A Pacifist’s Dilemma on Veterans’ Day

I hate war. But I do not hate soldiers.

I believe engaging in armed combat goes against the teachings of Jesus. But I respect the fact that war veterans have made incredible sacrifices for causes they believed to be noble.

I am generally in favor of cutting military spending. But I think we should increase spending on medical and psychological care for veterans. The high rates of mental illness, divorce, and suicide among military veterans causes me deep sorrow.

My first-grader came home from school earlier this week with a little newspaper that featured an Iraq war veteran who had lost his leg. She told me he was a hero because he killed the bad guys. “How do you know,” I asked, “who the bad guys are? Remember what Jesus said.”

“Love your enemies?”

Is there a way, on this day, for me to honor the spirit of sacrifice but not the acts of destruction; to give thanks for the selfless nature of our veterans without condoning the violence they committed; to advocate for better treatment of soldiers without supporting the work of the military industrial complex?

I believe the best way to honor all veterans is to make sure there are as few new veterans as possible.

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4 thoughts on “A Pacifist’s Dilemma on Veterans’ Day

  1. Is there a way, on this day, for me to honor the spirit of sacrifice but not the acts of destruction; to give thanks for the selfless nature of our veterans without condoning the violence they committed; to advocate for better treatment of soldiers without supporting the work of the military industrial complex?
    The short answer is “No, probably not.” The soldier is rigorously schooled to dehumanize the enemy, deprive him of his liberty, property, economic status, and ultimately his life. It matters not which country’s uniform or lack thereof the soldier or guerilla fighter wears. One could be a little more sympathetic with the soldier who defends country, city, and family from the invading soldier. But the defender then debases himself to the level of invader by utilizing the tactics of the invader.
    The “sacrifice” the soldier makes is largely a consequence of his training, his job. Bluntly speaking, he is a hired gun, opposed by a hired gun. No one should be overly surprised when a soldier returns home broken in body, mind, and spirit. And the usual hand wringing over such destruction astounds me. What else should we expect? The best that the consciencious objector can do is step in and pick up the pieces when the destruction is all over. And in advance of the destruction, teach the ways of peace, all the time realizing that there are those who must learn the hard way.
    Forebearance is the word I learned in church last Sunday (14 Nov.) It isn’t the same as honoring the spirit of sacrifice (spirit of destruction, really) Far from it. It is being clear that what the soldier does is immoral, but allowing the individual to experience the lessons learned by making mistakes. And sometimes that means loss of life, and at the very least broken relationships, broken minds, and broken spirits. So, when asked if I support the troops, I answer an unequivocal “No.”

  2. I agree that the high rates of mental distress, divorce, and even crime among veterans should not be a surprise to anyone. When you train people to dehumanize others and then send them overseas to kill and/or be killed, we cannot expect them to remain unscathed.

    I suppose soldiers are like pastors–or folks in any other profession–in the fact that different people take up the job for different reasons. Some soldiers enlist because they want to kill people and blow stuff up. Too many enlist because it seems like the best economic opportunity they have. And some, I believe, truly want to serve the people of their country.

    I know it seems cliche to invoke the concept of “love the sinner, hate the sin,” but that’s pretty much where I come down here. I do support each soldier as a human being who deserves to be treated with respect.

    Part of treating someone with respect is allowing them to know the truth. Many soldiers who learn the truth about war change their minds about wanting to participate in it. And I especially support those troops in their efforts to leave the military.

    (Speaking of which, the GI rights hotline does amazing work: http://girightshotline.org/)

  3. “And some, I believe, truly want to serve the people of their country.”

    The irony here is too startling to be ignored. And yes, sad to say there are those who are so impoverished that military service seems to be their only way out of hard times. I sincerely therefore believe in education.

  4. Pingback: Do Tell « Spacious Faith

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