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Book Review: Jeffrey Kovac, Refusing War, Affirming Peace: A History of Civilian Public Service Camp No. 21 at Cascade Locks

October 17, 2013

Jeffrey Kovac, Refusing  War,  Affirming  Peace: A History of Civilian Public Service Camp No. 21 at Cascade Locks. Corvallis, OR, Oregon State University Press, 2009.  ISBN 978-0-87071-575-4.
Reviewed by Gerlof D. Homan

Some 12,000 men served as conscientious objectors during World War II.   For religious/and or philosophical  reasons  they refused to be part of the American military machine.   Proportionally, that number was relatively small as compared to the total number of British conscientious objectors.  Among the 12,000  were  4,665 Mennonites.  During the First World War conscientious objectors were often brutally treated.  It was only in 1918 that many were allowed to do farm work. During the Second World War they were permitted  to perform civilian  work of “national importance.”  They were housed in 151  so-called Civilian Public Service (CPS) Camps, that had once been used by the New Deal’s   Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. Most of the CPS camps  were run, financed,  and organized  by the three so-called  Historic  Peace Churches: Church of the Brethren, Quakers, and Mennonites.  Sixty-three of the camps were run by the Mennonite Central Committee.

The story of World War II conscientious objectors has been told, but little has been written about  individual  CPS camps. This reviewer can think of only one other  study of a CPS camp: Gordon Zahn’s Another Side of War: The Camp Simon Story.* However, this is only an  account  of a short-lived and failed  Roman Catholic camp. The story of Cascade Locks, Camp #21, is the most complete of any CPS camp. It is written by the son-in-law of one of the  CPS’ers in the camp, Charles  Davis, and  is based on a great variety of sources,  interviews, diaries, the camp’s  newspaper, The Columbian, etc.

The men in CPS camps performed a variety of tasks many of which were related  to  forestry, soil conservation, etc.  Later many were permitted to work as “smoke  jumpers,”  ward attendants in mental or regular hospitals, and serve as “guinea pigs” for medical and dietary  experiments.

CPS Camp #21 at Cascade Locks, OR, was located near the Columbia River about twenty miles northeast Portland. The name Cascade Locks is derived from the locks in the Cascade Rapids of the Columbia River. The camp itself was actually located in Wyeth about eight miles east of Cascade Locks. A small side camp was established  on nearby  Larch Mountain  to place a  crew closer to areas of potential forest  fires. The location  of Cascade Locks had been chosen because of  its easy access to roads and rail and offered a variety of U.S. Forest  Service Projects in  Mount Hood National Forest. From a scenic standpoint  the camp was  a spectacular site,   but it also received  a large amount of rain and had very cold winters. Cascade Locks was started  on November 27,1941,  and closed in June 1946. An average of some 200 men stayed in the  camp and  a total of at least 560 spent some time there making it the largest CPS camp.

*Amherst, MA: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1979.

The camp consisted of four dormitories, a dining hall, an infirmary, a laundry and latrines. The men turned one of the buildings into a library  and renovated  the old CCC chapel. Initially,   Cascade Locks was administered jointly by the Brethren  Service Committee and Mennonite Central Committee. This joint sponsorship soon proved to be unsatisfactory , and in May 1942 it became a Brethren camp.  Some forty-seven Mennonites did serve in the camp at one time or other in addition to many other denominations.  Among the latter were, of course, many Brethren and Methodists, some Quakers, a few Jews, and one Moslem.

Until February 1944 Brethren Rev. Mark Schrock served as the camp’s director. The author has much praise for his very able leadership and shows how much the men appreciated  his  important  contributions. It was Schrock who placed his personal collection of some 2,000 books  in the camp library. Unfortunately, the library and all the books were lost in a fire in February 1943.  After his resignation a committee assumed leadership of the camp.

Few CPS camps had  many able and committed pacifists many of whom had lively and varied interests. Like most CPS camps, Cascade Locks had its own newspaper the The Columbian but also a literary magazine, The Illiterati . The men  also showed much interest in thespian  activities  and engaged in book discussions.  Furthermore, they  organized, what they called, the School of Pacifist Living.

Among its most famous residents was the well-known actor Lewis [Lew] Ayers who  had starred  in the famous 1930 film  “All Quiet on the Western Front.  But Ayers did not stay very long. He preferred to serve a non-combatant medic and left in May 1942.

Another resident at Camp 21 who drew much attention was George Kiyoshi Yamada.  Yamada was  of Japanese  ancestry and arrived at Camp 21 in December 1941. However,   like all Japanese living along the west coast, he was instructed to leave Cascade Locks to go to a War Relocation Camp for Japanese internees.  Director Schrock and  the men in  camp as well as other CPS camps  protested  against the transfer.  As result Yamada was transferred  to a  CPS camp in Colorado  Springs, CO.

The men of Camp 21 also protested in 1942  when they  were asked to build logging roads  for a new camp called Three Lynx.  The men, led by Schrock, concluded that  this project was in some  way war-related. Their protests  were successful and  the U.S. Forest Service agreed to drop the project.

Not everyone in Cascade Locks and other camps was content. The men were often bored because the work offered few challenges.  Also their meager pay of $2.50 per month,  caused financial hardship for their families.  Others were disillusioned with CPS.  A number of men  at Cascade  Locks but also in other camps walked out. These men were arrested and sentenced.  One person at Cascade Locks decided to join the army most likely for financial reasons. The same happened in other CPS camps.

The author concludes that CPS Cascade Locks created a community where justice was a guiding principle, the arts and learning flourished, and individual differences  respected. Perhaps to some extend the same can be said about many other CPS camps. They were avenues of peace.

 Refusing War, Affirming Peace  may inspire you to become a peacemaker and strengthen your Mennonite peace commitment.

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