Veterans Day was cold and rainy in my hometown this year. But it wasn't just
the weather that dampened parades. It was also the nagging thought that though
the holiday honors those who fought in past wars, the ongoing conflict in U.S.-occupied
Iraq is turning out the largest new wave of combat veterans since Vietnam.
sobering were two articles I read on Nov. 11, a date originally set to commemorate
the end of armed hostilities. One carried the headline, "Talk of a Draft Grows
Despite Denials by White House." The other reported on the 7,500 U.S. soldiers
who have been wounded in action since April -- and are flooding military hospitals
like Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
As a counselor I have
talked with veterans of every major war in the last century. I have looked into
their haunted eyes and listened to their stories. Personally, I am adamantly opposed
to armed force and belong to a peace church that has a 450-year history of speaking
out against all violence.
Still, I have wondered whether it wouldn't be good
for today's youth to be faced with a military draft -- provided that they have
the alternative of choosing to become a conscientious objector.
(I became a teen during the Joe McCarthy era) came of age when opposition to war
cost something. My peers and I had to decide either to join the military or to
volunteer for alternative service as conscientious objectors. And no matter what
we chose, we all saw combat, in a sense: Not one of us could evade the battle
that takes place inside when one is faced with such a question.
At that time
most Americans had no trouble accepting a military draft: They understood the
fight against communism as a conflict between good and evil. A recent immigrant
and the child of refugees from Nazi Germany, I cherished my adoptive country's
freedoms. But having been brought up to follow the teachings of Jesus, I was also
convinced that killing people can never be right.
I knew that most Americans
did not look kindly on such a view. Though many understood how one's faith might
prevent one from signing up, many more saw conscientious objectors as draft dodgers
and cowards, and hated them for it. As a young man, I knew what my faith demanded,
and I knew that I had to honor its demands. Looking back, I feel being forced
to make this decision made me stronger.
That's why I believe it could be healthy
for today's youth to face a similar choice. Deciding which side to stand on is
one of life's most vital skills. It forces you to test your own convictions, to
assess your personal integrity and your character as an individual.
us knows right from wrong, but we often lack the courage to act on that knowledge.
How many of us are secretly troubled -- if not outraged -- by the atrocities that
are being committed in the name of the "war on terror"? How many of us feel isolated
and insecure, but are too afraid to speak out?
If the White House and Congress
decide to reinstate mandatory military service, it will sober our minds and especially
the minds of young people. For too long we have not appreciated the freedoms and
standard of living our country offers us, in contrast to the stark poverty that
faces at least two-thirds of the world. I hope that the hard times which may lie
ahead of us will help us realize that on both a personal and national level we
cannot live without a good relationship with our neighbors. There is a power much
greater than the mightiest military arsenal. That is the power of love and forgiveness,
which in the end will lead people and nations together instead of apart. It is
the only power that will bring healing and peace, especially to those who have
been wounded and maimed as a result of war, and to those families who have lost
loved ones -- men and women who were willing to pay the ultimate price.
would present every young person with a choice between two paths, both of which
require courage: either to heed the call of military duty and be rushed off to
war, or to say, "No, I will give my life in the service of peace." Let God decide
which choice is more patriotic.
Johann Christoph Arnold, of Rifton, N.Y.,
is an author and minister with the Bruderhof Communities: www.bruderhof.com.
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