Soldiers of Conscience

[Attn Editors: It’s Bobby Seale in paragraph two–gm]

A Memorial Day Meditation

By Greg Moses

Absolute pacifists are absolutely rare. Even the
ancient Jewish pacifist, Jesus of Nazareth, got so
pissed off at the sight of holiday shopping that he
tossed tables around with his bare hands. Yet when it
came time to acquit himself before imperial
authorities, he steadfastly refused.

Stew Albert tells a story about the late Dave
Dellinger, “the life long pacifist” who “got in some
real shoving matches with the Federal Marshals” as
they tied Bobby Seale to a courtroom chair. Yet
Dellinger, “the wrestling pacifist,” chose prison over
war. So pacifism is nearly always a position that one
takes in relation to circumstances.

Anti-war pacifism in recent centuries arises out of a
judgment that the institution of war, waged by
structures of the capitalist state, cooly delivers
death to the many and profits to the few. The
stronger the institution of war becomes, the more
death and profit we may expect, with ever diminishing
returns to the greater good.

Yet along with modern pacifism come modern
philosophies of existentialism, pragmatism, and
postmodernism, with their philosophical assertions
that reality always resists the single meaning. If
war is indeed a profiteering enterprise, it can be
other things, too. Even among liberals and lefties,
there are very few who oppose all war at all times.

And finally, even among the very few pacifists who
counsel young folks about conscientious objection, who
refuse to pay taxes for military use, and who go to
prison for crossing some line, even among these
present day saints one finds abiding respect for the
individual conscience, and therefore respect for the
soldier or citizen who believes that wars can be
fought a right way.

So on this Memorial Day, the third one to be
celebrated since the massacres of Sept. 11, 2001, I
wonder if there is a liberal, lefty, pacifist,
anti-war activist to be found who does not find a way
to honor the soldier of conscience.

For the soldier of conscience, military service is a
way of risking one’s life for others, preparing to
take a bullet, and being part of a larger whole that
lives because some are willing to die. For the
soldier of conscience then, the value of war lies not
in the willingness to kill, but in the readiness to be

The military uniform, therefore, when worn by a
soldier of conscience, is a public sign to the rest of
the world that here walks a person who is prepared to
do your dying for you. On Memorial Day, the graves
call up to us. Here lie soldiers of conscience who
died so that you could live.

The soldier of conscience is in on my mind this
Memorial Day weekend as I think about the publicity
stunt that the President pulled Monday, when he staged
a reading of his stock war speech at the Army War
College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Surely the President noticed right away that the
audience at the War College was not going to be the
adoring crowd that he had found a few days earlier at
an AIPAC rally. But this is precisely the difference
that one would expect to find between an audience that
does not wear uniforms and one that does, because,
when you talk about war to audiences that wear
uniforms, you are talking to them about making use of
their readiness to die.

I wonder for instance, whether the President is aware
of Directive 1344.10, published by the Department of
Defense. It is an updated regulation that reiterates
some long-standing ethical principles that are
supposed to regulate the power of the uniform in
political affairs. Simply put, the American military
uniform is not to be used for political purposes.

Yet press reports and commentaries surrounding the
President’s speech were hardly guessing at the
political nature of the President’s speech. He was

speaking in a “battleground state” about political
policies that were clearly a matter of national and
international dispute.

“Generations of officers have come here to study the
strategies and history of warfare,” said the President
to the War College. “I’ve come here tonight to report
to all Americans, and to the Iraqi people, on the
strategy our nation is pursuing in Iraq, and the
specific steps we’re taking to achieve our goals.”

With two disjointed sentences, the President tells the
War College audience that regardless of their reasons
for being at Carlisle, he is here to make a national
and international political appeal. The uniforms of
the Army War College, here on display, will serve as
so much televised backdrop for a flagging political
campaign. What “we’re doing” in terms of a strategy
crafted by a partisan Republican administration
becomes a strategy already dressed in uniforms worn by
soldiers of conscience.

A soldier on active duty, says Directive 1344.10
(Enclosure C.3.9) shall not: “Participate in any
radio, television, or other program or group
discussion as an advocate of a partisan political
party or candidate.” Yet on Monday night the
Commander in Chief of the War College in effect
ordered his troops to lend their uniforms to the
unethical purpose of advancing his partisan Republican
image. What choice did they have but to salute him?

Well, perhaps the press has been accurately reporting
that Monday night’s speech was “more of the same.” It
all depends which same you start from. On the
unethical use of the lives and uniforms of soldiers of
conscience indeed, this President continues to sink
lower each day.

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