Letter to the Attorney General, March 1945
The following is the text of a letter addressed to Francis Biddle, Attorney General, Washington, D.C. on March 27, 1945:
As a veteran of WWII, I am writing this letter in the words of justice and true democracy. I enlisted in the United States Army at Camp Grant, Illinois on Dec. 9, 1941, and served as M/Sgt. in charge of army messes until I was injured in the South Pacific. I was discharged from the Veteran’s Hospital, Chicago, Illinois, which is my home.
United States Civil Service advised me to take a job as chief stweard [sic] at a conscientious objector’s camp (Civilian Public Service Camp #128, Lapine, Oregon) under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation, Bend, Ore. Because of the good effect of the altitude toward my health, I accepted the position on February 10, 1945.
I am writing this letter to bring to your attention some of the conditions that exist in this Civilian Public Service Camp at Lapine, Oregon, and the reasons why these conditions have noe [sic] forced me to resign after only a little more than a month of service here. In all honesty and sincerity I hope to point out the unfairness that the administration of this camp shows toward myself and the men of this camp.
The general run of the administration seems to point to dictatorial power instead of understanding and psychology of leadership. My experience with men has taught me to show sincerity and good will towards the workers who I am ordering to perform the job. My army service record should substantiate this statement. The director and manger [sic] of this camp refuse to aknowledge [sic] this method. In fact, I am the only man of the camp who is able to get a good day’s work from all the men being supervised. Aside from my personal treatment here, I certainly would never have accepted this job if I had known that the treatment of conscientious objectors under Selective Service was nothing more than forced slavery. It is almost inconceivable to me that the United States Government, the administration which has point out so truly that the Allies must win this war to abolish dictatorship and slavery, has allowed a system of slavery to be set up in this democratic land.
It should be obvious to every thinking citizen that such a system must sow the seeds of Fascism here at home. After being here a month, it is perfectly apparent to me that Mr. Roosevelt and his colleague, Mr. Churchill have said is quite true—slave labor is non productive. The married conscientious object’s wives and children are living under intolerable conditions for health.
The C.O.’s receive five dollars a month, regardless of their dependency. There is one family who I have been helping due to the fact that their child is under-nourished. These families should receive some sort of dependency allotment—why should the children suffer?
In this camp there are many who were trained draftsmen, forestry experts, farmers, professional men, etc. Under normal conditions of working, thousands of cords of wood should have been cut in a year. Under this system of forced labor, only 400 cords were cut. Many of the men refuse to do any work at all, other than to report for duty and fill in the time so as not to be charged with refusal to work.
These men are called C.O. rats, yellow *$#?*, etc. by the administration of this camp. On the other hand, they want to work and the majority are industrious and hard working men.
On March 24, 1945, I handed in my resignation to Mr. C. H. Spancer, my employer, of the Bureu of Reclamation at Bend, Oregon. In it I reported some of the things I have stated in this letter. He replied, “If you wish to resign, I would suggest that you write a formal letter to resignation, leaving out the criticism of the administration, giving at least two weeks notice, and stating the reason why working conditions are such that it is endangering you [sic] health. The reason for this suggestion is that letters of resignation are part of the civil service commission’s personal record of you, and such tax against the supervisory personnel are not helpful unless you can include documentary evidence, which can be proven facts, in other words, court evidence.”
I heard one of the conscientious objectors in camp make the following statement, which very well generalizes the situation here.
“They call us cowards and curse and swear at us and say that we should be fighting for our country. They will praise the soldiers as heroes. Yet, when an ex-soldier comes here to work, they treat him no better than the C.O.’s and show no respect for the heroism that they profess to respect.”
As a previous member of the armed forces and as a citizen who is supporting this war, I cannot accept this Fascist’s methods that are employed here. I would like to keep my position but only under the administration of men who understand the psychology of leadership. I sincerely hope that it will be within your power to do something of the conditions that exist.
Yours very respectfully,
cc: Judge Fee, Portland
Sen. Scott Sucas
Sen. Wayland Brooks
Am. Civil Lib. Union
Sen. Emily Waft Douglas
--Taken from Civilian Public Service Personal Papers and Collected Materials. DG 056, Series I. Box 17: Personal Papers of Vincent Beck. Swarthmore College Peace Collection.