In Praise of Tolerance

I have to say that I was very impressed with how my husband’s office handled their holiday party on Friday. Family members were invited, they had a big potluck, and a charity raffle to benefit the Wounded Warrior program. The neatest part for me, though, was that it was officially billed as a “holiday” party – not Christmas party – and there was no Christian invocation or overt Christian influence anywhere. It was quite a relief, in fact. I wasn’t going to fuss with anyone else’s winter holidays, but if the organizers just assumed that everybody there would be Christian, I was going to point out their incorrect assumption to them. Actually, the colonel leading it specifically said, “I’m not going to say a prayer because this is an official function, but I would ask you to think about all that we have to be grateful for and to think about those who are less fortunate, and how we can help them.”

So all of the people who say it’s unpatriotic to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas?” They’re saying the military is unpatriotic. If more people would follow the government’s lead in actually respecting the First Amendment and just plain old being polite to others, we’d all get along better.

Tolerance for the win!

Medal of Honor winner

I’d like to note that today saw the first Medal of Honor bestowed on a living recipient since the Vietnam War. SSG Giunta was awarded the Medal of Honor for acts which included rescuing a comrade being carried away by the Taliban.

But this isn’t good enough for AFA’s Bryan Fischer. No, this is part of the trend of “feminizing” the Medal of Honor, because according to one reporter’s account, none of the Medals of Honor awarded in these conflicts have been for killing the enemy. Now, that’s a matter of some debate, since it’s not like a Medal of Honor citation comes with a box score, but I always thought that we awarded the Medal of Honor for, you know, honorable actions. Like, say, Sergeant York, who notably captured – not killed! – 132 Germans. Or maybe like Colonel Bud Day, who did amazing things enduring captivity as a POW. Or maybe like SFC Randy Shugart and MSG Gary Gordon, who were decorated posthumously for sacrificing themselves trying to save the crew of the downed helicopter, as told in the book Black Hawk Down.

Fischer goes on to say that dying to save others isn’t good enough because it’s not what Jesus did. According to Fischer, “Jesus’ act of self-sacrifice would ultimately have been meaningless – yes, meaningless – if he had not inflicted a mortal wound on the enemy while giving up his own life.” I grew up the daughter of a Christian theologian, and have read a bit of theology myself, and I’ve never come across this theory of grace. Heck, the guy manages to describe the Crucifixion without ever using the word grace. Fischer is trying to say that Jesus’ supreme act of self-sacrifice, submitting himself to a death decreed by someone who had no authority over him, a death as a common criminal, a death full of shame and torture, that this act was Jesus’ triumphant way of killing the Devil? Whatever Jesus was doing at the Crucifixion, I’m pretty sure that being a terrifying commanding general killing other beings wasn’t it. Notably, Shugart and Gordon were honored for going into a situation that was certain death for them where they still might not have been able to protect the air crew.

As far as the military side goes, Fischer quotes Patton about getting the other guy to die for his cause, which is all good, but Patton wasn’t running the kind of war we’re facing in Afghanistan today. Particularly in situations where one is trying to defeat an insurgency, killing the enemy just creates more of them. More people get radicalized because they’re angry that their cousin died, and those people go to work and fight for the Taliban. If you manage not to kill their cousin, they might work with the Americans, or even join the Afghan army and work on keeping the peace and suppressing the Taliban. It’s not that simple, of course, but my point here is that Fischer seems to think that saving lives isn’t good enough for the Medal of Honor. On the contrary, killing isn’t good enough for the Medal of Honor just because it’s killing – in this war, killing might be a strategic mistake.

On a side note, my husband recounted to me the time that a Medal of Honor winner from Vietnam came to speak at the Air Force Academy. He held up his medal and said, “You only get the opportunity to get one of these because somebody already really f***ed up.” That was the message he wanted to impress on these future officers: if you do your job well, nobody in your unit will have to put himself in mortal danger above and beyond the call of duty, as the citation goes. Nobody will have to die to save others, and that’s an ideal they should strive for as leaders. That makes it pretty clear that the military itself doesn’t think the goal is to get out there and kill lots of the enemy and win medals and honors for killing.

More importantly, killing isn’t honorable just because it’s killing. I think that people who struggle with trying to embody a warrior ethic, especially those who follow a path like Asatru, would argue this even more strenuously than I do. If I recall correctly, in the myths, what gets somebody entrance to Valhalla isn’t how many enemy he killed, but the way he himself died. Oh, and about feminizing – let’s just take note of Freya, the leader of the Valkyries, here, shall we? Or Scathach, for those who prefer Celtic myths. Anybody who lives up to the standards of those goddesses has my full respect as a warrior, regardless of their biological plumbing. I’d like to see Fischer try to explain to Scathach how “feminine” means “not as good a warrior.”

In fact, I would argue that if we valorize killing for its own sake, we contribute to the kind of culture that produces sick people like the accused leaders of a group of soldiers who are facing charges of murdering Afghan civilians. If those men did what they’re accused of, the leaders clearly have several things wrong with them, but just the idea that they could get other people to go along with them speaks to the lack of a warrior ethos centered on honor. The kind of honor we ought to be praising and highlighting is the kind that kills when necessary, yes, but only when necessary. And the kind that saves when possible. Like SSG Giunta. Thank you, Sergeant Giunta, and I honor you, and your comrades, because you deserve it.

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.

Order of the Pentacle News from Circle Sanctuary

On Sunday, October 31, 2010, a memorial was held for Pagan Navy veteran Bruce Kirk Parsons at Circle Cemetery, located at Circle Sanctuary headquarters near Barneveld, Wisconsin.

Several members of the Order of the Pentacle assisted Selena Fox, high priestess of Circle Sanctuary, in conducting the rite, which included cremains scattering & interment as well as the dedication of his VA-issued pentacle grave marker.His marker
is the 8th VA-issued pentacle marker at Circle Cemetery.

The ceremony was held as part of a pubic dedication of the newly expanded Circle Cemetery.

Photos and an article about the memorial are in the November 1, 2010 issue of the Wisconsin State Journal.

More information about Circle Cemetery:

In Memoriam: Bruce Parsons photos & tributes: