Military virtues reclaimed?

 

From my living room window I see the flag waving in the VFW park above the monument honoring the war dead.  On Memorial Day we hear the rifles shots followed by taps.  In the same park our local peace group meets regularly to protests against our country’s current wars.

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I hold up my sign as witness to the peace and justice proclamations of the Church.  As a young adult convert to Catholicism I was convinced by  Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement that Christians must  imitate Christ’s way of non violent love and committment to peace.  

 However by birth and upbringing I am formed by those who uphold  military virtues.  My southern military family fought in the Revolution and in the 20’s two of my uncles went to West Point and Annapolis; my much loved father retired as a Navy Captain in the Dental Corps, which he had joined in WWII.  Honor, Duty and Country were not idle words in our household.  ( Of course to all my great grandfathers who fought in the Alabama regiments. “country” meant the Confederacy.)  

At home we idolized Robert E. Lee, as the ideal officer and gentleman, embodying the traditions of Christian knighthood.  The admirable military virtues to live by are courage, intelligence, group loyalty, sacrifice, and tough endurance.  I have no doubt that such ideals are being inculcated in the current crop of young Americans serving their country.  My peace advocacy is not condemning the sacrifices of those who serve.  I grieve for the cruel loss of life, most recently for the 38 young men slain in Afghanistan. 

 But I also grieve over the fact that a part of military service is training to kill and dominate by violent force.  One doesn’t just defend others or show a courageous readiness to die for your comrads and your country, but you must be willing to kill and destroy on command.  Today’s warfare is made more horrible as it escalates killing by technology. Bombs, drones and firefights produce more civilian casualties.  A warrior ethic of courageous sacrifice can hardly remain uncorrupted when it includes killing and destroying.  Military men and women are being subjected to psychic, moral and physical injuries.

Americans continue to stand under the flag in protest against war.  We long for the day when positive military virtues will be redirected to the rescue and well being of all people.  Images that come to mind are the efforts of Emergency Rescue Units, or the Fire Department, or teams of Forest Fire Fighters.  Perhaps even military health workers in poverty and plague stricken areas?  What other ways can we forsee in which warrior virtues can produce good ends?

 

 

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6 years 4 months ago
This is all nice sounding but the evidence is that those who refuse to defend themselves will die.  About 300 million dead can attest to that in the history of man kind.  The best way to reduce the number of dead in wars is the willingness to die preventing it.  Once you have lost that it is only a matter of time before what you represent will disappear violently inclusive massive dead.


Thuycicdedes said it is weakness that begets war and we are witnessing that today in our world.  Do we have to lose a billion lives this time before we understand that very basic precept of human nature. 
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 4 months ago
"The best way to reduce the number of dead in wars is the willingness to die preventing it."

Sounds like the #1 premise of nonviolence.

Actually, the #1 premise of nonviolence is truth.  The willingness to give up MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY so that the truth of who we are can be revealed.  (hint: we are one body)
Colin Donovan
6 years 4 months ago
Pacificism has a place for individuals, as the exemplification of the virtue of meekness. But societies (whether civil, familial or ecclesiastical) and their leaders cannot be pacifist. They have responsibilities ''to resist evil'' for the sake of others. That resistance may even require force, a.k.a. violence. For the state or the family that would mean physical force to defend itself; in the Church that could mean spiritual force, such as excommunication. To be ''non-violent'' in the face of evil, when all other options have been tried or judged incapable of effect, is cowardice, not meekness.

The failure of some in the peace movement, and I don't understand the author to be among them,  to admit that necessity, is both erroneous and dangerous.
6 years 4 months ago
When we get into a discussion on the military defending the country the discussion invariably gets into a non violence or turn the other cheek discussion and its proponents saying this is the way to go and dutiful brink up Martin Luther Kink and Ghandi.  But in the history of mankind there has never been an example where this has worked against an invading army.


So the proponents of this bait and switch are advocating a policy that in the past has killed 300 million people while those who advocate a strong military are advocating a policy that probably saved an equal amount though that is something that is almost impossible to prove.  But Pax Romana kept peace for most of the time in a large part of the world for a couple hundred years and it certainly did not believe in non violence.  But when it broke down, it is when lives by the millions started piling up to invading armies.
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 4 months ago
I think he meant just what he said, David.  Just as Jesus did when he said, lay down your arms, love your enemies. 

Nonviolence does not mean not defending yourself.  If someone is coming after you or someone you love with a weapon, you can use force to protect yourself.  But after the damage is done, nonviolence means that you do not return violence for violence.  If someone kills your child, you do not kill theirs.  An eye for an eye makes everyone blind (Gandhi).

For Jesus' words on this matter, see Matthew 5:38-48

The first 300 years of Christianity were pacifist.  Christians did not join armies.  With Constantine the church accepted the pagan ethic of a just war and slowly began to involve its membership in mass slaughter, first for the state and later for the faith.

Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants, whatever theological differences they may have had, all agreed that Jesus' teachings about rejection of violence and love of enemies was not to be taken seriously.  Each of the major branches of Christianity modified Jesus' teaching in these matters until all three were able to do what Jesus rejected, that is, take an eye for an eye, slaughter, maim, and torture.
6 years 4 months ago
''I would ask: when has nonviolence been tried and failed?''

 Every time.  300 million dead can attest to it.  Your examples have nothing to do with war so are irrelevant to the idea of protecting yourself against an invading army or even most occupying forces.


I repeat, the invoking of non violence protest has nothing to do with war.  Every time this topic comes up someone brings it up and it has nothing to do with the basic premise.  It is internal protest and has probably worked only a few times in history.  I am not against non violent protest but only its applicability to war and unreasonable governance. There are thousands of examples in today's world where it  has never  worked.  Try Syria and Libya, Burma, China, Iran, Cuba and I am sure there are many others.
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 4 months ago
JR and David - Nonviolence is not a tactic to be used to acheive a military or political end.  WHen seen as such, it will always come up short.  Nonviolence is a change of heart and is the most powerful force in the universe.

Merton wrote an essay, "Gandhi and the one-eyed Giant", which is an excellent interpretation of Gandhi and his concept of "ahimsa" (to do no harm).  It's not long and I suggest that you read it.

Nonviolence embraces powerlessness as a paradoxical way to change the world.  Is this not THE very life and message of Jesus, whom we claim to be the Christ?

Martin Luther King's movement of nonviolence was the moral example of Christian nonviolence that changed America's heart and broke the politicized deadlock between the two camps.  It was not just an "idea" or preaching that moved the mountain, but the willingness of the people involved to suffer imprisonment, punishment, and even death to bear witness to a deep moral truth about the dignity of every person.
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 4 months ago
We are all brainwashed.  The whole structure of secular, military and religious society tells us that it is ok to blow the brains out of our enemy.  God is on our side.

Meanwhile our young people come home having lost thier minds because of what they are expected to do.

Jesus' clear and unabiguous teaching on the rejection of violence and love of enemies is not taken seriously.

Silence in such matters is a stamp of approval. 
Thank you for speaking out.
John Barbieri
6 years 4 months ago
"Britain had to choose between war and dishonor.
"She chose dishonor.
"She shall have war."
                      -Winston Churchill on Chamberlain's capitulation to Hitler before WW II.

If only we were all socially evolved enough to control our worst selves!
Alas, we are not! 
6 years 4 months ago
As in so many other issues, this is one of those "both/and" not either/or.

We need both pacifists and police. Both individuals who will not defend themselves but will turn the other cheek and accept martyrdom rather than harm another physically (such is expected of all clergy and religious who are forbidden in their various constitutions from any involvement in bellical or violent acts). Lay people too may be honorably called to the vocation of martyrdom.

But not everyone is so called. Some are responsible for the common good and the protection of the innocent. Those individuals and groups are not free to abandon the innocent and defenseless to savages who would abuse and kill them.

We have a just war theory for a reason - both to guide who can licitly do what, to whom, and when, but also to give guidance to the rest of us who are not responsible for others' well being. No one can be a lone ranger when it comes to violence. No one has the right to murder. (kill a defenseless and harmless human being).

But occasionally some of us (husbands, fathers, police, soldiers...) have the duty to defend the innocent and defenseless from unjust (and often times insane) aggressors who will not listen to reason and simply have to be stopped. Now of course this doesn't mean "by any means conceiveable" - Jus In bello requires we use proportionate force (so modern weaponry which discriminates is better than old fashioned and cheap carpet bombing or artillery barrages that don't discrimnate).

A credible deterance is always better than victims and killing fields.
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 4 months ago
The mainline Christian Churches still teach something that Christ never taught or even hinted at, namely the Just War Theory, a theory that to me has been completely discredited theologically, historically, and psychologically.

So as I see it, until the various churches within Christianity begin to proclaim by word and deed what Jesus proclaimed in relation to violence and enemies, there is no hope for anything other than ever-escalating violence and destruction.

"The choice is between nonviolence or nonexistence," as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, and he was not speaking figuratively.
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 4 months ago
The mainline Christian Churches still teach something that Christ never taught or even hinted at, namely the Just War Theory, a theory that to me has been completely discredited theologically, historically, and psychologically.



So as I see it, until the various churches within Christianity begin to proclaim by word and deed what Jesus proclaimed in relation to violence and enemies, there is no hope for anything other than ever-escalating violence and destruction.



"The choice is between nonviolence or nonexistence," as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, and he was not speaking figuratively.
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 4 months ago
JR, have you not heard of the use of nonviolence in India (Gandhi), South Africa (Mandela), and the United States (MLK)?

What do you think would have happened if the blacks who were being hosed down by police had gotten a hose of their own and directed it back at the police?

I would ask: when has nonviolence been tried and failed?
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 4 months ago
When nonviolence is seen as a tactic to achieve a political or military end, it becomes just another way of "winning".  One more for our side.  You're still stuck in the cycle of violence.

Nonviolence breaks the cycle of violence, as Jesus did.

Ahimsa, by the way, recognizes self defense.

There are others who are much more able to elaborate on the essence of nonviolence than I can.  I do wish that America magazine and the Catholic Church in general would put more energy into educating about nonviolence.  The comments here show how little nonviolence is understood or even discussed among Christian people. 
6 years 4 months ago
Beth,

Maybe you should read the post above and what I and others have said.  One thing I said was

''I am not against non violent protest but only its applicability to war and unreasonable governance. ''

It doesn't work when you are dealing with a totalitarian government.  Gandhi was dealing with the British Empire when it was being dismantled.  Fifty years before and Gandhi would have been a footnote on someone's memoirs as a troublesome meddler who got in the way.  Martin Luther King appeared as the tide was changing substantially in a very wealthy country where television was then the medium of communication.  If he had been in a poor country trying to feed its people he too would have been a footnote some place.  Neither Gandhi or King were the first great orators or men of wisdom to demand rights for their people.


But none of that has anything to do with military virtues and problems of war.  So essentially by bringing up non violence you are what they would call some place else, hijacking the thread for something irrelevant to the original topic of conversation.  It is a worthy topic but do not confuse non violence with what prevents massive deaths on a world wide basis as one country invades another or defends itself from another.  I have never seen a case where that has played out but maybe there is one.  This is about the fourth time this has come here and the anti war sentiment immediately drifts into non violent protests as the answer and the same two or three incidents.
6 years 4 months ago
I should probably qualify my remarks.  Non violence is certainly a desirable way to lead one's life and it may be an attractive part of Catholicism and Christianity in general which I agree and the author has stated.  But while I believe the transfer of this to a world as a whole is a desirable objective, it is not a feasible one in the short term.


By advocating a national policy of non violence, I believe such a policy is actually encouraging violence because it welcomes your destruction and thus ability to be the peaceful giant who only resorts to force when aroused.  If you are not willing to use force, others will and you will disappear along with your noble intentions.  And the end result will be much, much worse.


Which is why I get upset with individuals who seem to portray themselves as more moral because they consider the value of life more than those who advocate military solutions.  I actually think it is just the opposite and that those who advocate a strong military response actually value life more because it that policy that  limits loss of life in the end.


It was only a few years ago when Qadaffi surrendered all his WMD's because he saw what happened to Saddam Hussein and feared he might be next and then when he saw this policy of spreading freedom go down the tubes because the policy needed a strong military backing and a unified front, he reverted to his old ways.  No one in the world fears the US now and we havoc all over the place.  The current world is not a poster child for non violence.  Just ask the Syrians.
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 4 months ago
There is much good and necessary in the military virtues to protect and defend our country.  It reminds me very much of a good father protecting and cherishing his family.

Perhaps military virtue, itself, will lead to an understanding that killing and destroying on command is doing great harm to our own young people.

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