With no draft underway, today’s military is seen as an all volunteer membership. Even though a lot of our callers don’t want to be in the military anymore, they volunteered at some point. This is true for conscientious objectors as well. Even though they now feel a moral or religious objection, there was a point in time when they voluntarily enlisted. And there is nothing wrong with that. The key for conscientious objection is to show a change in belief. However, some applicants we talk to think they need to show that they were always opposed to war. Some will try to convince themselves that they were never OK with being part of war making. This misunderstanding can set them up for difficulty.
It takes significant storytelling to document a significant change in a person’s moral or religious belief. Yet it is easier to describe a sincere change in belief than it is to explain why someone opposed to war would join the military. In almost every case we work on, the person believed they were making a good choice when they joined, but along the way their beliefs about war changed. Fortunately, those applicants don’t need to revise their story to try and say they were always opposed. Some may have had more hesitations, some less. But the important thing is to describe what happened since.
Here is an easy test.
- When you joined the military did you have a moral objection to slavery?
- When you joined the military did you have a moral objection to child abuse?
- When you joined the military did you have a moral objection to war?
If the answer is yes to the first two and no to the third, the application has far better odds. (If the answer is no to all three--unusual, but we can still work with that.) If the answer is yes to all three, it’s going to look like the enlistment itself was pretty dishonest, which will certainly raise questions about the applicant’s sincerity.
So the good news for applicants is that you don’t need to try and go back and think of ways you were opposed before joining. Sometimes people who realize moral objections feel guilty for having been willing to participate earlier. That’s understandable, yet people can forgive themselves for acting on what they believed at the time. In reality, someone’s change in belief is more clear when they can remember earlier times when they felt good about serving and felt proud of being in. The honest story of someone who joined and then had a change in belief makes a much better case for discharge than any attempt to rework things to fit some perception (or often misconception) of what needs to be stated. Anyone wanting help with the conscientious objection application process or even just wanting to think through the issue can call our free, confidential hotline and speak with a counselor: 877-447-4487.