I wanted to do something different tonight, and so plopped myself down in front of the TV and began flipping channels. I have been feeling tired of many things and in need of time off – something I know the importance of – the Sabbath rest which God had built into His week, but which I ignore. I rarely watch TV as it usually causes me to fall asleep. But tonight I wanted to do something mindless, to kill time.
I flipped through the channels and came to the PBS station which was airing the POV show Soldiers of Conscience. I was immediately drawn into the show. I was watching soldiers talk about their own conscience – some who remained faithful to their sworn oath of duty to the military and defending our country and some who became conscientious objectors to war while serving in the Iraq war.
I have since high school found the military to be terrifying. I have not thought myself able to kill. During the Vietnam War I was sickened by the thought of going to war and found strength in the anti-war movement. My draft number was 13 at a time when deferrals had become a thing of the past. But then stunningly Nixon stopped the draft and I didn’t have to report to the Cleveland induction center. I never had to face what I was going to do if put into the military.
Watching SOLDIERS OF CONSCIENCE brought back all those memories, and why I find war so horrifying. I realized from watching the show that I would not be good soldier material. I don’t know that I could ever have become the reflex shooter that the military now trains people to be. The one West Point professor explains how studies in WWII showed how few soldiers were willing to pull the trigger in combat and kill the enemy. The modern army has virtually perfected their training to make sure that the soldiers don’t think, that they just act on reflex and training. The military today wants to make sure that the soldier’s conscience is only awakened after the battle, but then the military instructor admitted they never train the soldiers for what to do when the conscience awakens – after you have killed the enemy, or a civilian. Shoot first, reflect on it later.
The West Point instructor has specialized in studying the morality of war. He asked the most difficult question about the Christ’s Parable of the Good Samaritan. What if you are walking by the victim, not after he has been beaten to a pulp, but while he is being beaten? Is it “Christian” to wait until the robbery and beating is over and then come to his aid? Do you have a moral obligation as a Christian to try to intervene and risk your life and stop the beating? What if lethal force is the only way to stop the beating and robbery? What is your moral duty?
His take was that the military is not the Good Samaritan who arrives on the scene after the felonious assault takes place, but the military is simply those who walk the path while the assault occurs or while it it being threatened. The military takes the moral viewpoint that it is better to stop the beating than to be a Good Samaritan.
Then there was the soldier who in his court martial was found guilty and sent to prison for refusing to serve another tour of duty in Iraq because he could no longer bring himself to kill anyone. He commented that humanity had figured out that human sacrifice was unacceptable and had outlawed the practice. And humans had figured out that slavery was inhumane and banned the practice. Maybe the time has come for humans to figure out that war is no more moral than human sacrifice and slavery.
I do not know that this documentary can change anyone’s mind about the morality of war, or of the goodness of the war in Iraq, but I did find it most engaging and challenging. Not at all the mindless TV that I had begun flipping the channels to find. Think TV would not give me the peace I wanted for the evening.
Killing time turned into facing up to killing people. And my pacifist nature was challenged by the realities of the world. “There is no peace for the wicked,” says the Lord (Isaiah 48:22, 57:21).
If you want to think hard about the morality of war, and the effects of war on some men who served in Iraq, I would recommend watching POV’s SOLDIERS OF CONSCIENCE. For each, whether continuing to obey orders and fight, or choosing to lay down their arms and not kill again, was using the conscience God has given us as human beings.