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Draft board a place for pacifists, Catholic says


Jim Smith, a Catholic, serves on a draft board. Why? “Because I oppose war. … Waging war to achieve peace doesn’t work,” he said. Smith, who asked that his real name not be used, said that should the draft be revived, he hopes his presence on a board can be of use to young men who are applying for conscientious objector status.

Smith urged other people of faith who feel as he does to inquire about procedures to get on a draft board in their locality. It’s a legal way to do something that might save a life, he said. “This can be effective,” said Smith, in a recent telephone interview.

Smith said he was approved for a draft board following an interview. His board meets once a year; this gathering includes “a practice draft board meeting,” said Smith. A man plays the role of someone seeking conscientious objector status or other exemptions and the board deliberates.

There are about 2,000 local draft boards and district appeal boards composed of 10,600 uncompensated civilian volunteers. Each board member is nominated by his/her state’s governor and appointed by the director of Selective Service on behalf of the president. A goal is to have board members be representative of the communities they serve. Members may be either men or women. They cannot be members of the military, either active or retired, nor can they serve in the National Guard or Reserves. Additionally they cannot be members of the judiciary or law enforcement.

Smith attributed his strong beliefs to his parents.

“My family abhorred war,” he said. They took him to hear some of the Catholic church’s outstanding peace activists, said Smith. “And there were many antiwar nuns at my college.” During the Vietnam War, he belonged to “a strong Catholic church that took a stand.”

A young man’s upbringing can be a major factor in building a case for conscientious objector status, Smith said. “It’s up to parents to talk with their kids … to provide reading materials. So a kid can tell a draft board, for example, ‘I read [Jesuit] Fr. [Richard] McSorley’s book.’ ”

Smith, a grandfather, looks at news clips from war-torn areas and takes it as a lesson. “When I see some poor 17-year-old crumpled on the ground, I tell my daughter, you’ve got to think about this,” and talk with her own children about the realities of war.

Demetria Martinez is a frequent contributor to NCR. She writes from Albuquerque, N.M.

National Catholic Reporter, March 28, 2003