Fight War and Conscription: Be like St. Francis
by Dorothy Day
To fight war we must fight conscription, the acceptance of conscription. To this fight THE CATHOLIC WORKER PLEDGES ITSELF AS LONG AS WE ARE PERMITTED TO EXIST.
We must face the fact that conscription of the press and the radio, also is what we have to look forward to. If we oppose government measures our groups will be broken up, our press suppressed. If we try to get out pamphlets and leaflets they will be confiscated. The authors of articles opposing the course of the government takes will be arrested and jailed.
Now is the time to stress our principles of personalist action, our pledge of personal responsibility. We will expect our Catholic Workers to oppose, even alone and single-handed, if necessary, wherever they happen to be, in factories, on ships, in offices or in homes, the militaristic propaganda of wartime. We must prepare ourselves for this fight and pray for strength and perseverance.
Every night at the Catholic Worker houses throughout the country we are reciting the rosary for peace (not for victory) and saying the prayers of Pope Benedict XV for peace. Every day members of our groups are making the stations of the cross in the churches, for there is a need for the fortitude as well as for the meekness of Christ. We must prepare to suffer, building up reserves of endurance.
Daily Mass and Communion is now more than ever an absolute essential of the work. Without this daily Food we are weak, we can do nothing.
Twenty-five years ago, twelve men voted against war among all those in Congress. Twelve willful men, President Wilson called them. Winston Churchill, first Lord of the Admiralty, condemned America's entry in the last World War. He said, "Had you stayed at home and minded your own business, we would have made peace with the Central Powers in the spring of 1927 and saved over 1,000,000 British and French lives."
Because of our boasted freedom, constant propaganda is the only thing to enforce an acceptance of conscription. It was boasted of in the last war that within a month there would be an army of 1,000,000 men. But the failure of men to enlist brought conscription within three months. They tried to sugarcoat the bitter pill by calling it a selective draft. But then many rushed to enlist rather than to have the shame of being drafted men.
Follow St. Francis
One of the demands made by the opponents of war is conscription of wealth together with a conscription of men. We must oppose any acceptance of conscription as a means.
St. Francis of Assisi made the refusal to bear arms a condition of membership in his Third Order. How many tertiaries today, and there are millions throughout the world, are refusing to bear arms?
This was a revolutionary idea and did away to a great extent with the wars of the time.
Conscription did not start until 1798 when Napoleon had so depleted the army of men that he had to draft soldiers. Conscription was hated and fought as a form of slavery at the Restoration. Conscription also depleted France of her men. An attempt was made to do away with it, but within three years there was a return to it. Men who could pay for others to take their place were allowed to do so.
FRANCE, who prided herself on being the birthplace of liberty, freedom, equality, and the dignity of man, was the first to violate these principles.
Now we are worse off than ever before with our supine acceptance of conscription.
The Popes opposed it.
The German Bishops opposed it.
Cardinal Mannix of Australia defeated it.
It was defeated in Ireland.
We urge all our readers to enlist with us to fight conscription in America.
The first act of Congress after a declaration of war will be the passing of the selective Service Act.
Let us publicize and fight this act now in order to fight war!
Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XV, No. 5, July-August 1995. Reprinted from The Catholic Worker, September, 1939.