5. The “Transformer” Tendency

[Link to chapter four]

Attitude toward the state

Transformers shared much of the perspective of resisters regarding the state, without being quite as committed to refusing all compromise. They retained a hopefulness about fruitful cooperation through the Civilian Public Service (CPS) program, though this hopefulness did not always survive in the face of Selective Service (SS) instituted restrictions on alternative service possibilities.

Transformers expressed ambivalence about the alternative service possibilities offered by the state. Unlike resisters, they tended to accept the state’s right to conscript young men, being willing to acquiesce to the state’s demands for service, albeit at times unhappily. Yet, unlike some servants, they did not tend to express gratitude for a “tolerant and respectful” state that gave them the “privilege” of alternative service.

CPSer Howard F. McGaw’s commitment to CPS included a critical attitude toward the state.

“My mind is now committed to the CPS program, for the following reasons: first, we cannot expect anything else except totalitarian methods, for the simple reason that war and democracy do not mix. Conscription is wrong, but [it is] inherent in the great wrong of war. As long as the government is concentrating all its energies on war, we cannot expect it to be motivated by the same values held by those of us who would abolish war. Second, no matter what else is said for or against CPS, it cannot be denied that the projects are constructive, as opposed to the destructiveness of war’ and the very fact that our assignees have refused to kill or to help others kill constitutes a strong testimony against the way of violence. This testimony is not only against war but against all the evils that are concomitants of the war method. Third, if I had gone to prison, I would have been ‘conscripted’ to work out my penalty and made the best of it. That is the position I have come to in regard to CPS. I am working under conscription, and no matter how pleasant my job is, it is still slave labor. This is not the fault of CPS, but it is inherent in the system under which CPS has to operate.”[1]

CPSer Roland Smith expressed his willingness to accept compromise:

“The reasons which impel me to stay here and not go AWOL: I am anxious to cooperate, in the first place, as far as possible with the government in its demands that I perform some special service in this time of national emergency. I accede to this demand because I feel an obligation, in company with many citizens, to sacrifice for our country, stipulating only that my work have no connection with the war effort. It is unfortunate, of course, that I am assigned to tasks which do not fully utilize my previous training; but this fact alone does not justify for me a refusal to accept and learn from these tasks. To stay here does not violate my conscience, and on no other ground could I refuse work as a conscientious objector. Buck Creek Camp, in the second place, means much more to me than building a tourist park. It is an opportunity for fellowship with other pacifists, for experimenting with the techniques of non-violence which we so glibly recommend to the world, for character building, and for a kind of sacrifice as costly in its way as going to prison. This camp, moreover, is for many people on the outside a witness, a continual reminder, not that we are willing to build a park, but that we are unwilling to wage war and cause destruction. Finally, I view my experiences here as a stepping stone to more worthy projects. If I have patience, I may get within a year several chances to volunteer for detached service in which I can make a real contribution to human welfare and a yet clearer witness for pacifism.”[2]

A major setback for both transformers and servants came when Congress legislated that CPSers could not perform overseas relief work, a ruling that came down after several dozen CPSers had undergone extensive training and had made arrangements to go to China for their work. CPSers reacted with shock and a somewhat naïve attitude that Congress did “not understand the motive back of the desire of many to serve in the field of foreign relief.”[3]

Transformers assumed that governmental leaders would be friendly to conscientious objectors (COs) if they only were not so ignorant of COs’ motives. This reflected a typically positive attitude toward the state, even as it fought in a total war. Transformers focused more on reforming or transforming the existing system than on unequivocally resisting the totalitarian designs of the state.

Of the three Peace Churches, the Quakers has the most tendencies in this direction, though some Brethren, especially among the Brethren Service Committee (BSC) leadership, did also.

E. Raymond Wilson, the Quaker Washington lobbyist who founded the Friends Committee on National Legislation, urged CPSers to see their work as being that of helping to keep democracy viable in a warring society:

“A just and durable peace…can be built only in a community in which justice, freedom, and cooperation for the common good are secured. For that reason CPS camps are valuable in providing a training ground for the development of these necessary qualities of community life, as well as helping to keep the conscience of the churches alive on the issue of objection to war….One of the primary tasks of such a group as CPS is to help provide for thorough discussion of the many inevitable of increasing governmental control over all phases of life, and to erect as many democratic safeguards as possible in the process.”[4]

Attitude Toward and Sense of Responsibility for Social Change

In their commitment to social change, transformers felt a great deal of responsibility to seek to effect that change. Unlike resisters, transformers felt that the state could be compromised with. Therefore they had a willingness to work within CPS and significantly influenced the broadening the options for work within CPS.

CPSer Walter Forster reflected the point of view that pacifism could offer a practicable program of government and that inter-human violence could be eliminated:

“We must indelibly impress upon our minds the fact that we are only a few thousand in number who must convert millions to our way of thinking. It is only idle talk to tell each other that if everyone believed as we do, there would be no war. We must go farther. We must change the hearts and minds of men all over the world so that they will believe this also. It is up to us in CPS to germinate the seeds for such a dynamic, aggressive peace movement on an international scale that in the not too distant future the militarists, rather than the pacifists, will be the minority.”[5]

Transformer types in CPS desired to make CPS a “laboratory for radical democracy.” Many spoke of this as a major reason for them choosing to be a part of CPS. This can be seen in the ideals expressed for the BSC educational programs, reflecting strong transformer tendencies among Brethren leadership.

BSC educational directors at a meeting in Elgin, Illinois, May 1943, proposed the following aims for the educational program:

“Our presence in CPS should grow into a more positive commitment to a philosophy and program designed to make future war improbable through developing a harmonious world society. (1) There should develop in each unit a serious concern that this period of assignment be one of study and preparation for sharing the challenge of building a saner world – a world in which we may implant our ideals of cooperation, democracy, and pacifism – a world to be built without recourse to war and without the seeds of war in it. (2) Each educational enterprise should be consciously evaluated in regard to its probable constructive value in achieving this [kind of] world. (3) The educational program should be centered about each individual’s interest and potential achievement in relation to ultimate social harmony. (4) Educational methods used should be consistent with our ideals of the ‘good society.’ This means discarding competitive stimulus toward conformity and respecting individual growth and creativity. It means an obligation to seek in every area of life the objective evidence which we may use in building the world we describe and the constant willingness to revise our views in regard to such evidence.”[6]

CPSer Dan Suits underlined the importance of the witness of the interpersonal life of CPSers for ultimate social transformation.

“In a world of total war, we COs are taking our stand in presenting in juxtaposition to this war, a total way of life. We are endeavoring to live as a witness to a manner of life in which conciliation, sympathy, love, and understanding replace the artificial social bonds of force and violence. We hope by our example to point the way toward a society in which problems can be met and solved in mutual trust. But this witness can only be a positive if it is carried out in its entirety. Merely to oppose war by refusing to participate in it is not enough. We can only demonstrate the validity of our ideas by allowing them to permeate all aspects of our life in camp.”[7]

Wendell Harmon saw camp life itself as the crucial training ground for COs in their quest for social transformation:

“‘Engineers in Christian reconstruction’ the CPS men like to call themselves, engineers not only to rebuild blasted buildings or battered bridges, but engineers to reconstruct broken homes, disorganized communities, and a perplexed nation. These builders will not be working with iron and steel, girders and spans, or bricks and stones. Their materials will be the lives, hopes, and hearts of their fellowmen. Adequate and proper preparation is a necessity for the task. That is why this relatively small group of men is doing more during their time in camp than just learning the art of fighting forest fires, maintaining experimental stations, correcting soil erosion, and the many other projects which are now under way.”[8]

Transformers emphasized that their CPS experiences would create a more peaceful world order after the War. To some degree, no doubt, this provided a means of coping with the lack of possibilities to do much of that during the War, especially with the squelching of the plans to send COs overseas to do relief work. But it also reflected a genuine hope that they could make a difference and a sense of responsibility that they must try.

In contrast with resisters, who asserted the need for COs to publicize their opposition to war and coercive conscription as widely as possible, transformers tended to be quieter and less confrontive, recognizing the lack of public peacemaking possibilities in the present and looking to a future when possibilities would be greater.

Robert Sollenberger articulated this perspective:

“It is a wise pacifist who keeps rather quiet while his country is at war. The success of his movement is determined not so much by his activities during the war years, as by his life and influence on society after the war. These months in camp should be thought of more as months of preparation for the paramount job of reconstruction in the coming peace.”[9]

CPSer Lloyd C. Blickenstaff argued that CPS ultimately existed in order to transform post-war society:

“CPS is not merely a protest and refusal to participate in warfare. The remote objective of CPS is toward developing a way of life which does not contain the seeds of war and thus produce a society which lacks the causes of war. This objective is based on the acceptance of the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man, and on the premise that only as man orders his activities so they harmonize with the principles of Eternal Truth (God) shall he be free from the bondage of diseases, famines, and wars. This general objective can be broken down into more specific aims: (A) The development of an awareness of man’s interdependence; (B) The development of an attitude of stewardship in regard to the natural resources of the earth, such as coal, iron, rubber, etc.; (C) Working to gain power with others rather than power over others; (D) The development of non-violent techniques; (E) The development of a perspective which will give us patience to wait for results; (F) The development of an abiding faith in the ultimate triumph of the principles of Eternal Truth; (G) Provide ourselves with the equipment we must have to be of real service to our fellows.”[10]

Even at the end of the War, some transformers expressed satisfaction about their experience and hope for their impact on American society:

“Truly our contribution to American life has not been glamorous and spectacular, neither do we desire that is should be. Within us is a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction, a peace with God. We as Christians have tried to maintained an unwavering testimony to the world and have demonstrated a way of life. We have not sown the seeds of fear, hatred, jealousy, and revenge. We have kept ourselves free from the guilt of bloodshed. As we enter the postwar world our desire is not for security but OPPORTUNITY; opportunity to live influentially, peacefully, cooperatively, justly, and with charity toward our fellows; opportunity to partake of God’s bounties by the sweat of our brow.”[11]

These tendencies among transformers to seek constructive service, to be more accepting of the government’s policies regarding CPS, and to be more positive regarding the potential to work meaningfully within CPS all reflect the optimistic side to their sense of responsibility for transforming society. However, like resisters, though not to the same degree, transformers could be quite critical of the CPS situation, especially when they felt stifled in their quest to carry out their socially-transforming desires.

Source of Central Influence

Either directly or indirectly, the Social Gospel influenced transformers greatly, especially those coming from mainline Protestant churches. Elements within the Church of the Brethren also clearly reflected exposure to the Social Gospel. Quakers had their own unique blend of influences, which certainly included the Social Gospel.

The Social Gospel powerfully affected the consciousness of many American Christians in the 1920s and 1930s and greatly contributed to a widespread, if somewhat superficial pacifism during that time. Many people not specifically connected with Protestant churches also felt the influence of this movement.

Out of this Social Gospel-inspired peace movement in the 1930s came a widespread commitment on the part of many young men not to cooperate with conscription and war should those come to pass. When are did come, this commitment proved to be short-lived for most. But a few continued in it, and out of that group came many of the transformers.

Characteristics of the Social Gospel that in turn characterized those COs with transformer tendencies included a strong sense of responsibility and optimism about “Christianizing” the social order, which meant – perhaps above all – that war could be done away with. Though their optimism was tempered by the outbreak of the War, transformer-type COs still felt that they could and should continue to seek the abolition of war and the establishment of a truly Christian society in the United States.

Quaker commitments to Social Gospel-type goals antedated the emergence of the Social Gospel by a couple of hundred years, but the two dovetailed nicely. The popularity of the Social Gospel served to encourage Quakers to become more ecumenical in their social concerns so that Quaker humanitarianism became essentially a part of the broader Social Gospel movement. Clarence E. Pickett, the director of AFSC, echoed the viewpoint of Social Gospel pacifists when he summarized AFSC’s notion of peacemaking.

“There is a real sense in which everything the AFSC does is work for peace. The healing of the wounds of war, the succor of the refugee, youth joining with other youth across racial and national lines in serving the common good, these that the whole gamut of ministry to bodies, minds, and spirits of men caught in the aftermath of violence and hate are the stuff out of which a family of mankind is created. Like “race relations,” education for peace is not a pigeon-holed activity of the AFSC; insofar as we fulfill our function, it permeates all our activities.”[12]

For many COs growing up in the Protestant churches most directly affected by the Social Gospel, commitment to pacifism stemmed from youth activities and church education. The number of pacifists among rank and file members in these churches was never very large, but many ministers and other church leaders had pacifist commitments and infused church programs with Social Gospel concerns including pacifism.

CPSer Boyd Nelson, a member of the Congregational Church, wrote of such an experience.

“The emphasis of much of the teaching of the Congregational Church is the solution of world economic and social problems by the application of Christian ideals to the situations which are problems and to their causes. While this teaching has lagged behind in older circles of the church, it is stressed quite heavily among Pilgrim Fellowship (young people’s groups). When I was in high school, this country was in the midst of widespread depression, drought, and other disturbances no less fundamental in the national life. In this time of change which some writers have called a ‘bloodless revolution,’ I was in my most impressionable period. Our Pilgrim Fellowship groups discussed and became quite interested in these worldwide and national problems. At that time I became convinced, and the conviction has grown with me ever since, that the only true solution to those problems was the individual’s responsibility and that such could only be accomplished through Christian living. When the draft law was passed in 1940, there was forced upon me and other young men a decision as to the ultimate compatibility of Christianity with militarism and force. Beside the ultimate compatibility stood the question of effectiveness. After making that choice there was only one course of action open after considering the duties of citizenship. That course was CPS. Those of us from other churches than those of historic peace background sincerely appreciate the great thing those churches have done in establishing CPS.”[13]

CPSer Frank Wright, a Methodist, came to a pacifist commitment through his involvement in church activities, especially teen summer camps. A student leader in college, including peace activism, he embarked on a career with the YMCA. His family supported his choice to be a CO without agreeing fully with it. Two of his brothers joined the military. His mother, a delegate to the Methodist General Conference which met shortly after Pearl Harbor, argued that the Methodist Church should resemble their family. She referred to all three of her sons being fully accepted and remaining close to one another even though one was a CO and the other two joined the military.[14]

Experience with Regard to Prison

Those with transformer and resister tendencies differed in their respective willingness to be involved within CPS. Because of their acceptance of CPS work, transformers tended not to choose to go to prison when offered the opportunity to join CPS. However, some did not have this opportunity due to misclassification by draft boards and ended up in prison.

J. Lloyd Spaulding had this experience. Spaulding grew up in a Methodist home, the son of a state legislator. Politically quite active, he participated in the peace movement while a student at Iowa State. The pastor of his church there greatly influenced Spaulding with his committed, articulate pacifism. Spaulding continued his education on to the Ph.D. level, when the draft began. He made the mistake of registering in Minneapolis, his school residence, instead of Ames, Iowa, his permanent residence. The Ames board had some experience with Mennonite COs and likely would have approved Spaulding’s request for CO status. But the Minneapolis board did not have such experience, and it denied Spaulding’s claim. He appealed in 1-A classification, but without success and chose to go to prison rather enter the military.

After six months in prison, Spaulding the option of being paroled into CPS and accepted, having no strongly negative feelings about CPS. He had a positive CPS experience and never regretted leaving prison for it. Spaulding’s pacifism, typical for a transformer, mixed religious and political considerations. The Gandhian movement interested him, and he felt that the experience of World War I totally invalidated war as an instrument for democracy. But his pacifism also had a theological aspect related to his understanding of Jesus.[15]

Attitude toward CPS

Transformers experienced a great deal of ambivalence relative to CPS. It at first attracted them since it appeared to offer opportunities for constructive social action. As a rule, transformers did not share resisters’ antipathy toward conscription and had hopes that mutually satisfactory compromises with the government over alternative service could be reached. But they often became frustrated with the lack of meaningful work and disillusioned when it became clear that Lewis Hershey and the other soldier leaders of Selective Service did not share their view of CPS’ purpose.

Nevertheless, many continued to accept CPS and sought to create meaningful work and educational possibilities within it. They succeeded to some degree, especially with their detached service work in mental health and public health. Also, for a few, meaningful service opened up in scientific research.

Over 500 CPSers served as live subjects for medical and scientific experiments sponsored by the Office of Scientific Research and Development or the Surgeon General’s Office of the US Army. The tests subjected them to stressful, often dangerous, situations. This type of service allowed them to refute charges of cowardice and provided them with what they saw to be meaningful avenues for service. CPSers willingly accepted all opportunities – including experiments aimed to produce effective means of controlling the spread of typhus, curing for malaria, studying the transmission of jaundice or atypical pneumonia, analyzing the nutritional effects of extreme heat and cold, high altitude, or vitamin deficiency, or discovering the best rations for persons shipwrecked and cast adrift at sea.[16]

On the other hand, the CPS situation had many negatives – strong restrictions on work possibilities imposed by Selective Service and Congress, lack of pay and benefits, geographic isolation.

Transformer-type COs, who generally had neither the servants’ theology of accepting being “socially marginal” nor their church and familial support for their stand, faced the challenge of living constructively in a negative, even destructive, situation.

The issue of how hard CPSers should work within the CPS system facilitated on-going debate. One’s perspective here generally followed from one’s general view of the legitimacy of CPS. CPSer Douglas Moody attempted to summarize both sides of that debate:

“Some indications of CPS’s success seems to me to be: (1) the opening of an increasing number of significant detached service projects; (2) camp communities where men are living pacifist lives together; (3) camps where men have moved together to give more meaning and accomplishment to their labor projects and their camp life; (4) the voices from the camps beginning to be heard by the administrative agencies; (5) the willingness of the technical agencies to work with campers in their effort to bring initiative and responsibility into the work project. There have been some indications of its failure: (1) continuing lack of faith in individual campers with a consequent father-to-son complex and use of the fear motive through discipline; (2) the lack of meaning the work still had for the men and the general regimentation that goes with most mass handling of human labor; (3) a failure on the part of the campers in such an atmosphere of compulsion, mistrust, and conscript work to yet be pacifist enough to reach a complete unity of spirit and program of positive pacifist living; (4) the position administrators and campers allow themselves to fill for the “good of the program” where they must numb their finest sensitivities and individual personality and be subservient to the will of Selective Service or the letter of the congregational act or to public relations.”[17]

The lack of “meaningful” work projects disillusioned many. Transformer types also rued the general lack of stability within the CPS program caused by a constant turnover as new campers continually joined and others transferred. CPSer Ed Kerr attempted to analyze what he perceived to be widespread “staleness” and “lack of interest.”

“What are the causes of this staleness? The reasons for the lack of interest in so many aspects of camp life? I think the primary reason lies in the work projects. As men become accustomed to the new situation in which they find themselves in camp, they begin to take stock of their surroundings. And when they take stock, they become aware of the comparative unimportance of the work projects, in a world at war. This frustration in their desire to be doing “work of national importance” grows steadily in all members of the camp, resulting in resignation in some and in active discontent in others. A second morale destroying factor is the instability of any camp program. Continual transfers for the sake of the work projects from the main camp to side camps and back, emergency transfers to remote locations, etc., all make it practically impossible for the educational program to be organized, or for real group feeling to be developed. The causes of these two major factors, and the innumerable other factors such as lack of any financial security, arbitrary decisions regarding hours of work, the inability of men physically unfit for service to secure discharges, etc., all seem to me to be inherent and incurable in the present CPS program.”[18]

Kerr’s despair regarding the “inherent and incurable” problems of CPS was not universal. Many transformer types, while sharing some if not all of his critique, nevertheless pressed on, urging their fellow-CPSers to be constructive and to seek to do the positive works of service they found possible.

This constructive focus was emphasized by CPSer Dick Eastman in the early days of the Mancos, Colorado, government camp, which was a hotbed of discontent:

“A rediscovery of the basic principles through which man lives is possible in this camp and not too difficult to achieve. Lasting value will come as we learn to habitually act in accordance with these principles. Here, where all our ideas are held up to question and sometimes to ridicule, we can better select those basic ideas that have and will continue to have value in society; here, where we are freed from common obligations such as food and clothing, we can concentrate on strengthening habits conforming to these fundamentals and so be better able to fulfill the dictates of our conscience. This seems to me to be the advantage that can be made from CPS: the strengthening, by overcoming the adversity of the present situation, of the ability to win over opposition.”[19]

CPSer Jim Winker asserted that CPS work had national importance and, potentially postwar international importance – a conviction very much in line with transformer hopes of social effectiveness:

“Labor on the same ‘work of national importance’ within camps and groups of camps has helped bring us together whether the project has been forestry, soil conservation, park service, hookworm eradication, dairy farming, ‘guinea pig’ experimentation, or similar work. We have worked partly to express the value of our position. We have helped each other when morale and working conditions were bad. We have discussed together the value of the work done. We have learned many work skills in these fields. We’re even beginning to see the values of exactly these types of work in post-war reconstruction, a Norwegian was telling about Norway and the program of rebuilding that country. After showing the group how work could be carried forward by the Norwegians themselves in fields like social service and public health, he pointed out, ‘But here is some work that needs badly to be done – we need a dam built here and the area reforested.’ Perhaps we can put into our thought some of the basic vitality of our work.”[20]

James Andrews wrote on a more personal level of how his pacifism became a strategy for social change instead of simply a refusal to fight:

“When I came to Buck Creek [CPS camp], conscientious objection to war was to me a negative retreat, an escape. I had nothing constructive to offer in the place of war. I was only sure that I wanted no part of the struggle on terms of force. As a result of reading, exchange of ideas, and thinking, I have progressed from the negative to the positive. I see the practice of non-violence in international or internal dispute as the only means of breaking out of the circle of destruction which in its course can result in nothing but mental, spiritual, and physical stultification, and eventually complete atrophy.”[21]

As the Peace Church closest to both resister and transformer tendencies, AFSC played a central role in these debates. As compared with the MCC and BSC camps, the AFSC camps certainly contained a larger proportion of these two tendencies relative to the servant tendency and hence experienced a larger amount of debate about the structure and even validity of CPS. Part of the debate centered on whether AFSC should serve as an administrative agency for conscription. Most AFSC leaders approved of their organization administering CPS, but SS restrictions often frustrated those with strong social concerns.

Despite strong criticisms of CPS, AFSC nevertheless continued to work within CPS until the end of the War, even while facing many challenges. Many CPSers in AFSC camps did not want to be in camps and caused disruption. One Quaker CPSer, John D. Kendall, argued for a sort of church discipline that would encourage a disruptive camper to leave so that the camps could more successfully function in a constructive manner.

“The question arises, ‘What is to become of those COs now in Friends’ camps who… refuse to cooperate?’ As an illustration of what is done in some Friends’ meetings, Ken Morgan cited the procedure called ‘eldering,’ in which the Friends, after frequent discussions with a recalcitrant person, finally feel it fair to say to him, if he does not cooperate, ‘Thee is not one of us.’ This procedure, it seems to me, is vital to any group who would not have its development made sterile by individuals within it only because it is the group they can enter most easily. Too many groups, over-sympathetically accepting any or all who have come to them, have felt a disastrous disruption of community life and spiritual growth because they could not bring themselves to say, in effect, ‘Thee is not one of us.’ Is this an admission of failure on the part of the group? Is it an unchristian attitude toward the individual? Is it dangerous, authoritarian? These are arguable points. But certainly, to many of us it is the most important that the contribution of CPS to future world peace shall be as strong, direct, and meaningful as possible. A reshaping of Friends’ camps along these lines is a way to make it that.”[22]

Kendall’s suggestions never gained full implementation. However, in 1944 AFSC, hoping to reduce the number of malcontents in its camps, did institute a rule that instead of new CPSers going automatically to an AFSC camp unless they specifically asked to join a government camp, the opposite would be true – campers would only go to AFSC camps if they specifically requested to do so.

The Paradigmatic Fruit of This Tendency

A major fruit of the transformer tendency can be seen in the work done in the mental health field, more particularly the formation of the Mental Hygiene Program of CPS which early in 1946 became the National Mental Health Foundation.

The work in mental health emerged due to two developments. For one thing, as we have seen, many COs disliked the type of work CPS assigned to them, and they requested alternatives. Furthermore, many COs, happy enough with their work, nevertheless wanted chances to learn new skills and have new experiences. So, CPS administrators and campers had strong desires to find new service opportunities beyond forestry and agricultural work. At the same time, mental health hospitals experienced inadequate staffing. Many one-time attendants had joined the military or taken other, more desirable jobs.

The first mental health unit began in June 1942 at the Eastern State Mental Hospital, with CPSers being recruited for this and other similar emerging units with the promise of being able to do more significant work.[23]

Every CO who wanted to do so and was allowed to do so by Selective Service found a mental hospital position. As a rule, such COs experienced a warm reception from the mental hospital administrators. “It may be regrettable that there should arise the necessity for the formation of such a group as CPS,” wrote a state mental hospital director to Selective Service, “but the group certainly was a Godsend to us.”[24]

CPSers in mental health institutions generally had positive experiences and made a significant impact on the day-to-day care offered in these institutions. CO attendants contributed to changing the entire tone of an institution, as staff, doctors, nurses, and even hardened attendants discovered that considerate care and human sympathy worked – and worked more effectively than harsh or impersonal supervision – in working with the mentally ill.[25]

CPSer Hugh Barrett summarized the motivations and rewards that characterized many of those who did mental hospital work:

“As far as I can see, base camp has it all over this unit for working conditions and living quarters (for single men anyway); except, of course, for the $15/month [allowance the hospital workers received compared to $5/month for other CPSers]. There is only one advantage, and that is enough to keep me from going back to camp – we are desperately needed. We are doing a job that would not be done as well if we were not doing it. If we were not here, attendants would be dangerously spread out over the wards. Although most of us have little physical work to do we must be on the alert all the time on duty. There are many opportunities for men to make a little more of their job than is required of them by the institution. It takes ingenuity and plenty of grit to go the second mile in this job; most of us have fallen short about a mile and a quarter.”[26]

The CPSers agreed in condemning conditions within the hospitals and committed themselves to bringing greater humanity and compassion to the patients. The newsletter of the National Service Board for Religious Objectors (NSBRO) in 1945 detailed their perspective:

“Into the discouraging picture of mental hygiene in the United States, more than 2,000 men in CPS have been tossed to stop-gap the growing weaknesses and to institute what improvements they could. After three years of service, members of CPS mental health units could well recount their days of frustrating efforts – bedpan changing, patient feeding, face washing, bed-sheet changing – and could look with satisfaction upon a hard, and often monotonous job of doing little things. Praise from many sources attested to the value of the services they have rendered. More than this, the men of CPS could take special pride in their self-created “work of national importance.” Often thwarted in their pleas for other types of work, and tired of backward duty on a local scale, these men have united their efforts into a movement, national in scope, to uncover the roots of institutional evils. This movement, better known as the Mental Hygiene Project of CPS is now one year old. Despite its youth, it has been recognized as a full-blown special service project, with four men on a detached service status directing and stimulating the Program’s nation-wide efforts.”[27]

COs in mental hospitals found their experiences quite moving. Some responded by closing themselves off from what was around them. But many others challenged the evils they found – the filth and disease, the inadequate buildings and equipment, the nauseating meals, the incompetent, untrained, overworked, and underpaid attendants, and above all, the pattern of cruelty and violence that surrounded the daily life of the mentally-ill. They instigated many reforms.[28]

These COs perceived the taproot of the trouble to be public apathy and prejudice. They knew that their own misconceptions characterized the wider public: that once insane, a person is always insane; that the mental deficient in insensitive to physical pain or personal affronts; that all the deranged are dangerously violent and must be isolated and restrained.

The COs’ goal became one of correcting these misconceptions and arousing a public conscience that would support and demand a revolution in mental care. In their quest to do so, they began what became a permanent and effective reform movement in the mental health system.[29]

As they sought to better the lot of the mentally ill, CPS men expressed a need to share common experiences and coordinate their efforts to fulfill this function. A group of CO attendants in the Philadelphia area, with the blessing of the National Committee for Mental Hygiene and some initial financial support from the religious agencies administering CPS, started the Mental Hygiene Program of CPS. This program evolved into a permanent organization, the National Mental Health Foundation, that survived the dissolution of CPS.[30]

Hal Barton, a Baptist CPSer, co-founded the Mental Hygiene Program. His perspective had strong transformer tendencies, with its strong sense for the need for reforming the unsatisfactory situation within which he found himself in a Philadelphia mental hospital. “I came into the hospital as ignorant of mental illness as any man could be,” he said. He learned through experience, often from brutal, unqualified attendants.

In the face of his experience, Barton was set to contact the Philadelphia Record and give a reporter an eyewitness story that would hopefully shake people out of their apathy. Through conversation, Barton and fellow CPSer Len Edelstein formulated a plan for what became the CPS Mental Hygiene Program. They envisioned pooling the wisdom and lessons learned by CPSers as part of a reform movement with the mental health system.[31]

The program, which began in April 1944, had a two-fold strategy aimed at reforming the mental health system. One strategy focused on educating attendants, especially through sharing information and strategies through a periodical called The Attendant, which amazed everyone by very quickly gaining a widespread national circulation. This periodical presented the knowledge and ideas gained from the COs’ daily experience on the wards. The first publication of its kind in the field of mental hygiene in the United States, it combined the attendant’s viewpoint concerning the handling of patients with the knowledge of the doctor, nurse, and superintendent.[32] The second element of the reform strategy emphasized increased public awareness through exposé. This strategy took the form of newspaper and magazine articles, including a widely read article in Life, and a book, Out of Sight, Out of Mind, based on CO reports and published in 1947.

The Mental Hygiene Program, renamed the National Mental Health Foundation (NMHF) in 1946, had a reformist impulse, in line with transformer tendencies. NMHF worked within the system to effect change, as seen in a statement of purpose from Out of Sight, Out of Mind:

“The National Mental Health Foundation is an outgrowth of concern on the part of citizens who, shocked and chagrined by what they have learned about institutions for the mentally ill and the mentally deficient, have themselves set about to learn more, serve more, give more, and influence more – to the end that the atrocities which daily occur in mental institutions may be speedily reduced. In present conditions in institutions, the members of the Foundation see not only a national disgrace but a threat to the national well-being. They know that such total neglect and such needless misery cannot coexist with a healthy and productive society. The demands of humanitarianism and self-preservation call upon us for an immediate and positive attack upon the problems of mental disease. The foundation strives for active participation by its members. Membership is open to all who are concerned about mental health and share the objectives of the Foundation. At the same time that a drive for an expanded membership in the foundation is underway, an effort is being made to encourage all persons to support local and state mental health organizations. It is felt that only through such local groups can the ultimate goal be achieved. Until citizenship responsibility is assumed for supporting mental health measures, improvements in the care of the mentally ill will be but superficial reform at best. It is essential that the present public apathy and misinformation be dispelled.”[33]

The NMHF continued active work in the years immediately following the War. From 1946 to 1950, the NMHF, led by former CPSers, agitated for better attendant training, higher hospital budgets, more citizen involvement in state hospital programs. In 1950 it merged with some other mental health reform organizations and has continued its work down to the present. Several CPSers remained in mental health work as a career.

Long-Term Attitudes

Some transformer types burned out, and some left for the military. Because many found an outlet for their drive for significant service in mental and public health work and other forms of detached service, they did not tend to reach the same level of disillusionment as did resisters. But many did not engage in mental and public health work soon enough or found it lacking. Some concluded that the military offered the most meaningful and transformative work. In those cases, meaningful work overrode pacifism.

Such COs wanted to relieve human suffering directly, believing that non-combatant service provided a fruitful avenue for such service. Many of those asking for reclassification from CPS into non-combatant military service – and those constituted about 5% of all those who served in CPS during the course of the War – apparently found this appeal persuasive.[34]

Some COs with transformer tendencies simply put their reformist zeal on hold for the duration of the War and recognized their impotence, making the best of a bad situation. CO Hobart Mitchell wrote:

“I had no faith that anything politically favorable could be done until the World War II orgy was over, that attempted action during the war by COs in camps or special-service units was futile, absolutely futile. Units in mental hospitals could and did draw attention to cruelty and wrong management in their hospitals, and that was successful. But to attempt to correct wrong action on a national scale was far beyond us. We were the tiniest of minorities, and our refusal to fight put us against the most aggressive and vocal element in the country. The American Legion was their watchdog, ready to snap at the least or at no provocation. Even the Methodist Church, long a stronghold of pacifism, had come out for the war in May 1944. No organized group, like Labor for instance, would touch us, let alone join with us on a national issue. The government or any group could disregard us or put us down easily. Even concerning our own situation, AFSC, BSC, and MCC had found Selective Service very hard to deal with.”[35]

Gene Kidder, a Methodist CO, represented other transformers in ultimately opting for the military after CPS disappointed him:

“CPS men as a whole have not shown much more self-discipline, self-sacrifice, adaptability, or the ability to get along with others than the general public. In some camps under good leadership, progress in understanding and integration has increased with passing months. But, if it is slow and difficult to work together in this country under rather favorable circumstances, how could we carry on any successful demonstration against an occupying Nazi force? Our talk of non-violent techniques of action as an alternative to war seems absurd in the light of our progress in their use in times of relative peace.”[36]

Consequently, Kidder concluded, based largely on transformer-type reasoning, that he did not belong in CPS:

“The reluctant supporter [of the War] feels that he must accept political responsibility for the crisis. The policies may not have been of his making. Nevertheless, he sees as a practical and political man that his nation must fight or be invaded. He recognizes that in supporting his nation he is choosing an evil method (destroying innocent people, imposing military government with all its evils if he is successful, taking unto himself anti-democratic, anti-social methods and social organization, creating a body of men themselves ripe for fascism, etc.). He adopts this method because he feels that Nazi domination is a greater threat to his moral values than all the evils he acquires or engenders through warring against the enemy.”[37]

In other words, while in time of peace or of war between essentially equal evil sides a pacifist position might be socially responsible, when the war is between a basically moral nation and a demonstrably evil nation, then the moral imperative is to fight, even while recognizing the immorality of one’s means in doing so. Those who based their conscientious objection on social well-being and effectiveness in overcoming evil had to struggle constantly with arguments such as Kidder’s. Many of them came to see pacifism not as an absolute but as secondary to the need to stop the Nazis and the Japanese.

Proportion of Total CO Population

Transformers probably had a slightly larger population than resisters but much less than servants. Perhaps 20% of those in CPS would by and large fit in this category.

In Sibley and Jacob’s estimation, about 15% of CPS consisted of members of major Protestant denominations, with Methodists furnishing by far the largest segment. These men formed a fairly uniform “middle” group, theologically speaking, between the theological conservatism of the Mennonites and the “unchurched” COs who had no creedal basis for their religious views. Many of these men had led denominational youth organizations, and coupled strong loyalty to the established church with an active sense of the social implications of their Christianity.[38]

Though not all COs from mainline Protestant churches had transformer tendencies, most surely did. Mainline Protestant COs combined with significant numbers of like-minded Quakers and Brethren and a few non-church related COs probably totaled 2,000 to 2,500 in CPS with only a few in prison.

Major Communal Identity

The large majority of COs in this category had mainline Protestant affiliations, about half being Methodist. The Presbyterian, Northern Baptist, Episcopal, Congregational, and Disciples of Christ churches – those most influenced by the Social Gospel – each had over 100 COs. A significant percentage, probably at least half, of the nearly 1,000 Quaker COs also fit in this category, as did maybe 10% of the slightly over 1,000 Brethren COs.

Though most Protestant church leaders supported the War, many Protestants did remain pacifists – considerably more, both absolutely and proportionately, than during World War I. These included such prominent figures as Harry Emerson Fosdick, Walter Van Kirk, Ralph W. Sockman, E. F. Tittle, Allan Knight Chalmers, Georgia Harkness, John Haynes Holmes, Methodist Bishop Paul B. Kern, and Episcopal Bishops Walter Mitchell and Appleton Lawrence.

The Disciples of Christ are representative of these denominations in their attitude toward COs. It became clear early in the War that their church would produce numerous COs, young men who had developed their convictions through the church’s teachings. The church had responsibility for them, even though the vast majority of church members supported the War.

The Department of Social Welfare, to which responsibility for helping Disciple COs had been assigned, had no funds to provide the $35/month required for the support of each man in CPS camps. Also, division of sentiment in the churches over pacifism and conscientious objection made it impossible to use general missionary and educational funds for this purpose. So this agency undertook a voluntary fundraising campaign, making its appeal to individuals and churches on three grounds: (1) that the young men in CPS had become COs through the church’s own teaching; (2) that Christians have an obligation to support the integrity of the human conscience and the right of a Christian to follow what one believes to be the will of God at whatever cost; and (30 that the Disciples could not in honor permit three small Peace Churches to pay the costs of their men in CPS.[39]

This ambivalence toward COs typified all these denominations. They recognized that their COs generally put into practice convictions developed as a result of their church involvement. But, at the same time, the vast majority of church members supported the war effort and opposed conscientious objection. COs could, at best, hope for an official recognition by their denominations that the CO stance was one authentically Christian response to warfare along with efforts by the denomination to raise financial support for the COs.

Because of their tradition of pacifism, Quakers gave more support to COs in their midst. But Harold Chance of the AFSC peace section estimated that 75-80% of all drafted Friends went into the military as combatants. Another 10-15% went into the military as non-combatants.[40] Hence, not surprisingly, Quaker COs also met with an ambivalent response in their churches.

This ambivalence is seen in the problems Friends faced in trying to raise financial support for their CPS camps in light of their deeply divided attitudes toward the War. Most meetings contained only a minority of pacifists, and many actually denounced the COs and opposed any action on their behalf.[41]

Those Friends who did choose CPS often cited loyalty to the pacifist tradition of their church as a major factor in their position. However, they – much more than Mennonites and Brethren – emphasized their own personal choice of conscience as well.

CPSer James B. Cope is an example:

“Historically and traditionally I am a CO, having been born into the Society of Friends, reared in a pacifist family, and educated in a Friends’ school. Through these channels I have had pacifism brought to me directly and indirectly all my life. This religious training played an important part in my position; however, it took the spiritual depth of my conscience to be a CO. ‘There is that of God in every man.’ Believing that, how could I take up arms against my fellow man? With this mind, I find myself in accord with the Yearly Meetings. God’s law of love, as fully exemplified by the life of Jesus, is applicable to nations as well as to individuals. Because of this application, war as a means of settling differences between nations becomes morally unlawful, just as feuds between groups and duals between individuals. We cannot recognize a double standard of morality, one for individuals and another for nations.”[42]

In a way similar to the resisters being “represented” by the War Resisters League, the Fellowship of Reconciliation “represented” transformers. Like with the WRL, the FOR reflected and represented the viewpoint of many non-FOR members in CPS.

The FOR, a product of Social Gospel pacifism, had a largely mainline Protestant constituency during World War II. The point of view articulated by FOR members generally included a strong sense of optimism and responsibility regarding making Christian values widely expressed in the social order.

Inclination on an Individualist/Communal Spectrum

Transformers tended toward the middle of the spectrum compared to individualistic resisters and communal servants. Some certainly had individualistic tendencies. Most transformers came from mainline church communities that, while not usually hostile, often did not support their stand. Hence, to some degree they stood alone in their convictions. But at the same time, many had strong communal ideals. Transformers frequently mentioned the cooperative movement that had emerged in the latter years of the Depression. Many transformers emphasized the ideals of democratic group process and desired that CPS be a “laboratory for participatory democracy.”

Many of CPS’s founders and administrators had strong communalistic ideals. They advocated a social rather than an individualistic pattern of schooling for the CO. The BSC leaders articulated this most clearly, asserting that pacifist leaders designed the CPS program “to develop and exemplify ways of cooperative, non-violent, democratic and serviceable community living” and “to prepare for service of reconstruction both at home and abroad to alleviate the ill effects of war.” Such objectives repudiated the strong individualist who claimed in the name of his conscience the right to be free of all corporate responsibilities and to pursue unmolested whatever might be his personal aims. Transformers sought a society of free men knit by ties of brotherliness within CPS, rather than a “state of nature” where each individual could demonstrate his freedom by his own peculiar forms of self-expression.[43]

Transformers tended to criticize the resisters’ individualism. CPSer Kurtis Naylor wrote:

“Most of us agree that physical destruction of life is incompatible with our consciences. We hold the human personality to be of infinite worth. We refuse to kill physically, yet many of us are destroying personality by our ruthless, bombastic, intellectual arguments, followed by acting as we please. If I am a genuine pacifist, I can no more think of taking advantage of a man intellectually than I can physically. Are we really attempting to live together in the spirit of love? to develop a brotherhood of understanding? to present a program of non-violence through careful planning and consecrated living? Or are we interested only in living for personal idealism?”[44]

Interestingly, some COs came into CPS with no real formal church commitment and became very committed to the program and in some cases were the strongest defenders of the CPS community in the camps. One example, Harry Lamparter, called himself a “just plain Christian” with no formal affiliation and performed impressive acts of service to camp life including organizing a major party, doing significant fund-raising, and “introducing enough efficiency while working in the kitchen to cut the working time in half.”[45]

Relative Articulateness, Especially as Concerns the Outside World

Although to some degree overshadowed by resisters in expressing their convictions to the outside world, transformers characteristically expressed themselves quite well.

For example, both Quaker and mainline Protestant CPSers tended to use significant detail on the SS form in response to the question regarding the bases for their pacifism. Unlike most Mennonites and many Brethren, who generally repeated a brief standard line, Quakers and the others made lengthy and sophisticated statements. Commonly these registrants attached several additional pages of typed exposition to the complete form. Enough Quaker and mainline Protestant CPSers demonstrated such articulateness to justify the observation that this type of CO represented a personally developed and highly intellectualized type of pacifism.[46]

Strengths and Weaknesses

Transformers had a very strong sense of responsibility for devoting themselves to the public good. They kept alive and witnessed to a vision of a peaceful, just, Christianized social order. Many transformers maintained a commitment to their vision throughout the War, exemplifying the power of that vision to sustain hopefulness even in the face of apparent total lack of progress in making it real in a widespread way.

Those transformers who retained a sense of vision persevered in their quest for meaningful work possibilities, a quest which at least partially succeeded with the establishment of Civilian Public Service units devoted to public health, special medical research, and, most significantly, mental hospital service. The National Mental Health Foundation models an effective reform effort initiated by only a few committed individuals. These individuals displayed great creativity and energy in establishing and nurturing into fruition a sustained and at least moderately successful effort to reform the American mental health system.

On the other hand, the high ideals of transformers led to unrealistic expectations regarding what they would be able to do within CPS. It is possible that for many transformers, an optimism regarding the possibility for the widespread transformation of the existing social order contributed to a certain naivete about the state’s intentions and willingness to accommodate transformers wishes. In the longterm, such naivete often led to frustration and cynicism when the high hopes were dashed.

Some transformers were fairly easily persuaded by the course of events to give up their pacifism when they came to believe that the most effective possibilities for making peace and meeting human needs could be found in the military. They generally lacked a deep sense of communal rootedness and commitment to pacifism which contributed to a relative inability to retain their pacifist commitments, even though the ideal of community was highly regarded.

[Link to chapter six]

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[1] Howard F. McGaw, “What Things are Caesars?” Calumet 2.18 (April 1944), 2.

[2] Roland Smith, “Monuments to Pacifism,” Calumet 1.11 (April 2, 1942), 3.

[3] “Does Congress Understand?” The Trail Maker 1.8 (June 1943), 2.

[4] Quoted in Robert Hegler, “Justice, Freedom, and Cooperation for the Common Good,” Calumet 1.10 (March 25, 1942), 8.

[5] Walter Forster, “The Place is Here and the Time is Now!” Camp Walhalla News 1.4 (Dec. 1942), 7.

[6] Quoted in Leslie Eisan, Pathways of Peace (Elgin, IL: Brethren Press, 1949), 119-120.

[7] Dan Suits, “Why Camper Government?” Camp Walhalla News 1.4 (Dec. 1942), 3.

[8] Wendell E. Harmon, “Toward that Greater Work Call,” The Columbian 1.2 (Feb. 14, 1942), 4.

[9] Robert Sollenberger, “Kane Critic,” The Kane Penn 1.4 (May 30, 1942), 2.

[10] Lloyd C. Blinckenstaff, “Where Are We Going?” Builders 2.8 (May 23, 1942), 3.

[11] Harold Denlinger, “What Do We as COs Ask and Hope for in the Postwar World?” Skyliner 3.9 (Sept. 1945), 3.

[12] Clarence E. Pickett, For More Than Bread: An Autobiographical Account of Twenty-Two Years’ Work with the American Friends Service Committee (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1953), 397.

[13] Boyd Nelson, “Reason for Choosing CPS,” Weeping Water News Drops (Aug. 8, 1942), 4.

[14] Interview with Frank Leon Wright, Jr., Newton, Kansas. May 7, 1972 (Bethel College Oral History Project).

[15] Interview with J. Lloyd Spaulding, Newton, Kansas. October 11, 1977 (Bethel College Oral History Project).

[16] Mulford Q. Sibley and Philip E. Jacob, Conscription of Conscience: The American State and the Conscientious Objector (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1952), 143.

[17] Douglas Moody, “Analyzing CPS,” Camp Walhalla News 1.5 (Jan. 1943), 4.

[18] Ed Kerr, “Why There Has Been No Columbian,” The Columbian 1.19 (Feb. 1943), 7.

[19] Dick Eastman, “Possibilities in CPS,” CPS GI #2 (Dec. 1943), 2.

[20] Jim Winker, “Widening Horizons,” Viewpoint 1.9 (March 15, 1944), 4-5.

[21] James Andrews, “Changed from Minus to Plus,” Calumet 1.19 (Aug. 10, 1942), 1.

[22] John D. Kendall, “AFSC’s Relationship with CPS,” Calumet 2.16 (Nov. 1943), 2.

[23] “Elgin State Hospital: Local for Alternative Service,” Calumet 1.6 (Jan. 25, 1942), 5.

[24] Quoted in Lawrence S. Wittner, Rebels Against War: The American Peace Movement, 1941-1960 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1969), 72.

[25] Sibley and Jacob, Conscription, 140.

[26] Hugh Barrett, “Mental Hospitals: A Rationale,” Marsh Valley Echo 3.10 (Oct. 1944), 9.

[27] “Mental Hygiene Program Correlates Work, Aims of 2,000 CPS Attendants,” The Reporter 3.22 (May 15, 1945), 3.

[28] Sibley and Jacob, Conscription, 160.

[29] Sibley and Jacob, Conscription, 162-3.

[30] Sibley and Jacob, Conscription, 164.

[31] Marvin R. Weisbrod, Some Form of Peace: True Stories of the American Friends Service Committee at Home and Abroad (New York: Viking Press, 1968), 33.

[32] Hobert Mitchell, We Would Not Kill (Richmond, IN: Friends United Press, 1983), 254.

[33] Frank L. Wright, Out of Sight, Out of Mind (Philadelphia: National Mental Health Foundation, 1947), 155.

[34] Sibley and Jacob, Conscription, 89.

[35] Mitchell, We Would Not Kill, 160.

[36] Gene Kidder, “From CPS to the Army,” Viewpoint 1.11 (April 19, 1944), 7-8.

[37] Kidder, “From CPS,” 8-9.

[38] Sibley and Jacob, Conscription, 168-69.

[39] James A. Crain, The Development of Social Ideas Among the Disciples of Christ (St. Louis: The Bethany Press, 1969), 136.

[40] Sibley and Jacob, Conscription, 518-519.

[41] Sibley and Jacob, Conscription, 328.

[42] James B. Cope, “Why I Am a CO,” Harmony 2.5 (May 1943), 2.

[43] Sibley and Jacob, Conscription, 166-167.

[44] Kurtis Naylor, “Strange Trails Descend,” Builders 2.4 (feb. 22, 1942), 2.

[45] Bill Atkin, “Seed Silhouette: Harry Lamparter,” Seed #16 (March 1944), 2.

[46] Gordon Zahn, “A Descriptive Study of the Social Backgrounds of Conscientious Objectors in Civilian Public Service During World War II” (Ph.D. dissertation, Catholic University of America, 1953), 113.