Teach PA History
The Unseen Army: Conscientious Objectors During World War II
What to Know
Teaching Time
Two 50-minute sessions
Grade Level
High School
  • Civics and Government
  • Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening
  • History
Historical Period
  • The Great Depression and World War II - 1929-1945
World War II has another name: "The Good War." It is the one war which stands out in American history during which American citizens overwhelmingly unite in a common cause. However, during "The Good War" about 40,000 men made the choice not to fight. Did this make them "bad", or were these men setting their own example of courage by following the beliefs of their religion or conscience not to kill? Pennsylvania, more than any other state, had its share of conscientious objectors. This was due in large part to its founding by a Quaker as "a religious experiment"–an experiment which encouraged many pacifist religions to settle in the state. In this lesson students will have the opportunity to explore conscientious objection–its history and variety, several experiences of those who chose it during World War II, and the complexity of human rights and common good that goes along with it.


Students will be able to: 1. Understand the term "conscientious objector" and be able to identify different types of conscientious objectors. 2. Understand the background history of conscientious objectors in Pennsylvania and America through informational reading. 3. Learn about the experience of a World War II conscientious objector related to Pennsylvania through reading and interpretation of a primary source. 4. Share information learned to compare and contrast different experiences of World War II conscientious objectors. 5. Understand the rights involved with conscientious objection by associating information in official national and world documents on human rights to the conscientious objector experience they read. 6. Synthesize material and respond to essay question which challenges students to look at individual rights versus the common good.

Standards Alignment

  • Civics and Government

    5.2.12. F. Evaluate how individual rights may conflict with or support the common good.
    5.3.12. G. Evaluate how the government protects or curtails individual rights and analyze the impact of supporting or opposing those rights.

  • History

    8.1.9. B. Analyze and interpret historical sources.
    8.1.12. B. Synthesize and evaluate historical sources.
    8.2.12. A. Evaluate the political and cultural contributions of individuals and groups to Pennsylvania history from 1890 to Present.
    8.2.12. D. Identify and evaluate conflict and cooperation among social groups and organizations in Pennsylvania history.
    8.3.9. B. Identify and analyze primary documents, material artifacts and historic sites important in United States history from 1787 to 1914.
    8.3.12. C. Evaluate how continuity and change has influenced United States history from 1890 to Present.
    8.3.12. D. Identify and evaluate conflict and cooperation among social groups and organizations in United States history.

  • Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening

    1.1.11 G. Demonstrate after reading understanding and interpretation of both fiction and nonfiction text, including public documents.
    1.4.11. C. Write persuasive pieces.
    1.5.11. A. Write with a sharp, distinct focus.
    1.5.11. B. Write using well-developed content appropriate for the topic.
    1.5.11. C. Write with controlled and/or subtle organization.
    1.5.11. D. Write with a command of the stylistic aspects of composition
    1.5.11. F. Edit writing using the conventions of language.
    1.6.11. A. Listen to others.
    1.6.11. D. Contribute to discussions.
    1.6.11. E. Participate in small and large group discussions and presentations.

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