As some of the comments
on Julie's Memorial Day post
show, it can be dangerous to try to post about a war-related holiday if one is not unreservedly, 100% pro-war and pro-military. Nonetheless, I just wanted to throw out a quick reflection based on a discussion I had recently in my Educating for Peace and Justice
class at seminary in honor of Memorial Day. For one particular class session we read, viewed and listened to several items that discussed the psychological and spiritual effect war has on those in the military. It is common to refer to death in combat as "making the ultimate sacrifice", but Stanley Hauerwas (among others) points out that willingly dying on behalf of others, while certainly noble, is not the only sacrifice that our culture asks our soldiers to make. Hauerwas points out that from a spiritual and human standpoint, we should also consider the sacrifice of being asked to kill another human being.
It's one thing to be willing to die for a cause. It's quite another thing to be willing to kill for it. Any taking of human life, no matter how necessary or how justified by some "greater good" (if indeed such justification is possible), nonetheless takes a spiritual and psychological toll on the killer. To kill another child of God, to end the life of a person who is just as loved and valued and spiritually significant as oneself, leaves a mark on the human soul. Certainly it is huge thing to ask our service men and women to potentially die for us, but asking them to kill for us is huge too. We are asking them to sacrifice their morality (the part that tells us that no matter the circumstances, killing is still an evil) and a piece of their humanity.
One of saddest things we discovered is that many veterans return from combat unable to really talk about what they experienced - especially the difficult, traumatic choices they had to make to take another human life. Our culture welcomes soldiers home as heroes, and acclaims them as brave and strong and praiseworthy, but we don't seem to want to hear about those who come home broken and hurting and agonized over the choices they had to make and the things they had to do while in combat. There isn't much communal (or government) support for those who need help processing what they went through and what they had to do. We like to honor veterans in superficial ways, but does anyone want to hear to hear them talk about the horrors of taking another human life, about what that did to them spiritually and personally?
One program that is doing good work to reintegrate veterans into civilian society and help them deal with their experiences is the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon
program started by Major John Morris. You can hear an interview with him at NPR's Speaking of Faith website
. And this Memorial Day, while we honor the soldiers that have made one kind of ultimate sacrifice, lets also remember the veterans still among us who have been asked to make an equally signficant one, and who may still need permission to talk about what they saw and did, and perhaps even some assistance in the healing of their souls.
posted by Mike Clawson at 1:23 PM | Permalink
At 5/26/2009 12:18:00 PM,
Is a policeman who kills a criminal in the line of duty 'sacrificing his morality'?
Is a man who defends his wife or children (or an innocent bystander) by killing an attacker 'sacrificing his morality'?
Your holier-than-thou pronouncements of what is and isn't moral really need to be overhauled by the scripture.
In the Bible, when soldiers asked John the Baptist 'what should we do?', his answer was not 'you should not be a soldier'.
Christ Himself did not rebuke the soldiers with whom He interacted. In fact He congratulated one for his great faith.
At 5/26/2009 03:31:00 PM, Mike Clawson
In my opinion, a necessary evil is still evil. Just because taking a human life is sometimes necessary doesn't mean that it should ever be easy, nor that it doesn't leave a mark on one's psychological or spiritual well-being.
At 5/26/2009 03:33:00 PM, Mike Clawson
BTW, anonymous comments are not really welcome here. If you want to post here again in the future, please have the courage to sign your post and/or provide a link to your own website or online profile. Thanks.
At 5/26/2009 08:20:00 PM, Laurel
Hey Mike: I really liked your post. Memorial Day is looking at the whole sacrifice a solider must face, and honoring his or her struggle; and in this light, praying for this solider as whole person, a child of God. Mike you capsulized the heart of the matter so well. And if I can, to Mike's friends reading this post, the video Mike speaks of that we watched in class was an episode from PBS' Frontline, titled A Soldier's Heart. Because of copyright laws, I'm hesitate to put the link from our class site as part of this post but it's well worth your time to rent it and view it.
So sorry Anonymous didn't understand what you were communicating.
At 5/26/2009 08:27:00 PM, Laurel
Oh yeah I almost forgot: in honor of Memorial Day, yesterday a Presidential proclamation went out that at the localized time of noon, everyone was asked to take a moment to pray for Permanent Peace. Here's the link for the site in which I saw this, http://philosophyovercoffee.blogspot.com/2009/05/day-of-prayer-for-permanent-peace.html
At 5/28/2009 09:13:00 PM, David Henson
We like to honor veterans in superficial ways, but does anyone want to hear to hear them talk about the horrors of taking another human life, about what that did to them spiritually and personally?
I think you've hit on a real problem in our divided society. Those that would listen to this tend to be those who do not want to hear them also discuss their actions as honorable, necessary and something for which they are proud of (at the same time as being scarred by it).
Those who want to hear that latter message tend to be the ones who don't want to hear about the psychological damage done in war.
To be honest, I see more change and flexibility happening in the latter group than in the former.
But it is nice to hear someone someone talk about the sacrifice of killing in our names. Because you are right it is as much of a sacrifice as dying.
At 5/28/2009 09:51:00 PM, Mike Clawson
"Those that would listen to this tend to be those who do not want to hear them also discuss their actions as honorable, necessary and something for which they are proud of (at the same time as being scarred by it)."
In that same class we did talk about this aspect of serving in the military as well - that from a soldier's perspective it is often one of the most meaningful experiences of their lives - a time when they were part of a close-knit community engaged in something they felt was honorable and bigger than themselves that stretched them and tested them and helped them mature and grow. That side of it needs to be heard and respected.
However, we also talked about how unfortunate it is that in our society, the military really is one of the few places where young people can have that sort of positive experience. How sad is it that one of the few opportunities we provide for this sort of thing has to wrapped up in the business of violence, killing and destruction? That's why I'd personally love to see a lot more resources poured into programs like the Peace Corps and Americorps (and some extensive reforms of those programs to make them more purposeful and team-based). What if young people could gain all the positive benefits of being in the military while engaged in constructive, not destructive endeavors?