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HARRY R. VAN DYCK EXERCISE OF CONSCIENCE A WW tt OBJECTOR REMEMBERS Objections on Principle AWWII Conscientious Objector Remembers BY BULLITT LOWRY Exercise of Conscience: A WWII Objector Remembers By Harry R. Van Dyck Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 250 pp. THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY of Hitler’s invasion of Poland called forth all sorts of television specials and books, and the deluge continued. Television programs and books poured forth, until it seemed that no corner of the war lacked its docudrama or its monograph, its spokesman or interpreter. That was not true. Harry Van Dyke’s Exercise of Conscience explores of a new subject. Exercise of Conscience is his memoirs of his experiences as a conscientious objector during World War II. Van Dyck, a retired sociology professor at the University of North Texas, actually serves three purposes with his Exercise of Conscience. The book is a memoir of his youth. It is a discussion of, and testimony about, the Civilian Public Service Program into which many conscientious funnelled. Even more, his memoir is testimony to the power of an idea and the dilemmas an idea can cause in the mind of its adherent. In World War II, three broad classes of COs existed in the United States. If a registrant for selective service claimed that because of “religious training and belief’ he wished to refuse regular military service, but was willing to undertake non-combatant military service and his local draft board agreed, he was classified as IA-O. Between 25,000 and 50,000 young men were inducted into the military as non-combatants; in practice that usually meant going into the Medical Corps. Another registrant might claim that he, too, opposed war because of religious training and belief, but that he would not serve in the armed forces in any capacity. If his draft board agreed, that person got classification IV-E and was required to serve in Civilian Public Service. About 12,000 men got that classification during World War II. A third category was those who were prosecuted in the courts for refusing to register with selective service at all many of them were Jehovah’s Witnesses or who, having been denied classification I-A-O or IVE, refused induction. It is hard to get firm figures concerning this category, but the U.S. Justice Department prosecuted about 6,000 men. It is the second category of conscientious ob Bullit Lowry is a professor at the University of North Texas that Harry Van Dyke’s memoirs discuss. CPS was a program the peace churches funded, the peace churches including the Quakers, Mennonites, and Brethren. About two hundred other religious groups, some of them splinters from main-line churches, gave support of one sort or another, but it was the three historic peace churches which bore the brunt of the burden. The whole situation came about as the result of bad legislation. Van Dyck does not examine legislative history in his memoir, but the way the selective service law treated honest conscientious objectors is a testament to jingoistic bigotry. The president and Congress could have kept the narrow qualifications set for granting IV-E status and still have provided the men a wage equal to that of a soldier. The government could have provided a maintenance allowance for the families the COs had to leave behind when they were inducted into Civilian Public Service. The government could have set truly worthwhile civilian tasks for COs to perform. They did none of those things. Because of nationalistic intolerance, it was left to the peace churches to provide COs and their families with their sole support; they received nothing from the government. Even where the selective service statute was sensible on the subject of COs, administrators evaded its intentions. According to the statute, the government required administrators to assign COs to “work of national importance.” Instead, passing whims directed the work most men did, not a vision of a better America. The peace churches opened the first camps in May 1941 and before the war ended, more than one-hundred-fifty camps or units had been established. Harry Van Dyke’s experiences are broadly typical. Growing up in the Mennonite farm community of Henderson, Nebraska, he had gotten a year of higher education at Bethel College in Kansas. In fall 1941, however, he did not return for his second year, and two months after Pearl Harbor, he reached the age that required him to register for the draft. He did so, and in August 1942 got IV-E status, leaving for a CPS camp in Fort Collins, Colorado, almost immediately. Van Dyck kept no diary while he was in CPS, and he notes that many years ago he destroyed whatever letters had survived. Thus, his story comes only from his memory, aided by a few photographs and reference works. Nevertheless, his memory seems good, and he has a nice feel for a telling anecdote. In the Fort Collins camp, Van Dyck and his coworkers carried on much the same type of labor that the Civilian Conservation Corps had done in the previous decade. Later, he served as an orderly in an Ohio mental hospital, and he ended the war installing sanitary privies in Florida. No one would claim that his labors, and others like them, were without social value, but surely better use could have been made of him and the other 12,000 idealistic young men. The author himself is free of recriminations; he simply tells his fascinating story gracefully and apparently with complete candor. He falls in and’out of love, worries about whether he is doing the right thing, goes to movies, sings in church choirs, and after mental agonies refuses to undertake one job that he believes is militarily connected. Van Dyck also wrestles with the single greatest question pacifists must face: he is letting other people fight and die for him. His own refusal to serve may have personal meaning, but in terms of the sacrifices required of society, it had none, for society simply replaced him with someone else who was willing to do the fighting Van Dyck was unwilling to do. This paradox poses a moral problem beyond the capacity of most young men, and most older ones, too. Still, doing the right thing personally may be the best the twentieth century allows; it is a custom followed all too seldom in recent years. This book is one that all aficionados of World War II should read. Here is another side of the war, another field of com bat. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19