The four narrators below were all practicing Methodists, a Protestant denomination whose church leadership in the 1940’s strongly supported a pro-peace agenda and used annual National Methodist Youth Conferences across the country to organize and vocally campaign against a war they believed would create more problems than it would solve. Three men each describe the influence of this pacifist ideology on their decision to oppose conscription in the armed forces, whether through reading about pacifism in the World Book Encyclopedias, dispersing handbills on Labor Day at a youth conference, or—in the case of James Dyer—experiencing a vision of Christ in the mountains of Fresno, California.
Learning about Pacifism—Malcolm Nichols
When I was a little boy, my folks had an encyclopedia of the world. And of course, I couldn’t read a lot of it, but I got in on ‘em, and I’d see the pictures, and I’d come to these pictures showing me different wars that were going on in different parts of the world. And I wondered, “How come?”
So, I became very interested in just people who would call themselves pacifists. At that time, I had never thought of it. So, I became very interested in Mahatma Gandhi when he was working for the independence of India from Great Britain. And, as you know, he helped get rid of the British government and give India its freedom.
A Vision of Christ—James Dyer
My age brought me into the early ‘30s as a person out of work during the Depression. And I thought quite a bit about going into the Marines. A friend of mine with whom I played basketball was going into the Marines. But I never got around to signing up or anything like that.
Then, in November of 1935, I went to a conference of Methodist youth, with the western region of the Methodist church—that was the old Methodist Episcopal church at Fresno. At that time, I had been leading singing in a lot of groups, so I was leading singing up there, and one of the songs that we sang was “I Ain’t Gonna Study War No More.”
Then, on the Sunday while we marched down to the park, Dr. Roy L. Smith was the preacher, and he certainly challenged us as to the meaning of war and what it does to people. Also, it was very impressive, during this sermon of his, there was an overflight of B-17s—I think it was anyway, it was Army airplanes—flew over the park. In fact, he had to stop the sermon because of the noise. I didn’t think much about it. There was a group of us that had gone up together from Whittier to Fresno, and my feeling was that, “Okay, so what? That’s an idea.”
But coming back south of Bakersfield—now, this may seem very strange, and it’s still strange to me. I have no explanation for it; I do not believe that it was a mirage. But sitting in the front seat of the car, of Cliff Smith’s car, I said to the fellas, “I’ve come to the decision that I must be a CO.” And I didn’t say why, but as we were going up the grade on old [Route] 99 up towards the Grapevine, on top of Mount Pinos, I saw a vision of the head of Christ. Nobody else saw it. But this made an impression on me, and led to my making that statement to those other five fellas in the car with us.
Opposing Conscription—Robert McCullagh
I can recall in 1940, I was at Wynona Lake, Indiana, for a National Conference of Methodist Youth, I think it was, around Labor Day. Conscription was before Congress, as I recall. But during that conference we decided—somebody decided—that they would print up handbills, I think it was something like “Let Freedom Ring,” urging people to contact Congress to oppose conscription.
They gave us these handbills that we dispersed around Labor Day. And on our way home, we were supposed to stop and hand these out in parks where people were meeting. So we did that on Labor Day in 1940, and that was an outgrowth of where the national Methodist Youth had a strong emphasis in opposition to war.
Becoming a Conscientious Objector—James Griffith
There was a very active peace movement through the ‘30s. I’ve always been a lifelong Methodist, and in the Methodist youth program, in those days, the leadership was very strongly pro-peace and supporting the peace movements of that day. From the religious aspect, and my experiences both as a participant and in some leadership in the youth program of the Methodist Church at that time, I came to feel that, at that time, that the answer to the threats of war which were coming up would be for a stand against war; that war would not be a solution, it would only add another problem; that it would create great devastation, harm many people; and that there were other and better solutions to the international problems of that day.
And of course, in the ‘30s, this view was widely held by many people until and even after Germany invaded and started active war. Many people felt—and I was one of them—that the United States had no business in it; that the United States could do better as a peacemaker. As a religious objector, I felt that this was the stand that I should take, to say, “This is not for me.” It was not that I was unwilling to serve my country, but that I did not feel that I could in conscience serve by joining the armed forces that were focused upon the devastation that was involved.