Thomas Waring

Thomas Waring is a Quaker. Because of his religious beliefs, he does not believe in violence. In the late 1930s when it looked as if the United States might enter World War II, young Waring knew he would apply for conscientious objector (CO) status. A conscientious objector is someone who refuses military service because of religious beliefs.

     As I applied to various colleges, ominous news was coming out of Europe. Inevitably, I was asked which armed service I would sign up for in the event of war. One interview in New England went like this:
     
“In the event that this country gets pulled into the war in Europe, what service will you sign up for?” asked the director of admissions.
     
“I will apply for exemption as a CO.”
     
“Why are you a CO?”
     
“Because I believe in peaceful methods of solving differences between people. My religious life has instilled in me a deep feeling that I cannot kill. I believe human life is sacred.”
     
“What church do you belong to?”
     
“I am a Quaker.”
     
“Does that affect your application status as a CO?”
     
“Yes, the draft registration form asks, ‘What is the nature of your training and belief … ?’  I was trained, as a Quaker, to look for and use peaceful methods of solving differences.”

 
When the United States entered World War II, Waring became a CO. He spent the war years serving the country in ways not related to the war: working in a Forest Service camp and mental hospital. Many people hated COs, as Waring learned when he went into a small California town near where he was working.

     
I stood beside the truck, stretched, and looked around. Three local men on the bench were looking at me and talking with one another. One of them looked straight at me and spat!  Tobacco juice landed on my feet. I moved away, feeling their hostile gazes on my back ….
     
“Guess they don’t like strangers here,” I said to myself, but I knew better. It was COs they didn’t like. Finally, able to turn a corner out of sight, I felt less uneasy. I looked for a shoe store and found a store with a sign saying “Men’s Work Clothes.” I pulled the door open and heard a bell and voice at the same time.
     
“Get the hell out of here!” Stunned, I stood a moment looking for the speaker. It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the dim light. There was the owner of the store, balking, wearing red suspenders over a dirty undershirt, leaning on the counter. “You heard me. We don’t serve the likes of you in here. Now get out before I . . . ”
     
I did not allow the man to finish; I got the message and acted on it quickly. I wandered out on the town green [park] and sat under the one tree there ….
     
“Well, I wonder if they will serve me at that diner over there,” I muttered out loud, crossing the street. Before I had stepped up on the pavement, the owner of the diner, a big man in a white apron, appeared in the doorway, hands on his hips. “If you think I am going to serve you at my counter, you’d better think again. My advice to you is to get out of town. NOW!”

After World War II, Thomas continued to take part in anti-war activities.

     I had walked for peace from Waltham to Boston in the late 1950s in protest of the atomic weapons then being built. The idea was to walk from the perimeter of the crater of destruction that would be caused by an atomic bomb if it were dropped on Boston. Others on the same day walked from other points on this perimeter. We started out in Waltham with 15 marchers. People in second floor windows and in cars driving by spat and yelled “Communists!” at us.
     
By the time we reached Boston Common, 75 people had joined our little group. There were about 1000 people on the Common in all, and the place was full of hecklers.
     
Other peace walks in those days were similar. Then, in 1968, I was in a much larger walk from Cambridge Common to Boston Common during the Vietnam War. I remembered walking down Massachusetts Avenue among wall-to-wall people, and that was an exhilarating time. Twenty-thousand people on Boston Common!
     
On June 12, 1982, I had an overwhelmingly powerful experience in the march and rally against nuclear war in New York City. This time, there were one million people marching, from every state and a number of foreign countries.

 


Excerpted from Something for Peace, by Thomas Waring (Hanover, NH: Waring, 1989). Reprinted by permission of the author.

BACK