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How the U.S. Draft Works

        Culture | Elections

Conscientious Objectors
During the Vietnam War, many young pacifists pursued conscientious objector status to stay out of the war. Conscientious objectors and other anti-war activists held regular demonstrations in protest of the Untied States' actions.
During the Vietnam War, many young pacifists pursued conscientious objector status to stay out of the war. Conscientious objectors and other anti-war activists held regular demonstrations in protest of the Untied States' actions.
Photo courtesy NARA

­A­s we saw in the last section, conscientious objectors are eligible men who are opposed to serving in a war because it is against their deeply held moral or religious beliefs. The government has two main classifications for conscientious objectors:

  • Classification 1-A-O - Men who are morally opposed to serving in combat
  • Classification 1-O - Men who are morally opposed to serving the military in any capacity

­In­ a draft, men classified as 1-A-O would be assigned to military service not involving combat or weaponry. Men classified as 1-O would be assigned to the alternative service program run by the SSS. This program assigns conscientious objectors to work with local employers in fields that would contribute to the nation's well-being. Men in the alternative service program might assist in health care, education, conservation or a number of other areas.

A man can only be reclassified as a conscientious objector if he demonstrates that his opposition to war is based on moral, ethical or religious beliefs, not on political beliefs. The man must be opposed to all war, not only the specific war at hand.

There are a number of ways for a man to persuade the board of his beliefs. First of all, he would have to explain his convictions, and how these feelings affect his life, in a detailed written statement. When he appeared before the board, he would answer any questions they might have. Most likely, he would ask several friends or acquaintances to report their impressions of him, either in person or in writing. He could also present historical evidence of his beliefs, such as membership in an anti-war organization or church dedicated to peace. Ideally, he would show that he had held these beliefs before he received a notice of induction.

If the board members were convinced of his sincerity, they would reclassify him, and the SSS or military would assign him to appropriate duty. If the board decided not to reclassify him, they would notify him of their reasons for denial. At this point, he may have the opportunity to appeal the decision, based on the board's direction.

Both conscientious objectors and drafted troops are required to spend a set period of time, called the tour of duty, in active service. Most likely, the tour of duty in a national emergency would be two years, but the president and congress could change this.

Draft reinstatement is always a possibility in any time of military crisis. To find out more about the draft, including the history of conscription, check out the links on the next page.


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