2/08/2005

A Matter of Conscience

I've posted these related items from Truthout.org in their entirety because they speak so eloquently to the anti-war perspective.
FIRST: Sgt. Kevin Benderman (40) is a U.S. Army mechanic with ten years of service under his belt, including a role in the assault on Baghdad. While there, his outfit was ordered to open fire on children who were throwing rocks at unit personnel. Troubled by this and other similar incidents, and facing a second tour of duty in Iraq, Benderman applied for conscientious objector status in December 2004. The U.S. Army has charged him with desertion. He has been called a coward by his commanding officer, and his chaplain has told him that he is ashamed of him. Born in Alabama, Sgt. Benderman currently lives in Hinesville, Georgia, with his wife, Monica, and stepson Ryan. He says:
Having watched and observed life from the standpoint of a soldier for ten years of my life, I always felt there was no higher honor than to serve my country and defend the values that established this country. My family has a history of serving this country dating back to the American Revolution, and I felt that to continue on in that tradition was the honorable thing to do.
I cannot tell anyone else how to live his or her life, but I have determined how I want to live mine.
As I went through the process which led to my decision to refuse deployment to Iraq for the second time, I was torn between thoughts of abandoning the soldiers that I serve with, or following my conscience, which tells me: war is the ultimate in destruction and waste of humanity.
Thoughts that we could, and should, consider better ways to solve our differences with other people in the world have crossed my mind on numerous occasions. And this was the driving force that made me refuse deployment to Iraq a second time. Some people may say I am doing so out of fear of combat; I am not going to tell you that the thought of going back to that place isn't scary, but that is not the reason for my decision to not return.
I want people to know that the longer I thought about just how stupid the concept of war really is, the stronger I felt about not participating in war. Why do we tell our children to not solve their differences with violence, then turn around and commit the ultimate in violence against people in another country who have nothing to do with the political attitudes of their leaders?
Having read numerous books on the subject of war and having heard all the arguments for war, I have come to the conclusion that there are no valid arguments for the destructive force of war. People are destroyed, nations are destroyed, and yet we continue on with war. The young people that I went with to the combat zone looked at it like it was a video game they played back in their childhood.
When you contemplate the beauty of the world around us and the gifts we have been given, you have to ask yourself, "Is this what humanity is meant to do, wage war against one another " Why can't we teach our children not to hate or to not be afraid of someone else just because they are different from us? Why must it be considered honorable to train young men and women to look through the sights of a high-powered rifle and to kill another human being from 300 meters away?
Consider, if you will, the positive things that could be accomplished without war in our lives: prescription medication that is affordable for seniors, college grants that are available for high school seniors - I could name a list of reasons not to waste our resources on war. The most important being to let the children of the world learn war no more.
I've received e-mails from people who said that I was a coward for not going to war, but I say to them that I have already been, so I do not have anything to prove to anyone anymore. What is there to prove anyway - that I can kill someone I do not even know and who has never done anything to me? What is in that concept that anyone could consider honorable?
I first realized that war was the wrong way to handle things in this or any other country when I went to the war zone and saw the damage that it causes. Why must we resort to violence when things do not go our way? Where is the logic of that? I have felt that there are better ways to handle our business than to bomb each other into oblivion. When you are on the water in a boat and you have a chance to see dolphins playing with each other as they go about their business, you realize that if they can live without war, then humanity should be able to as well.
Can't we teach our children to leave war behind in history where it belongs? We realized that slavery and human sacrifice were obsolete institutions, and we left them behind us. When are going to have the same enlightened attitude about war?
I look at my stepchildren and realize that war has no place with me in giving them what they need to survive the trials and tribulations of early adulthood. And if you look at all the time soldiers lose in the course of fighting wars, such as birthdays and anniversaries, their children going to the senior prom and college graduations, and other things that can never be replaced, then you have to come to the understanding that war steals more from people than just the sense of humanity - it also steals some of that humanity from their family.
I have learned from firsthand experience that war is the destroyer of everything that is good in the world; it turns our young into soulless killers, and we tell them that they are heroes when they master the "art" of killing. That is a very deranged mindset in my opinion. It destroys the environment, life, and the resources that could be used to create more life by advancing our endeavors.
War should be left behind us; we should evolve to a higher mindset even if it means going against what most people tell us in this country, such as that we can never stop fighting with other people in the world. I have made the decision to not participate in war any longer, and some people in this country cannot comprehend that concept, but to me it is simple. I have chosen not to take part in war, and it was easy to come to that decision.
I cannot tell anyone else how to live his or her life, but I have determined how I want to live mine - by not participating in war any longer, as I feel that it is stupid and against everything that is good about our world.

SECOND: A military wife, Monica Benderman of Hinesville, Georgia, used to be admired. But not anymore. In December 2004, facing a second tour of duty in Iraq, her husband, Sgt. Kevin Benderman, applied for conscientious objector status and was promptly charged with desertion.
She says:
For the past several weeks, my husband, Kevin, and I have answered questions from reporters, and other interested citizens from almost every state in the union, and about eight foreign countries. After all of these interviews, I have a few questions and comments of my own.
What's gone wrong when a man and his wife are called cowards, all because that man has chosen to speak out against violence, and his wife has chosen to stand with him?
What's gone wrong when a man and his wife receive phone calls and emails from all over their country asking them to explain themselves, calling them cowards, wondering if they have ever read the Bible or studied the scripture, all because that man has chosen to speak out against war and violence, and his wife has chosen to stand with him?
What's gone wrong when a man's mental stability is doubted and his morality is brought into question by a chaplain (a supposed man of God), all because he has decided he cannot use a weapon to kill another person for any reason?
What's gone wrong when a man can walk into a military recruiting office, sign on the dotted line and find himself in a war zone two months later, without one question directed toward his sanity?
What's gone wrong when war is glorified, and fighting for peace is seen as cowardly?
People ask how my husband arrived at his decision. They are amazed that after all his years in the military he has come to the conclusion that he can no longer bear a weapon and go to war against another man..
People want to know if it was stress or PTSD which caused him to change his mind. They want to know what terrible things he saw that made him make such a drastic change. People want to know if there was thunder and lightning, an awakening, an epiphany. There was no bright light. There were no angels, no mighty bolt of thunder. There was only reality and facing the music with eyes wide open?
War is wrong. War brings nothing but death and destruction. War takes away all humanity, not only from the people who die, but also from the people who do the killing. War is insanity?
One man has stopped killing. Hope for more to do the same.

THIRD:
A 22-year-old veteran from Peaks Island, Maine who was granted conscientious objector status from the Army last November is taking to the Internet to share what he learned with others. Perry O'Brien, who served a tour in Afghanistan as an airborne medic before he was honorably discharged, on Saturday launched his online guide - http://www.peace-out.com - at a Winthrop Area People for Peace breakfast at the Winthrop Congregational Church.
"The Army doesn't make this information widely available, and many soldiers don't even know that the option of CO (conscientious objection) is available to them," O'Brien said. "This is a comprehensive, online resource for COs. We're already talking to three soldiers on how to avoid all the pitfalls."
O'Brien's concerns about military recruiting were shared by others.
"We have the Army sitting right in the lunchroom, handing out free pins. The Marines are coming next week," said James Perkins, a mathematics teacher in Lewiston. "If our students could hear (about the downside of war), it would be a bigger numeric consequence."
Michael Waters, a physics teacher at Messalonskee High School, said students should be told about the positive benefits of joining the military service and also the potential downside.
"It should be balanced and fair," Waters said. "One of my students came back to me last week who had his leg shot off. I'm thinking of having him talk about his experience."
Cathy Murray, a retired guidance counselor who worked in the Gardiner school system, said she was not allowed to give names of students to colleges but had to give their names to recruiters.
"We used to restrict access of recruiters. If (students) wanted to go to them, they did so on their own. But that has been taken away," said John Rainsborough, a retired Maranacook guidance counselor. "There has been a real bias with increase of access to students by recruiters."
Arthur Whitman, state treasurer of Veterans for Peace, said his organization would support O'Brien's efforts to present an alternative perspective of life in the military.
"These kids look at this as a job, income, an entryway into public life, but they're blinding themselves to what might happen," Whitman said.

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