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.
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?