I don't often post items directly related to current politics on my blog - those I save for Facebook friends, and occasional items on Twitter. Although I've not blogged much as I got deeper into writing my dissertation, my intent is for this place to remain related primarily to historical and academic interests. Today I'm breaking that rule because Annalee Flower Horne has a great post about the Hobby Lobby/Affordable Care Act case currently before the Supreme Court of the United States as it relates to actual Conscientious Objection. Rather than focusing on whether a corporation has enough personhood to have religious views, Annalee focuses on the concept of Objection. Take some time to go read it, it is definitely worth the effort.
This very peripherally relates to my dissertation, which includes a focus on morality and combat during the Vietnam War. One of the key figures in the media chapter - which I'm revising again over the next two days - is James Henry, a medic who happened to witness multiple atrocities. Unlike most other soldiers in Vietnam who witnessed atrocities, Henry repeatedly tried to report the war crimes he saw. Having been warned to keep quiet about it for his own personal safety while still in country, he tried first to report murders and rapes by members of his unit to a Staff Judge Advocate and an agent of the Criminal Investigation Division on his return to the United States. The lawyer told him to wait until his enlistment was up because the Army had so much power to make himself miserable. The CID man got aggressive with Henry asking him what he was trying to pull?
Wisely taking the advice of the SJA, Henry waited until he was out of the service and wrote to his Congressman to report the atrocities he saw in Vietnam while under the command of Captain Donald Reh. After being ignored, he did an interview with Scanlan's Magazine, gave a press conference at the Los Angeles Press Club, and joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War. He holds the distinction of being the only veteran to testify at the Winter Soldier Investigations in January 1971 to have his claims substantiated by the Army. That happened not because the other members of VVAW were liars (a few were), but because he chose to seek justice on both the individual and institutional levels. Unlike the others, Henry gave CID names, dates, and locations for the atrocities he witnessed.
Why am I bringing him into this discussion? In addition to being the only soldier at WSI to have his claims of war crimes verified by the Army, he also happened to be the only soldier to earn a status as a conscientious objector without providing a religious justification. He eventually agreed to enlist as a combat medic to avoid prosecution by the local U.S. Attorney. While in Vietnam he earned a Bronze Star for working hard to save his comrades while under fire. Despite being described as a "mild hippie" by his platoon commander, the other members of his platoon recall that from the beginning he moved like a veteran in field, especially under fire.
Like the examples Annalee provides, James Henry was Conscientious Objector who still did everything required of him to fulfill the obligations of citizenship. Think about it - he showed that you can maintain your moral and ethical beliefs, but that you have to sacrifice to do so. Otherwise, they aren't worth very much.