Wednesday, April 16, 2003

The Center on Conscience and War (CCW), which advises military personnel on CO discharges, reports that since the start of 2003--when many soldiers realized they might have to fight in the Iraq war--there has been a massive increase in the number of enlisted soldiers who have applied for CO status.

"The bare minimum is several hundred, and this number only includes the ones that have come to my group and to groups we're associated with," CCW official J.E. McNeil told IPS.


... CO discharge is a long-established practice in the U.S. armed forces and always peaks in wartime. CCW says there were an estimated 200,000 COs in the Vietnam War, 4,300 in the Korean War, 37,000 in World War II and 3,500 in World War I.

The military granted 111 COs from the army in the first Gulf War before putting a stop to the practice, resulting in 2,500 soldiers being sent to prison, says Bill Gavlin from the Center on Conscience and War, quoting a report from the Boston Globe newspaper.

During that war, a number of U.S. COs in Camp LeJeune in North Carolina state were "beaten, harassed and treated horribly," Gavlin says. In some cases, COs were put on planes bound for Kuwait, told that they could not apply for CO status or that they could only apply after they'd already gone to war.

As far as Gavlin knows, that type of treatment has not happened this time. But he has counseled service members who were harassed. For example, one woman was told that if she applied for CO status she would be court marshaled. It is not an offence to apply, and her superiors did it, Gavlin says, "to intimidate her."

Allison says she was both supported and condemned when she became a CO. "Privately I received overwhelming personal support from the other members of my unit," she says. "But publicly I was isolated by my unit."

(snip-yes it gets better)

Soldiers that have this change of heart fall into three main groups, says McNeil.

The first group contains "those who go into the military understanding war and are willing to accept it," she says. "But then something happens during their service and they are no longer OK with war."

The second group contains people who have "sought out spiritual growth and have come to believe that God doesn't want them to participate in war."

The third, and biggest, group, she says, is made up of young, often naive, people who join the military in their late teens. They are often poor whites, blacks or Hispanics, who either have limited employment opportunities, or are looking for a way to fund their college education.

Because military recruiters target poor youth in urban centers--the so-called "poverty draft"--this is probably the fastest-growing group of COs as well as the biggest, added McNeil.

[my emphasis added]

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