Smoke Jumping on the Western Fire Line: Conscientious Objectors During World War II

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University of Oklahoma Press, 2006 - History - 316 pages

During the Vietnam era, conscientious objectors received both sympathy and admiration from many Americans. It was not so during World War II. The pacifists who chose to sit out that war—some 72,000 men—were publicly derided as “yellowbellies” or extreme cowards. After all, why would anyone refuse to fight against fascism in “the good war”?

This book tells the story of one important group of World War II conscientious objectors: the men who volunteered for Civilian Public Service as U.S. Forest Service smoke jumpers. Based in Missoula, Montana, the experimental smoke-jumping program began in 1939, but before the project could expand, the war effort drained available manpower. In 1942, the Civilian Public Service volunteers stepped in. Smoke jumping soon became the Forest Service’s first line of defense against wildfires in the West.

Drawing on extensive interviews with World War II conscientious objectors and original documents from the period, Matthews vividly recreates the individual stories of Civilian Public Service smoke jumpers. He also assesses their collective contribution to the development of western wildfire management. By revealing an unknown dimension of American pacifism, Smoke Jumping on the Western Fire Line fills a gap in World War II history and restores the reputation of the brave men who, even in the face of public ostracism, held true to their beliefs and served their country with honor.

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Smoke jumping on the Western fire line: conscientious objectors during World War II

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This rather unfocused history is based on the intriguing premise of the firefighting service of conscientious objectors during World War II. Instead of joining the armed services, many war objectors ... Read full review


Civilian Public Service
Conscientious Objection in America
The Historic Peace Churches
Hard Choices
Birth of Smoke Jumping
Boot Camp
Hit the Silk
Eyes in the Skies
Under Fire
Home away from Home
Lifelong Commitment
Letters Home
Select Bibliography

The Long Wait
Wild Encounters

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Page ix - ... conscience has a moral and social value which makes it worthy of preservation at the hands of the state. So deep in its significance and vital, indeed, is it to the integrity of man's moral and spiritual nature that nothing short of the self-preservation of the state should warrant its violation; and it may well be questioned whether the state which preserves its life by a settled policy of violation of the conscience of the individual will not in fact ultimately lose it by the process.

About the author (2006)

A former wildland firefighter and freelance journalist, Mark Matthews is the author of Smoke Jumping on the Western Fire Line: Conscientious Objectors during World War II and A Great Day to Fight Fire: Mann Gulch, 1949.

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