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.
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
“What church do you belong to?”
“I am a Quaker.”
“Does that affect your application status
as a CO?”
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.”
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.
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!”
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.
from Something for Peace, by Thomas Waring (Hanover, NH: Waring,
1989). Reprinted by permission of the author.