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General Lewis B. Hershey and Conscientious Objection during World War II

Nicholas A. Krehbiel

Publication Year: 2012

During World War II, the United States drafted 10.1 million men to serve in the military. Of that number, 52,000 were conscientious objectors, and 12,000 objected to noncombatant military service. Those 12,000 men served the country in Civilian Public Service, the program initiated by General Lewis Blaine Hershey, the director of Selective Service from 1941 to1970. Despite his success with this program, much of Hershey’s work on behalf of conscientious objectors has been overlooked due to his later role in the draft during the Vietnam War.


Seeking to correct these omissions in history, Nicholas A. Krehbiel provides the most comprehensive and well-rounded examination to date of General Hershey’s work as the developer and protector of alternative service programs for conscientious objectors. Hershey, whose Selective Service career spanned three major wars and six presidential administrations, came from a background with a tolerance for pacifism. He served in the National Guard and later served in both World War I and the interwar army. A lifelong military professional, he believed in the concept of the citizen soldier—the civilian who responded to the duty of service when called upon. Yet embedded in that idea was his intrinsic belief in the American right to religious freedom and his notion that religious minorities must be protected.


What to do with conscientious objectors has puzzled the United States throughout its history, and prior to World War II, there was no unified system for conscientious objectors. The Selective Service Act of 1917 only allowed conscientious objection from specific peace sects, and it had no provisions for public service. In action, this translated to poor treatment of conscientious objectors in military prisons and camps during World War I. In response to demands by the Historic Peace Churches (the Brethren, Mennonites, and the Society of Friends) and other pacifist groups, the government altered language in the Selective Service Act of 1940, stating that conscientious objectors should be assigned to noncombatant service in the military but, if opposed to that, would be assigned to “work of national importance under civilian direction.” Under the direction of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and with the cooperation of the Historic Peace Churches, Hershey helped to develop Civilian Public Service in 1941, a program that placed conscientious objectors in soil conservation and forestry work camps, with the option of moving into detached services as farm laborers, scientific test subjects, and caregivers, janitors, and cooks at mental hospitals. Although the Civilian Public Service program only lasted until 1947, alternative service was required for all conscientious objectors until the end of the draft in 1973.


Krehbiel delves into the issues of minority rights versus mandatory military service and presents General Hershey’s pivotal role in the history of conscientious objection and conscription in American history. Archival research from both Historic Peace Churches and the Selective Service makes General Lewis B. Hershey and Conscientious Objection during World War II the definitive book on this subject.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xiv

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pp. 1-4

From 1941 to 1970, the name Lewis Blaine Hershey was synonymous with the U.S. draft. As director of Selective Service, General Hershey was chief administrator of the institution through which the United States conscripted armies for World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Though Hershey’s career in conscription planning and administration...

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Chapter 1: An Emphasis on Service: Civilian Public Service and the Citizen Soldier Tradition

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pp. 5-13

A discussion of Hershey’s importance to conscientious objection during World War II requires a brief examination of both Civilian Public Service and the concept of the citizen soldier. Hershey firmly believed both in the right of the CO to object and in the citizen soldier tradition. Thus, his concept of alternative service melded the...

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Chapter 2: Background and Beliefs of Hershey

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pp. 14-25

Some of Lewis Hershey’s beliefs about and attitudes toward conscientious objection and national service developed well before he became director of the Selective Service. Comparing his early life experiences to his later musings on the nature of the conscientious objector and alternative service reveals that his background and life experiences ...

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Chapter 3: History and Demands of Manpower and Conscientious Objection

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pp. 26-49

The United States has a long-standing history of conscientious objection to military service. Its earliest roots come from the Quakers, who arrived in Britain’s North American colonies in the midseventeenth century. Although conscientious objection has been a part of the American military experience from the colonial era, the lack of...

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Chapter 4: The Early Agents of Objection and Conscription: The Historic Peace Churches, the Interwar Years, and the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940

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pp. 50-73

Prior to the passage of the Selective Service Act in September of 1940, entities involved in provisions for conscientious objection began to mobilize for the possibility of conscription. The efforts of the Historic Peace Churches were the most prevalent during this time as peace and nonresistance were central features of their doctrine and identity. ...


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pp. 74-79

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Chapter 5: Hershey and Conscientious Objection during the Peacetime Draft, September 1940–December 1941

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pp. 80-99

Though the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 established alternative service for the conscientious objector, there were still more questions than answers about the form that service should take. Lewis Hershey, when serving as acting director, deputy director, and, finally, director of Selective Service, did much during the crucial...

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Chapter 6: Hershey and Conscientious Objection in the Time of War, 1941–1944

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pp. 100-118

The Japanese Navy’s surprise attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7 shocked millions in the United States and thrust the nation into the war as a combatant. It shifted the focus of Hershey and the Selective Service from drafting men for training to drafting them for fighting. Little about the handling of conscientious objection changed...

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Chapter 7: Hershey and Congress Examine Conscientious Objection

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pp. 119-133

Though the Historic Peace Churches and the Selective Service handled most aspects of Civilian Public Service, Congress sometimes became involved and imposed its will on CPS. During the war, Hershey appeared before Congress on numerous occasions to testify about manpower, labor, and conscription. A few times he went to Capitol...

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Chapter 8: Hershey and the End of Civilian Public Service, 1945–1946

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pp. 134-146

As 1944 turned to 1945, much had changed for the U.S. forces fighting in Europe and the Pacific. Having staved off a last-ditch effort by the German Army in the Ardennes Forest, Allied forces advanced across the Rhine into Germany. In the Pacific theater, the Allies recaptured the Philippines and prepared to invade Iwo Jima. However, ...

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Chapter 9: Hershey and the Legacy of Alternative Service

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pp. 147-160

As CPS demobilized, Hershey began to muse on the successes and failures of the alternative service program. In the final days of CPS, Hershey and Kosch discussed with the Peace Churches what they believed had worked and what should be changed in the future. Many people involved in those evaluations concluded that had ...

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pp. 161-166

As an examination of General Lewis Blaine Hershey’s record and the CPS experience during World War II makes clear, Hershey’s personal belief in a duty of service for all eligible males, plus a tolerance for religious liberty, shaped alternative service during that conflict and beyond. Alternative service thus became the central precedent...


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pp. 167-186


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pp. 187-196


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pp. 197-201

E-ISBN-13: 9780826272621
E-ISBN-10: 0826272622
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826219411
Print-ISBN-10: 0826219411

Page Count: 215
Illustrations: 10
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1