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During the Vietnam War period, 1960-73, in the United States 171,000 draft-age men were granted the conscientious objector (CO) classification by the Selective Service System. A larger number, approximately 500,000, had decisions made about the validity of their CO claims. Selective Service officials stated that they do not have a record of how many men filed claims for a CO classification during the Vietnam War period. Including those disqualified for health or other reasons, it is estimated that as many as one million draft-age youth were CO claimants, the largest proportion in any United States war in the 20th century. The total male population of draftable age during the Vietnam War was 27 million.

Selective Service calculations state that 250,000 were nonregistrants during the Vietnam war period. An additional 325,000 draft-law violators existed, but the data is not available to indicate how many of these were COs under the legal definition. The vast majority of Mennonites drafted during the Vietnam War utilized their legal option, alternative civilian service, to avoid military induction. More than 50 draft-age Mennonite men took steps of noncooperation with the Selective Service System for reasons of conscience, some going to Canada, others going to prison for refusing to register with Selective Service.

A statement adopted by the Mennonite Church (MC) in 1969, and a similar statement adopted by the General Conference Mennonite Church in 1971, recognized the validity of noncooperation as a legitimate witness and pledged to support these young men even in their difficult circumstances.

Amnesty for draft resisters and military resisters was sought by scores of organizations and church bodies following the Vietnam War, as a means of "binding up the wounds" of that divisive war. It was not to be. The legislation introduced to enact a full amnesty proved also to be divisive in the larger American society.

President Gerald Ford introduced in September 1974 a clemency program to restore certain civil rights, with the conditions that participants take an oath of allegiance and perform alternative civilian service as the components of "earned re-entry." The clemency program ended as a failure 31 March 1975, six months after it began. Only 24,847 of the 124,515 eligible applied for the program. Considered punitive, it was rejected by 82 percent of the resisters who had moved to Canada or Europe. An MCC Peace Section statement, "A Christian Declaration on Amnesty" was adopted in January 1973.

The United States Supreme Court decisions of Welsh versus United States (1970) and US. versus Seeger (1965) addressed two longstanding issues affecting COs. The Welsh decision broadened the criteria for the CO classification. These criteria had previously insisted on deeply held religious beliefs. The Welsh decision specified "deeply held moral and ethical convictions" as the criteria for conscientious objector status. U.S. versus Sisson (29 June 1970) held that to qualify as a CO, the registrant must be opposed to participation in all wars, i.e., cannot be a selective objector.

See also Church-State Relations


Baskir, Lawrence and William A. Strauss. Chance and Circumstance: The Draft, The War and the Vietnam Generation. New York: Knopf, 1978.

Miller, Melissa and Phil M. Shenk. The Path of Most Resistance. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1982.

Author(s) Delton Franz
Date Published 1986

Cite This Article

MLA style

Franz, Delton. "Conscription." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1986. Web. 9 Aug 2022.

APA style

Franz, Delton. (1986). Conscription. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 9 August 2022, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 190. All rights reserved.

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