Milton Brackbill, at the age of ninety-one, sat with his wife Ruth in the relative safety of their Florida retirement home and described how he once stood up to threats from a “gang” of local men during World War I. The United States had entered the European War in the spring of 1917, and began drafting men in September. In the fall of 1917, Brackbill was a young husband and the father of a newborn baby girl. He and Ruth, both raised in the pacifist traditions of the Mennonite Church, now managed a farm near the Philadelphia “Mainline” town of Paoli. In the midst of a gathering war fever, their German ethnicity and pacifist beliefs made the young couple and their daughter Emily, vulnerable to community disapproval. Had he been called in the draft, Milton probably would have been inducted as a conscientious objector and sent to an army training camp where officers and other soldiers would have tried to intimidate him into accepting combat training. But because he was a father and the manager of a significant agricultural enterprise, local officials of the Selective Service System gave Milton an exemption. This, however, created community pressure on him to support the war in other ways. With few other Mennonites nearby, the Brackbill family stood relatively alone in its refusal to support the war. Paoli was two or three hours away from the large Mennonite communities of Lancaster and Bucks Counties in southern Pennsylvania.2
KeywordsConscientious Objector Draft Registrant Local Board Induction Order German Ethnicity
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- 1.W. E. B. Du Bois, Darkwater: Voices from within the Veil (Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications, 1999, 1920).Google Scholar
- 6.The most complete description of this system is, Enoch Crowder, Second Report of the Provost Marshal General on the Operations of the Selective Service System through December 1918 (Washington: GPO, 1919).Google Scholar
- 7.Enoch Crowder, Final Report of the Provost Marshal General to the Secretary of War on the Operations of the Selective Service System to July 15, 1919 (Washington: GPO, 1920), 9.Google Scholar
- 8.Enoch Crowder, Report of the Provost Marshal General to the Secretary of War on the First Draft under the Selective Service Act of 1917 (Washington: GPO, 1918), 28.Google Scholar