Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Two Iraq-era Christian conscientious objectors

Friends, sisters, brothers, co-laborers:

Here are two stories that may provide some inspiration: Joshua Casteel and Nate Wildemuth. Both young men were students at West Point, but realized they could not in good conscience continue to participate in the military as Christians. Casteel only realized this for certain after he interrogated a Jihadist Muslim at Abu Ghraib.

Idea: Print a copy of these stories to review in a quiet moment or devotional time sometimes this week.

Another idea: Would you share this post with a young person, or someone else in your life, who may be wrestling with questions of Christian faith and military service?

Yours sincerely,
Matt Guynn

p.s. Both stories come from the Catholic Peace Fellowship. Thanks to Titus Peachey from Mennonite Central Committee for sharing Casteel's story with me!

Source: http://www.catholicpeacefellowship.org/print.asp?m=2341

Iraq Veteran Says No to War
[] If I am bound to the belief that God is in control of the cosmos, and miracles can and do happen, then there is no possible “hypothetical situation” wherein God’s ability to perform miracles through the faithful actions of the merciful ceases to be a possibility. And, I would rather die myself than err in this fashion, having too hastily chosen preemptive judgment...

...And there is nothing I have, or possibly could have, that is so worth defending that I should ever intentionally allow myself to enact such instantaneous and self-righteous damnation upon another human being. A Christian is called to a much greater notion of justice - one that involves self-sacrifice for the sake of
the offender.

Joshua Casteel, a veteran of the Iraq War and an eight-year member of the U.S. Armed Forces, has recently been granted status as a conscientious objector. He is now in residence as a playwright at the University of Iowa Playwrights Workshop. While in Iraq, working as an interrogator and an Arabic linguist at Abu Ghraib, Joshua wrote many essays to try to come to terms with his experience. One of these essays, The History of Memory, is published in our writers corner.

The son of two ministers, and a member of a military family, Joshua joined the Delayed Enlistment Program in 1997, his junior year in high school. That summer, he attended Basic Training, where he was already uncomfortable with shouting the chants, "Kill! Kill! Kill, without mercy, Sergeant!" and "Blood! Blood! Bright red blood, Sergeant!" But, he says, he took this discomfort as a general aversion to violence on account of his Christian upbringing, and didn't pursue its deeper significance.

Joshua attended West Point for a year, but soon realized he would be more fit for a liberal arts college. He continued his education at the University of Iowa and Oxford University, during which time he began to study the history of the Christian Just War and pacifist traditions with zeal. By the time he was deployed to Iraq in June 2004, Joshua was already theologically certain of his pacifism. However, he believed that he had sworn himself to service, and therefore needed to fulfill his duty as a soldier.

In Iraq, Joshua underwent a "crystallization of conscience." He describes his journey as one in which, although he had already intellectually converted to Christian pacifism, he had "required a personal encounter, a historical benchmark which would forever confirm for me who I was - and who I could never be again."

Stationed at Abu Ghraib, Joshua had the opportunity to interrogate a Saudi Arabian jihadist. It was this experience that ultimately convinced him of his conscientious objection to war:

The entire interrogation seemed almost mythical. When I finished I actually had to confess to my section leader what had happened, and how badly I had lost my objectivity as an interrogator, thinking it probably better to transfer the case to a different interrogation team. We spent most of the interrogation discussing ethics, Islam and Christianity. The man was a self-professed jihadist, come from Saudi Arabia for the sole purpose of killing people like me. Yet the entire time we spoke, he talked to me with a gentle calmness and evangelical tone, whereby I genuinely believed he desired my good - as I truly desired his. He tried to convert me to Islam from start to finish, and coming from an Evangelical Christian background, I felt in familiar territory, as if I were speaking simply to my Muslim counterpart. Then, we began to discuss war and violence. I asked him why he came to kill, he asked me why did I. At that point I knew I could go no further, unless I wanted to get into a debate about which one of us had the “more just” cause.

He then told me that I was not following the actual teaching of Christ, who said to “turn the other cheek” and to “not resist an evil person.” Coming from a jihadist who flat out told me he would kill me if he had the chance, I did not take the personal challenge all that seriously, but I came to a clear recognition of the fact that I absolutely agreed with him. I was in complete and total agreement with him, and I told him so. I did believe that my participation in systems of violence debilitates my Christian witness. I wanted to tell him that there was a different answer to injustice than the cycle of vengeance and violence condoned by Islam and by most systems of secular law: “killing in the name of justice or civil order.” I wanted to tell the jihadist that Jesus Christ (in Islam, the prophet “Isa”) had taught another way, and that I was living that way as a flesh-and-blood example for him - but I could not. For a moment, my job and duties completely faded to the periphery and all I cared about was confessing to this enemy my own sins in the hopes that he would recognize his. But, I could only take him so far. I could not actually lead him down a different path by my own example.

What I realized that day is that I whole heartedly believed, even when challenged by an enemy lacking legitimacy, that my participation in systems of violence completely debilitates the living example I believe is my bounded duty as a Christian to offer. And I believe this lack of coherence made my Christian witness totally impotent to a man who believed he was fighting a “just cause.”

A conversion story
Source: http://www.catholicpeacefellowship.org/nextpage.asp?m=1000

Nate Wildermuth, a Catholic since childhood, did not embrace his faith until he spent a year in Africa as a young adult. He set out on a path to follow God, and at the time, he thought that joining the military was the way he could express his Christian commitment. Nate entered the military in 2000, and began at West Point Academy in the summer of 2001.

As Nate’s zeal for his renewed Christian faith led him to read the Bible and attend daily mass, he began to doubt seriously his chosen path. Not wanting to ruin his chances for a good career, to disappoint his parents, to lose his friends, or to give up his status as a member of the highly esteemed Parachute Team, however, Nate stayed at West Point and tried to soothe his conscience by telling himself that he could serve the military as a noncombatant - a medic. However, he soon realized the error of his thinking: “If I can not morally participate in combat, I certainly can not participate in its multiplication. I can not morally object to warfare while enabling others to fight for me. I can not serve both the military and God.”

In his CO application, Nate wrote, “Under no circumstance can I participate in war. The only organization I can put my trust and heart into is the Kingdom of God. The only mission I can support is the mission of salvation and love. With faith and trust, and courage to follow the example of Christ, I am filled with a joyful optimism for a future guided by the hand of God.”

After leaving the military, Nate spent time with the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker in Washington, D.C. He recently finished writing a novel about nonviolence, and is hoping to publish it soon.

These two people are living testimonies to the Christian faith. We need not look only to the Early Christians for witnesses to emulate.

Please visit: www.catholicpeacefellowship.org


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