Soldiers of Conscience

Just posted to our Web site: a series of video interviews with soldiers and conscientious objecters exploring the dilemma of killing in war. These videos are taken from the new Emmy-nominated documentary, "Soldiers of Conscience." Many thanks to Ian Slattery for providing these clips.

Two examples. In the first Joshua Casteel describes his journey from interrogator at Abu Ghraib to conscientious objector:

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And in the second, Major Peter Kilner argues that even though war is necessary in certain circumstances, soldiers must conduct themselves morally:

 

 

Tim Reidy

 

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Devon Zenu
7 years 9 months ago
JR Cosgrove,
 
Your arguments, with which I am not unfamiliar, have a certain logic to them. However I struggle to find a connection between them and the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are not called to the logic of the Pax Romana or the Pax Americana but to the Pax Christi. The central message of Jesus' ministry was that the Kingdom of God has arrived, and he called his disciples to live as witnesses to this kingdom. This message was a challenge to the powers and principalities of the time and it remains so today. You are right that turning the other cheek may get you killed, but Jesus didn't deny that. He warned us that to follow him means taking up our crosses and being ready to suffer and die. What he did promise us though is that the foolishness of the gospel is in fact wiser than human wisdom. Projecting military strength may deter some wars (while at the same time committing us to others), but it will not bring peace. As the Catechism says, peace is not the mere absence of conflict, but rather it is the harmony of a just order. What your logic fails to acount for is the ways in which even very successful military campaigns lay the seeds for future conflict. They create new wounds, deepen hatreds and reinforce the myth of redemptive violence. True peace comes not when your enemy has been defeated, but when your enemy has been reconciled to you. I don't mean to suggest that this is an easy task. It is not. It requires deep sacrifice, and yes, many lives will be lost. But in the end it is the only path to peace. Violence simply will not get you there.
 
“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate...Returning violence for violence multiples violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that." -MLK
 
"[T]hrow us in jail and we will still love you. Threaten our children and bomb our homes and our churches and as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hours and drag us out on some wayside road and beat us and leave us half-dead, and as difficult as that is, we will still love you. But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves, we will so appeal to your heart and your conscience that we will win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory." -MLK
7 years 9 months ago
The problem with pacifism is that it kills in the tens of millions and if we give it a chance in the modern world the number could be billions.  And a strong military that is used properly saves lives by the millions and possibly billions.  History is full of examples and it was recognized early when Thucydides, who wrote the history of the Peloponnesian War, said that weakness is the author or war.  We need only go back to World War II to see the fruits of pacifism and 60 million dead.
 
One of the most peaceful times in history was when Pax Romana ruled the world and Roman legions enforced the peace and one could walk from the coast of Normandy to Damascus on roads that were safe, speaking one language and using one currency.
 
There are people out there who want to kill us and all we represent not because of what we do to them but because of who we are.  So I would question the CO of Joshua Casteel as misguided at best.  He should have been smart enough to know that turning the other cheek may kill millions of people.  He was facing a person completely at peace with war and who would slit his throat and all his family if given half the chance.
 
One final comment.  This is an example of the shallowness that permeates this site.  There is no depth of thinking in this brief piece nor in most of the other pieces of a similar nature.  What this site should be promoting is a in depth discussion of the issues of topics, not some superficial pablum. 
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 9 months ago
I'm so happy to know that we are so blameless and good and sinless, Mr. Cosgrove. What better mentality to promote unnecessary wars. They want to kill us because of what we are, such hubris. In the meantime, we have been only dancing throughout the world, sprinkling flower petals wherever we go. Why don't we just pre-emptively nuke them all now and be done with it? Pax Cosgroviana.
7 years 9 months ago
Mr. Kopacz,
 
You should read the writing of Sayyid Qutb and what many in the Islamic world say of the west.  Essentially they say the West is decadent and godless and that is their main gripe.  By the way I share a lot of that sentiment.  I find this especially true in Europe and here in the US it is best represented by the Democrat Party and many of their constituents.  As I said on another thread, the Republicans are hardly blameless but their immorality does not come close to the Democrat party. 
Devon Zenu
7 years 9 months ago
The Church says that individual Christians have basically two options when it comes to war. 1) We can emulate the first Christians, renounce violence, and make use of those (nonviolent) means of defense that are available to the weakest as a prophetic sign of the kingdom of God. 2) We can follow the just war theory and take part in war in those limited circumstances that fulfill all the jus ad bellum requirements. The Church makes it clear that if we take option two we have a grave obligation to refuse to particpate in unjust wars. So the Church says we can either be conscientious objectors or selective conscientious objectors. Most governments (including that of teh U.S.) do not provide any legal recognition of the latter of those two categories, so this leaves Catholics in a somewhat precarious position. This is especially so for Catholics who live in a country, such as the United States, whose military regularly engages in wars that do not meet the jus ad bellum criteria. In such a situation, should Catholics join the military and swear an oath to follow all lawful orders? Clearly lawful orders include acts that Catholics are forbidden from participating in.
Regardless of whether one is a Christian pacfist or a just warrior, the Church calls all to place a premium on nonviolence. (One of the jus ad bellum requirements of the just war theory is ''last resort'', meaning that all non-violent options have been tried and found unsuccessful. So even just warriors must be skilled in the tactics of non-violence.) In spite of the fact that the Church calls all Christians to practice nonviolence, there seems to be an attitude and assumption among many that nonviolence is naive and ineffectual (even dangerously so, according to JR Cosgrove above). I would point everyone to some interesting reserach being done on the effectivesness of nonviolence vs. that of violence. See the following link:
http://blog.sojo.net/2010/05/18/new-research-on-why-nonviolence-works/
7 years 9 months ago
Mr. Tenney,
 
When one points out that a strong military and the willingness to use it is a deterrent to war and actually lowers the number killed by violence, others should not assume they are recommending violence per se or rejoice in it.  There are people in today's world as well as from the beginning of time who want to use force as part of their overall objectives.  And the best way to counter this willingness to use force is to show a willingness to use force in return.  Few are willing to risk partial or total annihilation from another if they use force.  There are exceptions to this but these are few.  For example, even after the dropping of the two atomic bombs on Japan, the ruling military did not want to surrender but was willing to die to the last person.  It was only the subsequent fire bombing of Tokyo in the next few days that led to surrender by convincing the emperor that continuing on was fruitless.
 
History teaches us that weakness invites an attack from others especially if the attacker sees substantial rewards from this venture.  An unfortunate but true assessment.  Too often, when one group sees a softness in others, it attacks.  If it sees the likelihood that it will be destroyed by the one it attacks it is extremely unlikely it will attack.  So strength prevents war not a declaration by a society that it abhors war.  So I said that pacifism is the greater killer by many orders of magnitude.
 
The research you provided is interesting and from what I understand refers to internal processes not cross border militaristic adventures.  The slide presentation was very vague.  It is one thing to protest an unlawful governance through non violent means, it quite another to protest your neighbor's threat to occupy and kill your citizens by non violent means.  Someone once made a presentation that I attended that Gandhi's approach worked with the British because of the nature of British society in the 1940's.  It would not have worked with the British 50 years before nor with most other Asian masters in the late 1940's.  I am not sure it would work everywhere today even with the incredibly more transparency available in the world today.  The jihadist who is at peace with himself as he beheads his enemy is I am afraid all too common in our word to push it aside by turning the other cheek.  We often present several cheeks before we say enough.
 
For the last 2-3 years much of the world has been trying to find peaceful means to limit the nuclear threat with Iran.  Sanctions are supposed to be the peaceful means to achieve this but this has become folly as each nation plays off the other for its own gains.  Meanwhile Israel waits as an enemy sworn to eliminate it develops nuclear weapons.  If you were Israel and saw a much larger nation say it will destroy you and they then develop the weapons to do so, what would you do.  Certainly peaceful means have been tried but will it work and if it doesn't what is the recourse.  A lot of cheeks have been turned in this process.
 
We should all seek ways to limit killing especially wholesale killing and from history, pacifism has never been the answer.  I wish it were but reality is something else.  And while the end game in Japan was horrendous it probably prevented the loss of tens of millions of additional lives and led to the subsequent rebuilding of Japan to become the second largest economic power in the world in the last 40 years of the 20th century.  And a peaceful one.  And today they are being threatened by neighbors after this disarmament.
7 years 9 months ago
Mr. Tenney,
 
I understand your argument but quoting Martin Luther King does not make something true despite how noble the thoughts may be.  His form of resistance would work well in late 20th century America but I am not so sure how they would play out in other places.  Also they are not at all relevant to the basic argument.  You again brought up internal injustice when the issue is whether military force or armed resistance is ever justified or necessary against an enemy that wants to destroy you.  
 
When one is faced with a dire threat to one's existence and one is not willing to defend oneself, then that person or group or nation is asking to be attacked and destroyed.  I know of no instance where pacifism over came such an enemy from the outside.  It is possible to point to certain groups over long periods of time using passive resistance to achieve their goals for internal realignment but that is not the same thing as fending off a determined enemy from the outside who believes they can conquer you and subvert or destroy you.  World history is full of examples of the plundering and massive murdering of peoples who could not defend themselves.  Most of these slaughters could have been avoided if the people being invaded had a level of military capability equal to the invaders. There are exceptions but they are rare.  Such examples should point to how best to avoid such situations in the future.  
 
We have a recent example where 60 million died because there was no will to challenge very bellicose invaders.  Eventually nearly the whole world had to go to war to correct the problem.  I would think that should be a consideration in the present time as well as the future.  As I said, a competent military and the will to use it is the best way to have peace and save lives.  Turning the cheek too often kills by the millions.  If you can show me how your approach avoids all these deaths than I would subscribe to it.
 
Thank you for your comments.  I appreciate the opportunity to explore this issue on this site. 

 
Devon Zenu
7 years 9 months ago
You are right that MLK saying something doesn't necessarily make it true. I wonder if you would say the same thing about Jesus though. I include the King quotes not because "if MLK said it, it must be true", but because I think they give authentic expression to the message of the gospel. I would continue to ask how the logic you are using even remotely reflects the message of the gospel. Christian ethics does not consist in a utilitarian calculation of how to save the most lives but in how to most faithfully live the gospel and incarnate the kingdom of God.
7 years 9 months ago
Mr. Tenny,
 
Did Jesus say that you must not defend yourself or say that you must stand by while someone else is being killed or raped?  Did Jesus say that you must not defend your wife and children from an attacker?  But that is what pacifism does and pacifism is only viable when it exists within a society that will defend the few that adhere to it.  Thus, pacifism by its very nature requires a military willing to act so a few can practice what the majority cannot.  An extremely selfish attitude.
 
This does not endorse or recommend a policy of using military action to acquire worldly goods or power, or subjugate others for one's own benefit.  It limits what one can do with military action but it does not eliminate it.  Jesus said to love your neighbor and sometimes that love must manifest itself in protecting them.
 
I am sorry but I find pacifism a very naive and uncaring philosophy and not one of love for one's neighbor.  And Jesus's message was one of love.
 
Devon Zenu
7 years 9 months ago
JR Cosgrove,
 
Your argument is the usual straw man that is carted out to critque pacifism. The problem is that, while it is a fine argument against quietism, it doesn't nearly do justice to the reality of Christian pacifism which specifically rejects the notion of quietism. Christian pacifism does not teach that one should simply stand idly by while evil is perpetuated. As the U.S. Catholic bishops stated in "The Challenge of Peace" and reiterated in "The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace":
 
"'The vision of Christian nonviolence is not passive about injustice and the defense of the rights of others.' It ought not be confused with popular notions of nonresisting pacifism. For it consists of a commitment to resist manifest injustice and public evil with means other than force. These include dialogue, negotiations, protests, strikes, boycotts, civil disobedience and civilian resistance."
 
This is precisely what Colonel Kilner fails to understand in Soldiers of Conscience when he proposes his hypothetical about the parable of the Good Samaritan. He asks, what if the good Samaritan had shown up during the assualt on the man on the road? What it have been moral to stand by, do nothing, and then tend to the man's wounds after the beating was finished? But we are not simply stuck with a choice between doing nothing and using violence. King didn't simply stand aside while blacks were lynched and churches were bombed. Ghandi didn't simply stand by and tolerate the oppression of his people, nor di he simply stand by when Muslim and Hindu revolutionaries began using violence against the British. (I reject the idea that nonviolence only works against enlightened western governments. There are too many examples where it has worked against repressive regimes.)
 
Christian pacifism requires what Walter Brueggemann calls "prophetic imagination." It is precisely our failure to imagine possibilities between 'doing nothing' and using violence that has so often lead good hearted people to support war and violence as the only viable options.
7 years 9 months ago
Mr. Tenney,
 
There is no straw man.  I present real situations.  You continue to bring up internal injustice and ignore the fact that hundreds of millions, maybe more than a billion, have died as the result of not being able to fight back.  Eliminating such a state is what I would call a real world expression of ''loving thy neighbor.''
 
As far as straw man arguments, Gandhi and King are irrelevant to the discussion but you keep on introducing them.  I doubt there were many non Western societies prior to the 20th century in which their tactics would have worked.  As part of another discussion, it would be interesting to discuss just where and when such tactics worked.  
Devon Zenu
7 years 9 months ago
JR Cosgrove,
 
You said, "Did Jesus say that you must not defend yourself or say that you must stand by while someone else is being killed or raped?  Did Jesus say that you must not defend your wife and children from an attacker?  But that is what pacifism is..."
 
I then went on to show that's NOT what pacifism is. So, yes, that was a straw man. As for pre-20th century western examples of pacifism working:
1) There are some ancient accounts such as a Jewish protest against Pontius Pilate when he placed a Roman eagle on the Temple. There are others of which I have read, but I would need to do some digging.
 
2) I don't understand your insistence on looking at pre-20th century examples. It is in fact our posture in the modern world that we are discussing after all. And isn't it interesting that there are lots of examples of nonviolence working against oppressive regimes (Eastern European governments, in the Phillipines, even in some instances against the Nazis) in the modern world when our weapons are far more deadly? [I am emailing you a copyrighted article that I can't post here with examples, mostly modern, but some ancient.] It seems like nonviolence is more viable today then it was in the past.
 
3) I must ask what you mean by pacifism "working". Again I sense a latent utilitarianism underlying your argument.  Sometimes pacifism will get people killed when starting a war wouldn't. That doesn't mean that war is the path to peace or that pacifism didn't "work." Deeper reconciliation and long term peace may still result from the pacificistic stand that would not be possible after a hard fought war. And even beyond that we are left with Socrates' classic question: is it worse to do evil or to suffer it? Both the Greek philosphers and the Church have always said that we should do what is right, even when it means sacrifice (or even death) on our part. Specifically in the Christian context we have been called to love our enemies as ourselves.
 
One further point: You keep laying millions of deaths at the feet of pacifists when in fact they are the product of people who believe in justified violence. It is hardly credible to say that Hitler's or Stalin's or Mao's genocides are attributable to organized, active nonviolent resistence to injustice and evil. To the extent that weakness has invited attack it has been the weakness of a half-hearted militarism that gives lip service to a world of peace and the end of war, not actual Christian pacifism.

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