Monday, February 23, 2009

Asking the wrong question

In his latest post in "UU A Way Of Life", David G. Markham asks, "Participation in war making seems antithetical to UU values. What is the role of a UU chaplain in supporting people engaged in immoral acitivity?" He is responding to an article by UU Navy Chaplain CYNTHIA KANE, in which she- in his words- "tries to explain and justify her chaplaincy in the military"

David seems unaware that his beliefs about war in general, and Iraq specifically, are not the legal, moral, or religious standards of everyone- not even all UUs. His views are not in doubt, referring to our armed forces as a "mercenary force", and equating the Iraq war with the Holocaust: "The "I was only following orders" excuse was rejected at the Nuremburg trials when German troops tried to use this as a defense of their actions in the Holocaust."

This is a complete misreading of both the Nuremburg trials and the Iraq war. In terms of the common service man or woman- the kind that Chaplain Kane ministers to- "I was following orders" was and is a defense for all actions conducted within the legal rules of engagement. The Nuremburg tribunal was prosecuting crimes completely outside the rules of war. The Holocaust was not part of the WWII the regular German soldier was fighting- it began before the war started, and was prosecuted by separate units, such as the SS, the Gestapo, the roving Mordgruppen. The crimes at Abu Ghraib can be compared to the Holocaust- and people were prosecuted for it, and I hope more will be in the future- but it is an insult to everyone in uniform to compare the whole of the war to that.

The vast majority of those in uniform do not believe that their purpose is "killing people and pre-emptively subjugating populations", nor do they believe that what they are doing is immoral. They are engaged in a legal war- whether or not you believe that the war should have ever been started does not change the fact that both the US Congress and the United Nations voted Bush the authority to start it, and neither body has ordered us to leave. They are conducting the war in a professional manner, risking their own lives to reduce civilian deaths, and conducting their own charities to improve the lives of the ordinary Iraqi- did you know that completely separate from official aid, the soldiers themselves have put together charities collecting things like shoes, clothing, toys, and glasses to distribute to the poor over there? They do not see themselves as murdering Storm troopers. Nor do I see them that way.

David calls their actions "immoral and even criminal", and asks, "What is the role of a UU chaplain in supporting people engaged in immoral activity?" This question presupposes that all war is immoral- something that has yet to have been voted on by the UUA. It presumes that all UUs must be pacifists- with the clear understanding that they are immoral if they are not. It assumes a creed that we have not adopted, and so is not the proper question.

The proper question is just seven words shorter than the one asked: "What is the role of a UU chaplain?" To minister to people who need human and spiritual comfort and are not being served by other faiths leaps to mind. The fact that this did not leap immediately to mind for David sounds a whole lot like the attitude Chaplain Kane refers to, quoting Rev. Dr. Lisa Presley: "although we say that we welcome all to our congregations, the perception is that there is a very solid wall keeping those with our values and who happen to choose to be in the military, out of our congregational life.” She continues, “No one will say it outright, but the sense that they have made a stupid choice, or that they are consorting with the enemy, comes through loud and clear in unconscious ways.”

We don't say those things outright... we simply say they need "solace and absolution for sinful activities". Good thing we're not judgmental, like those awful fundamentalists!


ogre said...

We're largely of a mind on this one, Joel. I just commented over there.

ms. kitty said...

Our military, in addition, is not just for the purpose of waging war. It is also to defend our country against enemy attack, to supply much-needed assistance in time of natural disaster, and other related duties. We need our military. We just don't want them engaged in pre-emptive strikes against innocent civilians.

Joel Monka said...

Granted, ms. kitty, but to quote the President, that's decided at a higher pay grade than the service men and women that Lt. Kane ministers to. Calling them mercenary forces engaged in immoral activities, and implying that the chaplain has no justification ministering to them is beyond the pale, in my opinion.

David G. Markham said...

Hi Joel:

I really admire the soldiers that have stood up against this immoral activity and have often been court martialed, imprisoned, and other wise punished. There is quite a literature on the Winter Soldier.

While I probaly not a pure pacifist, as I can accept killing if abosolutely necessary to protect life in a defensive way, I have a great deal of trouble with offensive killing on pre-emptive grounds has has been done in Viet Nam and in Iraq.

As we all know now, the war in Iraq which will have killed up to a million people by the time we are done was waged on false pretenses. It could not be done without the willing accomplices of the people in uniform. They are joined willingly as there is no draft. So, that's what I mean by a mercenary force. And then they have been supported by Blackwater which has provided as many mercenary soliders as U.S. troops in uniform.

I am not proud of any of this, and it is hard for me to see how any moral person could be.

The majority of Church leaders from the Pope on down have declared the Iraq war and immoral war and yet are largely disregarded by the industrial/military establishment and their minions who have cheered the whole destructive enterprise on.

It is a shameful episode in human history and there is nothing there that I can see that is anything to be proud of.

All the best,

David Markham

Joel Monka said...

I can see a lot to be proud of- in the behavior of the ordinary soldier, who is, after all, at the heart of this discussion. I still think you do them a tremendous disservice in the way you talk about them.

When they were first sent in, they- like the congress that authorized it- believed they were doing the right thing. They believed- as did the congress that sent them there, as did the British and many others- that the US and its allies were in imminent danger from terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. The fact that this was wrong does not invalidate their motives and ideals- if a person has been lied to, he is NOT a "willing accomplice" or a "mercenary". The shame of the invasion is not theirs. The Pope, and the other church leaders do NOT, as you do, blame the soldier in the field for the invasion.

What WOULD have been their shame would have been to destroy the government, army, infrastructure, and civil authority of Iraq and then leave, condemning Iraq to famine and civil war. It was and is our responsibility to repair the harms we had done them. Talk to soldiers who have served there, as I have- they are proud of their work rebuilding Iraq, of providing for the people there. They want to give the Iraqi people a fighting chance for a normal life before they leave. They sure as hell don't sound like immoral people to me.

What I would ashamed of is any chaplain who could walk away from his or her duty to their fellows in uniform.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Markham posts, "...Blackwater which has provided as many mercenary soliders as U.S. troops in uniform." Seriously? Where did these stats come from? A "million" casualties? Where did these stats come from? "Mercenary" is a word that has a meaning, which does not describe members of an all-volunteer military force. The rhetoric Mr. Markham utilizes says much about Mr. Markham and little about military chaplaincy.

Chuck B. said...

One minor thing: While I agree with your main thrust concerning the proper question, technically, the war was not properly started.

Congress negligently failed to follow their duties under the War Powers Act and the constitution.

That said, for all that I AM A LEFT WING LIBERAL, I agree with a lot of what Joel's saying.

We are not Quakers. If our religion is large enough, permissive enough, and broad enough to allow those who have conservative ideologies to be a part of it, then the politically militaristic outcomes of the ideologies are as valid. If we believe those on the right can be UU's then we have to accept the idea of wars with UU's in in them and their inherent right to be UU's in war. Otherwise we are talking about creeds and who is a UU.

I do not believe that ANY career is inherently unassailable of criticism: even soldiers. I always considered the idea of a military chaplin for any organization other than the Vikings, rather wierd. However, if we are to accept that an ideology based on the positiveness of life supports its representatives to minister to those who twart the continuation of life, then the soldier in the field deserves ministration. In other words, you should not have doubts after you decided to be a chaplin. That's unfair to the Service, the soldiers, their families, and even the civilian populations who may pass through the gun sights of those soldiers.

In fact maybe they need it more than us,particularly in wars such as Iraq, for in the field the soldier needs someone to turn to when the civilian population and the enemy look one in the same. They need a human contact who can help them know when a order is wrong and not revert to behavior devoid of ethics. It is in the field that the Chaplin is the one person who helps to up hold the idea of the Citizen Soldier.

Also, ministering them in that chaos on the field may make it easier them and their loved ones when they finally get out.

Now I am talking about US soldiers. I also disagree with David's overly simplistic view of what a mercenary is. You assume that voluntary enlistment is only for economic gain, that's beyond hypercynnical. Just as with Korea, Vietnam and the First Gulf War, people sign up because they believe they will be doing great good, and protecting people.

Blackwater are mercenaries. I don't see where they figure in at all because a Chaplin should not have to deal with them.