FROM “SAINT MARTIN OF TOURS: THE FIRST VETERAN FOR PEACE” BY PAUL DORDAL AND JOHN DAVID KUDRICK IN THE NEW PEOPLE (NOV. 2019)
The Veterans For Peace organization was founded in 1985 to draw on veterans’ “personal experience and perspectives gained as veterans to raise public awareness of the true costs of militarism and war—and to seek peaceful, effective alternatives.” As we pause to reflect this coming Armistice Day, November 11, it is important to remember this unique call for peace from those who have experienced war’s utter senselessness firsthand. Dwight Eisenhower, a WWII general and U.S. president, profoundly declared, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.” Many so-called war heroes have become the greatest proponents of peace after (and sometimes during) their enlistment.
Yet the question remains why so many millions, even billions, cannot see war’s futility and stupidity, and thus resist the evil powers and principalities who constantly call for the use of violence and war to solve conflicts. Currently, the United States is fighting its own global war, with tens of thousands of troops stationed in over 170 countries. Any reasonable person, though, can see that this continuous warfare has not resulted in true, lasting peace anyplace it is being fought. In a recent speech at the United Nations, President Trump noted that the U.S. “is a compassionate nation” who “will forever be a great friend to the world.” These words could not have rung more hollow to those who actually listened.
For many veterans and others, a time comes when the soul, mind, and body become one and there is a change in attitudes, beliefs, and actions toward war and violence. For some veterans, the experience of participating in or preparing for war becomes the “Aha!” moment that helps them realize just how wrong and futile war can be—even the most supposedly “just war.”
As I (Paul) was reflecting on my own “Aha!” moment and the decision I made after returning from the Iraq War that I could not as a Christian be involved with war anymore, I read about another veteran who could not participate in the military or engage in violence after his own epiphany. St. Martin of Tours converted to Christ in the fourth century. Soon afterward, while on patrol, Martin saw a shivering beggar alongside the road. Dressed in his military regalia, Martin tore his cape in two, gave half to the beggar, and declared, “I am the soldier of Christ: it is not lawful for me to fight.” Upon hearing of Martin’s conscientious objection, his military superiors charged him with cowardice and imprisoned him. Yet he remained convinced, as so many others have since, that to be a Christian precludes one from serving in any military—that Christians are peacemakers, not violence seekers. St. Martin of Tours could well be known as the first veteran for peace; if not the first, then at least one of the most remarkable.
Pondering the story of St. Martin, I (John David) am struck at how he took compassionate action as a great friend toward the beggar by choosing not to fall into the typical “us and them” thinking that dehumanizes people—denying and/or ignoring the inherent mystery, beauty, and wonder of every person in the global tribe of humanity. For it is such “us and them” thinking that allows intentional, accepted, and applauded violence and war against humanity in the name of “keeping the peace,” although it never leads to real peace among us.
As recognized by almost every Christian group in the world, the Feast of St. Martin of Tours is held, ironically, on November 11. For Christians and all peace seekers, then, Armistice Day should be a clarion call not necessarily to celebrate the sacrifices of veterans, but to recognize the sacrifice of true peacemakers like Christ to end all wars and violence—and especially to celebrate them by becoming peacemakers ourselves.
Veterans For Peace has a catchy motto that some members regularly use: “If you are not a veteran for peace, then what are you a veteran for?” Upon reflecting on the words and deeds of St. Martin of Tours (and, of course, the eternal words of Jesus), should not Christians and, really, all people also say and believe: “If you are not a person for peace, then what are you for?”
Paul Dordal and John David Kudrick are the co-founders of the newly formed group, Christian Alliance For Peace (facebook.com/ChristianAllianceForPeace).
You can read the New People version here: St Martin of Tours: First Veteran For Peace