National commission focuses on strengthening the country’s ability to go to war




Center on Conscience and War is celebrating its 80th anniversary in 2020

Center on Conscience and War is celebrating its 80th anniversary in 2020

Maria Santelli, executive director of the Center on Conscience and War (CCW), provided the following update about the Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. It follows on a statement to the commission by a group of 13 Anabaptist church bodies represented at an Anabaptist Church Consultation on June 4, 2019 (see the Newsline report at www.brethren.org/news/2019/anabaptist-groups-send-joint-letter.html .) The CCW is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, having been created in 1940 by the historic peace churches (Church of the Brethren, Mennonites, and Quakers) as predecessor organizations NSBRO and NISBCO.

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Just as the world began to shut down, the Commission on Military, National, and Public Service released its final report, with 49 detailed recommendations to Congress, and a companion bill, HR 6415, which was introduced last month.

Many of the commission’s recommendations are geared toward improving and increasing civic education and engagement. That’s wonderful. Unfortunately, the majority of its recommendations are focused on preserving and strengthening the country’s ability to go to war, including upholding the apparatus of the draft (the Selective Service System) and extending the draft to include women.

We were very disappointed that the commission rejected expanding protections for conscientious objectors. It was our primary objective to see the commission recommend abolishing the draft and draft registration altogether.

In our one-on-one meetings with the commission and their staff, we made it clear that the best way to protect rights of conscience is to discard any notion that it is acceptable for the government to conscript anyone for war. In the event they would not make that recommendation, we asked them to provide a way for conscientious objectors to make their objection to war known at the time of registration, e.g., a “CO check-off box.” The commission states, on page 102 of its report, that the commission members believe such a box would cause too much “confusion,” and therefore, they did not recommend it.

With respect to requiring women to register for the draft, the commission said this: “That women register, and perhaps be called up in the event of a draft, is a necessary prerequisite for their achieving equality as citizens, as it has been for other groups historically discriminated against in American history” (p. 118). Their argument is not new: it is what we have been hearing for years, since the idea of expanding draft registration to women was first raised in 2016. It is offensive, and it is simply not true.

Women’s equality in the eyes of the law should not be dependent upon their complicity in militarism. Either the law sees all people as equal, regardless of their willingness to support war, or it does not. Unfortunately, it does not: conscientious objectors who were drafted but served an alternative, non-military term of service are denied the benefits and privileges of military veterans. Their inequality is not based on gender, but on religion and belief.

In its three years of deliberation and debate, the commission missed an opportunity. They could have seriously considered concerns like ours and others, who asked them to question our national priorities and what true national security means. Instead, they doubled down on militarism, despite the grim truth a global pandemic has laid bare for all to see: a $738 billion annual military budget is powerless against a deadly and virulent disease.

As long as we prioritize military force over human needs and freedom of religion and belief, true equality under the law will not be possible. As Eisenhower so presciently warned, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”

Instead of upholding the apparatus of the draft, whose purpose the commission affirms is wholly to support our ability to make war, let’s abolish the draft once and for all! There is a bill in Congress now to do just that: HR 5492.

A full analysis of the commission report and recommendations, and the legislation--ours and theirs--will be forthcoming in our next newsletter, “The Reporter for Conscience’ Sake,” due out this spring.

-- Maria Santelli is executive director of the Center on Conscience and War (CCW) based in Washington, D.C. Find out more about the CCW and to sign up to receive “The Reporter for Conscience’ Sake,” go to http://centeronconscience.org .

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