Sunday, September 14, 2008

Our Military Industrial Complex

"War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today." ~ John F. Kennedy, Letter to Navy friend

This is a very interesting observation by former president John Kennedy, especially on the heels of President Eisenhower’s parting remarks expressing concern about the growing power of the military-industrial complex. It’s interesting because today we have a minority with a shot at the White House, as well as a woman within striking distance. On the other hand, where is the nearest conscientious objector?

Here is what I find especially interesting regarding the Sixties protestors who took a stand against the military-industrial complex. The very phrase itself originated in the mouth of a U.S. president.

A conscientious objector is someone who, for matters of conscience, must decline from military service. Usually it is for religious reasons, but some there are who simply refuse to do harm to others of the human family. In the course of history many conscientious objectors have been imprisoned, or even killed, for this adherence to conscience. It's a stain on our history.

The stance of conscientious objector is a challenging one. Few there are who would disagree that a brutal tyrant like Adolph Hitler would require being stopped, which presupposes a commitment to maintaining armaments of greater force. Conscientious objectors can be opposed to carrying weapons and doing damage to others, but may be fully integrated into an army as stretcher bearers or nurses, though others would oppose even this assistance to a war effort.

The attitude of a conscientious objector may also include a call for reflection on whether a war is just or unjust. Patriotism is challenged by this stance. Many patriots, standing beneath the banner “My country right or wrong,” demand a fully unified affirmation from the masses. To be perceived as unpatriotic is a form of anarchy or sin in their eyes. But a conscientious objector can love his or her country very much while calling the nation into account to higher laws.

Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy felt strongly that war was incompatible with Christian faith altogether, citing much historical literature to support his beliefs. Here is but one typical example of Tolstoy’s view. “The most ardent and sincere fathers of the Church declared the teaching of Christ to be incompatible with one of the fundamental conditions of the existence of the State: armed force. In other words, a Christian must not be a soldier prepared to kill every one whom he is ordered to.”
Dr. Francis Schaeffer, however, cites Charles Finney to lay out a case for Christians taking up arms against tyrants. In this manner he justifies the American Revolution in his book “A Christian Manifesto” which also provided the wind power that swept many Christians into political activism in the 1980’s. C. S. Lewis stated in one of his essays that two Christians serving their countries as soldiers might shoot one another simultaneously and meet immediately once more on the other side of the veil.

In other words, individuals can with good conscience choose a variety of paths, each becoming accountable for his or her individual choices and actions. If I may weigh in here, I would suggest that the important thing is that we have the fredom to have this dialogue and not have it taken from us.

War is a terrible thing, and even winning has a terrible cost.

As we look back on the turbulence of the sixties, it helps to keep in mind the context for what we saw and experienced. The warning from Ike (below) took root in the soil of many hearts and was transformed through song into a movement. Masters of War by Dylan, Pete Seeger's troubadorian protest stance, and the beautifully tragic appeal reflected in Joan Baez were all woven together into an anthem that found hearers whose consciences had not yet been seared.

Joan Baez sings "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"

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