Posts Tagged ‘conscientious objection’

Today is the feast day of St. Maximilian of Tebessa, a Christian martyred in antiquity for refusing to serve in the Roman military:

…The proconsul Dion said, “What are you called ?” Maximilianus replied,
“Why do you want to know my name ? It is not permitted to me to serve
in the military since I am a Christian”. The proconsul Dion said,
“Ready him”. When he was being got ready, Maximilianus replied, “I
cannot serve in the military; I cannot do wrong; I am a Christian.” The
proconsul Dion said, “Let him be measured”. When he had been measured,
an official reported, “He is five feet ten inches tall.” Dion said to
the official, “Let him be marked.” And as Maximilianus resisted, he
replied, “I will not do it; I cannot serve in the military.”

2. Dion said, “Serve so that you do not perish.” Maximilianus
replied, “I will not serve; cut off my head; I do not serve the world,
but I do serve my God.”Dion the proconsul said, “Who has persuaded you
of this ?” Maximilianus replied, “My soul and he who has called me.”
Dion said to his father Victor, “Advise your son.” Victor replied, “He
himself knows – he has his purpose – what is best for him.” Dion said
to Maximilianus, “Serve and accept the seal.” He replied, “I will not
accept the seal: I already have the seal of my Christ.” Dion the
proconsul said, “I will send you to your Christ right now.” He replied,
“I wish that you would do so. That is even my title to glory.” Dion
said to his staff, “Let him be marked.” And when he was resisting, he
replied, “I do not accept the world’s seal, and if you give it to me, I
will break it, since I value it at nought. I am a Christian. It is not
permitted to me to bear the lead upon my neck after [having received]
the saving seal of my Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, he
whom you do not know, who suffered for the life of the world, whom God
surrendered for our sins. All of us Christians serve Him. Him we follow
as the source of life and author of salvation.” Dion said, “Serve, and
accept the seal, so that you do not suffer a terrible death.”
Maximilianus replied, “I will not die. My name is already with my Lord;
I cannot serve in the military.” Dion said, “Have regard to your youth
and serve; for this befits a young man.” Maximilianus replied, “My
service is for my Lord; I cannot serve the world. I have already said:
I am a Christian.” Dion the proconsul said, “There are Christian
soldiers in the sacred retinue of our lords Diocletian, Maximianus,
Constantius, and Maximus, and they serve.” Maximilianus replied, “They
themselves know what is best for them. But I am a Christian, and I
cannot do wrong.” Dio said, “What wrong do they who serve do ?”
Maximilianus replied, “You know well what they do.” Dion replied,
“Serve, lest, having scorned military service, you begin upon a
terrible death.” Maximilianus replied, “I will will not die; even if I
do depart the world, my spirit will live with my Lord Christ.”

3. Dion said, “Strike out his name.” And when it had been struck
out, Dion said, “Because you have disloyally refused military service,
you will receive the appropriate sentence in order to serve as an
example to others.” And he read his decision from his tablet,
“Maximilianus, since you have disloyally refused the military oath, it
has been decided for you to be punished by the sword.” Maximilianus
replied, “Thanks be to God.” He was 21 years, 3 months, and 18 days
old. And when he was being led to the place [of execution], he spoke as
follows, “Dearest brothers, with an eager desire, hurry with as much
courage as you can so that it may befall you to see the Lord and that
he may reward you also with a similar crown.” And with a joyous face,
he addressed his father as follows, “Give that guard the new clothing
which you had got ready for me during my military service, so that I
may welcome you with a hundredfold reward and we may glory with the
Lord together.” And so he suffered death shortly afterwards.

Controversy surrounds the historicity of this account. However, what’s important about this story is not its historicity, but that the early church would celebrate the protagonist of such a story as a martyr. Declaring someone a saint is a political act, and the canonization of Maximilian as a saint in the eyes of the church also tells us something about the orientation of the early church to questions of war and violence. Interestingly, the author of the above-linked article debunking the historicity of the martyr story dates its composition to C.E. 384-439, during the time when the militarized Constantinian version of Christianity was supplanting the earlier anti-violent incarnation.

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On this day in 1987, the United Nations Human Rights Commission recognized conscientious objection to military service as a basic human right.

Almost 2,000 years prior to that, Jesus told his followers to put down their weapons.

Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. —Matthew 26:52, NRSV.

In the U.S., penalties imposed for refusing to kill in military service often exceed the penalties given for murdering civilians in war.

Here’s a list of people serving sentences in the U.S. who were convicted of acts related to their objection to killing in military service, compiled by the War Resisters International for their December 1, 2008 Prisoners for Peace Day:

Robin Long (6 Sep 2008-14 Sep 2009)
Miramar Naval Consolidated Brig, PO BOX 452136, San Diego CA 92145-2136, USA
Serving a 15 months prison sentence for being AWOL.

Helen Woodson (03231-045) (9 Jan 2003-9 Sep 2011)
FMC Carswell, Max Unit, POB 27137, Ft. Worth, Texas 76127, USA
106 months. Parole violation with anti-war protest at the federal courthouse, Kansas City, Missouri, on 11 Mar 2004

Rafil Dhafir (11921-052) (26 Apr 2000-26 Apr 2022)
FCI Terre Haute, POB 33, Terre Haute, IN 47808, USA
22 years for convictions resulting from providing humanitarian and financial aid to Iraqis in violation of U.S. sanctions, February 2005

The full international list can be found on WRI’s Prisoners for Peace 2008 Honor Roll.

There’s a much larger list of war resister profiles available at Courage to Resist. Their site features the story of Joshua Casteel:

And then there was Joshua Casteel, an interrogator at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison. His turning point came when a 22-year-old Saudi who came to Iraq for jihad was brought before him for questioning. “He admitted it,” says Casteel, 26, a deeply religious Catholic convert from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “I asked him why he had come to Iraq to kill. Then he asked me why I had come to Iraq to kill. He said I wasn’t following the teachings of Jesus, which was pretty ironic. But I thought he sounded just like me. He was not a maniacal kind of killer. He had never fired a weapon in his life … I know what it’s like to proselytise. At one time I had been a pretty nationalistic kid. I understood where he was coming from but in order to do my job I couldn’t look at him as a human being. I had to look at him as an object of exploitation.”

Two days later Casteel went to Qatar on leave. When he came back he told his commander that he would be applying for conscientious objector status. “I said I wouldn’t turn in my weapon while I was there or talk to the media but would carry on doing my job and when I got back home I would ask to leave the military.” He filed his application on February 16 and was granted an honourable discharge on May 31.

This story moves me to tears. I cannot imagine working in a warehouse of torture as an interrogator and have Christ break through the lips of a jihadi.

Courage to Resist will sponsor a week-long campaign of letter-writing to war resisters in prison from March 16-23. In the meantime, let’s keep in our prayers those who suffer in prison for the sake of Christ and for the refusal to harm other children of God in service to the state.

From WIP, emphasis mine:

The ethical dilemma that anchors the film is blatantly stated in the first few minutes – “At some point, every soldier has to face the question: Will I be able to kill another human being in combat?” Until recent wars most soldiers were not willing to kill; during WWII the military found that 75 percent of combat soldiers did not fire at the enemy when given the opportunity. “Reflexive fire training” – a technique now taught during basic training wherein firing a weapon becomes second nature – has increased firing rates to almost 90 percent.

A quick reaction may save a soldier’s life, but it can also mean that killing becomes so intuitive that a soldier may not clearly evaluate the situation before firing. Major Peter Kilner, a West Point professor of ethics who was recently deployed to Iraq and will serve in Afghanistan this winter, questions the implications of this training practice. “When you train them reflexively, they learn to make those decisions much more quickly, but the price of that is they’re not thinking through the great moral decision of killing another human being,” he says.

The rest of the piece focuses on conscientious objectors, all of whom need our support in the faith.  If you are a member of the military and need help getting out or registering as a conscientious objector, I’d suggest taking a look at the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors and the Center on Conscience and War.

Good for you, Pfc. Michael Barnes:

A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Army to grant conscientious objector status and an honorable discharge to Pfc. Michael Barnes, a Fort Richardson-based paratrooper who said he experienced a religious awakening in Iraq two years ago that left him opposed to war in any form.

The decision by U.S. District Judge John Sedwick supersedes the Army’s decision last year to deny Barnes’ request.

…In a statement released Monday by his lawyer, however, Barnes said he was thankful to the federal courts in Anchorage for finding that his request was based on “my sincere belief as a Christian…I have been trying to justify being a soldier and finding a way to do so while still being a Christian, because that is what I wanted to do since I was a kid,” Barnes wrote in his request for conscientious objector status in December 2006.

“But I can no longer justify spending my short time in this world participating in or supporting war. … I must try to save souls, not help take them. I fear not for my life, but for my soul.”

…While training in Anchorage and listening to the stories of soldiers returning from tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, Barnes said, he first began to question his beliefs and “whether or not I was living my life to serve the Lord.”

I am so proud of this man I have a hard time saying anything else about him. Well done, brother.

What I would like to discuss a bit further, though, is the reaction to this story in the comment section of the news organization’s website.  Here’s just a sample of the reaction:

  • …He joined for a free education and paycheck and when he realized he just might have to work for it…he ran away hiding behind religion like a lost puppy. What a waste. Good riddens…ps…Michael you owe the US Military two years of pay you collected while hiding behind a rock while your fellow soldiers were getting shot at and dying YOU PIECE OF S*$T. Be sure to tell your children your a coward.
  • This man made a choice. His fellow soldiers deserve better. He is using religion as an excuse to hide behind his own cowardice.
  • i am shocked. …If he earned his jump wings then they should be ripped from his blouse, his rank, and his buttons. Let the weakling go away and be something else, maybe an Obama supporter.
  • I mena come on he only has two years left. Let him push some papers in the AG office. To use words of General George S. Patton if I may, this can be all summed up in a couple words. “He is a guttless coward.” He is not sincere. He jsut does not want to man up and give the real reason.
  • I wonder where he will be in 5 years and will he still be as “christian” as he is today?
  • “conscientious objector status” Synonyms: [EDIT: the commentor uses the word for female genitalia as a pejorative…trying to keep it family friendly. –DC] status, cry baby, mommies boy/girl, whimp, wuss, Non Team Player. This is a slippery slope we have entered. Just watch ALL THE OTHERS who are suddenly going to use religion as an excuse to run away from their military responsibilities.
  • Isn’t it wonderful. This guy gets to reap the rewards given to him by all the men who died to give him this right. He just doesn’t have to contribute. How chicken is that?

I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the courage that it takes to face this kind of venom. This is just the comments section of one news story; I cannot imagine the bile spewed in Michael’s direction within the service or what he’ll face in his home community (or church!). I imagine he probably fears for his safety (or should). Conscientious objectors are not taking the easy way out. The easy way out is to continue to kill people for your paycheck while the bulk of your nation cheers you on and welcomes you home with medals and ribbons.  This cuts right against the flow of society and “what is easy.”

Which is easier: killing Osama bin Laden for what he did to your fellow Americans if you were able to, or finding him and telling him that God loves him so much, and so do you, so you’d rather die than harm him?  Which is easier? Which is more brave?

The comments sampled above fail to take Jesus seriously. They fail to take matters of faith with proper weight. If you honestly believe that God cannot countenance violence and killing, you have an immediate and superseding obligation to cease violent action, regardless of whether you have to go to jail, give up your material assets, etc. Taking up the cross literally means being willing to die. That’s how serious Jesus calls us to be about self-sacrificing love of every person, friend or enemy.

The comments above reflect precisely what Jesus meant when he said:

‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
35For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

This is the strife and division and the hostility that one can expect to find from the world when one embraces Christ’s gospel.  Thank God for the courage of people like Maximilianus and Michael Barnes, who would rather face the fangs of the Empire rather than serve as their sword-bearers.

If you are in the military and are convinced that your work conflicts with the teachings and life and call of Jesus, there are people who can help you get out:

It’s nice to know that the “results of ethnic cleansing = success!” theme remained on display today:

There have been fewer than 200 attacks a week over the past four months, which Austin described as “phenomenal,” and in the city of Baghdad, there have been fewer than four attacks a day, on average, he said.

Austin said a number that low “would have been unthinkable” several months ago.

We dealt with this in the last post so I won’t regurgitate it all here. I’d note though, that as “they stand up,” we refuse to “stand down.”

It’s nice to know that we are busily planning to fight resource wars:

The [2008 Army Modernization Strategy] document, however, contains no such lofty pretences. It goes on to list as a pre-eminent threat to the security of the US and its allies “population growth – especially in less-developed countries – [which] will expose a resulting ‘youth bulge’.”

This youth bulge, the document goes on to state, will present the US with further “resource competition” in that these expanding populations in the developing world “will consume ever increasing amounts of food, water and energy”.

The document goes on to describe in broad-strokes the manner in which its downsized military might ensure survival of the fittest for the US and its allies in future resource wars for water, food and energy.

As a consequence of identifying growing populations in the developed world as a threat in itself, the strategy document highlights a number of paradigm shifts in the way future wars are to be conducted.

It predicts that “21st Century operations will require soldiers to engage among populations and diverse cultures instead of avoiding them”.

The document reveals that new US tactical doctrine provides a template by which air, naval and field commanders will no longer just secure traditional strategic targets such as airspace, seaports and bridgeheads, but will, of necessity, also deploy and fight amongst and against the target population itself to win wars.

It’s nice to know that the penalties for conscientious objection exceed the penalties for killing Iraqi civilians.

It’s also nice to know that Jesus posits a way out of this.