"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Pacifism – 5

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It strikes me that this debate is probably a doomed one, and I realized speaking to groups this week on the “way of the soldier” that part of the problem is a complete lack of understanding of soldiers and soldiering. That’s the reason I take every opportunity to speak about soldiers, as the citizen in a democracy needs to understand the impact of a civilian decision to send men and women into harm’s way.

LCol David Quick (at the time Major), wrote his staff college paper on the question of the impact of killing on the soldier. It is a fascinating personal reflection of a warrior who has starred into the fog of war, who returned and dedicated considerable reflection to the question. A copy is at: http://www.cfc.forces.gc.ca/papers/csc/csc35/mds/quick.pdf You might get a flavour for this deep divide when you read his thoughts – and it is interesting to ask how you react to his analysis of killing? With horror, fascination, despair? It says something about your perspective on the issue.

When I read his paper (and LCol Grossman’s excellent two texts on the topic) I understand better some of the burdens I carry with me from my service…and why my training to kill others has left me a different person (even though I never personally pulled a trigger). It also illustrates for me why there continues to be a difference between me and between non-soldiers, for I have looked into the face of my own death, and causing the deaths of others. It makes a difference.

George Orwell wrote in an essay about Rudyard Kipling in 1942, “[Kipling] sees clearly that men can only be highly civilized while other men, inevitably less civilized, are there to guard and feed them.” And in his ‘Notes on Nationalism’ (1945) Orwell wrote, “Those who ‘abjure’ violence can only do so because others are committeing violence on their behalf.”

Orwell’s discussion includes ‘and feed them’ which is an interesting post-script. I’ve seen a number of Workers’ Compensation claims out of meat processing plants, which tell me that those who work in those places are truly doing a nasty job on my behalf. I think about them (many recent immigrants) everytime I eat meat or poultry – but for their endurance of that job (inevitably less civilized than mine) I would have no pork ribs for my family dinner. It’s a bit like the life of the soldier, civilians, those on the outside, have no idea whatsoever what is going on…but still ask, through their government, to send those soldiers into harm’s way (as most of us enjoy steak with no thought of those who prepared it). Perhaps our lack of understanding of the food supply chain is an analog of the lack of understanding of the way of the soldier, for those who have never looked into the face of violence?

I’ve often thought the only person with the moral authority to object to hunting is a vegetarian…as all meat eaters particpate in the killing of animals even if it is only by purchase and consumption. But I digress…

Here are the words of LCol Dave Grossman, a retired US Army Ranger who has made his life’s work the study of violence (and strongly objects to the promotion of first-person shooter games because of their power to condition people to enjoy violence).

“If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen, a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, you are an aggressive sociopath, a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who walks the hero’s path. You are able to walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed.”

Grossman’s use of the phrase, ‘capacity for violence’ just unlocked something for me – and I realize that is perhaps why this gulf is so wide. Perhaps those I debate with over the place of violence in Christian thought, lack that ‘capacity for violence’, and therefore have no ability to understand many of the things of which I speak. Along with my prior oath to serve my nation and to protect the weak (an oath I still uphold now in my life as a civilian), it marks a gulf in thought that I’m not sure can be easily bridged.

When I took that oath of service, I decided I was ready to die to fulfill it, and that decision changed me (and continues to inform my life today). Perhaps that is what makes the difference.

And perhaps the real question is not if Just War theory is valid, but if we Christians are doing enough to ensure that our soldiers are just in their use of violence. Perhaps the greatest Christian witness about combat is to enter the fray, and to hold steadfast to Christ’s teaching, showing mercy and compassion in the midst of having that ‘capacity to do violence’.


Written by sameo416

November 11, 2011 at 11:01 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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