General Statements of Reasons for being a "Conscientious Objector"




General Statements of Reasons for being a "Conscientious Objector"




Thomas, Evan W.


Swarthmore College Peace Collection


Swarthmore College Peace Collection


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I am a “conscientious objector” to all forms of service in any military organization because such service is opposed to an attitude to life which is fundamental with me and makes life most worth while to me.

I believe that the source of most of the greatest evils in society and of war especially lies in a false attitude to life wherein abstractions such as humanity and the state, and external “causes” of a religious, political, and economic nature are given far too great a sovereignty over individuals. Religion as a “cause” has resulted in persecution and strife and, like all other “causes” over which men fight, has always demanded the subordination and sacrifice of the individual. Politics as a “cause” has done the same thing.

I believe that the sovereignty of the abstract State shows a continual record of bloodshed, persecution and strife and, coupled with religion conceived of as a “cause”, has proved the greatest stumbling block to individual freedom.

This attitude to life with its inevitable subordination of the individual to abstractions and “causes” is to me not a natural reaction of human nature, nor is it necessary in order to make human life possible on earth. Instead of controlling and destroying the deep rooted seats of human strife such as envy, lust of power, hatred and revenge I believe it helps to create and nourish these defects.

In consequence of this belief the only remedy for war of all kinds seems to me to lie in a changed attitude to life within individuals, a new intellectual outlook, a new inward spirit, a new freedom. I believe that this can only be brought about by individuals sincerely endeavoring to live true to their principles in the

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spirit of freedom and love, even in the face of the absolute opposition of the majority and of assured failure so far as immediate external results are concerned.

I realize that under present conditions in this country such a stand on my part must result in certain consequences to myself. From any other point of view than that of my own life such an absolute stand may well seem doomed to inevitable failure. But I believe that the individual should always “play the game” endeavoring to realize himself in life even though in outward results there is no assured practical end to be attained. The compensations for this must be inward and personal. The victory comes through “losing” without bitterness or ill will.


Having taken such a stand I find myself after four months still technically classed as a soldier by the government and required to live under the supervision of army officials. Furthermore I am expected to cooperate with the military machine to the extent of preparing food, helping in the policing of the camp and obeying such orders as the army officials over me impose. This I would be willing to do if it were purely voluntary work, no discriminations being made in the cases of those who could not sincerely cooperate, and if it did not practically compromise my stand as being opposed to all forms of service under the military. I refuse to cooperate not from any mere bondage to consistency but because of practical difficulties in the camp life itself involving me in a responsibility of helping the government to keep me and other “conscientious objectors” as soldiers to an extend and in a way I am unable to accept.

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In view of the above, if the government cannot give me the liberty I ask, it seems to me legitimate to expect that one of two things be done, though this does not exclude other possibilities:

1. If the government insists upon keep me in the army it should take care of me without insisting that I do what I have originally refused to do, viz., cooperate with the military machine in any direct way whatsoever, or

2. That I be imprisoned, the government thereby taking the responsibility on itself of punishing such believers in the liberty of the individual conscience as I.

A third possibility suggests itself, that the “absolutists” in the above sense be interned in a civilian camp where the status of soldier necessitating cooperation with the military is entirely removed.

Evan W. Thomas

Fort Riley, Kansas

September 9, 1918


Thomas, Evan W., “General Statements of Reasons for being a "Conscientious Objector",” Conscientious Objection & the Great War: 1914-1920, accessed February 27, 2021,

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