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C.O. In Camp Meade During World War I
C.O. In Camp Meade During World War I
manuscript of being a Mennonite C.O. in WWI
WWI conscientious objection / objectors
Camp Meade, MD
Baer, Isaac M.
Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society
Swarthmore College Peace Collection
Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
A C.O. IN CAMP MEADE DURING WORLD WAR I
Isaac M. Baer
“When they shall…deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate; but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye; for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.” Mark 13:11.
“A soft answer turneth away wrath; but grievous words stir up anger.” Proverbs 15:1.
1981 All Rights Reserved.
Prayer. Our gracious God, our heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus we are thankful that we can speak for you, thankful that we can testify of your infinite ways of assisting your own while moving about in this kind of world amid a sinful society. We are especially thankful for Jesus and for the way that He has sustained us in days past during the test of our faith in World War I, and we pray that this message shall be a help to give courage and stamina of faith in you, our eternal God, so that we may be brought to you in a position as was Paul, in which we may say, “Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death”---just so Christ is magnified. We thank you for governments and for the privilege of living in this nation. We remember the nations in these critical days. Sustain them, Lord, and help them above all things to seek guidance and help in you, who are the eternal God and who overrules in all the affairs of races and peoples and nations. Help us in the rendition of this message and we shall give you all the praise. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Much as we tried to evade Uncle Sam’s claim upon us during World War I, much as the flesh shrank from the tests and trials that would be realized on entering a military camp (in meeting men of high military rank and meeting with the cross currents that naturally obtain in such a case); much as we or anyone else would seek to evade a route of that nature---since it is all over and since we went through it, we thank God for the privilege.
I lived on a farm known as Sleepy Hollow near the Paradise Mennonite Church, Hagerstown, Maryland. Liberty with the four freedoms was mine---made more realistic by knowing the Prince of Peace. The thought of war was far removed from that hallowed spot where a goodly and Godly heritage was mine.
Both my father and mother lived in Lancaster Country, Pennsylvania, during the Civil War. Mother, then at the age of six, often told us how her home was tense with fear lest the Rebels, who were marching northward following Route 11 and had torched Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, would plunder Lancaster County including her home near Farmersville. Her father had his horses taken to the mountains so they would not be stolen. Fears intensified until one evening a tramp informed them that the Rebels could never cross the Susquehanna River. He said, “The bridge at Columbia is being burned and the Union soldiers are moving into position beyond
the river to meet the Rebel hordes. He predicted the armies would soon meet in a terrible battle. This battle was Gettysburg, the “high-water mark of the Confederacy.”
My mother was a good historian. She told us how rail fences, flocks of chickens and even cattle vanished along the route of the Rebels – the fences for firewood and the chickens and cattle for food. She told us of Sheridan’s raid in the Shenandoah Valley [Virginia] and the misery and suffering it entailed.
Later many wartime incidents were rehearsed by ministers who frequented our home, especially those from the Shenandoah Valley. Stories of the suffering of our brethren in Libby Prison made a deep impression on my youthful mind and doubtless served in laying well the foundation for a Christian fortitude, which enabled me to meet any later tests and trials of my faith.
Whoever thought World War I would come to America? From 1914 on rumblings of the war were heard from across the Atlantic, but we felt confident it would not reach us. It had been 50 years since the Civil War had been fought by volunteers. President Wilson had campaigned for re-election in 1916 on the slogan, “He kept us out of the war..” As a church we scarcely expected to become involved even if the worse came to the worst.
But pressures for the United States to declare war kept mounting (Germany submarine warfare, the fear of Allied defeat with the loss of huge bankers’ loans, etc.) until April, 1917, when President Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war.
Universal conscription went into effect and all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 35 were drafted. The whole nation became astir over night. Local draft boards and cantonments were immediately authorized to be established. And so the machinery of war began rumbling on this side of the Atlantic. America was
involved in the holocaust of war.
I shall never forget the fears and apprehensions that gripped me. Would it involve me? Would they want me since I could not train to be a soldier? Yet I sensed that it would eventually involve me.
The church also became very much concerned, if not alarmed. While the constitution of the U.S.A. granted freedom of conscience, it was a question if the law of universal conscription would grant exemption from military service. Inasmuch as no provision had been made for those conscientiously opposed to war, Mennonite youth, as well as all others, could not escape its dragnet.
The tests and sufferings experienced by Mennonites during the Civil War were not wholly forgotten although 50 years and elapsed. Many problems confronted the church due to the universal conscription law. What could the church do? What would become of her boys? Should they register? If so, should they report for physical examination, and if they passed, would they honor the notification to report to camp? Where should they take a stand? How considerate would Uncle Sam be in such an emergency if one took a stand?
The church made the right move. They went to the Lord about it, believing “The king’s heart was in the hand of the Lord…and turneth it withersoever He will.” Proverbs 21.1. A meeting was hastily called at the Yellow Creek Mennonite Church in Indiana. A statement of the church’s position on Christians and war was drawn up, and three brethren were appointed to represent the church to the government throughout the emergency: D.D. Miller, S.G. [Sanford G.] Shetler and Aaron Loucks. They served the church faithfully East and West almost day and night, calling on officials in Washington and meeting with young men and anxious parents about their problems.
Bro. Loucks often stopped at our home at Hagerstown enroute [sic] to Washington or Scottdale, informing us about the latest developments and decisions about the C. O.
made by President Wilson and Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker.
Lancaster Conference appointed I. B. Good and J. C. Habacker, and Franconia Conference appointed Joseph Ruth, Wilson Moyer and Abram Clemmer to help their C. O.’s.
In spite of the church’s prayers and the united efforts of the above brethren, the official word from Washington was, “Send your boys to camp. We will care for them there.” That seemed like a severe verdict inasmuch as it closed the door completely to any possibility of escape.
I was then conscripted and classified. I tried various avenues of escape, but the answer invariably returned, “No, you must go.” I had been farming for two years so this meant leaving the farm to my brother, Benjamin, and sisters, Fannie and Martha.
Two years before that Daniel Kauffman urged me to attend a winter Bible school at Hayfield Mansion near Alexandria, Virginia, which was the embryo of Eastern Mennonite College. Much as I wished to go, I thought I could not disappoint my parents who had favored me with farming the home place. Bro. Kauffman said, Bro. Isaac, the farms will be farmed, if you don’t farm. The Lord needs young men in His work too.” So I learned the truth of God’s claim the hard way. When Uncle Sam called at age 25, the farm was farmed without me.
As the time for me to leave home was drawing nearer and nearer, I thought the Lord was dealing severely with me. It seemed that I could get little help from any human source, because I knew I would have to stand alone. (I do not minimize the prayers and the “God bless you’s” of my family, friends and church officials. They gave me their best.) The Lord wanted me to learn that He is sufficient for all these things – anything.
My last evening at home arrived, September 26, 1917. Jonas Hage, my brother-
in-law of only three weeks and the only other Mennonite draftee from the Hagerstown area, was present. (He is now the father of Nathan.) All the ministers and bishops of the Washington County, Maryland, and Franklin County, Pennsylvania, churches gathered at my home; as well as relatives and friends. Their intense concern was voiced in earnest prayer I very vividly recall my dear mother’s face red from weeping. We were all rocked emotionally. Each one gave us what seemed his last goodby [sic]. They could follow us no farther, so they committed us to God and his loving care.
We had been ordered to report to the local draft board in Hagerstown on the morning of the 27th. I yet recall the last look at the old home place, hallowed spot for me, and wondered if I would ever see it again.
It was a life-or-death issue, however, it was all settled in my soul. I was committed. It is good for any follower of Jesus to be tested whether he will be faithful unto death. A promise in Isaiah 50:7 became my bolster during this whole experience, “The Lord God will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded; therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know I shall not be ashamed.”
Parents, brothers, sisters, sweethearts, neighbors and friends gathered at the Hagerstown train depot to give us their last farewells. Many eyes were moist.
The train pulled out of the depot and stopped. Dr. Wagman, a member of our local draft board, came aboard and attempted to calm our fears. He assured Jonas and me that we would be met with every courtesy on our arrival at Camp Meade.
The train added coaches of men at every county seat until there were fourteen in all. Some of the draftees wore a veneer of happiness. Some were gloomy, some intoxicated, and some tried to sleep. The air was charged with tobacco smoke and the smell of liquor.
I wrote the following postcard enroute [sic]:
- Westminster, Md. Sept. 27, 1917.
- To all. We are in a train of 9 large coaches: 3 from Frostburg, 2 from Hag’n, 2 from Fredrick, 2 from W. minster. Truly Satan has hold of the throttle. Many aboard of the Dunkards (Church of the Brethren) too weak to stand for Christ. So far I still have the courage to stand. Pray for us. Jonas is getting along all right. Isaac.
We arrived at Camp Meade in the night which added to the gloom. The train stopped near our barracks. We alighted in a plowed field. Many staggered. The sergeant called out, “There, stop beside your buddy and help him along.” Later he called out, “Boys, I’m proud of your breath!” And what breath – a combination of tobacco and liquor! I felt like a sheep being led to the slaughter and thought of Isaiah 53.
On arrival at the barracks we were assigned to our bunks. Then we were ordered to dinner – long tables in a barn-like structure. We had beans and sweet potatoes [--] our main diet for some months. They were not at all like mother’s meals. Neither was my new bed like mine at home.
During our dinner a lieutenant came to Jonas and me and said, “You boys are Mennonite, are you not? You shall take the bunks assigned to you and we will take care of you in the morning.” I am of the opinion that this was a result of Dr. Wegman’s interest.
After breakfast Captain Smith, commander of our company and a very considerate officer, took us to Colonel Sweegy’s office. There the tests began. Call me first, Colonel Sweegy asked, “Do you realize that two other men must be conscripted from your county to replace you, if you decline training?”
I admitted it and added, “How can I change that and yet be true to my conscience?”
Then he asked, “Do you realize that this war is being fought in defense of Christianity as well as democracy?”
I responded, “Doubtless, however, Christianity does not call for physical weapons to defense it, ‘For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal.’”
Jonas was called in for similar questioning. Then without any attempted argument whatsoever Colonel Sweegy said, “There is no penalty for one taking your position. You will be segregated until such a time as the President will define what noncombatant service is and how it applies to you.”
As we emerged from Colonel Sweegy’s office a major approached him on horseback. The colonel stepped near the major after a salute and spoke to him in a undertone. Finally the major roared at me saying, “Who are you?”
I answered, “It’s scarcely my name you want. Religiously we are known as Mennonites.”
Again he roared, “Mennonites! Who are they?”
I answered, “They are a people who believe that it were better to receive injury than to inflict it.”
He replied, “Young man, I want you to know that no one will escape service in this war.”
I was a bit shaken but entertained no thought of yielding my ground. By this time my eyes were swimming in tears. As I looked up at him on horseback a big tear rolled down my cheek. I told him, “Lest it be misconstrued for mere stubbornness.* I will not say bluntly I won’t fight, while that is what I mean; [*Since I was committed to Jesus’ teach on nonresistance regardless of the cost, I had to distinguish between leaving an impression of stubbornness or loyalty to Christ.]
but rather I cannot conscientiously train to slay my fellowman. I am here against my will. I am on your hands and at your mercy. Whatever you decide to do to me, that will be my lot.”
He turned from a lion into a lamb and said in a kind voice, “No, young man, you are not on our hands at all. Instead you are on the hands of President Wilson and Secretary of War Baker and your case will be decided by them. But I think that anyone taking a stand in the spirit that you do should realize no difficulty.”
The major rode away and Colonel Sweegy sent us to detention quarters in care of a sergeant.
I credit the source of such answers and the outcome to the prayers of my home and church. “Take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak yet: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost,” was verified many times. (Mark 13:11)
When we were about halfway to detention quarters, a corporal caught up with us and ordered us to return to Colonel Sweegy’s office. On arrival he asked if our consciences permitted a physical examination. (This carefulness on his part showed that he had already received orders about the C.O.’s and that Dr. Wagman was right.
We assured him that it was alright inasmuch as we had already undergone them at our local board.
“Then,” he said, “remain in this barracks until you are cleared in our records.” All this occurred on our first day in Camp Meade, September 28. It proved to be the day of the most severe tests that we were to experience during our stay there. We were in a terrific quandary as to what we were facing, but these tests bolstered us for any later ones.
Following are some more experiences which occurred during our first week in Camp Meade in Company K, 313 Infantry, 154th Depot Brigade. We two Mennonite boys
were treading an unknown path and learning fast.
Each morning we were called outside and lined up in a formation of four rows. First the roll was called. We answered, “Here!” Then followed some preliminary drills. There was a fine Philippino [sic] sergeant in charge. He called orders, but we did not respond. It all passed for awkwardness as the rest also responded clumsily. Corporals moved up and down the lines correcting us.
Lest our failure to obey orders be misconstrued as stubbornness, and seeing the unfairness of the situation to both the sergeant and to us, I sought direction from Captain Smith. After hearing the problem, he answered, “That’s easy. You remain on the porch when roll is called. Do not go down into formation. When your name is called answer, “Here.” Then return to the barracks and you will be free for the remainder of the day while the others proceed to drill.” This continued until we were segregated.
About midweek we were to be mustered in. Signatures were requested for equipment (clothing, mess kit, rifles, etc.), insurance and payroll. We declined them all. This must have been dumbfounding to the officers in charge. We were told that Uncle Sam wants to pay us for serving in his army.
The officer in charge said, “I don’t know what to do. You must see Captain Smith.
When we rapped at his door, a strong voice said, “Come in.” We entered and informed the captain about our new problem.
He was about to answer when a peppy lieutenant intervened with, “Young man, do you believe the Bible?”
I answered, “I do.”
“Didn’t God tell Joshua and David to fight?”
I answered, “I think so.”
“Then why don’t you fight?”
I asked, “Did you include the New Testament when you asked if I believe the Bible?”
I then asked, “Did not Jesus refer to David’s day when he said, ‘It hath been said, but I say love your enemies; bless and curse not that you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven?’”
He answered, “Go on with your Bible and religion. I don’t want anything to do with it!”
I stood and looked at him. No one said anything, so I retreated slowly out of the office. I did not close the door lest they called me to return. I stepped outside and waited until the door was closed. Then I left. I heard no more about it.
Also during the first week I overheard the sergeant in command say, “Those young men are not supposed to train.” Another time one boy in our company told me, “I hope you can serve us as chaplain.”
While waiting that week we undertook to locate the detention barracks. To get permission we had to go to Major Stickney. He did not perceive that we were C.O.’s but thought we were ministers who wanted to visit some men already in detention. Before he gave us a pass he said, “I have a question to ask you. We have an interesting group of young men here, but I am wondering what they would do if an intruder entered their home and began inflicting injury upon someone. Would they fight?”
I quickly passed him the statement drawn up at the Yellow Creek Church in Indiana setting forth the church’s position on war.
Then he directed the question to me. I answered, “Major, I have never been tested like this. I do not know what I would do, but I know what I should do, if I would do what I ought to do. I think it would be my responsibility to liberate the victim, if possible. But to take a gun and kill the intruder is quite a different thing.”
He said, “That is consistent,” and let us visit the C.O. boys.
How I sensed God’s presence in those encounters. I knew my brothers and sisters in the Lord were praying for me.
Later in the week Jonas and I were transferred to the detention barracks. There we met Ben Ebersole and Frank Newcomer, Lancaster County boys. David Derstine and John Ward from Franconia Conference were there, as well as some Church of the Brethren boys. Later D. Ralph Hostetter joined us. Needless to say, we felt very much like birds of a feather. We appreciated each other immensely and enjoyed our fellowship thoroughly.
Bro. Joseph Ruth conducted the first worship service after we arrived in detention. He complimented the officers on their good care of us. I believe that because of this, Mennonite ministers were never refused permission to preach, which some other ministers were refused several times.
Besides Bro. Ruth, Bros. Wilson Moyer and J. C. Clemens were appointed by Franconia Conference to visit us. The Lancaster Conference appointees were Bros. L. B. Good and J.. C. Habacker. Bros S. G. Shetler and Aaron Loucks, previously mentioned, also came.
I will never forget how good Bro. George Keener, my bishop, looked to me the first time he came. My father, a minister, came often. These were just a few. Other ministers, Mennonite and non-Mennonite, came to visit their boys.
During our stay in segregation we had many encounters with soldiers. At first we ate with them. One day in the mess hall Henry Stabler, a Quaker, was struck by a soldier and knocked down. His ear drum was injured and he was hospitalized. The Quakers reported this to the Civil Liberties Bureau which contacted the proper officials.
As a result we were completely segregation: given our own mess, mess sergeant
and a separate staff of officers. We were also transferred from the south side of camp to the north side and assigned two guards around the clock. A rumor then spread among the soldiers that we had been sent to prison. As a precaution, the location of our barracks was moved two more times.
We were not subjected to physical suffering, but we had many encounters around the camp with soldiers who were curious about this group in civilian clothes. When they learned who were [sic] were, some told that we had a yellow streak down our backs or that we were cold footed. We were often called cowards. Others said that they hoped to be in the firing squad when we were executed. This was mild in comparison to those in other camps who even faced death. We thank God for His overruling, not that we were worthy, but because we believe that the earnest prayers of scores of home folks were being answered in our behalf.
Army regulations did not permit beards. This caused a real problem to two Amish C.O.’s. They were ordered several times to shave off their beards. Consciously [sic] they could not. Finally a deadline was set. When the morning arrived, the officered proceeded to enforce orders. The boys went to their knees in prayer. The officers were first puzzled, but then gently picked them up and carried them outside the barracks, placed them on an improvised barber chair and clipped their beards. They offered no resistance. This was a tense moment for all of us. We noticed with appreciation the reluctance and gentleness on the part of the officers as they carried out their assignment.
Time passed and our number grew to about 175. We came from different states and denominations. As I remember it, besides Mennonites, Amish and Church of the Brethren boys, there were Quakers, Brethren in Christ, New Mennonites (General Conference Mennonites), Plymouth Brethren, Old Order Dunkards (German Baptists), Christadelphians, Reformed, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and independents. There were also a few political C.O.’s with us.
President Wilson declared what constituted noncombatant service. When we were offered the privilege of accepting this, everyone declined, if I remember correctly. But this was the last test on this issue.
An official from the War Department came to offer us noncombatant service. I trembled as I stood at the door waiting to be called in. My teeth almost chattered. I earnestly prayed and claimed my promise: “The Lord GOD will help me; therefore I shall not be confounded.” My nervousness left as soon as I was called. (This happened a number of times, one reason being that over and over I was called first. But God always gave me calmness when the interrogation started. Praise His name!)
In the presence of my commanding officers the official offered me noncombatant service. I declined. Then he confronted me with the proposition of accepting this service or being sent to federal prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He tried further to intimidate me by saying, “It’s a rough place. I know because I was there.”
I replied, “Can you imagine that one coming as far as I have, facing the tests that I’ve faced, and holding the convictions that I do, that I have not already contemplated the possibility of federal prison? I think I shall decline.” I was dismissed.
How did we occupy our time?
Soon after Jonas Hege and I were transferred to the C.O. barracks, Captain Woodside, the commanding officer, called me to his office. He told me that he wanted me to serve as postman for the C.O.s and to select two other Mennonites to help me. Immediately I suggested Jonas, because he was my brother-in-law, and John Ward, who had already served as postman a few times. The captain accepted them at once. This was our assignment until we left camp. After we had carried the mail, we were free for the rest of the day.
Each day some of the boys were detailed for kitchen duty and cleaning the latrines and grounds around our barracks. The rest went on a hike. On these hikes they played ball and other games.
Our free time was engaged in letter writing, Bible Study, prayer and song. We did much singing. We did not hang our harps on the willows [Biblical reference].
There was ample time for all sorts of discussions. We all had strong convictions or we would not have been there in the first place. This produced lively, earnest discussions and, not infrequently, arguments. Naturally, ethical discussions were common; such as what stand to take on military issues and other things dealing with our situation in a military training camp. There was keen confrontation with the political C.O.’s when they attacked the foundation of our religious beliefs.
The political C.O.’s objected to World War I because they thought it was a rich man’s war. They said, “We refuse to let the millionaires make more millions from our blood. We are opposed to war.” They claimed Christianity was a failure. To prove it they said that Christianity had the ground for almost 2,000 years and had accomplished nothing, else we would not have war.
One day a socialist political objector sat on my bunk and said, “Mr. Baer, do you know vy I believe that sveater you vear is gray?”
I replied, “I don’t know why you believe my sweater is gray.”
I think he wanted to tell me further, “I do not know if such a person as Jesus Christ ever lived because I never saw him” But the Lord gave it [to] me to ask him, “Do you believe such a man as George Washington ever lived?”
“I do,” he replied.
Then I asked, “But how can you believe that George Washington ever lived? Did you ever see him?” Without answering he left my bunk and went to his end of the barracks.
Another time he declared, “I’d like to see you put to the test where you’d have to choose between your Christ and your bread and butter. I know what you’d choose. You’d choose your bread and butter.”
We also had time for many meetings. Different religious groups posted their signs announcing them. For a time D. Ralph Hostetter taught a teacher-training class in the evening.
At first the officers ignored Sunday entirely, taking us on hikes like other days. After this happened several times, we protested. As a group we stayed quiet in our rooms with our Bibles. When the order came for the hike, we said we would prefer to spend the Lord’s day that way. In retaliation Captain Woodside, our commanding officer, took us on a 15-mile hike. We thought it as a joke on him, because he had to walk as far as we did. After some criticism from the officers, they finally granted Sunday off.
Obviously, these experiences and associations provided us with an invaluable education, a most useful preparation for life.
Our Christian joy and victory might have given visitors the impression that we were too much at home in Camp Meade. Yet we were always keenly conscious of Christ’s light in the midst of darkness; of being an island of peace in a sea of war. To me this was most impressive during communion services, when I felt the barracks vibrate from the military trucks rumbling by. We lived an atmosphere of war where hate was kindled and fanned into flame, and men learned combat by the thousands.
The relentless pressures from this military camp melted and molded us into a lifelong fellowship. The bonds which bound us together as brother to brother were unique.
Then came the last severe test. President Wilson and Secretary of War Baker appointed a Board of Inquiry to interview the C.O.’s in the military camps to deter-
mine our sincerity. Three men were appointed: Major Stoddard, a military man; Judge Mack of Chicago, a very capable jurist; and Harlan Fiske Stone, dean of the Columbia University Law School and later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Since Camp Meade was close to Washington, they made it their first stop. I shall never forget how I trembled as I thought about how high my name was on the list. They repaired to a certain quarter of the barracks and then called on the boys alphabetically. The first name was Arbitman, a Russian alien. (For some reason he had been brought into camp. They seemed to have no other place for him, so they placed him with us C.O.’s.) He was called first but immediately dismissed. The next name was Arnold, but he had already left for noncombatant service. The name was B-a-e-r. (I learned later that I was the first C.O. in the nation to be interviewed by the Board of Inquiry.)
I was called in alone. Later they interviewed the boys in groups. They intensely questioned me for 35 minutes. Major Stoddard questioned me about my life from the cradle to Camp Meade. He asked about the date I united with the church, the beliefs of my parents and my brothers and sisters, my regularity in church attendance, my practice regarding attendance of picture shows, etc. He was trying to determine my constancy and loyalty to my beliefs and my sincerity as a C.O. Then Judge Mack began cross-examining me about everything I had told Major Stoddard. He twisted me every way he could and tried to entangle me. After that he asked if I did not it was my highest Christian duty to help my buddies on the battlefield – to bring the wounded from the front lines to the hospital.
I said, “I should like to do something like that, but would this service be within the military establishment or outside it?”
He answered, “Well, that would be within the military establishment, of course.”
Then I answered, the privilege already having been given me to ask questions, “If I should nurse some injured soldier back to health again, could he return to his home
or must he return to the battle front?”
He said, “Oh well, he would need to go back to the front.”
I told him, “That was my impression.”
“Well,” said Judge Mack leaning back and placing his thumbs in his vest, “you are a farmer are you not?”
“Yes, sir, I am.”
“Well, if you stop farming, the war is over. We can’t do a thing. Our men can’t fight without food.” He was attempting to involve me even though I had already refused to become part of the military machine. [note socialist language!]
With God’s help I replied, “The tilling of the soil, farming, is one occupation that the Scriptures endorse. This question arises in my mind: the fact that war is on, does that now render my occupation evil?” Further I said, “We could decline to do anything at a time of war, but I think the government would prefer that we be an asset rather than a liability. Furthermore, I believe that I serve a just God. Should the proceeds of my farm eventually reach the battle front, a matter over which I have absolutely no control, would a just God hold me accountable in such case?”
No response was given. After a brief pause they said, “All right, Mr. Baer, you are excused.”
As I thought about this searching examination, I knew the thinking of Stoddard and Mack, but not Stone. He had not asked me a single question. I marvel yet that I answered as I did. They were brainy men. I was not skilled and had no one to help me but the Holy Spirit, who guarded me in my answers.
As a result of these interviews the Board of Inquiry decided that 15 of our boys were insincere and sent them to the federal prison at Ft. Leavenworth. The deciding issue was whether they had joined the church before or after the declaration of war.
We continued in camp until an order arrived which allowed to be used in some
type of agriculture. By this time the men on the farms were scarce and the farmers were calling for help. The Department of Agriculture placed before the War Department this need and asked if a way could be found for some soldiers to be released for farm work. This was granted. On July 15, 1918, our camp broke up, the boys going to farms throughout Maryland, Virginia, and elsewhere. We never met in that fashion again.
The order stated that boys on farm furlough were to be placed at least 50 – 100 miles from home, but Jonas and I were placed a few miles from our homes. We sensed some disapproval of this, but no one gave us any trouble. I was assigned to work for Dan Strite, one of our local Mennonite ministers.
We continued on the farms, reporting back to our Camp Meade company monthly, until Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. How happy we were when we heard the whistles and bells from the various villages and towns signaling the war’s end.
Demobilization orders were forthcoming, and we all received notices to return to Camp Meade to receive our discharges. Many did that and returned to their homes, released to wonderful freedom in time for Christmas. Due to illness in my home, I was not able to return to camp until January, 1919, when I procured my discharge.
War is war. It means the destruction of life and property. General Sherman of the Civil War said, “War is hell.” Even these words do not fully describe it.
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. Ye are not of this world even as I am not of this world. If you were of the world, then the world would love her own.. Therefore the world will hate you because it hated me.” And I believe the nearer we live to Jesus the more exposed to persecution and criticism we will be.
May God help us to keep reading his Book daily; morning, noon and evening; constantly; all the time in these perilous times and these days of great stress and con-
fusion and unrest and war. May we keep in mind the words of Paul when he said, “Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.” Be thou faithful unto death. Amen.
Baer, Isaac M., “C.O. In Camp Meade During World War I ,” Conscientious Objection & the Great War: 1914-1920, accessed August 3, 2020, https://cosandgreatwar.swarthmore.edu/items/show/1502.
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