In 1989 I met a woman whose husband was a World War II conscientious objector and had spent the war years in a Civilian Public Service (CPS) camp. At that time, I thought I knew a lot about the subject of conscientious objection, having just finished an educational film on the draft for the American Friends Service Committee. I was stunned I had never heard of CPS camps, and I figured that if I was unaware of this story, I certainly was not alone. I became committed to documenting the history of conscientious objection in the United States. In 1992 I finished a three part public radio series, Against the Tide: Those Who Refused to Fight, which documented conscientious objection from the Revolutionary War to the Gulf War. When Rick Tejada-Flores and I began collaborating on this project, we focused on "the good war" as the most dramatic and challenging period for pacifists. We quickly learned that the impact of World War II conscientious objectors went far beyond their acts of conscience during wartime.
I was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, a war that was much easier to oppose than World War II for many reasons. We were the generation that was changing the world, and when we built a mass movement against the war, we were doing something that had never been done before. My draft counselor had been a Quaker CO from WW II, but somehow what that meant didn't even register. I thought of Dave Dellinger as one of the Chicago Seven, not as one of the first people to go to jail for refusing to cooperate with the draft in World War II. When I finally began to explore the quiet heroism of the World War II conscientious objectors, I was amazed at how much these men had accomplished and at how the story had been suppressed for so many years. The men who opposed World War II were treated very harshly by their country, but they never wavered in their principles. Their story makes us examine our own values, and helps me understand that what my generation accomplished was built on their efforts.