Truth Commission on Conscience in War
Reflection by Kyle Caldwell
After a day of flights and a night in the heart of Camden, NJ, my wife and I settled into a quaint and comfortable bed and breakfast on the edge of Harlem. We were there so that I could attend the Truth Commission on Conscience in War (TCCW) as a commissioner. As we headed into the heart of the city to take in the sights we stopped for a short breather in Central Park. I had stepped away for a minute to come back to my wife engaged in conversation with a young middle-eastern woman. Donning the full head scarf in keeping with Islamic modesty this young girl was ogling over our two-month old daughter we had brought along for the ride. I sat and watched for a minute, the joy that filled this woman’s face; in her eyes, I saw something of a pure soul so I decided to give her the best “As-Salāmu `Alaykum” this Tennessee boy could conjure up.
For some reason this incident is one of the few moments that defines the TCCW for me. It was God’s grace that I got to meet this woman on the eve of a conference to discuss conscience in war. Come to find out it was most appropriate of God to arrange this short meeting, the woman and her family were refugees from the war in Iraq. They had lived in Baghdad. The absence of a father on their little walk in the park was even more haunting given this revelation, who knows if he was merely at work or if he was gone? Nonetheless, this meeting gave me a newfound conviction about my attendance of the TCCW; no matter how small or large the crowd, the event, or the outcome, we must speak against the senseless wars that are carried out in our name and on our behalf.
Rewind a few months back to an article published by an extremely “right” oriented think tank called “The Institute on Religion and Democracy.” The author perceived this commission as being composed of, “a who’s who of far-left religious activism. The testifiers are mostly a small circle of embittered veterans and conspiracy theorists…” This couldn’t have been further from the truth. Take for example Jake Diliberto an unashamed evangelical and politically conservative Christian who would combat that notion in a heartbeat. Or consider the many commissioners who where Just War theorists, something I did not expect outright and was rather surprised about. Many times when someone would dive too far into pacifism the Just
War Theorists were there to bridle us back into the true intent of our commission, which was a
conversation about the need for just and equitable regulations for military conscientious objectors. Primarily we were there to discuss the notion of selective conscientious objection.
Selective conscientious objection is the idea that a military member should be able to object to a certain campaign, war or operation without having to file for an administrative discharge. It is the notion that service men and women have the right to a vote and it should be cast not every four years, but by their conscience every day. This is not some hyper-liberal rhetoric. In times past we have been warned by the likes of Presidents Truman and Kennedy, as well as Libertarian economists such as Henry Hazlitt that the number one stifle of our liberty is the military industrial complex. War for money is a vote for oppression, war tempered by conscience leads to a more just peace.
This is such a radical notion that I wonder if our critic might have been somewhat frightened by it, that is if they even read up on our agenda. I wonder how fearful they might be of ideas such as the disbanding of the military after each war or of a noninterventionist foreign policy. If it is these ideas that they loathe, then they loathe the very core ideas behind the American Revolution in the first place, ideas which should be seen as conservative if we are going to be generous to the term.
I think the best synopsis of the event came when Shane Claiborne stated that he thought that this was one of the best events of its kind he had attended. I asked why and he replied that it had all the right people in attendance at the right time. The Truth Commission on Conscience
in War was just that. It was fair in that it brought diverse voices to the table. It was just in that the testifiers were former chaplains, Marine officers, Army Sergeants and a mother who lost her son in Iraq. If these are people that we easily dismiss then in essence we have already dismissed ourselves. The most memorable quote came the first night from author Chris Hedges, who said that “for centuries America has spoken a language of violence to the world, and now the world is speaking back to us in our language.”
To learn more about the Truth Commission on Conscience in War and the Guild’s continuing work with that project, go to www.conscienceinwar.org. You can also “Like” the commission at www.facebook.com/conscience.in.war.