USAF Updates Policy on Conscientious Objectors

04.14.17 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

There may be some US Air Force personnel who are dismayed by the rising number of civilian casualties caused by US air strikes in Syria and Iraq. Others may consider the dropping of a 22,000 pound bomb in Afghanistan yesterday — announced by press release — to be mindless or vulgar.

But of course such critical sentiments, if they exist, would not be sufficient to qualify those who hold them as conscientious objectors (COs). That requires categorical opposition to any and all military action.

“The Air Force does not consider members who believe they can choose the war in which they will participate as COs under the law. The objection must be to all wars rather than to a specific war,” according to an Air Force policy that was updated last week.

On the other hand, a sense of internal conflict is not necessarily inconsistent with conscientious objector status.

Likewise, “A belief in a theocratic or spiritual war between the powers of good and evil does not constitute a [disqualifying] willingness to participate in war within the meaning of this instruction,” the new Air Force policy said. See Procedures for Applying as a Conscientious Objector, Air Force Instruction 36-3204, April 6, 2017.

It could not immediately be learned how many, if any, members of the US Air Force currently have conscientious objector status.

In the absence of a compulsory draft, it is unclear why anyone who is opposed to all wars would enlist in the Air Force in the first place. But the new policy allows for the possibility of conscientious objector beliefs that “crystallized after receipt of an induction notice.”