February 15: Anniversary of the Death of Ben Salmon
Blessed Among Us
Catholic Conscientious Objector (1889–1932)
Of the many conscientious objectors imprisoned during
World War I, Ben Salmon stood apart as the only imprisoned
conscientious objector who attributed his resistance to war
to his Roman Catholic faith.
Salmon was raised in Denver in a working-class family.
Though known as something of a rebel for his activities as a
union organizer, he remained a devout Catholic. When war
was declared in 1917, Salmon, who was newly married, applied
for conscientious objector status. While the government made
provision for members of historic “peace churches,” there was
no precedent at the time for recognizing Catholic conscientious
objectors, and he received no support from his Church.
Salmon was tried in a military court and sentenced to death—
subsequently reduced to twenty-five years in prison. His stand
won him general contempt—even from fellow Catholics, who
called him a heretic. In prison, he was placed in solitary confinement.
After going on a hunger strike, he was force-fed and
finally confined to a mental asylum. There he wrote a two hundred-
page manuscript offering a lucid critique of the
Church’s just-war teaching—possibly the first of its kind by an
American Catholic. He identified with the early martyrs who
offered their witness to oppose the idolatry of the Empire. The
name of the new idolatry was militarism.
Upon his release in 1920 Salmon led a quiet life, raising
three children, but he never fully recovered from his ordeal,
and he died on February 15, 1932, at the age of forty-three.
“The justice of man cannot dethrone the justice of God. There
is no such animal as a ‘just war.’ ”