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Conscientious Objection

A conscientious objector (CO) is someone who has sincere, deeply-held beliefs that make him or her object to fighting in war.

By the US military's definition, COs are servicemembers or draftees who have come to believe because of religious or moral reasons that they cannot participate in any war. Most human rights organizations and advocates, as well as some countries, have a broader definition. They believe that conscientious objection can be motivated by other factors, such as politics, and that people can be "selective COs," meaning that they object only to certain types of war, such as offensive wars or nuclear wars.

Other Issues:

Alternatives to the Military
Dealing with the Draft
Recruitment and Enlistment

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Our draft resistance and registration section features information about what conscientious objectors can do and what happened to Vietnam draft resisters

COs have been present in every war that the US has fought and during all periods of peacetime. People have expressed their refusal to participate in war and killing in many ways, for instance refusing to register for the draft, refusing induction into the military, refusing to deploy with a military unit, or refusing to carry a weapon. During wartime, COs have gone to jail for their beliefs as well as participated in alternative forms of service. Other COs have served in the military as non-combatants, in positions such as medic that do not engage in fighting.

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