SAINT MARTIN OF TOURS: THE FIRST VETERAN FOR PEACE

El_Greco_-_San_Martín_y_el_mendigoFROM “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

Anti-War Is Not Enough (Reflection)

Anti-Imperialist Button 1900I served thirteen years in the U.S. Army, including a consciousness-altering year of combat in Iraq.  Upon my return in 2010, I began the process of becoming an outspoken critic of war, especially U.S. wars. As Dwight D. Eisenhower said in 1946, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.” Yet, since re-engaging my anti-war activism I have discovered that hating war and being against violence is not enough. Because the causes of war are systemic, our whole way of organizing political and social life must change if we are ever really going to end war.

I know I am preaching to the choir when I repeat the immortal words of Jane Addams that “True peace is not the absence of war; it is the presence of justice.” This presence of justice, of course, can only be achieved when neo-liberal capitalist political, social, and economic systems, which create the impetus and machinery for war and the domination and subjugation of “weaker” peoples, are replaced by more equitable, human needs-based systems. Thus, true peace can only be established, not by simply holding a moral stance opposing war or witnessing to end violence, but by the more active engagement of joining the fight against imperialism—of intentionally opposing the neo-liberal capitalist system of the United States empire.

Recently, I have experienced pushback from some anti-war allies when I call for the expanded use of the term anti-imperialism. They say that the average person cannot understand the complexities of anti-imperialism.  Yet, this elitist position contributes to conflating instances of war with the systems that cause war, which keeps the anti-war movement in an infantile position where it doesn’t experience much success in thwarting or ending actual wars.

When I use the term imperialism, I mean when states, especially the United States, its allies, and their finance-capitalist handlers, attempt through huge corporate monopolies to exploit the resources of weaker nations.  Michael Parenti defines imperialism as “the process whereby the dominant politico-economic interests of one nation expropriate for their own enrichment the land, labor, raw materials, and markets of another people.” If the weaker nations do not submit to the imperialist’s expropriation, then various forms of violence (military interventions, sanctions, blockades, etc.) are used to keep them in line or to punish them. In the U.S. where there is a significant labor aristocracy (a large so-called “middle class”) the imperialist system is seen as beneficial for the “majority” and thus must be maintained by scapegoating any nation or people group that is opposed to the imperialist’s will (through racism, xenophobia, sexism, historical revisionism, etc.).

As a Christian and an Eastern-Rite priest I have come to understand the evil of imperialism not simply through my experiences in war or even studying political theory, but also through the Scriptures which are clear about God’s opposition to the oppression of the poor, violence, racism, xenophobia, sexism, and capitalistic greed. The church is complicit with the imperialists when it does not stand in solidarity with the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, not just in our own backyards or communities, but also with those around the world. If the church is not the church of the poor and the marginalized but supports the neo-liberal capitalist status quo, then it is not the church of God. It is part of the empire.

Nevertheless, being an anti-imperialist cannot only be based on a metaphysically derived moral position or personal experience. It must be based on the concrete needs of all people to live in safety and have their needs met in interdependent communities of mutuality. The anti-imperialist position is one that is also understood through scientific study, which empirically shows that our humanity and our planet are sustainable only through cooperation, not “free-market” competition (the basis of neo-liberal capitalism). Thus, anti-imperialists promote the inherent dignity and interconnectedness of all of life. Anti-imperialists oppose racism, patriarchy, sexism, fascism, homophobia, and anything that undermines the dignity of the human person and the environment where we live. Being an anti-imperialist is to stand for and with the worker, the tenant, the immigrant, the transgendered person—all marginalized people—and for the protection of our sacred environment.

So, simply being anti-war is only the first step in coming to understand the more mature and intersectional anti-imperialist stance, which is the true basis of an effective mass-movement for peace and justice.

(c) Paul Dordal, 2018