This last weekend, I had to decide exactly how radical I wanted to be. I was put in a situation where I stood between an AWOL soldier and the military police, who very much wanted to arrest him. If only I had a nickel for every time this happened, I’d have close to five cents. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t exactly a classic “What would you do?” moment, but it was interesting just the same, and I thought y’all might be interested in hearing about it.
A conscientious objector, who has been trying to get out of the Army for more than two years, was facing a deployment on Friday night. He had applied for CO status and was denied … twice. While he was in Iraq the first time, he refused to load his weapon even when on patrols. When he got back he filed a Habeas Corpus in federal court, challenging the ruling, and was denied … thrice (if you count appeals and temporary restraining orders). He made it very clear to his chain of command that he was not going to go back to Iraq under any circumstances. They hadn’t even gotten him to pick up his weapon for about a year. His commander, however, wasn’t taking no for an answer. So, Agustin made himself “unavailable” during the final deployment formation (aka he went for a drive at an undisclosed location). Saturday morning, he went to the military police station and turned himself in.
At that point, he expected to be court-martialed, given a dishonorable discharge, put in jail for 5-9 months, and then move on with his life. I’m not sure why he expected this to happen. Maybe because that’s what his military counselors, his lawyers, and current precedent suggested would happen. It was not to be, though. He was instead brought back to his house where his wife, two daughters, and I were hanging out, and he was told to get his gear. He explained that there was no point, because he wasn’t going to deploy. The First Sergeant was like, “Okay, whatever.”
An hour later, though, he was brought back again. Apparently the company commander was not okay with such insubordination. “He’s going to Iraq, even if we have to handcuff him and force him on the plane.” (This was known to happen during the first Gulf War, but to my knowledge has never been tried during the current Iraq War.) Agustin had to make a choice: “allow” himself to be forced onto a plane to Iraq or figure out a way to disappear. He chose the latter. While we hung out with the MPs in the livingroom, Agustin jumped out of his bedroom window, ran out the front gate of the base, and disappeared into the German afternoon sunlight.
After 30 minutes or so, the MPs started to wonder what was taking so long. When they realized he was gone, they freaked out. It was actually kind of humorous. They were completely blind-sided by the whole thing and started running all over the house and the apartment complex trying to find him, interrogating random children who were rollerblading by, etc.
Anyway, that was Saturday, and he is still in hiding somewhere, trying to figure out how best to proceed. I can’t really go into much detail at this point, but you’ll probably be seeing stuff about him in the news in a couple weeks or so.
It was one of those situations that I’ve read about, but it seemed quite different when I was involved. War resistance has been an issue that Anabaptists have dealt with for hundreds of years. Since the founding of the United States, “peace churches” have struggled with how to respond to the forced military service. We have great stories of our ancestors refusing to fight during the Civil War, struggling to be recognized as conscientious objectors during World War I and World War II, and refusing the draft during Vietnam. But today there is no draft; there is no forced conscription, just an all-volunteer military. In many ways, it was the end of our interaction with the military. We stand outside the bases occasionally and express our opposition in the form of a pithy phrase or two, but our country’s wars no longer require any sacrifice or struggle on our part. At the start of the current war in Iraq, we were told to go on with our lives as before. I specifically remember being told to “keep shopping.” And so we do.
People like Agustin Aguayo are a reminder that there is a war going on, with real people fighting, dying, and being changed by their experiences. The front line of conscientious objection is no longer in our churches or in the courts. The front line of conscientious objection is within the professional military. I hope that we, as life-long conscientious objectors who no longer have the big personal investment in our nation’s wars, can remain active in the struggle, by supporting those who come to their beliefs through their wartime experiences. It’s one way we can actively respond to the wars we are funding. Agustin needs our help, and we can provide him and others like him with something other than bullets for their M-16s.
More details about his case and how you can help will soon be available at AguayoDefense.org.
Awesome story, MJ. It’s awfully encouraging to hear about concrete war resistance efforts, especially since I’m not exactly in regular touch with other Mennos at this point (the ethnic melting pot that is Moscow, Idaho somehow lacks an Anabaptist congregation). I’d like to hear more about your thoughts on doing this kind of thing with an all-volunteer army: I can see a non-pacifist (warifist? violencist?) arguing that you’re helping people break a contract they’ve signed of their own free will – to what degree is it the responsibility of CO’s to come to that position before they enlist?
I’m going to try to answer this fairly loaded question as succinctly as possible. The first thing I’d like to say is that applying for conscientious objection or any other discharge is in no way breaking a contract. In the same way that Donald Rumsfeld has the right, according to the contract, to extend soldiers’ terms indefinitely (via stop-loss) during a time of war, so too does a soldier have the right to certain early discharges under certain conditions.
As far as the CO discharge, even the Department of Defense recognizes the transformational power of war. People change when they see dead civilians; people change when they see friends get shot; people change when they shoot other human beings. As Anabaptists, I think most of us would suggest that if people knew what war was really like, they wouldn’t want to participate in it. Volunteer soldiers who become conscientious objectors are a great testament to this fact.
It’s easy for us (or at least it was for me), as people who grew up being taught that war wasn’t a good way to go about solving problems, to say, “Look, you’re either a CO or you aren’t – it’s pretty clear.” I’ve found, however, that if you happen to grow up in a family that teaches you that serving God and serving country are the same thing, you might not have ever considered that war might be wrong. It’s second nature to us, but it hasn’t even been considered by others.
Even if there wasn’t a legal or contractual basis for conscientious objection, and even if it were a dishonorable thing to refuse to deploy, one still has to decide which is the bigger mistake: participating in a war that you know is wrong or choosing not to honor a written agreement that you have made. I’d personally rather have the latter on my conscience than the former. The point is mute, though, considering that military regulations specifically allow for such a discharge.
The other thing to point out is that none of these discharges, especially not the CO discharge, are an easy way out. Agustin is a great example of this, in that he struggled for over two and a half years only to be denied at every turn. During this time, he was ridiculed and belittled by many of those around him. Agustin was deployed to Iraq for a year, during which time he didn’t load his gun. If you think that made him any friends among his colleagues, you’re crazy. You don’t do something like that for your health. You do it because you believe it’s absolutely the right thing to do. As one CO put it, “Not only is conscientious objection an honorable discharge, it’s the only honorable one.”
I could seriously write about this all night, but I’ll stop, hoping that I’ve answered your question by now.
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This is very interesting. I was not raised in a home that valued CO. My father was in the Navy and always looked down on my mothers brother in law for being an objector. I was always told that being a CO for moral reasons was just a cover up and they really were cowards. As I have grown older I have come to believe, through my study of they Bible and my maturity as a Christian, that CO is the biblical think to do. I believe that for myself and for all christians that taking part in violence is unbiblical and completely contradictary to our call as believers. But I have always had the question what is a country supposed to do? How would a country defend itself and remain in existence without a military? I also know christians you see it as their duty to take part in military service (although I do believe that with spiritual maturity they will change and I have also seen it happen). But I would be interested in hearing some of your responses about how a contry would and could operate with out a millitary defense.
Interesting to hear what was stated here. Obviously there will always be differences in regards to the interpretation of scripture and how to best go about living in society, not just a modern one but from any age. If a “free” nation in the traditional sense is one that it’s officials are elected by the people and there are certain liberties granted to them such as freedom of speech and press, freedom of assembly, certain judicial processes are guaranteed and so on, which “free” nation(s) do you know of that did not have to sacrifice through at best severe hardship or at worst the blood of many of it’s sons and daughters to not only obtain, but maintain that freedom?
That being said, given the stance of Anabaptists have on war in any form and regardless of the reason(s), why do they only exist in North America and I would dare to say could only exist in a “free” nation? Why was this same fervor not brought, in the presence of their physical bodies and voices, to the leaders of the USSR, to China, to Japan, to Nazi Germany, to Fascist Italy and so during WWII? What about before that? After that? What about the guerrilla wars carried out in South and Central America? Dictators committing atrocities all throughout Africa? To the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviets? North Korea attacking South Korea and then China entering? Is there any hypocrisy to staying within the confines of a “free” nation and claiming all the benefits but sacrificing only what you would be willing to offer up but not what is required? I would like to ask when was the last time any of the above writers visited a less than “free” nation such as China, Myanmar, or Sudan and publicly conducted “radical action” in regards to these countries activities?
Yes, the U.S. Military is a professional all volunteer force. I agree that CO’s should not have to go to war but this is not the same as the Secretary of Defense extending tours. This is a contractual obligation to be sure, but what you are forgetting is that when they entered the U.S. Military, they took an oath. The Oath of Enlistment states, “I, (name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
I understand that people change but one has also to understand that with every decision made there are consequences. Earthly law and submission to such things are clearly to be obeyed according to scripture.
As a former soldier who has been deployed to several different combat locations and more importantly as a mature Christian brother, I do not want war nor believe war is right nor just but only that at specific times and for specific reasons, it is a sacrifice that is required of and made by FREE men and women to insure… you have your platform.
Anabaptists don’t “only exist in North America and I would dare to say could only exist in a ‘free’ nation”, they exist in Europe, Africa, Asia, SOUTH AMERICA and Australia.
Actually the continent with the most Mennonites (I’m not informed about other Anabaptist groups), and churches there are growing rapidly in spite of the fact that they are persecuted there…
But let’s start at the beginning, MJ mentioned that “War resistance has been an issue that Anabaptists have dealt with for hundreds of years” and didn’t dig in to the matter because he didn’t think it was necessary, but let’s see how Anabaptism started: In the time of the Reformation in Europe some students of Zwingli, a swiss reformator, decided that their teacher wasn’t radical enough in matters of PEACE, relation of CHURCH to STATE, baptism and I think that’s it…
For this believe they were persecuted, sent to prison, killed… but the movement grew…
There were some parts that turned violent (Munster), but the main part stayed pacifist…
Over migration, which was always caused by the offer of being able to exercise their believe without persecution, they came to Prussia, then to Russia and later to Canada, the US, South America (Paraguay and Uruguay specifically)…
These migrants kept their pacifism and were willing to migrate to keep it. Those who stayed in Europe (mainly Germany and Switzerland) assimilated with the “world” and slowly forgot their pacifist roots, in the beginning just WHY they were conscious objector and later they didn’t refuse to serve in the military, and so sadly we have to acknowledge that there were Mennonites in the Wehrmacht, SA and even SS, but not a single German Mennonite conscious objector in WWII.
Thanks to our North American brothers we later rediscovered our pacifist traditions and renewed them…
So I think you realized that there not only ARE anabaptists in countries where they cannot exercise their believe freely, but actually ORIGINATED from these environment.
The first christian congregation were pacifist and were persecuted, a church father (is that the term?; in German it is) said: “The martyrs blood is the seed of the church”
As to the “Oath of Enlistment”:
33″Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ 34But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Matth. 5 (I think you should read Matthew 5-7 anyway…
and the scripture DOES NOT say “Earthly law and submission to such things are clearly to be obeyed”, instead we should “seek the
town’s best”, sorry I forgot to finish my sentence.
Schalom and Salaam, I hope you think about this