Amish History: The Camps

I believe that learning never stops. In my effort to learn more about my heritage and research my Amish Historical series I've decided to do a series of blogs posts about the history of the Amish specifically during WW2. Here you can read my first post about AMISH HISTORY.

In this post I want to talk about the actual camps that the conscientious objector (CO) draftees went to.

The government said that the Civilian Public Service (CPS) camps were given  "work of national importance." The CO cause was considered a bit of a headache with the government who preferred the COs to choose a noncombatant role with the military.

Did you know that our own CPS system was derived from the Russians? In the 1870s the Russian mennonites created camp service for their own COs to work at during wartimes. By the 1930s the US mennonites, specifically Historic Peace Churches, fought to adapt a similar camp system in the U.S. with WW2 on the horizon.

These interesting facts can be found in the book The CPS Story: An Illustrated history of Civilian Public Service or Wikipedia.

In 1941, about seven months before the horrors of Pearl Harbor the first CPS camp opened in Patapsco State park in Maryland. Next was one in Grottoes, Virginia and Lagro, Indiana. These were just the first of 152 camps, units, or projects that opened throughout the country.

The camps largely handled projects with agriculture (soil conservation), forestry, and mental health. Their labor was intense such as building roads, fighting forest fires (including smoke jumping), constructing dams, planting trees, assisting with labor on farms, and more. They even allowed themselves to be experimented on for medical and scientific research. One project was building sanitary facilities for a community that was over-ridden with hook-worms. Yes. That's a new one for me. What a job.

Many of the COs worked very diligently in the mental health system. I will do more specific posts on this in the future.

Due to the nature of some of the work many of the campers felt it was just "make-work"and felt superfluous in a world at war. Many of the COs would've preferred to actively work toward peace and/or aid in helping victims of war. The work they were given, however, was purely a substitute for not fighting in the war but did not satisfy their strong desire to HELP.

There were Mennonite camps in places like Colorado Springs, Co; Kalamazoo, MI; Worcester County, MA; Rochester, MN; Lincoln, NE; Cleveland, OH; Marlboro, NJ; Mulberry, FL; Gulfport, MS among MANY others. There were also 10 other committees or groups that had their own CPS camps and units.

"But the immense diversity of people participating in CPS, and their traditions, made a goal difficult to practice. The common denominator among the men was their opposition to war. Beyond that, their search for common ground was often hard and unsuccessful. ... Over 200 religious groups were involved in CPS, and 400 claimed no religion identity at all. The Mennonites represented 40% of the total..." (page 80 of The CPS Story by Albert Keim)

The leadership worked tireless hours to maintain decorum among these men who were obviously very strong in their stance. In the research that I've done I found that many men came in contact with such a variety of belief systems that they were not accustomed to it gave them a "greater appreciation" for the views of others and it caused each person to evaluate their own position and beliefs.

Here is a quote that I couldn't help but include:

"Moral standards were always a concern in the CPS. Smoking, card-playing and drinking are temptations for some. Drinking was strongly discouraged throughout the system. Beards, rough speech, slovenly beds, pin-ups, bizarre lighting and eccentric behavior caused some disturbance, but were usually not a serious problem." (page 85, The CPS Story by Albert Keim)

The final fact I leave you with is what these campers were paid.

8 million man-days were worked would equal about $22 million in labor cost and over $4.7 million in administrative expenses. The COs weren't paid by the government, however. Their families and the churches supported them, on the other hand. They raised $7 million to distribute among the camps and campers. $7 million for a job that cost nearly $27 million. 

Now, imagine your favorite Amish fiction male character and put him in a position where he's not just under his church's authority (from a distance) but under the authority of a government approved committee that had to follow very standardized laws that went so far as to say "his movements, actions and conduct are subject to control and regulation" (page 32, The CPS Story by Albert Keim). Would that character find this a satisfying alternative? Does he have a family to provide for as a husband or a son? Would a few dollars a month cut it? Would the love of his life wait for him? Would this alter his faith? Would he return the same, changed, or at all?

Many of these questions I will be addressing in The Promise of Sunrise series.

What questions or thoughts do you have on this? I'd love to hear your comments.

Movements, actions, and conduct are subject to control. CLICK TO TWEET


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