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Creativity: Expression of Conscientious Objection

by John K. Stoner  (November 6, 2017)

The earth itself cries out for conscientious objectors to war to save itself as a habitable place for human survival, I said in my previous blog. .

Conscientious objection to US wars was usually expressed by refusing military service until January, 1973 when the Selective Service ended the draft.  Then President Richard Nixon saw ending the draft as a strategy to blunt the impact of the anti-war movement.  

Since then, for almost fifty years now, people opposed to war have had neither the challenge nor the opportunity to refuse personal participation in war—that is, military service, as it is popularly called. 

But the use of war as an instrument of national policy has become ever more common, and today the United States is engaged in wars without end.  In this situation it has become ever more urgent to witness and work for peace, but most people are at a loss for how to do that in a concrete way.

It is clear that we need creativity in the search for a meaningful and effective form of conscientious objection to war.

I will suggest two forms of this necessary creativity.  The first must address the form and fact of our basic human loyalties, because patriotic or national loyalty is the bedrock argument for support of every war.  So we will have to be reflective enough, or creative enough, to ask  “To whom, or what unit of community or culture, do we feel a compelling and unyielding loyalty?”  

Most people feel relatively strong loyalty to family.  For some, loyalty to a school, business enterprise or sports team may be strong.  For many people a very strong, or strongest, loyalty may be to their religious community.

But in the modern world, probably the social unit which ususally receives the most passionate loyalty of people is the nation state.  Virtually all wars are fought in the name of  fatherland, homeland, flag and country.  And to what place have virtually all wars brought us in our year 2017?  Indescribable suffering, a fearfully unprecedented global refugee crisis, and the edge of extinction.  No wonder General Ray Odierno, Former Chief of Staff, U.S. Army, five years as a combat commander in Iraq said, “If you’ve ever been to war, seen what it’s really like, you never want to go to war again.”  (WHAT HAVE WE DONE: THE MORAL INJURY OF OUR LONGEST WARS, by DAvid Wood).   No wonder old men send young men to war—because old men would not go to war, and, not to be forgotten, old men make a profit.  Follow the money.  

And no wonder a sixth grade girl refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance in school.  When her mother, informed of this by the child’s teacher, asked the girl why, the child replied, “ Mom, I’m not going to stand there and lie.  And it’s not exactly liberty if they force you to say it, is it?”  (BRAIDING SWEETGRASS by Robin Wall Kimmerer).  (There years before football player Kaepernick, right?)

Loyalty is the question.  The daughter’s loyalty was to humanity and her (first? second?) mother, Earth.  

That is what we will all have to be creative enough to think about.  Is loyalty to our geographically boundaried nation state (and others to theirs) large enough for the simple survival demands of our species?  If the answer to that is not a clear and unequivocal “yes,” we cannot avoid a re-examination of our deepest loyalties.  

The second form of needed creativity for this hour is the search for clear and compelling ways to express our conscientious objection to war.  As I’ve said, our culture is largely committed to finding ways to express our conscientious objection to racism, white privilege and rape.  But war has been given a pass—for the sake of our moral wellbeing and the life of the planet, this must change.  The purpose of war is to kill people and break things.  I have read arguments that killing and breaking are tools, or means, not purposes, and that war has a “higher” purpose—usually something like “U.S. interests.”  This ignores the fact that acclaimed lofty purposes cannot justify or purify degraded and degrading means.  

     How do we give public expression to the private conviction of our inborn moral wisdom that human life is sacred—that all killing is both deicide and fratricide, for God lives in all of us, and we are all siblings.

In my next blog I will outline a form of conscientious objection to war which is advocated by the small community of conscience to which I belong here in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania.  To some it will seem too big, to others too small.  I conclude today with this from Desmond Tutu:  “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together than overwhelm the world.”  

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