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History professor looks at ‘Mennonite effect’ on alternative service

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – New to the Bethel College campus this school year, Nicholas Krehbiel, visiting assistant professor of history, will share his primary area of research interest in the next Friends of the MLA program.

Krehbiel will speak Thursday, Feb. 24, on “The Mennonite General’s Alternative Service: Lewis B. Hershey and Conscientious Objection during World War II.” The Mennonite Library and Archives (MLA) at Bethel College sponsors these periodic presentations on topics related to Mennonite history and thought.

Krehbiel teaches the American history courses at Bethel. He has a B.A. and an M.A. from Fort Hays State University and earned his Ph.D. from Kansas State University. Before coming to Bethel, he taught a variety of courses at both Fort Hays and K-State as well as at Washburn University.

His research deals primarily with conscientious objection in the United States during the 20th century. In his Ph.D. program, Krehbiel focused his dissertation on General Lewis B. Hershey, director of Selective Service during World War II, and Hershey’s role in developing and administering alternative service in conjunction with the Historic Peace Churches (Mennonites/Amish, Society of Friends or Quakers, and Church of the Brethren) during that time.

When the United States entered the Second World War, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order that placed the responsibility for alternative service on Hershey’s shoulders. As a product of the National Guard, Hershey strongly believed in the duty of the citizen to the state in a time of national emergency – but he also had Mennonite ancestry and believed equally strongly in minority rights.

“Though not personally religious, all [Hershey’s] beliefs towards religion, duty and minority rights contributed to a much more liberal policy for conscientious objectors (COs) during World War II, compared to the insensitive treatment of COs during the First World War,” Krehbiel said. “In short, ‘The Mennonite General’s Alternative Service’ argues that Lewis Hershey’s personal religious and philosophical beliefs shaped his precedent-setting liberal policy toward conscientious objectors during World War II.

“From the initial peacetime draft in 1940 to the end of conscription in 1973, alternative service remained as the central form of a CO’s duty to the state in lieu of serving in the military,” Krehbiel continued. “Hershey’s beliefs and actions during World War II resulted in a concept of alternative service that remained for the following years of conscription in the United States, providing an illuminating example of how the concept of the citizen soldier evolved in American history and the concept of national service during wartime extended even to those who refused to serve in the military.”

The Feb. 24 Friends of the MLA lecture will begin at 7 p.m. in the Bethel College Administration Building chapel and is free and open to the public.

For directions or more information on the Friends of the MLA, call 316-284-5360.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2010-11 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States and is in the first tier in its category in the U.S. News & World Report annual ranking of “America’s Top Colleges” for 2011. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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