Veterans’ Day and the choices military folks make

Irony is good for the blood, or so my friends tell me. My blood got a boost today when partway into the afternoon of a beautiful federal holiday that my husband and I were enjoying together, he got a call that he had to go in to the office. Now he’ll be there until 10 or 11pm. He’ll probably get comp time for this, which is nice, but our plans for dinner went out the window. On Veterans’ Day. Because he’s military. Yup, I feel my blood getting stronger by the minute!

Seriously, though, I know this isn’t big as military issues go, so let me give you a heads-up about one that is: Operation Circle Care by Circle Sanctuary. Circle Sanctuary does some great military ministry, and this is part of it. They’re working on sending care packages to Pagan troops who are overseas. You can help: you can donate goods to be used in care packages, or you can donate funds to help send the packages. Head over to their page and see if you can contribute!

In his post for today, Jason at The Wild Hunt covers OCC, but the second part to his post is also interesting: called “A Warrior’s Conscientious Objection,” Jason tells of a report that calls on the government and the military to make it possible for soldiers to object on grounds of conscience to individual conflicts. While I understand, deeply, how this could be seen as a great advance by many people, I have to say that I don’t see how it could be possible in today’s military. I’m all in favor of deeply considering ethical choices. I’m also the first person to say, loudly, that the military doesn’t work by giving orders that demand instant, unquestioning, unthinking obedience. But this kind of pick-and-choose may not be possible because of how the military works today.

People tend to think of “the Iraq war” or “the war in Afghanistan” as a thing, a single, discernible entity. But even if that were ever true – and I would argue that for those with ethical objections, it probably wasn’t – it’s definitely not true today. It would be almost impossible to allow serving soldiers to object to participation in a particular conflict because there are thousands of actions throughout the day that any serving soldier makes that may be tied up with a particular conflict to wildly varying degrees. My husband’s job on the staff means that even as someone planning for the future, he’s actively caught up in how the conflicts today are being handled; what do we buy, given that we’ve got these wars now, and these other possibilities in the future? How do we adjust the budget to balance present and future? And so on – my husband would be literally paralyzed if he had to decide, before working on any project, whether that project was supporting the Iraq war, for example, and whether it was supporting the Iraq war too much for his conscience. More than that, his office would be paralyzed. Anything he opted out of would get dumped to other people, and because no one could predict that reliably (it is his individual conscience, after all) the workload on other individuals would be wildly varying. And it keeps going: staffing needs might change, which might prompt budgetary reviews, which prompt soul-searching….and so on.

No, not every servicemember is faced with a situation like this. But many, if not most, servicemembers who searched their consciences would realize that they are doing something that supports the current conflicts. One way to try to implement this call for conscientious objection to particular conflicts would be to allow servicemembers to refuse to deploy to particular areas; but people conscientious enough to do so would probably find plenty of problems with working anywhere in the Middle East or parts of Asia. Never mind the potential for abuse by the unscrupulous. Plus, there are lots of folks here in the continental United States (that’s CONUS, if you want to sound cool to military folks) who are actively participating in overseas missions – guys at Nellis who fly UAVs over combat zones halfway around the world are just the start.

The only way that I see for something like this to be possible would be for the military to create a way for people with legitimate conscientious objections to sever themselves from the military if such a conflict started. Most officers can resign their commissions; if they have an active duty service commitment, incurred to “pay back” the military for specific training or other benefits they’ve received, that causes a problem. Most enlisted folks, as far as I understand it, are enlisted for a specific term of service; similar concerns would be raised about their remaining commitment if they wanted to get out early. All kinds of potential problems arise for this scenario, but they might, just maybe, be resolvable. And, of course, the status of those people after they leave the military is a big question: are you a veteran if you get out because of a particular conflict? What if you’re an officer within spitting distance of retiring, and we invade Iraq?

That leads me to say a word or two about the folks who stay in. There are all different kinds of reasons for being in the military. We as a society have thankfully moved beyond blaming military members as individuals for anything we see wrong with policies or larger military actions. I’m heartened by seeing a bumper sticker that says “Support the troops – bring them home!” But I just want to put out there that some of the people who stay in do so precisely because of the tough ethical choices that such a course presents. They want to try to make a difference – to make it better. They don’t want to leave the military to be run by people whose consciences are clear (or unexamined).

Some officers retired in protest at the approach to invading Iraq, for example; they all had to make the hard choice to leave the men and women they led in someone else’s hands, someone else who might not do as good a job, who might not fight as hard to get the plan fixed, or at least improved. They had to weigh those chances and their consciences, and act on the balance they found, even with incomplete information and great uncertainties involved.

And that’s what we all have to do, every day. How much is too much? How bad is too bad? So get out there, and make your own ethical choices, and if you appreciate veterans for what they’ve done, appreciate them for this, too: for making the hard choices, not always well, but always trying.

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About Literata

Literata is a Wiccan priestess and writer. She edited Crossing the River: An Anthology in Honor of Sacred Journeys, and her poetry, rituals, and nonfiction have appeared in works such as Mandragora, Unto Herself, and Anointed as well as multiple periodicals. Literata has presented rituals and workshops at Sacred Space conference, Fertile Ground Gathering, and other mid-Atlantic venues. Literata offers healing and divination services as well as customized life-cycle rituals. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation in history with the support of her husband and four cats.
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