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Montana's World War II Conscientious Objector Camps

Page history last edited by Marcella Walter 3 years, 2 months ago

During World War I, men who opposed military service on religious grounds faced harsh punishment. After the war, officials from Mennonite, Quaker, and Brethren (historic “peace churches”) worked to reform the U.S. government’s policy toward conscientious objectors.  Those churches faced international conflict and internal attitudes by creating an way for their members to honor their religious beliefs and serve their country. The result was the creation of the Civilian Public Service program, which allowed the nation’s COs to perform alternative service. During World War II, Montana hosted three CPS camps, where assignees conducted civilian work that desperately needed doing rather than engaging in violence and fighting other humans.  Is it important for our nation to explore ways to recognize strong religious beliefs in time of war? What conflicts did conscientious objectors who contributed their time to Montana's Civilian Public Service camps face within the United States?  Were Montanans tolerant of other beliefs?  How has the growing exchange of information about this little-known facet of World War II--and the remarkable example of compromise that it illustrates--affected public debate and thinking?


Secondary Sources


Melvin Gingerich, Service for Peace: A History of Mennonite Civilian Public Service. Akron, PA: Mennonite Central Committee printed by Herald Press, Scottdale, PA 1949, pp. 169-176.
Women Against the Good War: Conscientious Objection and Gender on the American Home Front, 1941-47. Chapel Hill, NC:  The University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
Robert C. Cottrell, Smokejumpers of the Civilian Public Service in World War II: Conscientious Objectors as Firefighters for the National Forest Service. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Publishers, 2006.

Mark Matthews, Smoke Jumping on the Western Fire Line: Conscientious Objectors During World War II. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006.
Dave Walter, Rather Than War: The Story of Civilian Public Service Camp #55, Belton, Montana, (privately published, Helena, MT, 2004)


Mark Hathaway, "Camp Terry : a case study in Civilian Public Service," (1996)


Primary Sources at the Montana Historical Society


The Montana Historical Society conducted interviews with over 40 conscientious objectors who served in Civilian Public Service Camps in Montana. To find specific interviews search the MHS Research Center’s catalog (found here: http://mhs.mt.gov/research/default.asp) using the search term “Conscientious Objector.” 


Primary and Secondary Sources on the Web


"The Civilian Public Service Story: Living Peace in a Time of War" (website created by CPS alumni, 2011)


Daniel Schrag, Three years in the Rockies : life at CPS Camp #55, Belton, Montana (2007).


Kevin Grange, “In Good Conscience”, National Parks (Winter 2011) 26-32  


“The Pacifists: The Service and the Struggle of Western Montana’s Conscientious WWII Objectors,” Missoula Independent, February 3, 2005,


Vertical Files at the Montana Historical Society

World War, 1939-1945--Conscientious Objectors

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