In the past few weeks I learned that I am a Conscientious Objector to war and that I have been most of my life. Except for that one time when I was ordered to war and said “okay”. But even though I objected to war and THAT war in particular, I didn’t fit what the government’s criteria for conscientious objection and I didn’t push the point. As a veteran however, I know how truly wrong war is. I don’t consider myself a pacifist; if someone’s coming at me with lethal intent, I will respond in kind if that becomes the only option.
But my willingness to act forcefully in my own defense in an immediate circumstance does not translate into a requirement that I support or participate in wars at the order of my government. After a lifetime of watching successive American presidents lie, dissemble, misinform and mislead the public, simply hearing my government yell “Fire!” does not mean that I must pull the trigger.
As a citizen, I reserve the right to question my government’s use of war and military force. My government must tell me why. About the only answer that will make me re-think my objection to war is that someone is attacking the United States with lethal intent. A response, up to and including sustained counter attack, may well be warranted Absent that kind of threat, no war is justified. Special Operations at specific targets of known intent and capability are okay, especially when done with the cooperation of the “host” nation and without civilian casualties.
All that said, I still believe myself to be a conscientious objector. I object to war because I have thought deeply about what war requires of me as a human being and I cannot in good conscience carry out those actions. When I went to war, I ignored my conscience because I was afraid to challenge my government. My conscience didn’t quit, though, it kept reminding me. If ignoring my conscience years ago was surrender, then my lifetime support of peace and justice, longtime objection to war is resistance, a resistance all the stronger because I saw war up close and personal.
My thoughts on conscientious objection are hardly new and certainly not exclusive. Many others have articulated the same in far better prose. Hell, if I’d listened to them 40 years ago, maybe I would not have gone to war. What is new is that I recognize myself as a Conscientious Objector even now. I don’t need a sky god or organized church to support my conscience; I can come to these beliefs on my own. That is one of the most fundamental individual freedoms.
Thinking of myself as a life long conscientious objector is also a valuable reminder that the struggle against war, and toward social and economic justice for all is never-ending. My generation—and the rest of the country, too, I might add—thought that after Vietnam and Watergate we had seen the worst that history had to offer and went on with normal lives. But the Monster
(*) was only wounded, not dead and the past decade has certainly demonstrated how truly alive the worst of humankind remains.
(*) Video here