My draft resistance story

I have recently been sharing the stories of Quaker draft resisters.  I struggled with what to do about the Selective Service System quite a bit.  I was keeping a journal at the time, and attending Scattergood Friends School, then a year at Earlham College during the following:

Struggling with my decision related to registering for the draft triggered a deep look into my spiritual life and how to express that in the rest of my life.

“Received order to report for civilian work on February 1. As I approach the decision, its revelation, and the consequences, I draw back in fear.” Journal 1/25/1972

At last the draft issue was coming to a head. I left Earlham knowing I would lose my student deferment and be eligible for induction. I was reclassified 1-0 (conscientious objector to do alternative service) in October, 1971, I think. I looked for jobs in hospitals, and accepted the one at Methodist partially because I knew, if I did decide to do alternative service, such a job would qualify.

Up to this point I still had alternatives. Now the ‘official’ order had come. It didn’t matter that I would continue to work at the hospital or even that I would receive credit for what work I had done. What did matter was whether I would acknowledge that I was actually doing alternative service. I enjoyed my work at the hospital and felt called to continue with it, whether the government approved or not. But I had to decide whether I would accept the work on their terms or mine.

I’ve already indicated how much reading, thought, and worry I put into the draft decision. I thought I would suddenly receive the answer some day during Meeting for worship. It didn’t happen exactly that way. I remember one meeting in the fall of my senior year at Scattergood when I knew it would be wrong to cooperate with the Selective Service System. I knew with certainty yet the time wasn’t yet right to act on that knowledge. My grandmother (Lorene Standing) says the will of God is most often revealed in a series of small steps.

I think my task was first to prepare for the decision, its consequences and the reaction to it; and to prepare my family and those close to me for the decision. Then I would act.
I had done what I could to prepare myself and others. Now the time had come.
The first of February I returned to Earlham to visit friends and to get support before going ahead with my decision.

“Took bus to Richmond. Bright clear day—snow on ground. Beautiful walk to Earlham from downtown. Seems like coming home. Good to see Jan. After spaghetti lunch, walked downtown to YWCA where Jan had swimming lesson. Al Inglis picked us up there at 3:00 pm. Went back to Earlham and talked.

4:00 pm. Went to Meeting for worship. Jan, Al, Dav Nagle, Marggie Schutz, Margaret and Lewis Taylor, Becky Gibson, Jim Bay, Ruby, and several others attended.

Al had read my letter to the draft board and my statement on the draft earlier, and asked if I would let him read it during Meeting. I told him that would be alright, so he did.
Into the Meeting, Al spoke of support and the future and how God spoke through me. I would hope that would be true, but felt unworthy.

Margaret Taylor spoke of Iowa Friends who had always spoken against war and done what they felt right. She spoke of her support for me.

Becky Gibson spoke, very movingly, about finding who you are, and how important it is to do what is right.

Then Dav spoke, also very movingly. He is certainly an able minister—one of the people I love and respect very much. He seems always to be close to the center. He said severing ties with Selective Service is a major decision—but ALL decisions are major when they deal with principle and the Spirit. All, each of our decisions must be integral. “Severing ties with Selective Service is not an isolated act in this life of Jeff’s.”

After a good while I felt moved to speak. When confronted with a decision, we are told to do God‘s will. But God’s will is so difficult to discern among many influences—people, law, self (selfishness and pride). Realizing this, Thomas A’ Beckett said, “I am loathsome.” This was how I felt at times. But after he said that, he heard what he believed to be the voice of God saying “Nevertheless, I love.”

Later, I shook hands with Jan to break meeting. There was much tender, loving discussion and support afterward. Here I received such strength as I could find nowhere else. Is there any other way to wrestle with and be led to a decision? I am amazed at the power and bond of love. May I strengthen and spread it.”
Journal 1/30/1972
I received a letter from Ron Ellyson, a classmate of mine at Scattergood and close friend (Member of Iowa Conservative Friends):
“As for your decision to not cooperate with the desires of Selective Service, I think it is fine. It is a choice which you made after years, actually, of thought and deliberation and certainly you should have enough faith in your judgment to stay with that decision through all the hassles it will cause you.” Ron Ellyson.
2/6/1972 First Day
I mailed the following to the draft board today, along with my registration certificate and classification (1-0) card:
Dear members and clerk of the draft board:
I have received an order to report for civilian work February 1, 1972.
I want to thank you for your concerned questions at my personal appearance, when we were considering my position as a conscientious objector. I have appreciated Mrs. Landon’s kindness and consideration, even when I returned my draft cards. Thank you for giving me more time to consider this decision. I hadn’t realized what a powerful affect that action would have on some people. The extra time gave them, and me, a chance to come to grips with the decision and its consequences. However, my beliefs have remained basically the same and the time has come to act accordingly.
I am sure none of us really want war. Many are convinced that war is a ‘necessary evil’—the only way to achieve peace. I think I can understand that, and I do respect those who sincerely believe it—their sacrifice has been very great.
But I do not believe war is the way to peace. True peace is a personal, internal, spiritual matter. When we come to know and love ourselves and our God, then and only then do we have peace. From this point, peace and love will flow from us and should engulf those we live and work with. This is the only way to find and promote peace.
In this matter, war has no place.
The enclosed attempts to illustrate my beliefs in relation to the Selective Service System. I hope this will help you to understand why I feel I cannot cooperate with the Selective Service System. I want it to be clearly understood that I am not doing alternative service. It is not my choice. There is nothing else I can do.
Love,
Jeff Kisling
Letter to my draft board
I write concerning my relationship with the Selective Service System. There are many alternatives. In fact, someone once said the only alternative not open to a young man facing the draft is that of being left alone. I explored several of these. I applied for and was granted conscientious objector status (1-0). Then I had a student deferment, which made me very uneasy. I am now doing work which should qualify as alternative service, but for reasons I will attempt to explain herein, I find this alternative to be unacceptable.
I find it difficult to understand why one young man must explain his decision to do civilian work for a non-profit organization while another need make no explanation, indeed is encouraged to fight and perhaps kill other human beings. But it is one’s duty to explain one’s actions in order that others might understand, and perhaps follow. Noncooperation is less understood than conscientious objection, so I feel all the more compelled to try to present an explanation. I must try to explain, to spare my family the burden of doing so, for they neither clearly understand nor agree with my decision. (Note: they fully supported alternative service, but didn’t want to see me imprisoned).
This decision grew out of my experience as a member of the Society of Friends. Meetings of the Society of Friends can be a source of strength and guidance as one begins and continues to search for meaning in life. Quakers have always believed that there is that of God in every man, that each of us has the ability to communicate with that of God in us, and the responsibility to respond to that of God in everyone. It is evident that Jesus had communion with God—evident in the actions of his life and in his teachings—culminating in “not as I will, but as thou wilt.” This is the essence of Jesus’ teaching—that God’s will can be discerned and should be obeyed even at the cost of doubt and persecution. Quakers readily accept Jesus as an exceptional person and try to live up to the principles he gave us to live by. But we are even more concerned that we obey that Inner Light to which He was so sensitive, so we can have personal contact with and guidance from God. Thus, Quakers try to minimize distractions from “this (secular) world” in order to discern the will of God in their hearts and His presence in their midst. They gather together in a simple room and settle down together, searching in silence—each contributing to the spirit of the meeting as a whole. There are times when a member feels he has been ‘moved by the spirit’ to share with the group, in which case the meeting considers the message in further silence.
There is a spirit which comes from the silence which gives direction to life. The spirit is often difficult to discern because of our ties to ‘this world.’ We are afraid or too proud to give up our desire to ‘reason through’ decisions. Thus we develop a system of beliefs and guidelines composed of traditional beliefs, our own reasoning, and as much guidance from the Inner Light as we are willing to seek and accept. Thus our decisions, being not entirely grounded upon our faith, may not always be ‘right’. But we can do no more, nor should we do less, than follow our conscience as occasions arise—always seeking to become more attuned to the spirit.
Adolescence is that period when one begins to seriously consider ‘who he is’ and his purpose in the world. It is a time when one has so many question and so few answers. The extent to which a young person searches for, and finds answers to these questions is dependent upon guidance given by parents, peers, school and church; the decree to which this guidance corresponds to his own experience and needs; and his own self-discipline and desire to continue the search. Too often the leadership and resources are not available; he is ‘turned off’ by inconsistencies or shallowness or insincerity on the part of those he looks to for guidance and example; or materialistic demands distract from the search.
The draft requires fundamental moral decisions at this time in life. This may not be bad in itself, but tremendous pressure is brought to bear to influence the decision—tradition, parental and peer pressure, the law, etc. The Selective Service System tries to attract men to the armed forces by relying on these pressures and by not making alternatives widely known.
The pressures in this case are for action which is contrary to the experience and desires of most young men—frustrating, anguishing when one is searching for truth, honesty and integrity. This type of experience stifles personal growth and leads to the loss of a spirit of idealism and faith in the goodness of men. Can there be a graver crime than that of destroying the spirit and dreams of the young? Only that of destroying life itself, and the Selective Service System is directly implicated in both.
Most of us agree that conscription and war are unjust-evil. The question is, how do we deal with evil? ‘Resist not evil’—a phrase widely known but little understood and less obeyed. ‘Do not set yourself against one who wrongs you’ (NEB) is a better way to put it, I think. In setting ourselves against those who harm us, we look, to some extent, for some way to hurt, or at least hinder them. We look for the worst in others and play upon their weaknesses rather than looking for the best and trying to fortify it. Out task is to overcome evil by doing good.
The time we spend ‘resisting evil’ could be better spent in trying to find out where we can do better ourselves. You do not change others by opposing them—rather, by respecting and trying to understand and learn from them, you can both benefit and move nearer the truth. A life of example—showing the possibilities and fruits of a life lived in love and concern for others, is the only way to overcome evil.
I do not want my example to be alliance with evil. Thus, I cannot serve with the Selective Service System. However, I will not set myself against it. I will break my ties with Selective Service, and concentrate on the difficult task of working for peace in whatever way I can.
Letter to Bear Creek Monthly Meeting
Homer Moffitt, Clerk
Bear Creek Monthly Meeting
Dear Friends,
I am thankful for your kind letters and encouragement concerning my work in Indianapolis. I am learning much about love, and as I respond to the love of others, and they to mine, we are all amazed at how it grows.
I am enclosing a statement I have written concerning conscription, and my decision not to cooperate with the Selective Service System any more. I sent a copy of that statement, along with my draft cards, to my draft board.
Again, I tried very hard to follow the leading of the inner light. If I alone were making the decision, this would probably not be my choice. Thomas a’ Beckett, torn between his obligations to the Church and those to the State, was searching for guidance. When he realized all the forces that influence him—selfish desires for power and personal gain, fear of punishment or displeasing people, etc., he said. “I am loathsome.” But then he heard what he believed to be the voice of God saying, “Nevertheless, I love.”
I, too, feel shamed when I realize the factors that often influence my decisions and actions. On this matter, I have tried very hard to be sensitive to the will of God, and hope to do so in the times to come. Still somewhat uncertain that my choice is right, I am comforted in knowing that He still loves.
Love,
Jeff Kisling
In reply:
Dear Jeff,
We have found your statement explaining your relationship to the Selective Service System very moving. Several of us are aware that your decision on this has been a difficult and lonely one. We want to assure you of our love and support as you meet the events which result from your courageous stand.
On behalf of the Peace Committee of Bear Creek Monthly Meeting
The conclusion to the draft story is that I was drafted at a time when men were not being drafted for the armed forces. A Supreme Court case declared this to be illegal, so my order to report for civilian service was invalidated and I wasn’t prosecuted.  I did finish my two years with Friends Volunteer Service Mission in Indianapolis.

 

 

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