14 November 2012

Answering Questions #21- Conscientious Objector Issues



A friend in Turkey recently wrote to me regarding a Christian man who is in a difficult situation. Many countries have conscription and Turkey happens to be on that does not have a provision for conscientious objectors. The penalty varies but if he refuses to do the mandatory 'service' he might be looking at anything from a few months up to a year or so in prison. He has a wife and child.
 
This is a big deal in that country. Most people do the military time without any hesitation and it's a very patriotic, very nationalistic country and his stance is causing something of a sensation. It's been a top story in many newspapers.

My friend (who is American) is also a close friend to this man and he wrote to me concerning the situation. He asked me questions like:

What's your position on conscientious objection to military service -- I guess in the Anabaptist sense?  I know you don't approve of militarism, imperialism, etc., but is there a form of military service of which you could approve, in a modern secession state, for example, which you might help to form?  Purely voluntary in nature?  Defense of domestic territory versus interests abroad?   I guess I should also ask for your working definition of militarism.

Reason I ask is that X---- just went national as a conscientious objector.  He has not yet done his mandatory military service, and it seems as if he's willing to "fall on his sword" for this issue.  Says he's not against the military per se, but for reasons of Christian faith says he himself cannot serve in the current Turkish military. Do you approve?  And whether you do or not, what wisdom might you offer him as a fellow believer?

I responded (and for this publication added some endnotes where I thought it prudent).......

At this point in time I would definitely be a conscientious objector. I would definitely call myself pacifistic but probably not an absolute pacifist.

Like many I believe we are under obligation to turn the other cheek and yet there might times when we can (or perhaps even should) use violence to stop someone else (particularly the weak) from being harmed. We don't defend ourselves, but we can at times (with sorrow and reluctance) defend others.

Others have taken this argument and projected it into geopolitical discussions. Nations cannot turn the other cheek because they have the duty to protect people etc... (It's not really an applicable argument, a case of apples and oranges.)

And as far governments appealing to aiding the weak or 'defensive' war or 'just war' theory, let's face it these are easily manipulated and can be used as cloaks or covers for offensive action. There's also some way to frame the argument to make it where you're the victim and the other party is the danger. Some of these arguments are also tainted with Constantinian reasoning.

So here's where it gets tough. Usually draft boards want to look at the issue at the ideological level and they might pick my brain and say...hey, you're not a true pacifist, at least not in the absolute sense.

And they might be right. And so I would want to look at each situation in order for me to decide whether or not I would claim objector status... and now you venture into the realm of politics, the ethical considerations and implications that go with it. And of course these issues are open for debate.

For me, the American military has not fought a defensive war since perhaps 1812 and even that conflict was pretty bogus. I would have been a Loyalist at the time of the Revolution. Apparently at least one branch of my family was....interestingly the one with some Swiss Anabaptist roots. They went to Canada and re-entered the United States in the 1850's....still speaking German.

WWII of course is the great crisis for every pacifist and I certainly cannot condemn those who fought in it. But the reality is, the United States didn't go to war to stop genocide, nor to stop Fascism. They went because it was in their interest to do so. In the Pacific while I would hardly suggest the Japanese were a good or even neutral force, the historical record is pretty clear. America was prepping and pushing for war and we (with the British and French) had colonial interests at stake.

By 1940 it was clear the war's scope would be global. Did the United States put a gun to Japan's head and say, "Attack us!"....no, but there are not a few historians and analysts that would almost go that far. It certainly opened the domestic door for him...to pursue goals and agendas the United States already had. 11 September functioned in a similar way. Many Neo-Conservative thinkers and others of that ilk  had throughout the 1990's declared 'another Peal Harbour' would be necessary in order for them to begin to initiate and implement their global hegemonic agenda. Well they sure got it didn't they?

Then we get into the whole issue of war doctrine....limited war, total war, and terms of surrender. I realize to most folks it's not the job of the average civilian to work these things out and certainly not the low-ranking private in uniform. However, as Christians I do believe that we have to.

Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany were forces of great evil in the world and ultimately had to be stopped and yet, if the United States had not entered World War I as it did, demanding the Armistice and subsequent Treaties that it did, if Wilson had not taken the actions he did to dismember the Habsburg Empire, if the United States and other Western powers had not intervened in Asia throughout the 19th century....

If, if, if.

There's no end to it but the more you learn the more cynical you become of the wars and the people behind them. And then when a false crisis like what happened in 2002 when the Iraq War was being sold to the American public takes place...readers of history don't buy it. In fact followers of current events didn't buy it. The 'threat' of Iraq had been brutalized and decimated for over a decade with over a million of its citizens. When the evil Madeleine Albright was confronted with the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children due to America's genocidal sanctions. She did not dispute the numbers or the cause of the deaths, she merely affirmed the price was 'worth it'. America's interests with regard to Saddam were worth the destruction of a country and lives. But then we were supposed to forget all of America's history with Saddam going back to the 1970's and suddenly believe Iraq was an imminent threat to the United States?

Basically about the only situation I can think of that I would take up arms is if Atilla and the Huns or Timur-i-leng were coming out of the woods toward my family. I know someone like George Bush would have (absurdly) suggested that was the scenario in 2002 with regard to Saddam Hussein. Romney suggested the same recently with regard to Ahmadinejad, and we heard the same thing back in 1964 and 1917. I think you can crawl back through history and find a myriad of such false threats and lies. I'll wait until I see the whites of their eyes. I realize that may not make for good policy but as a Christian I care little for the world's policies and their Babel building. That's not what I'm here for. Often these countries bring the grief upon themselves.

With regard to the courageous brother in Asia Minor, I have to say this is quite sobering and yet very interesting. I've been wondering for years how the Christian community responds to conscription. Were I citizen there I would in no way (under the guidelines expressed above) want to 'serve' in the armed forces of that nation. Again....for me it comes down somewhat to the particulars.

For me it would be the NATO role which was always somewhat dubious but since 1991 has taken on a pretty sinister role, which I'm sorry to say I/we played a part in that during the Balkan operations.

It would be the unofficial alliance with Israel which I realize under the present government has been largely sundered. Nevertheless in the recent past the said nation has been tied in with Israel and the United States in a sort of triple entente in dealing with the region. This has played out and in many cases adversely affected the politics of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Russia. It's a nasty business and has only grown more confusing as the nature of these relationships has changed. But literally at this point anyone wearing a uniform for any of the said nations....is a pawn on a chessboard, a cheap piece to be thrown away...or, a piece used to destroy and throw away one of the pawns on the other side.

At this point I know conscripts sent east might be called upon to aid and assist in the further erasure of cultural legacies left by previous inhabitants whether they be Armenian, Assyrian/Syriac (I realize they're not 100% the same), or Kurdish. They are not Mountain Turks who have forgotten their language[i] and what has gone on there is frankly pretty appalling. What's more appalling is when you consider that in Hakkari or Yuksekova[ii] they're terrorists but across the border in Duhok or Rawanduz[iii] they're freedom fighters. But from 1980-90 the Iraqi factions  were also reckoned terrorists, because during the era after the Iranian Revolution (1979) suddenly the Kurds who the United States had helped (through the Shah)....now they were enemies because the Iraqi Baathist Saddam was suddenly our ally. But then when we decided he wasn't in 1990, then suddenly the Iraqi Kurds were our friends again! Just look at the life of Mustafa Barzani. It's crazy! After World War II, driven out of Iran, he's in the USSR, then back in Iraq, but then later when he breaks with the Baathists he's getting help from Israel, Iran, and the United States. The after his death Iran flips, Iraq is our friend, Kurds are getting gassed and then it all flips again in 1990.

It's all madness and yet I always think not of these colourful figures but all the people, all the civilians, all the women and children who die in the process. All for what? For nothing. They're caught up in a game. You might survive but you might have to kill in order to survive.

So I wouldn't just stand there and let my family, or for that matter someone else's family be slaughtered, but wearing a uniform of a nation state? No thanks.

A secession state? No, I don't think so. Of course Syria is the present example for that kind of argument.

As much as I sympathize with those who have suffered under the Assad's, the reality is...I wish they had not taken up arms in the first place. When old Hafez[iv] died in 2000 and Bashar took over it was the Damascus Spring. It looked like things were going to get better for Syria but then Bashar spooked and it was all shut down. Syria is yet another one of these countries, like Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq...even Turkey....that aren't real countries. In the case of the latter, there has been a fairly successful attempt to make it so...but at what cost?

These nations all developed during the post WWI frenzy and a bunch of ignorant French and British diplomats started carving up the Ottoman Empire. They were doing it to Asia Minor too, but as we know....a certain someone intervened and put a stop to it and in the process to care of a Hellenic problem that had arisen.

These other countries weren't so fortunate (if you want to look at it that way???)....and you have these false formations, these nation states that are in reality amalgamations of diverse peoples and cultures. The only way they could stay intact was through strong central rule and frankly the secular rule of the so-called Baathists has helped to centralize that rule. The Alawite Assads in Syria have provided a secure environment for Sunni Arab, Alawite, Druze, Kurd, Assyrian, Armenian, Turcoman, and Circassian people to live. In the end though the rule was unpleasant people care more about security than they do freedom. That has always been the case. Democracy in Syria will mean no security for the minorities. The post 11 September events lit the fuse of a long simmering powder keg. Animosities, frustrations, and retributive wrath reaching back to Western involvement in the 1800's have come alive and these have only increased with the presence and activity of Israel and American actions post 2001.

So while everyone sympathizes with the Syrian separatists....it's not that simple! Russia is being made out to be the obstructionist 'bad guy' in our media and yet in many ways she's reverting (as is Turkey) to more traditional geopolitical roles. I'm writing a paper on that if you're interested.

So what I'm saying is....it's a terrible mess and very complicated. There usually aren't even clear and valid reasons for secession.

In America it's just plain heresy to question the '76 Rebellion but taxation without representation and corrupt courts are hardly a reason to justify taking up arms and killing people. Rather it is the 'Christian' advocacy and legitimization of the 1776 revolt that is a heresy.

Hysteria is usually what works best. We see it here every day and I'm sure it's no different there. Enemies are everywhere! Be afraid!

During World War I they actually had people believing the Kaiser was going to cross the ocean and overrun Canada and the United States. It's hilarious.

"We'd be speaking German!" many righteously retort.
"So what?" I say. "I'd rather speak German than kill another man."

Defense of domestic territory? Again, I'll defend the innocent, but governments lie and manipulate and convince people (as they did during World War I) that to defend the domestic territory it was both prudent and expedient to cross the ocean and intervene in a foreign war. Such a consideration would call for discernment and I think about 99% of the time it will be found wanting.

In the case of our brother....I cannot believe his nation is presently under any threat of invasion. Some warmongers in this country have tried to suggest there might be a threat from their southern neighbour, but I highly doubt the regime in Damascus wants the rather formidable TSK[v] to get involved. They certainly trembled when Ankara threatened them in 1998, leading to Damascus expelling Ocalan![vi]

Turkey's involvement means NATO and while some unbalanced and ill-informed people believe the Twelvers in Tehran want a World War....I do not believe this to be the case. What little damage they would inflict would only result in their complete annihilation. They are Persians. They are not fools.

So are domestic defense concerns legitimate? They could be, but rarely are....and again, there's no way I would wear a uniform or trust a government to be truthful or even wise. You want to take up arms in defense? Defend your local village with some friends you can trust.
I've always found the Swiss model to be interesting. Everyone has an army assault rifle and they drill from time to time....they don't mess with anyone else and no one messes with them.

It wouldn't work in the United States.

I'm comfortable with the Wiki definition of Militarism.

Militarism is defined as:
the belief or desire of a government or people that a country should maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests.

The key words being strong, capability, aggressively, promote, and interests. Those details are what matter.

The words themselves might be innocent enough, but using the military (the threat of violence) to promote interests is basically a geopolitical strategy rooted in something I would consider to be quite evil and incompatible with Christian values I would wish to promote.

Add aggressive and it can become not only malicious but terroristic.
If the nation's interests include a wide range of economic considerations, resources etc.... then you've created a monster.

And to do all this has a profound effect upon the culture of the nation. Eisenhower, after helping to foster American militarism into its adulthood, seemed to reflect a moment and warned the public in his rather insightful farewell address. He suggested that it would create a new culture, a new mentality, that would penetrate every facet of society, including the Church. He was right.

Just curious, if the issue for our brother is the 'current' state of the military....is the problem the current AKP administration and its soft Islamist agenda? Would he be okay with it if the traditional Kemalists[vii] like the CHP were in power? the DYP? the ANAP of Ozal?

If that's the case....is it really more an issue of politics?

By the way this would be very strange to me since the CIA and the Pentagon have played no small role in destabilizing the domestic politics of that country and in some cases. like 1980 (for certain) and in 1997 probably aided and abetted in bring about the coup d'├ętat. The legitimacy of these governments would at best seem...questionable. It's all the more wicked when you consider the role the Grey Wolves have played and how during the Cold War they were backed by the CIA. I could say much more on that front, but will refrain.[viii]

For example someone might say I'm not a true pacifist. Like I said I'm pacifistic, but there are also political and historical considerations...that in terms of serving in national military structure...make me an absolute pacifist.

In his case is it really 'just' politics? Is it just the AKP[ix] that's the issue?

I'm guessing??? his reasons 'might' be more akin to mine in which case he has my every sympathy. He does anyway because of his wife and child and the difficulty of the situation.

There are those that would say you should stand your ground and face the punishment. However, we all have overlapping obligations which are not always easy to place in a hierarchy. Some would say, do the year in prison if that's what needs to be done.

I might say you have an obligation to your testimony...which (considering the media attention) might be said to have already been accomplished. But you have a higher obligation to your wife and son. Flight is a valid response. We are pilgrims on this earth and owe no allegiance to any state or people apart from the Kingdom of Risen Lord. I don't think that's cowardice. If his reasons are the same as mine or an even purer pacifism (along Anabaptist lines)....then it's actually a form of persecution. Get out of there while he still can....if he still can.

I would imagine incarceration is rough for an objector. Even convicts can be oddly patriotic and the prison has its own code. From what I've read he may have ongoing trouble after release...harassment by the local authorities and public.

This is a huge issue because even if he were to leave....there are still other Christians he leaves behind. What are they saying? I guess most just go along with it all? Do they do it because it's just social convention, something everyone does? Or do they actually believe that it is a good and right thing to do? In terms of a 'rubber meets the road' issue for the Turkish Church...this seems pretty big.

Will his actions possibly lead to 'trouble' for the community? In no way am I suggesting that means he should just 'suit up' and pick up an HK or M16....not at all, but I'm wondering will this prove a catalyst for the community to start working through these issues?

I wish I was there. Wow, I'd love to talk about this stuff with those folks.

Hope some of this helps. Sorry it's so long but you know me....I don't like quick and easy answers. That's not how I think. Please let me know his thoughts as well as your own and keep me posted.

All of you are in my prayers.


[i] As Kurds were referred to by the Turks up until recently. Turkey was only allowed to contain Turks. Other ethnicities were not allowed to identify themselves as anything but Turks and Turkish was the only language allowed to be spoken.

[ii] Towns in Southeastern Turkey, part of Kurdistan

[iii] Towns in Northern Iraq, also part of Kurdistan

[iv] Hafez al-Assad, father of the present ruler of Syria

[v] Turkish Armed Forces

[vi] Abdullah Ocalan, former head of the PKK

[vii] Parties emulating the ideas of Mustafa Kemal, better known as Ataturk

[viii] Lots of wicked guerilla warfare, insurgencies, assassinations, stirring up troubles in the pan-Turkic realm. Typical CIA tactic, use death squad/guerilla bands to fight your wars, foment troubles, destabilize other countries etc...

They were involved in the Caucasus in all the terrible business between Azerbaijan and Armenia. They were also used against the PKK and ASALA and in some cases were involved in False Flag operations, very much like what the Joint Chiefs wanted to do with Operation Northwoods....and some would say after Dallas in 1963, they did. Whether it was the CIA and Joint Chiefs or all of them working in congress with Hoover's FBI, from the 1960's to the present the underworld is filled with provocateurs and many crimes, attacks and potential attacks are more than a little suspicious.

[ix] The current party ruling Turkey, headed by Erdogan and (it would seem) survivors of yet another attempted CIA coup employing the Turkish military.

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