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ARCHIVE HIGHLIGHTS: Civilian Public Service

Civilian Public Service, defined by Congress as non-military work “contributing to the national health, safety or interest,” required public understanding and support in two ways. First, the men classified IV-E by Selective Service were choosing to work but not fight for the U.S., so they suffered suspicion and animosity. Second, the entire enterprise was funded by public donations to AFSC. Therefore, we have many examples of brochures, fundraising tools, and even an orchestral-scored film, designed to educate and engage the public. In addition, AFSC’s culture of carefully documentation generated abundant reports on what the men did in each CPS camp, how funds were raised, and how they were allocated.

The Archives publications also reveal an internal debate regarding the ethics of CPS for a pacifist organization. The 1944 brochure, “New Horizons in Friends CPS” (see below) brings this dialogue into sharp focus. Could a program that utilized the apparatus of military conscription for its very existence be a true pacifist endeavor? Archival documents articulate many different opinions and show how AFSC chose to respond to these questions.

Another fascinating aspect of this portion of the collection is the evidence it contains—in pictures, text and film—of CPS volunteers offering up their bodies for military medical experimentation. Men with peaceful convictions endured everything from prolonged semi-starvation to intentional exposure to pathogens, in order to prove that they, too, were willing to put their lives on the line for democracy.

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