Waging Peace: The Main Line's War Resisters of the 1940s Have No Regrets

The Conscientious Objectors movement saw thousands of U.S. citizens jailed for their antiwar stance. Looking back, they wouldn’t change their position. Here are some stories of their journey.

Of the 35 million men who registered for the draft in the 1940s, 12,000 were war resisters, and more than half of those served prison terms—instead of their country—during the “Good War.” Many had connections to this area, and the few who are alive today harbor no regrets.

One-time war resister Toshiyuki Fukushima at home in Swarthmore. (Photo by Jared Castaldi)

Growing up in this country, Toshiyuki Fukushima was convinced that a Japanese-American boy was expected to thrive at either judo or fencing. But, from the get-go, Fukushima didn’t enjoy hand-to-hand combat. Bigger and taller than most kids his age, he quit after the first year. Years later, his experience with Quakers reaffirmed his pacifism.

This was prior to World War II, when the Japanese weren’t considered peace-loving types. Soon enough, they’d be the outright aggressors. Fukushima was drafted before the war. Then, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the installation of Japanese-American internment camps, he was suddenly classified 4C—undesirable. “We didn’t ask for it or petition for it,” says Fukushima.

Now 89 and living in Swarthmore, Fukushima recalls only a few other Japanese-Americans during his time in Civilian Public Service, an alternative to combat during the war. He remembers the public’s abrupt and drastic change of heart toward Japanese-Americans, the dire circumstances surrounding it, and the questionnaire issued to solicit help from Fukushima and others in his predicament. Two of its questions have stayed with him all these years. One: Will you serve in the military of the United States? The other: Do you forswear allegiance to the emperor of Japan?

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World War II was called the “Good War” because of its objectives: halting Hitler’s tyrannical, fascist regime, and retaliation for the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Among the 35 million men who registered for the draft, 12,000 were war resisters like Fukushima. Among those ranks, 6,086 conscientious objectors (COs) served prison terms, as opposed to their country. Fukushima and the rest served in CPS assignments. A good number—some still living—have local ties.

The Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 was the basis for both compulsory military service and legal recognition of COs, who “by reason of religious training and belief were conscientiously opposed to participation in war in any form.” Instead, they were assigned noncombat military service or “work of national importance” under civilian direction.

Fukushima spent one day in court and never served a prison term. But he did endure a year and a half in internment camps and more than a year of CPS duty. After V-J Day, he asked to be transferred to a veterans’ psychiatric hospital under the auspices of the Brethren Church in Lyons, N.J., where he was an orderly. A few months passed, and Fukushima decided he’d had enough. He walked out. “I said, ‘This is ridiculous,’” he recounts.

When the government caught up with him, he was served a U.S. District Court summons. “I was prepared to go to prison,” Fukushima says.

Instead, the judge concluded that Fukushima had been through enough and didn’t deserve a sentence. “If you’re doing civil disobedience, you have to make your intentions well known. You don’t hide it,” Fukushima says. “If you do it, and no one acknowledges it, then it served no purpose.”

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A 1951 Swarthmore College graduate, Fukushima taught chemistry there from 1956 to 1961. He then moved to Drexel University before landing in aerodynamic analytical design in Boeing’s helicopter division. “Fortunately, I didn’t work on any gunships,” he says.

Fukushima’s association with Swarthmore makes sense. The Swarthmore College Peace Collection pays homage to him and other war resisters. Housed in the basement of the school’s McCabe Library, it includes more than 200 major manuscript groupings, 3,000 smaller document sets, 12,000 books and pamphlets, 400 current periodicals, 3,000-plus backdated periodical titles, 1,700 reels of microfilm, and at least 20,000 photos of peace leaders, demonstrations, marches and conferences.

The collection was established around 1930, when Jane Addams of Hull House, one of Chicago’s oldest and largest social and human service agencies, donated her peace and social justice ephemera. It remains a repository for the records of nongovernmental organizations and individuals who’ve worked for nonviolent social change, disarmament and peaceful conflict resolution. The material covers pacifism, conscientious objection, civil disobedience, internationalism, progressivism, African-American protest, feminism and the history of social work.

The collection includes handwritten correspondence between strong-willed pacifists Bennett Wilbur Andrews and his wife, Florence Andrews. A secretary for the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia from 1943 to 1948, Florence was also a secretary to the dean of Haverford College. Widowed, she was living in Bryn Mawr when she donated her papers to Swarthmore.

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Bennett was a conscientious objector in the most absolute sense—much like Bayard Rustin, the West Chester native and behind-the-scenes civil rights leader. Neither man served in the war nor a Civilian Public Service role. Bennett spent five years at a federal prison in Connecticut. “I cannot accord to anyone, including the president of the United States, the right to force me to kill,” he said when sentenced.

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Federal Judge Guy K. Bard said that if everyone thought as Bennett did, no one would have the religious freedoms he cited as the basis for his refusal to comply with the Selective Service Act.

In July of 1946, Bennett was released on parole, destroyed his newly issued draft card, and never reported to a parole advisor. He was named in President Harry S. Truman’s amnesty proclamation on Dec. 24, 1947, when he pardoned 1,523 as a Christmas gift. The list included 104 from Pennsylvania, and 77 from the Philadelphia area.

Bennett respectfully turned the pardon down on grounds that it should include all objectors.

In the end, Bennett urged others to “accept prison as an adventure to savor, whether for one year or five. There is an end, and life can be resumed.”

Other curious local cases included that of Michael De Beausset, who spent two years in a federal penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pa. When he acted at the Hedgerow Theatre in Media, the theater’s kingpin, Jasper Deeter, defended him and four other COs in his cast, explaining that they were already performing “work of national importance.” Deeter wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, requesting blanket exemption. Roosevelt turned the issue over to the adjutant general’s office, which told Deeter that no one could change the will of Congress.

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The draft came. Deeter wanted his five actors deferred, so he wrote to Selective Service director Lewis B. Hershey, appealed to Paul V. McNutt of the War Manpower Commission, and even tried Eleanor Roosevelt—all to no avail. The 26-year-old, Russian-born De Beausset was arrested as a draft-dodger after he wrote the Army his own letter. “As I explained to my draft board, I like the United States of America, but my sentiments would hamper the war effort,” he stated.

S. Allen Bacon remembers the day he signed with the Selective Service: Oct. 16, 1940. He was a senior at Antioch College in Ohio, and he declared himself a CO. After he was drafted in the fall of 1943, he was told he had a punctured eardrum, so he wouldn’t have made it into combat anyway. Today, he jokes that he still heard an earful during his CPS assignment.

A favorite uncle tried to talk him out of CO status. “He just thought Hitler was so bad that we had to do something,” says Bacon, who turns 92 in September and now lives at Kendal-Crosslands retirement community in Kennett Square.

During the war, Bacon worked in a CPS detached unit as an attendant in a state mental hospital, alongside his wife, historian and author Margaret Hope Bacon. She died in February.

His father, Francis R. Bacon, had been director of the child-feeding programs for two years in Germany following World War I. The Quaker-based AFSC was feeding a million children a day. Later on, Francis started a Quaker meeting in Cleveland.

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Francis and his wife wanted all three of their sons to attend Haverford College, where fabled Quaker Rufus Jones taught. Allen, the middle son, first attended Westtown School. “Hitler was definitely making bad noises,” he says of the period, recalling Hitler Youth talk on campus.

Bacon spent a year at Haverford, where he opposed the hazing on campus. He took 12 months off to work before enrolling at Antioch. There, his chief influence was Arthur Morgan, a professor in several courses—mostly sociology—who taught him about Gandhi and India’s nonviolent campaign. The professor also kicked in $5,000 to start a nonviolent training camp for Antioch students at a farm owned by fellow student Bronson Clark. All eight or nine there were drafted. Clark and two others were jailed as resisters.

Following the war, Bacon worked at various neighborhood centers, directing Germantown Settlement for 12 years. Before that, he’d applied to teach in public school. “They certainly didn’t want a guy teaching who’d been a CO,” Bacon says.

“Peace is a way of life for me,” says Bacon, who once lived in Radnor Township. “I think we’ve made a dent. You look at the number who avoided combat and were COs in Vietnam. Today, there are more opposed to war itself, whether pacifists or not. There are veterans in the peace movement. The power of nonviolence is pretty enormous. There are peace teams working around the globe. We’re no longer wired into thinking that if all else fails, [we] go to war. That’s the ultimate failure.”

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The recent discord in Egypt wasn’t a spontaneous uprising. Just ask Walter Naegle, who has studied it with some perspective. Activism has been stirring there since 2008, says Naegle, citing the circulation of an Arabic translation of The Montgomery Story, a comic book about the 1956 bus boycott in Alabama issued by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the oldest interfaith peace organization in the United States. “No one yet has held up this comic book in front of a news camera and said, ‘This is what inspired me,’” Naegle says. “But with the number of people who mobilized relatively peacefully, it’s a demonstration that nonviolent civil disobedience—the kind Bayard Rustin worked for all of his life—can and does work.”

Naegle is executor of Rustin’s estate and executive director of the Bayard Rustin Fund. In polite company, he’s been called Rustin’s administrative assistant—even his adopted son. He was also Rustin’s last life partner. In a discussion after a recent screening of the acclaimed Rustin documentary, Brother Outsider, at Muhlenberg College, Naegle admits that the two were an odd couple. When he told his mother about the relationship, he was direct: “I’m gay; he’s black; and he’s older than you,” Naegle (who’s white) recalls saying.

Rustin lived a life of persecution—and prosecution—because of his race, his sexual identity and his pacifism. Rustin was an absolute resister, an imprisoned CO during World War II. He would’ve marked his 100th birthday next year.

After Pearl Harbor, Rustin—a Quaker, due to the influence of his grandmother—wrote to his local draft board: “War is wrong. Regretfully, I must break the law.” He also chaired a pacifist meeting in New York City, where draft cards were burned.

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On Feb. 17, 1944, Rustin was sentenced to three years in federal prison. He served his time in Ashland, Ky., and Lewisburg. While incarcerated, he opposed the prison’s segregated dining policy and other conditions.

“He considered his prison time a great learning experience, a humbling time, a time when he saw race and class more practically and clearly,” Naegle says. “It was all exaggerated. A lot of the prisoners were poor blacks.”

Larry Gara, a Reading native who now lives in Ohio, was a white prison mate of Rustin’s in both facilities. In a recent piece reflecting on his life, Gara describes how he once witnessed Rustin’s nonviolence firsthand. Without warning, an aging former Kentucky politician and fellow inmate who was “clearly racist and probably homophobic” broke a mop handle over Rustin’s head. “Bayard, trying to protect his head, got a broken wrist but did not strike back,” Gara wrote. “His refusal to retaliate so upset his attacker that the man literally shook.”

Rustin used his prison time to hone his skills in dialogue, reconciliation, reasoning, and nonviolent philosophy and practice. Yet, it was his “war baggage,” Naegle insists, that was used against him when the proposal to name a West Chester high school after him was delayed. Patriotically, politically, it was easy to pin opposition on his war resistance.

“They never said anything about him being gay,” Naegle says. “They even avoided his [prewar] flirtation with the Young Communist League. Publicly, they went with the old reliable.”

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Though Brother Outsider premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2003, it has remained relatively obscure to the masses. And so has Rustin, though interest has been percolating lately. “We’ve had more calls recently than ever,” says Naegle. “[The film’s] message is still relevant. It’s about how to build a movement and mobilize for social change.”

Rustin spent much of his activist career in the background. In turn, he never received a full measure of respect or attention. In 1947, he led a group of whites and blacks on a “Journey of Reconciliation” to challenge racial segregation on interstate buses, decades before Rosa Parks made headlines. “He neither tried to explain that, nor did he regret it,” Naegle says.

When Rustin began advising Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1956, King knew little about the mechanics of passive resistance. Then 25, King had armed guards around his home. By 1960, their relationship was under strain due to outside threats to link the two politically and sexually. King disembarked from Rustin, only to reunite before the March on Washington in 1963.

The executive director of the march, Rustin is a passerby in the popular footage taken prior to King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. He’s the one smoking a cigarette behind Joan Baez and Bob Dylan as they perform. During the speech, he’s to King’s right, just off-camera (“sitting at the right hand of God,” Naegle jests) and to the right of the two marshals on either side of King.

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Always under siege, Rustin was an underdog, though he didn’t consider himself one. Some recognized his role. Time magazine labeled him the invisible man of the Civil Rights movement.

“If that march had ended in a riot, it wouldn’t have been Dr. King’s March,” says Naegle. “If it had been a flop, it would’ve been Bayard Rustin’s flop, though he didn’t think in those terms.”

After he left the Young Communist League in 1941, Rustin traveled the country as a field secretary for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, promoting love and the need to nonviolently end racial injustice.

The FOR threw Rustin out in 1953, after he was arrested on a lewd vagrancy charge in California.

Once the executive secretary of the War Resisters League, Rustin did not lead a perfect life. But he always provided open access, a prerequisite for truth. He faced a lifetime of rejection—much of it political, not personal. “He was often a threat to some people’s power,” Naegle says.

Gradually, Rustin progressed into more of a political being, and many resisters castigated him for leaving the peace movement to work with the Democratic Party. “By Vietnam, his pacifist friends were saying that he wasn’t speaking out enough,” Naegle says.

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Late in life, Rustin wasn’t an absolute pacifist. He questioned if he’d been too extreme during the war. “He wasn’t going to suddenly pick up a gun, but he did question if he could’ve worked in a hospital or served in an ambulance corps, or taken a CPS assignment,” Naegle says.

Toshiyuki Fukushima also battled his share of race and peace demons. When he turned 18 in 1939, he registered for the draft. But after Pearl Harbor, he was among 120,000 Japanese-Americans evacuated from the West Coast and sent to live in internment camps. Then a University of Washington sophomore, Fukushima joined his mother in a parking lot. “Typical Army barracks,” he recalls. “Walls but no roof.”

When he left the camp, Fukushima was still under the jurisdiction of the War Relocation Authority. In the summer of 1943, he came to Philadelphia to work for the Student Relocation Committee, since he couldn’t yet re-enroll in school. He was assigned to live in Mt. Airy with Quakers Reid and Margaret Cary—the latter whose son, Steve, was an assistant director at Big Flats, a Friends CPS camp in New York—and would become vice president at Haverford College. A Haverford graduate, Reid was assistant to the executive secretary of the AFSC and a liaison to the Student Relocation Committee. Margaret, a noted entomologist, was a Bryn Mawr alum.

Fukushima was working as a draftsman for Kellett Aircraft Corp. when the government changed its mind about second-generation Japanese-Americans. In the winter of 1944, he answered his draft notice with a petition as a CO. It was granted, and he was assigned to Big Flats. He remained there until the spring of 1945, doing “work of national importance,” he jests.

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In the winter, he shoveled snow. In the spring, he worked at a tree nursery. At another Friends CPS camp in Tennessee, he cleared trails in the Great Smoky Mountains. Then he volunteered to go to Welfare Island, N.Y. (now called Roosevelt Island), in the middle of East River, for two stints in the government’s Life Raft Experiment. He took in 400 calories a day and gave daily blood and urine samples to help determine the minimum number of calories needed to survive. He was there when V-J Day was announced.

In 2008, the University of Washington finally honored Fukushima and 446 other once-evacuated Japanese-Americans with honorary degrees. He calls resistance a personal choice, though he admits it takes enormous courage to refuse to fight.

“This country has its problems, but I don’t know of any other place I’d want to live,” he says.

For more on Bayard Rustin and the film, Brother Outsider, visit rustin.org.

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