A report on the Truth Commission …

If you’re unfamiliar with Centurion’s Guild and their important work, you’ll find information here. I’d encourage you to sign up for their newsletter. You can read a report about the recent Truth Commission … after the jump. Included are some important links.

Here’s a report:

CPW Report on Truth Commission on Conscience in War
A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured. (Mark 1:40-42)
“Are the members of the military slaves?” The question hung in the air for a moment before planting itself painfully in my side. During the March 21st-22nd Truth Commission on Conscience in War at New York City’s magnificent Riverside Church, 14 testifiers, 70 commissioners, and (by my count) perhaps some 1000 witnesses to the event- veterans, theologians, philosophers, chaplains, students, writers, lawyers, psychologists, and activists- gathered to listen, pray, ponder, share, be changed, and built community.
Selective conscientious objection; the cost of moral injury; the lie of “recovery” from combat; the myths of military recruitment; the cooperation of state, church, academia, and media in breaking (with impunity) the hearts, minds, souls, and bodies of those in the military: all we heard seemed to rotate around the nexus of one question posed by testifier Dr. Jonathan Shay, Boston VA Clinical Psychiatrist. He asked, “Are the members of the military slaves?” If a thousand hearts cried out “No!” many of the most powerful institutions in the United States whispered, “Yes”.
Selective conscientious objection is a little understood path- dismissed by some for not being perfect enough in its rejection of violence and dismissed by others as an “easy way out” of combat. Soldiers who make no argument against all war but who cannot in conscience fight in some wars- especially in the context of voluntary enlistment- have been suspect of cowardice and opportunism; Well, if you weren’t going to fight, then what did you sign up for? If you were truly for peace you would repent of the whole military industrial complex! Oh sure, you’ll take the job benefits but when it’s time to do your duty, you run.
One might argue that where enlistment is voluntary and pacifist conscientious objection is respected, there is little argument that U.S. soldiers have become part of the spoils of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that they are slaves. Yet the U.S. Military- as well as the legislative, academic, social, and religious institutions which support it- behaves as a slave master when the men and women it employs lose the freedom to exercise moral agency and are forced to remain in posts where they must participate in acts which degrade their own humanity and the humanity of others. Thus selective conscientious objection- refusing to participate in a war which one believes to be illegal and immoral- safeguards the moral agency of everyone on the spectrum of belief and must be recognized as a basic human right.
In theory most Christians believe that we are each duty bound by church doctrine, military code, international law, and universal ethics to avoid committing certain atrocities. The pitch and posture of debate between pacifists and those espousing the just war theory would suggest otherwise, but there is much solid earthy common ground between the camps. Selective conscientious objection ought to be a heralded meeting place for those of many views on war, a meeting place to create a supportive community for soldiers and veterans instead of abandoning them in favor of doctrinal piety or unexamined patriotism.
During the Truth Commission on Conscience in War, we moved modestly closer to that supportive community as we, like Jesus, welcomed the ugly and ill parts of our society- the leper in uniform, in our institutions, and, alas, in our own very skin- to come into the light, to be known, and to be healed. Truth telling (and hearing) can be painful but the sting of cleansing salt in a wound is always easier on the soul than the biting whip of injustice.
Christian Peace Witness steering committee member Eda Uca-Dorn participated as a commissioner to the March 21st-22nd Truth Commission on Conscience in War and wrote this report. You may find the complete testimonies of the Truth Commission on Conscience in War online (www.theriversidechurchny.org) and learn about the ethical, legislative, and historical context of selective conscientious objection through The Center on Conscience & War (www.centeronconscience.org).

For videos of the event, go here.