Conscientious Objectors and Draft Registration: A Timely Lesson from WWI

by Cynthia Wachtell

One hundred years ago my paternal grandfather, Benjamin Wachtell, was conscripted into the United States Army during World War I.  He was a conscientious objector, but there had been no way for him to signal this on his required draft registration card.  So, when he faced his draft board, he stated, “If you put a gun in my hands, I will shoot myself before I shoot another man.”


Today, there still is no way for conscientious objectors to declare their convictions in the compulsory draft registration process, and that needs to change.  We are needlessly punishing conscientious objectors, and there is a simple fix. The lessons from WWI teach us that we must offer men with “religious or other conscientious scruples” a non-punitive way to opt out.  

Although the United States has not had a draft in over forty-five years, American men ages 18 to 25 are required to register for conscription.  The potential consequence of non-compliance are spelled out in stark terms on the Selective Service System’s website. “Failing to register or comply with the Military Selective Service Act is a felony punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 or a prison term of up to five years, or a combination of both.”  (However, no one has been prosecuted for this crime since 1986, although the national registration rate is only 89%.)


There are other serious and lifelong ramifications for conscientious objectors and others who do not register.  Twenty-six states require registration to receive a driver’s license, and twenty-one states require it to be a state employee.  Registration is also required to be eligible for federal job training and for jobs in the executive branch of the federal government and the U.S. Postal Service.  


Additionally, in the area of higher education, registration is required by twenty-nine states to be eligible for state financial aid, and in eleven states it is required even to enroll in a state school.  Similarly, it is required to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the gateway to all federal student loans and grant programs.  


This leaves conscientious objectors, opposed to registering for conscription, in an untenable position.  They must either violate their convictions or commit a felony and forgo rights and benefits enjoyed by the rest of society.  


The problem lies with the registration process.  The online draft registration form offers twenty-four options for answering the question: How did you first learn about registration?  (Included are: Facebook, financial aid officer, and federal prison staff.)  But the form offers no place to register one’s convictions.  The Selective Service System’s website explains, “Men who are religiously or morally opposed to participating in war as a conscientious objector must still register with the Selective Service System.  There is no classification for conscientious objection until Congress and the President vote for a return to conscription.”  


History offers a meaningful lesson about why this must change.  When America entered World War I, my grandfather was twenty-three years old, living in a YMCA in Brooklyn, and working as a bookstore clerk.  As a healthy, single man with no dependents, who could make no recognized claim for an exemption, he was considered by his draft board as Class 1: “Eligible and liable for military service.”  In April 1918 he was drafted.  

Fortunately for him, the military had recently instituted new accommodations for conscientious objectors.  In a confidential order in December 1917 the Secretary of War had directed that “’personal scruples against war’ should be considered as constituting ‘conscientious objections.’”  Then in March 1918 the category of conscientious objectors was publicly expanded to include “religious or other conscientious scruples.”  That same month President Wilson issued an executive order stipulating that those “who object to participating in war because of conscientious scruples .

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat: God in Exile, School Shootings, and the Mishkan (Sanctuary)

 Rabbi . Rachel Barenblat a.k.a. The Velveteen Rabbi .   This appeared first at the website of the Velveteen Rabbi and is reprinted here with her permission

God in exile, school shootings, and building the mishkan together
February 17, 2018 .  In this week’s Torah portion, Terumah, we read וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם / “Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I might dwell within them.” (Or “among them.”) The word “I might dwell” is שכנתי / shachanti — the same as the root of the name Shechinah, our mystics’ name for the Divine Presence that dwells with us, within us, among us. Jewish tradition teaches that God is both transcendent (far away and inconceivable) and immanent (indwelling and accessible).

In France,another distortion of Islam:anti-Semitism and Family Violence

Editor’s note: though stories of this sort are used to foster Islamophobia, Tikkun insists that our readers be aware of the ongoing racism against Jews that is fostered by some in the name of Islam just as we insist that they be aware of the ongoing racism against Muslims, Arabs, and others by some Jews in the name of their version of Judaism.And both of these developments has a lot to do with Western imperialism and Christian hatred of both Muslims and Jews which is explored in the Summer 2017 issue of Tikkun magazine (which is available online or in print but by subscription only or comes for free when you donate $50 or more at “Burning hatred against France and against Jews, and an orgy of domestic violence. That was how Anne Chenevat, a major witness, described the Merah family – a divorced mother, three sons and two daughters – to the Special Criminal Court of Paris last Tuesday. Mohamed Merah, the youngest of the family’s sons, killed seven people – including three Jewish children shot at point-blank range – and maimed six others in the southern French towns of Montauban and Toulouse between March 11 and March 19, 2012. He was himself killed by security forces three days later.

Corporate Tax Cut Propaganda …. by Jeffrey Sachs

Corporate tax cut propaganda

Jeffrey D. Sachs        October 20, 2017
The White House is selling a tax cut designed for the rich as a boost for the working class. Cut taxes on capital, the White House claims, and investors will raise investment, hire more workers, and bid up wages — a.k.a. trickle-down economics. If the real goal is to use tax cuts to boost low wages, then do it directly, for example by expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit. Of course, there is a basic problem with tax cuts now. They will lead to larger budget deficits even before they lead to more growth.

Discrimination Against Black Workers

Los Angeles Black Worker Center
October 5, 2017
Discrimination has created a crisis in the Black community. Although the passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act forbids racial discrimination in the workplace, black workers continue to face higher rates of discrimination in the workforce than white workers do. ‘Whether working full-time or part-time, Black workers earn only three-quarters of what white workers earn,’ as stated in the introduction of the brief. , ,

Dear Friends and Allies:The Los Angeles Black Worker Center (LABWC) and National Employment Law Project (NELP) demonstrates the need for California to explore expanded anti-employment discrimination to better protect workers in the era of Trump. You can download the white paper HERE

You can view the white paper HERE

Los Angeles, California, October 5, 2017 – The National Employment Law Project and the Los Angeles Black Worker Center released a white paper today that offers analysis on why anti-discrimination laws must be strengthened to protect communities of color in the workforce as national civil rights enforcement agencies are threatened with cuts and elimination.  The report is published as a broad coalition of unemployed, underemployed and union workers call on Governor Brown to sign Senate Bill SB 491- The California Anti-Employment Discrimination Action of 2017- a bill that would begin the process of expanding anti-discrimination enforcement authority to local governments to fill the enforcement gap.

Profound Rethinking by Muslims of The Meanings of Their Holy Texts and Traditions

{Editor’s Note: Most of us in the West have very little familiarity with the complexities of sophisticated intellectual and theological debate that takes place in the Islamic world. Just as in the Jewish world a tradition of interpretation developed which takes harsh or even cruel elements in our Torah and reinterprets them to “really mean” something more in tune with the subsequent development of Jewish ethical consciousness (e.g. “an eye for an eye” reinterpreted to mean financial compensation for the losses experienced by someone who has lost an eye or the injunction to wipe out Amalek later understood to refer to wiping out the kind of hurtfulness that Amalek had engaged in toward the Israelites), so in the world of Islamic theologians there has been a constant process of reinterpretation and contextualization of parts of the Koran and other holy texts to reflect the ongoing spiritual and ethical growth of Islamic teachers and scholars. And of course, just as we in the Jewish world find ourselves challenging extremists among the West Bank settlers and their cheerleaders in many synagogues around the world as they seek to justify through reference to Torah or other holy texts their occupation and cruelty toward the Palestinian people, our Muslim allies are engaged in a similar struggle to challenge those who, like , Isis, the Taliban, and the Saudi Arabian Wahabi interpreters of Islam,  have appropriated the Koran and subsequent elements of their holy tradition to justify terrorism, murder, rape of captive women, and more. In each case, the struggle is of great importance to the extent that it wins people to a worldview of love and generosity. I invite you to read the two articles in discussion below by two inspired Muslim thinkers.

Grassroots Venezuelans in the Midst of the Economic War
The Real Price of Trump’s Venezuela Sanctions

By RYAN MALLETT-OUTTRIM, August 25th 2017


economic crisis 2017
U.S. sanctions

Five hundred and sixty seven thousand dead children. That was the death toll of international sanctions on Saddam’s Iraq, according to a 1995 study published in The Lancet by researchers from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation. The conclusions of the study were shocking: five years after sanctions had been first implemented, UN humanitarian workers found a once rich, oil producing nation wracked with famine. The sanctions were aimed at pressuring Saddam, though in reality their impact was felt most by the poorest Iraqis. One researcher found that around a third of children under the age of 10 in Baghdad showed signs of stunted growth, while 12 percent were in urgent need of immediate medical attention due to extreme malnutrition.

Immigration Politics

Are liberals having second thoughts about immigration?

Are liberals having second thoughts about immigration? Posted Jul 03, 2017 by David L. Wilson

Topics: Immigration , Inequality , Labor ,Media

On June 20 The Atlantic posted an article by Peter Beinart claiming that the Democrats had “lost their way on immigration.”

Beinart is a respected liberal centrist—of the sort that supported the 2003 Iraq invasion until it started going bad—so the article created a stir among opinion makers. Rightwingers at Breitbart and National Review gloated. Liberals took Beinart’s thesis to heart: Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum endorsed the article, and Thomas Edsall quoted it in the New York Times. A Chicago Tribune columnist cited it as an “important essay.”

It’s true that Beinart makes some good points. He suggests that the Democratic Party’s current pro-immigrant stance is largely just pandering to Latino voters.

Readers Respond: Letters from Winter 2015


We welcome your responses to our articles. Send your letters to the editor to Please remember, however, not to attribute to Tikkun views other than those expressed in our editorials. We email, post, and print many articles with which we have strong disagreements, because that is what makesTikkun a location for a true diversity of ideas. Tikkun reserves the right to edit your letters to fit available space in the magazine. JUBILEE AND DEBT ABOLITION
Many thanks for yet another inspiring and stimulating magazine, for Winter 2015.

Readers Respond: Letters from Fall 2013


We welcome your responses to our articles. Send your letters to the editor to Please remember, however, not to attribute to Tikkun views other than those expressed in our editorials. We email, post, and print many articles with which we have strong disagreements, because that is what makes Tikkun a location for a true diversity of ideas. Tikkun reserves the right to edit your letters to fit available space in the magazine.