Former warriors advocate peace They mark Veterans Day by renouncing violence

November 08, 1998|By Colman McCarthy

NOT ALL former soldiers are planning to mark Veterans Day on Wednesday by joining the traditional rituals of civic homage - parading to the beat of war drums or cheering orators. "No, thanks," some veterans will say. Instead, these survivors of America's warmaking prefer to express less conventional sentiments about the realities of solving international conflicts by slaughtering and maiming people.

This Wednesday in Washington, they plan to gather on a grassy plain near the Washington Monument for Operation 11th Hour. Sponsored by such pacifist groups as the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Voices in the Wilderness and the Bruderhof Communities, a group of veterans will speak from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. of their experiences as hired warriors who now renounce violence.

The sponsoring groups state, "Since the signing of the Armistice on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, nations have continued to war against one another. I More than 100 million people have died in wars of the bloodiest century in human history. I It is time to combine hearts and voices to end our tacit endorsement of warfare. It is time for veterans - and all who 'paid the price' - to ensure that future warmaking cannot hide behind the mythological shield of 'duty, honor and sacrifice.' It is time to illume the words of World War II Admiral Gene LaRocque: 'I hate it when they say, "He gave his life for his country." We steal the lives of these kids. We take it away from them.'"

Cozy as the mainstream media are with military contractors and their advertising dollars, and habitually supportive as they are of U.S. military interventions - Grenada, Libya, Panama, Somalia, Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan, to mention the most recent - many journalists pay little attention to veterans who dissent from the ethic of military violence. How many newspapers run editorials hailing soldiers who seek to leave the military because, through reflection and prayer, they believe that slaughtering people violates the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount? How many U.S. newspapers run stories on Veterans Day about the uncounted millions of civilians in foreign nations who suffer from bombs dropped by American pilots?

Yet the list is long of veterans who converted from being peacebreakers to peacemakers. Richard McSorely, Howard Zinn, Philip Berrigan, Garry Davis, Daniel Ellsberg, Ron Kovic, Eugene Carroll, Denis McCarthy and Brian Wilson - to name only a few - have made commitments to nonviolence as a result of their military experiences. Many have told of their conversions in memorable books.

An author who has recently addressed this topic is Daniel Hallock, whose "Hell, Healing and Resistance: Veterans Speak" comes this month from Plough Publishing House (Route 381 North, Farmington, Pa. 15437). It offers the accounts of some 140 American veterans from World War I through the Persian Gulf war. Hallock, joining head work with legwork, went into prisons, homeless shelters, backwoods hideaways, Buddhist retreats, mental wards and living rooms to interview not only war survivors but also the families and caregivers who helped them survive. Hallock cites a 1987 study in the New England Journal of Medicine that says the number of Vietnam veterans who committed suicide after the war equals the number of those killed during the war.

A Cornell graduate who served in the Navy between the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars, Hallock worked five years for a military contractor that specialized in attack helicopters. By the grace of religious conviction, he left the company to join Bruderhof, a small band of pacifists. Bruderhof's spiritual ties are to early Christianity, before dogmas and before the Christian theory of "just war," when the communal sharing of wealth and absolute nonviolence were marks of faith.

Instead of making weapons, Hallock toils to enhance life by designing children's toys and equipment for disabled youths. "In the life that I now lead," he writes, "I find the true fulfillment of all the good things the military pretends to offer. Here is true fellowship, true sacrifice; here is order and discipline and respect to the highest degree.

"The military can only pretend to offer what is good, because its foundation is isolation and fear. I It mocks God through forced prayer to guns and other military paraphernalia and uses his name in vain. It teaches the art of killing and proclaims that this sin of murder is necessary. It steals land and villages from the poor, devastates economies, and perverts the ideal of 'manhood' by idolizing murder. How can men be comrades, how can they serve God and country, when they are driven by fear and ambition, by the 'glory' of beating an enemy into submission?"

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