Paul’s Perambulations

April 5, 2014

Ethics of War conference at Villanova (and Paul speaks out)

Filed under: Education,Peace,Politics,Religion — admin @ 10:58 pm

The United States Military Academy at West Point and Villanova University jointly sponsored this two-day Ethics of War conference. The largest group in attendance were West Point cadets.

There were a number of presentations, followed by Q&As. After one presentation in which a cadet said that she had freely given up her autonomous rights when she promised to serve the military in an instrumental capacity, I questioned whether a promise to serve means that you can never change your mind, even if you gain new insights. I noted that military personnel can apply for conscientious objector status, even though you were not a CO when you entered the service.  I questioned another speaker who suggested that we were fighting a just war in Afghanistan based on statistics (American sourced) comparing our war there with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, since the statistics showed that we had killed less people. Since when have we taken the cold war as our measuring stick, to say that if we do better than the “Evil Empire,” that means we are okay? I try to be careful in my speech, but felt the necessity to interrupt a respected faculty  member when he misspoke (best I can call it) in the process of congratulating us for holding this conference on war ethics, when he said that we do this because we are civilized while others are not. Dehumanizing the other/enemy is simply not acceptable.

At dinner I sat with many of the presenters, who are philosophy/ethics faculty at West Point and other institutions, plus a couple of philosophy graduate students. They are a committed and intelligent group, and now they can say they have actually met a Quaker pacifist.

At the end of  dinner, I made a point of going over to Father Peter (Villanova’s President) and pointing out my buttons (a running joke between us, while he exclaims “What, are you still here!?”)  I wore my “bring the troops home” and cross/peace buttons throughout the two-day conference, as I do every day at Villanova. I expressed appreciation that Villanova was sponsoring a consideration of ethics in war, but also noted that there is a large crucifix at the entrance to our conference building and that I couldn’t help but wonder if Jesus were to join us today, what would he think of a Christian institution sponsoring an ethics of war conference? (Father Peter laughed and said he would be on the side of ethics.) Enough said.

The second day of the conference was focused on just war theory. That’s a good topic, although the presentations focused on theory much more than actual practice (as usual, in my experience). In the Q&A, I noted (addressing the audience as much as the panel) that just war theory focuses on the soldier and the governing authority, but has little to say regarding civilians who are required to participate in support of war. I identified myself as a conscientious objector to paying others to kill in my name and that I was publicly civil disobedient by refusing to pay some of my war taxes but redirected them to charity. What is the responsibility for civil disobedience if obedience would promote injustice? I also identified myself as being under the cloud of a possible warrant for arrest for praying in a driveway on Martin Luther King Day and handed a copy of my warrant warning to a cadet I had been speaking with. It got some attention and went from hand to hand among a group of cadets. I noted my preference for conscience to be satisfied by the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill currently in Congress, so that I could pay all my taxes without paying for killing. I had intended to mention the GI Rights Hotline, but it was clear at this point that I had said all anyone wanted (or, didn’t want) to hear. There was a brief response that this would allow everyone to pay whatever taxes they preferred, and I replied to the panelist (I was in the front row) that it was much more nuanced than that.
I spoke with a few cadets at the end of the conference. One cadet was rather excited to prove why I was obviously wrong minded. I replied briefly to a list of objections that I hear repeatedly, to no particular effect. In such cases, it is a positive step simply for someone to hear and meet an actual conscientious objector, I used the term conscientious objection rather than pacifism, as that word has legal recognition within the military.

When I arrived in the morning, there was a platoon of cadets running on Mendel field with M-16s. Run and drop, run and drop. Does seem strange for a school dedicated to the life and teachings of Jesus.

1 Comment »

  1. Chaplains were also present. I feel a discomfort (once again) with most chaplains I have met, when they seem to mirror the military values of America. This is not really surprising when you consider that they are under military command, hired and paid by the U.S. government, I think some have heard the story of how my father volunteered for service as a chaplain in WWII, but his service was gruffly declined with the suggestion that he was too peaceful and thoughtful for soldiers (ask me for details if you wish).

    Comment by admin — April 5, 2014 @ 11:06 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress