Unlikely Conscientious Objectors


When we think of a “conscientious objector” – an individual who has claimed the right to refuse to perform military service – many people think of hippies or artists. Others consider these people to be cowards or afraid to fight in a war their country is waging. My thoughts always go to an old “All in the Family” episode when Archie Bunker refuses to have dinner with one of his son-in-law’s friends who escaped to Canada during Vietnam. Strangely, this is only a Hollywood version of the conscientious objector. Many protestors do it based solely on religious reasons. There are some that you’d never expect to go against a war. Here are five of them.



When you look at Academy Award winning actor, Richard Dreyfuss, and think about some of the roles he has portrayed, it doesn’t seem like he would be a peacenik. However, the actor who has played Dick Cheney (the movie, W.), Benjamin Netanyahu’s younger brother, Yoni (Victory at Entebbe), and Baby Face Nelson (Dillinger) applied for conscientious objector status during Vietnam and worked two years as a clerk in a Los Angeles hospital as community service for not going to war. His love for peace has carried him throughout the years and, in 2006, attempted to have George W. Bush impeached on human rights violations.



Born Cassius Clay, the world heavyweight champion boxer of the world refused to go to Vietnam based upon his religious beliefs. The US government refused to accept Muhammad Ali’s conscientious objector status and had him arrested and stripped him of his heavyweight boxing title. He would not box for four years, during the prime of his career. Ali would go on to be the only boxer in history to win the title three times and became an instant celebrity in the counter-culture because of his actions. The Supreme Court would throw out his conviction in 1974 and he was free to continue boxing.


CHRIS SHAYS (Republican Representative from Connecticut)

In today’s world, it is hard to imagine a republican politician – typically generalized as a “war hawk” – to be a conscientious objector. Chris Shays, who held the House Seat for the 4th District of Connecticut from 1987-2009. His voting record during the Iraq War was almost exclusively pro-war and he was the co-Chairman of Wartime Contracting. He was also a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War based on his deep belief in Christian Scientology. Instead, he joined the Peace Corps in Fiji from 1968-1970.


ALVIN C. YORK (US Army Sergeant World War One)

Sgt. York was the most decorated American hero of World War One, killing 20 German soldiers, taking 32 machine gun nests and capturing 132 Germans all in a single day. Amazingly, York started out World War One as a conscientious objector. He was a member of the Church of Christ in Christian Union in his home state of Tennessee. The Protestant church preached pacifism on all levels and York had a difficult time between his patriotic duty and his deep, religious beliefs. He spoke with his superior officers who persuaded him to return home for a week and pray on his convictions. When York resumed his military post, he was shipped off to France because, in World War One, a conscientious objector status did not free one from military duty. They simply stationed the protestor in a non-violent assignment. York was not so lucky. He found himself as an infantry soldier during the Argonne campaign where he won his Congressional Medal of Honor.


GEORGE R.R. MARTIN (Game of Thrones author)

Before creating one of the most violent shows on television based off of his books, George R.R. Martin (GRRM) was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War in 1971. Instead, he did community service for VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America) and helped poverty victims out of Cook County, Illinois. Martin would go on to write The Song of Ice and Fire, in which violence is a common theme along with political intrigue, conspiracies, and treason.