Country report and updates: United States of America

Last revision: 27 May 1998
27 May 1998
27/05/1998

1 Conscription

conscription not enforced

The United States Constitution does not address military conscription. [9]

Compulsory military service is addressed in the Military Selective Service Act, which requires all males between the ages of 18 and 26 to register for compulsory military service (50 App. U.S.C., par. 453). The US Congress has the right to introduce compulsory military service for those registered if they think the national security necessitates forces greater than the regular armed forces (par. 451(d)). [9]

The right of the government to raise and maintain an army, including the right to conscript, has been recognized and upheld by the courts. While military service presently is voluntary, all 18-year-old youth are required to register with the Selective Service System, the civilian agency charged with conducting a military draft when required by law. The Military Selective Service Act provides for military conscription.

recruitment

Enlistment in the armed forces is allowed from the age of 17.

Although enlistment in the armed forces is voluntary, the number of people from the lower social-economic classes in the armed forces is disproportionally high. In the US peace movement this is referred to as 'the poverty draft'. Likewise, the number of coloured people in the armed forces is also disproportionally high. Recent reports indicate that this trend is changing. The number of young black men who consider a full-time career in the armed forces has declined with 59 percent since 1989. The number of young white men considering such a career has also dropped, but only by 19 percent. [11]

2 Conscientious objection

legal right

There is no provision for conscientious objection to the compulsory military registration, but should Congress decide to call up conscripts for compulsory military service, they have the right conscientious objection as prescribed by Section 6(j) of the Military Selective Service Act, which states: "nothing contained in this title shall be construed to require any person to be subject to combatant training and service in the Armed Forces of the United States who, by reason of religious training and belief, is conscientiously opposed to participation in war in any form." [2] [8]

Military personnel who develop a conscientious objection to military service may apply for reassignment to non-combatant duties or discharge from the Armed Forces under Department of Defense Directive 1300.6. [8] [9] [7]

This Directive sets out the full procedure for achieving CO status. CO status is only granted to a CO "who is conscientiously opposed to participation in war in any form; whose opposition is found on religious training and belief; and whose position is sincere and deeply held."

The final decision on the application is taken by the headquarters of the military service concerned. [7]

practice

Before the 1990 Gulf War started, some 2,000 military personnel were granted CO status.

During this war the right to conscientious objection was suppressed. Of those who refused to serve and announced they were COs, 42 were imprisoned at Camp Lejeune, some of them charged with 'desertion in wartime'. They were released at the end of 1992. [4] [6]

3 Draft evasion and desertion

penalties

Refusing to register for compulsory military service is punishable by up to 5 years' imprisonment and a USD 250,000 fine. Moreover, those who fail to register are denied federal financial aid for education and for job training. [2] [3]

Desertion is punishable under art. 85 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (10 U.S.C. para. 885). In peacetime desertion may be punished by up to five years' imprisonment, if the desertion was intended to avoid hazardous or important duties. Otherwise, the maximum penalty is three years' imprisonment or two years' if the deserter voluntarily returns to the military. The penalty for desertion may also include dishonourable discharge from the armed forces and forfeiture of all pay and allowances. [9]

practice

In the early 1980s more than a million resisted the military registration, but only some 20 were prosecuted. Their sentences ranged from a year's community service to three years' imprisonment, no-one actually serving more than 5 months in prison. Nowadays non-registrants are denied federal financial aid for education and for job training, and are barred from federal government employment. [2] [3]

5 History

Conscription ended on 1 July 1973 following the end of the Vietnam war and the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam. The registration for the draft ended in 1975. The draft registration system was set up again in 1980 under the President Carter administration. [1] [2] [5]

6 Annual statistics

In 1997 the armed forces were 1,447,600 strong - about 0.54 percent of the population. [10]

Between 1983 and 1988 on average 175 CO applications were approved annually. [5]

Sources

[1] UN Commission on Human Rights 1980. Report by the Secretary-General. United Nations, Geneva. [2] Mager, Andy 1988. United States Report to International Conscientious Objectors' Meeting (ICOM). War Resisters' League, New York. [3] NISBCO 1990. Who is a Conscientious Objector? leaflet, November 1990. NISBCO, Washington DC. [4] War Resisters League 1991. Letter to WRL members, June 1991. WRL, New York. [5] Moskos, C.C., J.W. Chambers II 1993. The New Conscientious Objection, from sacred to secular resistance. Oxford University Press, New York/Oxford. [6] Abecassis, L., P. Duong, S. Perrier, N. Watt, 1994. Conscription Militaire ou Service National a Option Civique, rapport de l'enquête préliminaire effectuée auprès d'une vingtaine d'Etats membres de l'UNESCO. CCIVS - UNESCO, Paris. [7] UN Commission on Human Rights 1994. Report of the Secretary-General prepared pursuant to Commission resolution 1993/84 (and Addendum). United Nations, Geneva. [8] Toney, R.J. 1996. Military Service, Alternative Social Service, and Conscientious Objection in the Americas: A Brief Survey of Selected Countries. NISBCO, Washington DC, USA. [9] US Department of Defense, Office of General Counsel 1996. Response to CONCODOC questionnaire, 3 September 1996. [10] Institute for Strategic Studies 1997. Military Balance 1997/98. ISS, London, UK. [11] McHugh, Jane 1996. 'Young, gifted, black - but not in the army', in: Army Times, 20 May 1996.

Recent stories on conscientious objection: United States of America

13 Apr 2016

A story that we missed a few months ago, but that we think is well worth sharing!

KnowDrones, a campaigning group working to ban drones, placed an advert in the Air Force Times on September 14, 2015, which carried a message from 54 U.S. military veterans urging U.S. drone operators to refuse orders to fly drone surveillance and attack missions.

20 Nov 2015

Return to Conscientious Objection: A Practical Companion for Movements

Wendy Barranco was born in south central Mexico in 1985. At the age of four, she migrated to the United States 'illegally'. She was then raised in Los Angeles, California, and at the age of 17, joined the United States Army. She was later deployed on so called 'Operation Iraqi Freedom' and honourably discharged upon her return home. While at college, she encountered Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and has since served as a chapter president with them, organising events to raise awareness about the true cost of war, troops' right to heal, and GI resistance, as well as demanding an immediate end to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Elected to the organisation's board of directors, she has served as national chair. Today, she is an activist on womyn’s rights, military sexual trauma, migrant rights, workers' rights, antimilitarism, and anti-imperialism. She writes about these here.

As a woman veteran, my three years of service in the United States Army as a combat medic and my deployment to Iraq is constantly questioned and met with faces of disbelief. It is no novelty that we, women, exist in patriarchal, misogynistic, and sexist societies, constantly 'surprising' individuals as to our capabilities for thousands of years. While we may not be properly valued, respected, and understood, we continue to play key roles in a variety of settings, including the peace and antimilitarist movements. While rich men wage war, we traditionally supply its lifeline of blood and bodies from our wombs. As the producers of the casualties of war in this way, women have often been a crucial and revolutionary factor in attaining peace for we often have the most to lose; many of us have skin in the game. Even if we do not have skin in the game however, we do have game changing insights about the sexist workings of the war machine. Without us, and without listening to us, the peace and antimilitarist movements will remain ignorant of these and be the weaker for it.

23 Jun 2015

"The New Absolutist" by Suzanne Williams forms a chapter in CJ Hinke's new book about war resisters in prison, forthcoming from Trine-Day in Spring 2016. (He welcomes suggestion for a title!). CJ was the last person arrested for the Vietnam draft and lives in Thailand where he has co-founded the Nonviolent Conflict Workshop (NVCW) to teach the tactics of Gene Sharp and develop new ones. See https://prisonwarresisters.wordpress.com.

By Suzanne Williams

[Editor’s Note. Suzanne Williams was born on November 4, 1943 in Evanston, Illinois. On September 11, 1968, she was arrested for “damage to government property” and defended herself before the Federal District Court in Boston. She was sentenced to six months to six years indeterminate under the Youth Corrections Act for pouring black paint over the files of Selective Service System Local Board #30 in the Customs House in Boston. Suzi acted with poet/activist Francis Thomas (Assunta) Femia, a former Catholic brother.

20 Mar 2015

The European Court of Justice: Having published its preliminary ruling, what is the next move?

by Rudi Friedrich

On February 26, 2015, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), having been asked by the Munich Administrative Court (Verwaltungsgericht) to submit a decision on U.S. AWOL soldier André Shepherd’s request for asylum, published its preliminary ruling. As many media observers now believe that Mr Shepherd’s prospects of being granted asylum status are very remote, Rudi Friedrich from Connection e.V. has now summarized his initial thoughts on whether pessimism is indeed justified and what ramifications the court's preliminary ruling will have. (ed.)

14 Nov 2014

by Connection e.V. and Pro Asyl

In the legal case of U.S. AWOL soldier André Shepherd (37) the European Court of Justice Advocate General, Eleanor Sharpston, today published her final opinion. This official statement contains guiding deliberations for the interpretation of the so-called Qualification Directive of the European Union.

16 Oct 2013

We were glad to read recently of the declaration of Brandon Toy – a conscientious objector to war work. Previously a soldier, and now a 'defense contractor' with General Dynamics Land Systems, Toy's declaration says 'I have always believed that if every foot soldier threw down his rifle war would end. I hereby throw mine down.'

Brandon's position is a powerful reminder that conscientious objection goes far beyond military service, but can encompass rejection of involvement in war, and preparations for war, at many levels.

12 Apr 2011

The German Federal Bureau of Migration and Refugees denied the
asylum application of US AWOL soldier Andre Shepherd, Connection e.V.
reported. In its negative decision, the Federal Bureau writes, “But
whether the helicopters he maintained and their crews actually
participated in specific illegal actions (contrary to international
law) has neither been stated sufficiently, nor can it be determined
specifically otherwise.

02 Feb 2011

In December 2010, the US House of Representatives and the Senate both voted to repeal the policy of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" (DADT), introduced by then President Bill Clinton in 1993 in relation to gay and lesbian service personnell. US President Obama signed the act on 22 December 2010. Although the bill will not come into force immediately, it is already being praised as a major victory for gays and lesbians in the USA.

05 Jan 2011

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By Stephanie Atkinson

I am not a conscientious objector. I am not someone who has had to defend my beliefs for not participating in war. I am someone who when called upon to participate in a war that I thought was unjustifiable for many reasons, refused to go. I went AWOL (absent without leave) from the US Army in opposition to Operation Desert Storm. I am only a small part of a long continuum of war resisters, but I am proud of the decision I made to refuse.