#2. World War II Conscientious Objectors Find (Insane) Ways to Get in on the Action
Keystone-France / Getty
During World War II, American support for the war was through the roof (well, after Pearl Harbor, anyway). At the same time, a relatively new designation for citizens called "conscientious objectors" was coming into being. Some people who were strongly opposed to Axis powers taking lives naturally had an aversion to themselves taking lives, and they refused to fight.
"I'll pee on Hitler's shoes, but that's it."
Since Nazis weren't going to kill themselves, these objectors were not exactly highly thought of. It was very easy to see "conscientious objector" as a fancy term for "coward" in the eyes of those who saw the war as our only chance to stop world domination at the hands of psychotic supervillains. But the COs weren't just going to sit that shit out -- they found other ways to contribute that wound up putting their lives on the line. For instance, 500 of them volunteered for a vital mission: human experimentation.
For the men who'd rather shoot up unpatented drugs than shoot Nazis.
We aren't talking your typical "three of you take this placebo while three of you take this other thing that may give you an upset stomach" experiments. We're talking shit intended to find out what kills people in wartime conditions. We're talking being exposed to extreme heights, food deprivation, and life-threatening weather conditions. Many of these COs were injected with malaria, pneumonia, hepatitis, typhus, and other diseases that, in previous wars, took more lives than bullets. Some were covered with lice and sprayed with DDT.
But the ones who arguably had it the worst were the 36 COs who agreed to be starved nearly to death. Meaning they got half the minimum rations needed to sustain a human life while being expected to continue regular activities. The results of what these people allowed to be done to themselves were significant enough to influence the Marshall Plan, the program by which the nations devastated by the war were repaired.
The American Friends Service Committee
We're assuming Captain America fits in around this point.
So, yeah, these guys proved that being a conscientious objector wasn't about fearing for their own safety -- they appeared to not give a shit about that. They just wanted to be nuts in a way that didn't kill anybody else.
#1. Chaplain Emil Kapaun: The Saint?
The Army, Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images
Hey, remember the Korean War? Apparently most of us don't, since it's now often called "the forgotten war," and you don't even see M*A*S*H reruns any more. But forgotten war or not, Captain Emil Kapaun deserves to be famous, damn it. And apparently some in the Catholic church agree, since they want to make the man a saint.
Kapaun had already won a Bronze Star for going out into gunfire to retrieve wounded soldiers by the time the Battle of Unsan happened in 1950. Since the battle was basically about the Chinese surprising and stomping the U.N. army, the order of the day for Kapaun's unit was "RUN!" Kapaun instead chose the option of walking through gunfire to provide medical aid and comfort to the dying, as he tended to do. Normal Kapaun stuff so far.
Acme, via The Army
"Bite me, bullets."
But then the Chinese overran the position ... and Kapaun continued to provide aid to his comrades. The enemy was mopping up, his own army was gone, and he just didn't give a shit -- there were still wounded behind. When Kapaun saw one Herbert Miller about to be shot in the head by an enemy soldier (because he was wounded), he ran over, unarmed, and pushed the attacking soldier's gun away. He picked up Miller and kept carrying him as the Chinese soldiers ordered the survivors on a forced march that would last 75 freaking miles.
Throughout the march, other POWs keeled over from their wounds, and Kapaun had to prop them up and support them to prevent them from being shot or left behind to die.
He also kept their bicycles in good working order.
Things got even worse once they arrived at the POW camp, but Kapaun didn't let up. Through the winter, soldiers were dying from cold, and Kapaun would provide clothing. When other soldiers were wounded, he continued tending them. When his guards abused him to try to dissuade him from holding religious services, he just took punishments that included being left out in the cold or beaten, and kept right at it until guards gave up trying to stop him. As soldiers starved, he would sneak out of camp and go steal some grain, garnering the nickname "the good thief."
And here's where we find out that confronting violence with nonviolence doesn't always have a happy ending -- that's why most of us don't do it. Kapaun was eventually taken to "the hospital," which the other prisoners knew meant that he was going to die. But he sure as hell lived in the memories of the hundreds of other soldiers he saved -- Kapaun earned a posthumous Medal of Honor in 2013, and there is a campaign to get him sainthood. On top of that, there's the fact that he wins the "awesomest looking guy giving a sermon" award for this photo of him preachin' it from a Jeep:
You can't tell, but the Jeep is going 70 miles an hour -- he just screamed blessings at people as he flew past.