Emanuel Swartzendruber, a young Mennonite man, struggled to put together the teachings of the church. He felt that it was wrong to engage in war and that Christians should follow the footsteps of Jesus, but also that the Bible teaches we should pray for rulers, pay taxes and be law-abiding citizens.
In 1918 Emanuel received his call to report for military service. At camp, he tried to explain his religious beliefs and convictions against war. The first commanding officer was understanding and respected Emanuel's refusal to wear a uniform. After several weeks, Emanuel was transferred, and the new presiding officer had successfully forced another conscientious objector to wear the military uniform. He expected he would be able to wear down Emanuel's beliefs as well.
The sergeant ordered me to put on a uniform. Between kicks and cuffs, the soldiers forced part of the uniform on me. "Get your breakfast. We'll have some fun later," the sergeant told me and another young man. By the time breakfast was over, they had gathered four of us COs. We were taken outside and asked to tear down an outhouse. Then someone grabbed me by the seat of my pants, and my head struck the roof of the building. Boards were flying everywhere. After the building was removed, the sergeant said, "Now we'll show you what your Jesus can do when you are in our hands."
So he threw one of the boys into the cesspool. The boy stood in the filth nearly up to his armpits. They took a shovel and shoveled excrement on his head saying, "I baptize you in the name of Jesus."
Their fun done, the sergeant told us, "If he is your brother, pull him out." We pulled him out and took him to the bathhouse and cleaned him up.
Then the sergeant threw soap at me and pushed me into a corner, choking me. He said, "Come with me." I followed him to the cesspool. He asked me three times if I was ready to accept military service. I answered, "No."
He took me by my legs and put me into the cesspool head first. I heard the soldiers yelling, "Don't put him in any further, you'll kill him."
The sergeant pulled me out, not saying a word. He stood shaking his head while I lay on the ground. Finally he said, "Go and wash."
We were taken before a group of higher officers, and asked who we were and what denomination we belonged to. The spokesman told the sergeant, "Put these men on bread and water."
As I sat on my bunk later, the sergeant came and asked, "Do you still love me?"
I said, "Yes I do." He walked away.
After the military saw that we had not changed our minds, they said we would be court-martialed. Eight of us were sentenced to prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for ten years of hard labor.
En route to Kansas, I had a nice visit with the sergeant. He said, "When you were first put in the guard house, I thought you were nothing but war dodgers. Since watching you day by day, I have changed my mind. I used to be a Sunday School boy, but could it be possible that you are right and all the rest of us are wrong about war? I hope they treat you well at Fort Leavenworth."
Two months later the armistice ending World War I was signed and I was released.
Adapted and used by permission from Seeking Peace, True Stories by Titus Peachy and Linda Gehman Peachy. © Good Books (800/ 762-7171).