The first step to becoming a conscientious objector was registering with the local draft board as a “4-E.” This designation was difficult to obtain and easily denied, requiring an additional appeals process through the Department of Justice. Securing the 4-E was only half of the battle. Especially after the attack on Pearl Harbor, conscientious objection was perceived as a means of avoiding the draft. James Dyer’s 4-E classification kept him from employment on two separate occasions. For Robert McCullagh and Malcolm Nichols, the 4-E status divided their families, causing tension with male relatives who had participated in or were currently enlisted in traditional military service.
Attitudes Towards Conscientious Objectors—James Dyer
I was registered in Los Angeles in 1940 when they had everybody registered, everybody in the certain age groups. But my residence was in San Bernardino, and I held that residence so that my draft board was in San Bernardino rather than Los Angeles or even Whittier.
In 1941, I was director of a boy’s group at the Pasadena Presbyterian Church, and I had had an agricultural classification for a while. But then after or right around the time of Pearl Harbor, I was reclassified to 4-E. The classification, of course, came out on postcards, and the mail came into the front desk and everybody picked it up.
The manager, who was the manager of the church at that time, brought the mail in to me and said he disagreed with my stand. And he said, “As far as I’m concerned, you’ll not work here.” But he didn’t have the say. But I left at the end of the year. That was my first experience with that.
My second experience was that I had applied for a job later on, in early ’42, out of San Bernardino. And the chairman of the board for that job found out that I had not given up my CO position. She said, “Well, you can’t work for us.”
Trouble with the Draft Board—Robert McCullagh
The board really did not want to classify me as a conscientious objector, and they didn’t. They told me that I wouldn’t be able to find a Methodist minister who would support me in my position. I was somewhat surprised at that statement because I thought that the pastor of the church would. And I was quite sure that I could have gotten at least a hundred ministers in the conference who knew me when I was president of the Conference Youth Organization, who would have at least said a good word for me.
But the local board did turn me down, and I had to appeal it. I went through an appeal process, ultimately going before, I think it was a Department of Justice hearing agent. And I had about an hour, hour-and-a-half conversation with him, and subsequently he apparently recommended that I be granted the 4-E classification.
Father’s Disapproval of Conscientious Objection—Lawrence Miller
But the process of the F.B.I. [investigating me]—oh, they went to visit my girlfriends, they went to visit my parents, they went to visit anybody they could get their hands on to try to determine whether I was sincere. It was rather interesting that they went to visit my father in his office on Wall Street. I have no idea exactly what he said; I know that he was in strong disagreement with me. But he was not an authoritarian sort of person. He was a very amiable person.
But it was a great, great shock [for my father] to have—it was actually two sons who were going through the same process, who wanted to be conscientious objectors. Because he’d been in World War I, he’d been wounded and everything, and it was unbelievable for him. But the F.B.I. visit was I think a help to him because the F.B.I. man apparently said to him, “As long as your son seems to be associated with the Quakers, then we as a government don’t have to have any doubts about his sincerity. But have him stay away from some of these left groups, communist groups, and that kind of thing.” Well, I had no interest in those groups. In fact, I had some experience at Antioch College with students who were, I thought, manipulating the democratic process and all that [for] student government. I didn’t like that at all.
An Unpopular Opinion—Malcolm Nichols
DN: How did it feel to take a position that was so unpopular in World War II?
Well, I never thought of it that way. I just thought that everyone has to take his own opinion upon the thing in war, how he thinks about it, and what he feels about it. I’d never think about what other people said. I never made fun of people who entered to the Army.
I know when my brother came out to camp to visit me, there were some boys in CPS camp that came to me and said, “Well Malcolm, I didn’t know you had a killer in your family.” And I looked at him kinda funny and wondering—at first I couldn’t catch on to what they were talking about, see? And then I told them that my brother and I, we never argued over this issue. We each took what we felt was our responsibility.