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JAMA Revisited
May 15, 2018

The Conscientious Objector

JAMA. 2018;319(19):2047. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.12380

Originally Published May 15, 1943 | JAMA. 1943;122(3):178- 179.

The term conscientious objector came into use in the first world war, although reference to the problem appears in Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” The Mennonites were exempted from military service in the Netherlands in 1575. In the United States, members of some religious denominations were exempted from general military service during the Civil War. At the commencement of the first world war there were in the United States, according to Hoag,1 about 300,000 males classified as conscientious objectors. About 30 per cent of these were of military age. In June 1918 the Surgeon General’s Office sent out to various camps a special form for examination of conscientious objectors. May,2 in his report to the Office of the Surgeon General, presented the then available information concerning the intelligence, education, grounds of objection and social and political history of conscientious objectors. The report covered twenty camps and represented about 1,000 objectors.... At least 97 per cent of the men had sufficient intelligence to know what they were doing. About 50 per cent were Mennonites; less than 10 per cent of these went beyond the eighth grade.... The grounds of objection were, in general, three: religious, social and political. The religious objector makes his appeal to the Bible, church creed and to conscience, the social objector to individual freedom; the political objector usually bases his objection on the ground of alien citizenship.