A Pagan Primer - 13

So, I’m thinking about Memorial Day. It’s not exactly a Pagan holiday, but it is a holiday which touches many pagans. And I’m wondering to myself, what does this mean to a Pagan?

I come from a family that sort of has a military tradition. My Dad served in the Navy. Both of my grandfathers were in the Army, and my Dad’s father died because of mustard gas that he encountered in France in WW1. He died when my father was about 3 weeks old.

I had an Uncle who was a Green Beret, another who was a Marine, and my Godfather was in the Army during the Korean “conflict”. I served in the Air Force, the Air National Guard, and the Army National Guard. So, Memorial Day does mean a bit to me.

But looking at things as a Pagan, I have to think of the Rede … “An it harm none, do what thou wilt”. What does this mean when a person contemplates military service?

(Right now, I think that it’s a good time to mention that while this is PaganFM!, and while I hope to speak TO all Pagans, that my training and study is mostly Wiccan. There might be some things that others will disagree with, and I apologize for that. As varied as our culture is, it’s difficult to make statements that apply to everyone, and I really can’t speak about things that I really haven’t studied in depth. There are some traditions that value honorable military service, and there are some traditions that are quite pacifistic. So, for tonight, this is really my own opinion.)

On the surface, many see the “harm none” and assume that as at least a Wiccan, this means one must take a pacifist or non-combatant position. If you remember a few weeks back though, we did speak about the Rede as not implying that one could never do harm, but that any action which might result in harm needs to be carefully thought out.

When it comes to military service though, we live in a difficult time. In tribal communities, rather than in large nations, the choice is usually very clear. If the tribe is threatened, all able-bodied people who are capable of fighting will defend the tribe from whatever the immediate threat is. We don’t live in that sort of world though. We live in a world and a country where our military services will come to the aid of other nations, strive to prevent perceived future attacks, engage in “nation-building” and engage in many other missions.

The United States military is not simply based at home, but around the world, with bases in many countries. Its purpose is not merely to protect our own, but it is also a tool to promote our own interests world-wide.

So, for the American Pagan considering military service, we really need to look at the Rede and discover what “harm none means.

One of the areas that I have a great respect for the Catholic Church is in their position regarding warfare. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines what might be considered justification for warfare as follows:

The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
• the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
• all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
• there must be serious prospects of success;
• the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the "just war" doctrine. The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.

While I don’t entirely agree with this philosophy, it is a good starting point. Part of the trouble with this is that it doesn’t really tell an individual anything about personal military service, especially during times when a war may not be immanent or in progress.

What it does say about war is that there are times when it is justified. It says that when an aggressor attacks, it is permissible to raise a defense. It says though that all other means, beside warfare need to be examined and tried, or shown to have no chance of success.

The last bullet point in the list, “The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated” is very much in line with the Wiccan Rede. It compels us to consider our means as well as our motives. It requires that we consider the outcome of our actions prior to taking them. We don’t need to use a sledge-hammer to drive a finishing nail, and we don’t need to destroy an entire city because one man is hiding there.

I think that for the individual contemplating military service though, there are things to consider.
• What is the likelihood that the country will be at war during your service?
• Do you agree that that particular war is a “just war”?
• Are you willing to follow the lawful orders given you?
• What are your motivations for joining the military?
• Will you serve in a capacity that reflects your beliefs?
• Do you intend on following through with your commitment even if your country goes to war during your enlistment period?

I’m not going to talk about the current war in Iraq … I have my own feelings, but it’s not up to me to decide for anyone else whether they should consider that war just. The point is that if you are considering military service you need to examine within yourself if you believe that war to be just. If you do, then it is likely your duty, if you are able, to serve. If you don’t, then it is likely your duty to oppose it.

Going beyond military service, I’d also like to talk for a moment about the other side … those who oppose war.

It seems that many people today who oppose war are categorized as somehow hating our troops. While there might be some people who blame the soldiers for warfare, this is certainly not true of all who oppose the current war. Neither is it true that all who wear a uniform support or enjoy warfare.

Warfare, as an end, rather than a means is wrong. That point I’ll make categorically. Without a goal that provides for a better life for all, warfare is nothing more than a senseless waste of life. With the theory of “Just wars”, warfare should not be indefinite nor without a goal of a betterment of life for all involved. Those who find a particular war does not provide for these things have as much a duty to protest that war as those who feel the war is just have the duty to wage it.

We live in a world where there are competing viewpoints. We also live in a world where people seem compelled to hold particular viewpoints, many of which are polarized. Somehow we are required to either support or oppose the current war. We can’t simply say “I support the troops, but I’m not certain about the war”. People such as that are considered fence-sitters and that itself is negative.

While most people have decided their position on the war we are currently engaged in, I hope that most of us can recognize that a desire for peace is not a bad thing. While we need people who are willing to fight when necessary, we also desperately need those who are willing to work for peace.

Sometimes these are the same people, but usually not. Warriors are not usually the ones who negotiate treaties. Activists for peace often press the politicians into seeking that peace. They are important in letting the country know that even when a war is deemed necessary, that it is just as necessary that such wars come to an end.

I think that I’ll end today with a speech
by Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce. He gave this speech of surrender in 1877.
I am tired of fighting.
Our chiefs are killed.
Looking Glass is dead.
Toohulhulsote is dead.
The old men are all dead.
It is the young men who say no and yes.
He who led the young men is dead.
It is cold and we have no blankets.
The little children are freezing to death.
My people, some of them,
Have run away to the hills
And have no blankets, no food.
No one know where they are-
Perhaps they are freezing to death.
I want to have time to look for my children
And see how many of them I can find.
Maybe I shall find them among the dead.
Hear me, my chiefs, I am tired.
My heart is sad and sick.
From where the sun now stands
I will fight no more forever. - -

(c) 2008, Deirdre Anne Hebert