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Offered by Rob Burgess, Treasurer of the EPF NEC and Navy Veteran
As a young man growing up in the 1960s at a time of the Vietnam War, admittedly I was frightened by the prospect of being drafted once I turned 18 and sent off to Vietnam. Like Muhammad Ali who famously said: “I got no quarrel with them Vietcong,” I didn’t either. Partially as a result, as a teenager I had convinced myself that I would claim conscientious objector status if the military draft caught up with me.
But the draft had diminished by the year I turned 18 and far fewer draft lottery numbers were called to active duty. My draft number was in the 280s. I breathed a sigh of relief and never had to formally declare conscientious objector status. My wife, who is a couple years older and attended Kent State, tells the story that there were two kinds of young men on her campus after draft lottery day a few years earlier. Both were drunk. Some with a low draft number drank because they would be drafted, others with a higher number because they would not.
Some years later, a friend of mine thought I was crazy and naive when I told him I had enlisted. I had had to drop out of college because my church janitor father did not have the money to keep me in college and I did not have the grants to allow me to finish my degree in college. I was naïve. But by 1974, no other young men were being sent to Vietnam. I enlisted in 1974 to become a Navy Journalist and to obtain the G.I. Bill so that someday I would be able to go back to college. I ain’t no war hero. I never carried a loaded gun once in my four years of active duty.
In the spring of 1975, I did witness thousands of Vietnamese refugees in an enormous tent city on Guam shortly after the fall of Saigon in April that year. I have never forgotten the young Viet woman who held up a picture to some of us from my ship driving through the refugee camp. She asked us if we knew the service man in the picture. I presume he had been her significant other in Saigon.
Perhaps, partially as a result of my experiences as a young man, I have mixed feelings about remembrances of September 11, 2001. There are other reasons I will attempt to explain.
Earlier this summer, my family travelled to New Jersey to visit relatives. Our first full day there, we took the subway into New York to the World Trade Center. I must admit to being very emotional as I first walked into that massive building realizing that I was on the ground where so many innocents had lost their lives on September 11 twenty years prior. Stopping at the Memorial Pool at that site was perhaps even more emotional as I closed my eyes to meditate and pray.
Thousands of innocent lives lost in a few brief moments of terror on 9/11. For those of us who watched on television that day, it was sorrowful and horrible. It is beyond my imagination to think what New Yorkers who were there must have felt. Surely, the innocent lives lost that day deserve our prayers. Let eternal light shine upon them. Also, the firemen and women and other first responders are also deserving of our prayers and continued support for what they experienced.
On September 11, 2001, my first-born child turned 15. For those of you who are parents, I am certain you remember how precious it was to hold your new born for the very first time. For me, it was certainly a powerful moment especially after my wife had had a long and difficult delivery climaxed with an emergency C-section to save the baby. So, September 11 was to me always a blessed day. My daughter died ten years ago a week shy of her 25th birthday from an opiate overdose. The horror of 2001 is now even more cemented to the blessing of the birth of my daughter. I miss her. I am sure loved ones of those who died in 2001 also miss their beloved ones as well.
I like to tell my friends that I kid my wife that if she held on a few hours longer our daughter would have shared a birthday with me.
On September 11, 2001, the United States was in the thoughts and prayers of millions around the world. But I think we have to also remember September 12. We changed. Our grief as a nation turned to anger and a quest for revenge. It must have been something like Americans felt on December 8, 1941 the day after the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. America went to war after September 11, 2001 just as it had after December 7, 1941. We know how the latter war ended in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We now know how the war in Afghanistan has ended with tens of thousands of Afghan refugees and a war-torn country. The TV images of Afghan women and children are for me vivid reminders of the Viet refugees on Guam decades ago.
Twenty years later, I wonder if there is anything more as a veteran I could have done to prevent our twenty-year war in Afghanistan. Yes, we killed Osama Bin Laden. Tens of thousands of innocent Afghan lives were lost in the process. Aren’t those lives valuable too? Shouldn’t we pray for those lives also?
In the spring of 2003, we also attacked Iraq. Now, I for one certainly believe that the regime of Saddam Hussein was a despicable one. But I don’t think he had anything to do with September 11 or Bin Laden. Tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis lost their lives as well. Again, aren’t those lives valuable also? Aren’t they too children of the same God?
Let us pray for those innocents who lost their lives on September 11, 2001. Let us also pray for those innocents who in the two decades since lost their lives also. Let us pray for all their loved ones who miss and mourn their loss to this very day.
Let us also pray for America. We need hope that we have learned a lesson. I will offer a prayer of optimism in the form of lyrics from an Islamic artist. Perhaps, it is my longing to be naïve again:
“Cause out on the edge of darkness
There ride the Peace Train
Oh, Peace Train take this country
Come take (us) home again.
Oh, I've been smiling lately
Thinking about the world as one
And I believe it could be
Someday it's going to come”
Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens
Someday, Lord. Someday.
An essay by Paul Jones, Bishop to the Universe, a founder of Episcopal Peace Fellowship
What should a Christian man do when his country is threatened by another, when long established rights are invaded, or when some weak nation is ruthlessly oppressed by a hostile power?
There can only be one answer to that question. The Christian man should get to his knees and pray for divine guidance and then go to the source book of Christian teaching, the New Testament, and try earnestly to find out from it what Christ would have him do.
If he tries to answer the question from the point of view of business, expediency or nationality, he is going to confuse the issue and risk a wrong choice. For the Christian there is but one supreme loyalty and that is to Christ and His Gospel. If anything else conflicts with that so much the worse for that other thing. Duties to country, to home, and to family must always give way to that higher loyalty which alone is capable of taking them up and giving them full significance.
In seeking an answer for myself to the current problem I went back to that source which I have mentioned, and I want to now share the results of that investigation.
The outstanding features of the Gospel of Christ, if we may trust the leading commentators, are summed up in the idea of the Kingdom of God. By that Kingdom Jesus meant “an ideal (though progressively approximated) social order in which the relation of men to God is that of sons, and (therefore) to each other, that of brothers.” Into that conception of the Kingdom practically all of our Lord’s teaching fits, giving the principles upon which we as individuals can act so as to live in the Kingdom and bring others into it. Roughly grouping that teaching, it falls into two parts, that regarding our estimate of ourselves and our possessions and that regarding others.
In Christ’s sight it seems clear that one’s personality, possessions, and even life are a secondary consideration compared with the welfare of others and the progress of the Kingdom.
“Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body what ye shall put on.” “Seek ye first his Kingdom and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.” “Whosoever would save his life shall lose it, and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s shall save it.” “How oft shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? … till seventy times seven.” The importance of self is never the test of conduct.
Toward others the only conduct that is allowed or recommended is that of active love and kindness toward both the evil-doer and the righteous man, in order to transform them all into proper members of the Kingdom. Our Lord’s spiritual interpretation of the ten commandments forbids us to hold thoughts of anger, hatred, lust or covetousness against others. “Judge not that ye be not judged” goes with the advice to “cast out first the beam out of thine own eye” before trying to correct a brother’s fault. On the positive side we are directed, “as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also unto them likewise.” “Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself.” “And whensoever ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against anyone.” “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.”
As I read it, then, the attitude of the Christian is to be one of not harboring bitterness, hate or ill-will on the one hand, and on the other is to be one of putting forth goodwill and love and forgiveness without limit, and thereby breaking down the opposition of evil doers. It is not a passive attitude, but one that is essentially active and aggressive, standing and working for the right against all odds no matter what the immediate consequences might be. Even aside from the words of his teaching, those principles could be learned from the life of our Lord in every act up to the final giving of himself on Calvary.
He taught insistently, never overlooking an opportunity to drive home the truth. In spite of attacks, sneers and criticisms, He maintained His attitude of readiness to help, and even in the agony of the cross still prayed for his enemies: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
After thus studying again His life and teaching, I find it quite impossible to believe that people can be true to the things which He taught and the example which He gave and at the same time take part in war; for war is the organized destruction of our enemies and it is always accompanied by hatred and bitterness, thus necessitating an attitude of mind and course of conduct the opposite of that enjoined by Christ.
However, lest it be thought that in some way I have misread the Gospel, I would refer you to the writings of the four leading Apostles in the New Testament, to see how they understood their Master.
St. Paul says, “Render no man evil for evil.” “Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto wrath.” “If thine enemy hunger, feed him.” “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”
St. James says, “But the wisdom that is from above, is first pure, then peacable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits.”
St. Peter says, “For so it is the will of god, that by well-doing ye should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.” “For this is acceptable if for conscience toward God a man endureth griefs suffering wrongfully.” “Not rendering evil for evil or reviling for reviling; but contrariwise blessing.”
St. John says, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar.” “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer.”
It is unthinkable that these men would have taken any part in war or in preparation for one. And I need only to refer to the example of the Christians of the early centuries who preferred to die rather than to go into the army and cause someone else’s death, to show that they all interpreted our Lord’s teaching in the same way.
As a matter of plain practical conduct fitted to meet a condition and not a theory, I feel perfectly sure that active, aggressive militant goodwill founded on the example and teaching of Christ is the only power that will effectively preserve real spiritual values in the world. That, however, is a question of expediency which does not come within the scope of this paper.
The question with which I started was, What can a Christian man do under the present national circumstances? I have gone in search to the sources of our Christian standards, and in the light of what I find there, as I love my country, I must protest against her doing what I would not do myself, because it is contrary to our Lord’s teaching. To prosecute war means to kill men, bringing sorrow and suffering upon women and children, and to instill suspicion, fear and hatred into the hearts of the people on both sides. No matter what principles may appear to be at stake, to deliberately engage in such a course of action that evidently is un-Christian is repugnant to the whole spirit of the Gospel.
As a Christian Bishop, charged with the responsibility of leadership, I would be deserving only of contempt did I remain silent in the present crisis, when the Christian standards of judgment are apparently being entirely ignored. The day will come when, like slavery which was one held in good repute, war will be looked upon as thoroughly un-Christian. At present it is recognized as an evil which nobody honestly wants, but not yet has it received its final sentence at the bar of Christian morality. Only when Christian men and women and churches will be brave enough to stand openly for the full truth that their consciences are beginning to recognize, will the terrible anachronism of war between Christian nations be done away.
International Conscientious Objector Day is commemorated around the world. It is to remember those who in the past followed their conscience and those today who are facing similar challenges to military conscription. Join us!
Anglican Pacifist Fellowship Conscientious Objector Day Prayers will be held on Saturday, 15 May at 3 pm Eastern Time. Rev. Donald Reece, Ven. David Selzer and Rev. Nathaniel C. Pierce will share their stories that lead to them becoming Conscientious Objectors. Prayer, readings and music will offer a 45 minute remembrance of so many past and present. To join please just use the zoom link below.
From Case Western Reserve University School of Law:
The Yemen Accountability Project's release of its white paper "Prosecuting Starvation Crimes in Yemen's Civil War" examines the use of deliberate attacks on food, water, and objects indispensable to survival as part of the Saudi-led Coalition's attacks on Houthi rebels in Yemen. The white paper outlines the evidence of these crimes and makes the case for bringing charges against perpetrators of starvation crimes in Yemen. The panelists will explore the challenges of bringing charges against perpetrators and the potential avenues of accountability.
A recent White Paper from Case Western School of Law-Cox International Law Center's Yemen Accountability Project (YSP):
A video of a recent webinar on this White Paper above by principals and experts.Resource Link
As people of faith, we regret the recent United States’ retaliatory aggression towards militant groups operating in Syria, using a “proportional response” approach that is not likely to yield positive results. Twenty-two militants were killed by the United States. The militants had killed a civilian contractor and injured nine others on February 15.
We see the absolute futility of war, and its power to dehumanize. We know that human flourishing entails breaking cycles of violence, being courageous peacemakers, and focusing on the root causes of conflict. Violent conflict is a path of mutual destruction.
Instead, all actors must move forward in a way that upholds our shared, sacred human dignity:
+ All parties, primary and proxies, must begin by re-humanizing each other without excusing unjust and violent actions.
+ The U.S. Administration must halt violent attacks and military escalations. It must return forcefully to intense diplomatic processes, recognizing that lasting peace requires a commitment to the shared well-being of every human, from Iran to Yemen, to Syria, Iraq, the United States and everywhere in between.
+ Our U.S. Congress must act to reassert its existing war powers by demanding pre-authorization for deadly attacks outside of a true national emergency.
+ U.S. actions and strategy in the region must thoroughly address the root causes of the conflicts in question, such as distrust, trauma, economic resources, and political influence.
+ All of us must support nonviolent creative actions of resistance to any unjust and violent actions.
As a community of faith, we renounce the continuation of violence as a bargaining tool and call on the United States to work aggressively towards lasting peace in the Middle East. Specifically, part of that would include the United States recommitting to the Iran Nuclear Deal, which in 2018, the Episcopal Church urged (see 2018-D051).
“No more of this!” Jesus exclaims after the high priest’s slave’s ear was cut off (see Luke 22: 47-53) at the moment of his betrayal and arrest. We too cry “No more fighting!” In Luke’s Gospel, at this moment, Jesus adamantly instructs the one who struck the slave to put the sword back in its place for “all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (see Luke 26: 47-56). God does not desire the death of anyone, may we turn towards life (see Ezekiel 18:32), reconcile and embrace the plowshare (see Isaiah 2:4). Amen.
The Just War Theory is a set of criteria used by some Christian churches (e.g., Roman Catholic and Episcopal) to determine whether or not it is morally appropriate for Christians to support and/or to directly participate in a particular war.
In the early Christian Church, the bishops forbade Christians from joining or staying in the Roman Army. Prior to 180 CE, there is no record of Christians being in the Roman Army. In 180 CE, records indicate that there were a few Christian soldiers. Their numbers increased considerably in subsequent years.
Until about 400 CE, Christian bishops appear to have focused their opposition to Christians being in the Roman Army on the paganism inherent in the life of Roman soldiers. Christians were not supposed to be offering incense to the pagan gods, which was required upon enlistment and usually on daily basis thereafter. These pagan rites appear to be linked to the absolute loyalty and obedience required of Roman soldiers.
It is not clear from the bishops’ writings whether or not the Roman Army’s wars were also a major factor in the bishop’s decision. However, a literal reading of the Sermon on the Mount, etc. imply that any killing of another human being is forbidden.
Around 400 CE, various foreign armies were seriously threatening to conquer all of the western part of the Roman Empire, including Italy. At that time, St. Augustine introduced the idea that it might be morally permissible for Christians to fight in some wars, though not in all wars.
In the Middle Ages, church leaders developed a theory whereby a war could be justified only if certain criteria were met. Initially, this provided a moral justification for Christians to remain true to their faith by not participating in a war. But over time, this became more of a justification for going to war, while still remaining true to their conscience.
In recent years, military officers and philosophers have entered the discussion. The military have their reasons for wanting a prohibition against the use of torture, poison gas, etc. However, they would want to be free to wage some wars, such as, World War II.
During World War II, the U.S. initially the obeyed the international prohibition of the bombardment of undefended cities. Unlike the British RAF, which routinely bombed entire German cities, the U.S. Army Air Force limited their bombing to industrial areas linked to war production. However, in the latter stages of that war, the Army Air Force switched from the daylight bombing of industrial areas of Germany to a general bombing of entire cities. In Japan, this resulted in the devastation of 67 Japanese cities, the firebombing of Tokyo, and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
During the Vietnam War, some Air Force pilots were so appalled by orders to napalm and fragmentation bomb Vietnamese villages that they refused to fly these missions. They were punished by career ending re-assignments.
Some Basic Flaws with the Just War Theory
As I will show, the Just War Theory is seriously flawed. Even if major changes are made, it is hard to see how it can be legitimately adapted to the rapid changes in technology, the fighting methods of various war-making groups, and various other flaws.
First, the Just War criteria cannot be reliably evaluated before a war or even during the early stages of a war, because governments routinely conceal much of the truth. Even national leaders themselves are usually wrong about such matters as the outcome, duration and aftereffects of a war, as they are seldom assessable in advance. It has been said that “Truth is the first casualty of war.”
Second, war technology and the political aspects of war are rapidly changing. For example, the cost of developing drone weapons is dropping so fast that even relatively small nations are likely to soon be able manufacture and even supply them to insurrectionists in another nation.
Third, the massive level of slaughter in war is so large as to make it hard to reconcile with the good sought by a war. The Vietnam War was publicly estimated to have cost at least a million deaths in population of about 25 million people.
Fourth, it cannot deal with such basic moral issues as the Army’s conditioning of young recruits to have the absolute and instinctive obedience to military orders required for having an army rather than just a group of warriors (e.g., the U.S. Cavalry vs. native American Indians). This level of obedience means giving the military and/or nation a status that is equal to or even above that expected for God. This would be a violation of the First Commandment.
Fifth, Jesus’s teaching on love for one’s enemies. Israel was a client state of the Roman government and Roman soldiers were despised by the Jews. Jews were not subject to Roman military conscription and were not wanted for the military. Thus, military service was not an option for Jews. Hence, Jesus had no reason to explicitly deal with military service.
However, Jesus did teach that we should: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” Matthew 5:8. Jesus also demonstrated his love for the hated Romans by healing the son of a Roman centurion. Matthew 8:5. A literal reading of the Sermon on the Mount, etc. would not only rule out killing in self-defense, but even more surely the mass slaughter of war.
Sixth, the conduct of war presents such moral problems to the soldiers involved that some have described the experience as “soul injury.” Apart from religion, there seems to be an inherent taboo on killing one’s own species.
Specific Criticism of Just War Criteria
We have listed here: the titles for the criteria for a Just War; a very brief statement of what it means; and some of the problems encountered when attempting to use the criteria to determine whether a particular war can be considered justified or not.
The Just War theory is divided into three phases:
Just Cause; Just Conduct; and Just End of War.
Problems with the Just Cause Criteria
A national government or similar authority (e.g., U.N.) An internal revolution would not count. However, if the German Army had had a coup against the Hitler government in 1943, what should have happened then? Does the German military become the legitimate government? Who decides?
A war must be against a serious public wrong (e.g., to prevent annexation of one’s land; to stop a genocide against Jews; etc.). However, it is easy for a national government to invent a just cause to generate support for initiating a war.
Leaders must be motivated by a national goal that makes that makes the war just, and not by some other goal such as annexing land or installing a puppet government. However, it is often easy for a government to frighten its citizens with unwarranted fears. For example, propaganda by the Hitler government of Germany that Poland was greatly increasing its military power and that he had to protect Germany by invading Poland.
The war must be reasonably expected to do more good than harm. However, the high unpredictability of war, the power of modern weapons, and shifts in public support makes this very risky. With the Iraq War, our nation waged that war with overwhelming force. As cited by the New York, “What followed has been years of violence, countless deaths in the region and the hemorrhaging of funds to support the war effort.”
Probability of Success:
The war must have a reasonable chance for victory. In South Vietnam, the U.S. had a huge field army on the ground and complete control in the air. Short of using nuclear weapons, the U.S. was unable to win. As noted by the British historian, John Keegan, the course of a war is rarely what was predicted.
War must not be used until the other options have been have been found to be ineffective or impractical. The usual alternative has been economic sanctions. While these have a minor effect on the wealthy, they can have harsh consequences for the poor. Examples are North Korea and Gaza.
Problems with the Just Conduct Criteria
Military forces must not attack non-combatants. The bombing of cities, towns or residential areas is forbidden. The criterion is a good one. However, it is widely disregarded. In World War II, both Germany and Great Britain routine bombed entire cities. When it was bombing in Europe, our nation began by avoided the bombing of cities, except for those areas in a city that had war production industries. However, this ended when the U.S. joined the British Royal Air Force (RAF) in a very deadly bombing of the entire city of Dresden. With Japan, the U.S. bombers did a massive bombing of Tokyo with incendiary bombs with the intent of creating a fire storm that killed huge numbers of civilians. This was followed by nuclear bombs dropped on two Japanese cities.
The harm to be done must not exceed the goal sought and the military use of the force used must also be the minimum force needed. However, it is not possible to know in advance how large a force will be needed. For example, in the initial stages of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, it was thought that U.S. military aid and military advisers might be enough. It was then thought that one or two army divisions would work. Eventually, a huge field army with massive air power was used. Eventually, the war had to be abandoned. The result was a de facto defeat.
A military attack must be focused entirely on defeating the enemy’s forces. It must not have other objectives, such as, genocide or land annexation. This may be blurred if military personnel are (or alleged to be) mixed in with civilians or if weapons are (or alleged to be) stored in schools or hospitals.
Fair Treatment of Prisoners:
Prisoners of war have basic human rights that must not be violated. These include housing, food, clean water, medical care, etc. There must be no waterboarding, sleep deprivation, solitary confinement or other types of torture. However, some authorities persist in the belief that torture produces useful military information. There have also been incidences of a nation re-defining torture to allow such techniques as waterboarding.
No Evil Methods Used:
There must be no use of biological weapons; no mass rape of women and girls; etc. Biological weapons and poison gas cannot be used without endangering both sides, so they are not normally used anyway.
Problems with the Just End of War Criteria
Status of rights before war:
The end of a war should be followed by a restoration of property rights and human rights as existed before the war. When World War II ended in Europe, the Marshall Plan was a positive exception to the usual rule of doing nothing.
Punishment for war crimes:
Political leaders and commanders on either side who were guilty of war crimes should be tried and punished for their crimes. However, when the winners run the trials, it is likely that only criminals on the losing side will be punished. The Nuremburg war crimes trials punished German war criminals, but did not punish allied war criminals. For example, the British leaders responsible for the firebombing of entire German cities were not punished.
A peace treaty must fair to both sides if it is to work. If either side believes that the treaty is grossly unfair, future conflicts are likely as occurred with Germany after World War I. (German perceptions may have been unrealistic, since the majority of the fighting occurred in France and retreating German forces destroyed French manufacturing facilities in their retreat.)
Compensation for Victims: Innocent victims of the war should be compensated to the extent that it is possible to do so. Germany provided some compensation to Jewish families who lost family members due to the Nazi Holocaust during World War Two. [These last four criteria are from the Ethics Center and the four examples are by the author.]
Center on Conscience and War (CCW), 1-800-379-2679. The CCW office is at 1830 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008. CCW assists members of the military who have become COs; young people who are considering joining the military (with information); and expert assistance for those making CO claims, etc.
The Episcopal Church’s resources are available on the Internet at www.episcopalchurch.org and include: the EPF pamphlet “Cross Before Flag” (as of 2005); the Church’s “Conscientious Objector Packet,” and, for those who wish to be listed with the Church as COs, the opportunity to be listed on the Church’s “Conscientious Objector Registry.” To get the above material on the Church’s website, select: “Young Adult and Campus Ministries.” Then select “Conscientious Objector Registry” for the above resources.
The Ethics Center – https://ethics.org.au, 2016. Secular.
The Face of Battle, John Keegan, 1976. What war is like and how war seldom produces the expected outcome.
The Just War Tradition – An Introduction, David D. Corey and J. Daryl Charles, 2018. A good book by secular scholars.
Morality and War, David Fisher, 2011. An excellent book by a military scholar.
The Morality of Killing in Self Defense: A Christian Perspective, Jonathon Spelman, 2008, Ashbrook Statesmanship Thesis. Based on the Old and New Testaments and St. Augustine’s writings (circa year 400 C.E.).
Thinking Faith – http://www.thinkingfaith.org/articles. Roman Catholic.
Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just_war-theory