC’s bomb removal project in Laos and the GI Rights Hotline’s present-day assistance to conscientious objectors in the U.S. military.

The site is a great tool for families, archivists and students who want to learn more about this rich history of struggle to witness faithfully for peace in a time of war.

Alternative Service in the Second World War: http://www.alternativeservice.ca

For those unfamiliar with conscientious objection and also those wanting to learn more, this website is an excellent resource about the Canadian experience of conscientious objection and alternative service during the Second World War. Created as a teaching tool for use in public schools, it holds a wealth of information of interest to a wide audience. The website, developed by the Mennonite Heritage Centre of Winnipeg, describes how during the Second World War COs sought to serve their country in a way that was congruent with their faith. It engages the tough questions that a skeptic or a person first learning about conscientious objection might raise.

The website uses a wealth of secondary and primary sources to tell the stories of individual COs. Primary sources include letters, photos, newspaper clippings and audio-recordings. Visitors to the website are invited to add names to the incomplete list of COs provided.

The website also describes the work performed by COs as their alternative service, such as tree-planting, fire-fighting, farm labour and work in hospitals and mental institutions. It evaluates the impact and ongoing legacy of this work and demonstrates how many COs chose a life-time of service.

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