A letter to two chaplains

Gentlemen of the cloth:

First and foremost, sirs, my appreciation for your letters, and their heartfelt tone, as you critiqued my current column, “No yellow ribbons from this ex-marine.” Of all the letters received on the article, which ranged from adulatory to zealot-denunciatory, yours stood out among hundreds, as deserving an answer.

And I feel that this forum, and precisely this next column, is most appropriate to answer some of the expressed, or implied, questions and commentary in your letters; and also provide me with an opportunity to add to, and clarify, my position on “troop support.”

Both of you are my contemporaries, and although the three of us have seen most of the same events take place with different eyes – or for that matter different colored glasses, the three of us have shared not only the times but many of the circumstances. The three of us have seen what war can do to our nation and its people; and the damage inflicted in economic, physical, mental and moral terms. I also believe that the three of us find commonality in both the distaste for the pain and suffering as consequence of war, and the need for a societal balm to soothe the open wounds and unhealed scars which remain after each war. Wounds and scars that show up not just on the warriors, but on those who misguidedly, if not criminally, sent them to war; and those who, because of apathy, did nothing to help prevent war – and that includes most everyone.

Between the two of you, there are over five decades of service providing comfort, inspiration and support, not only for those you call Peace Keepers, whether in the military or paramilitary domains, but their families as well. One of you, D.S., as chaplain in law enforcement for over thirty years; the other, W.S., as chaplain in the military (now retired); you have been at the vanguard of conflict helping those you refer to as Peace Keepers… and for that, society is indebted to you.

It is in naming those you help Peace Keepers, however, where you and I are in major disagreement. Certainly, few would argue that law enforcement is entrusted with society’s peacekeeping functions, and those involved in police duties could deservedly be called Peace Keepers; although some would argue for the more relevant term: Peace Enforcers. But the military, after what has been in evidence for forty-plus years? I am afraid that the few peacekeeping missions where our military has participated are dwarfed by the many belligerent acts and unjust wars in which they have been involved.

How can we in good conscience call our soldiers Peace Keepers? Are we serious when we say that they kill and destroy in distant lands so as to preserve democracy and freedom for us? Can our military people be so brainwashed as to think for a moment that they are defending their homeland from terrorism? Are we all, soldiers and civilians, in a state of denial where honesty and reason just simply cannot play a part, and our conscience has become compartmentalized to hide that fact?
No, I cannot in good conscience support the troops, not knowing what they truly are: enforcers of an empire, not much different from mercenaries of old… even if they are our children, our brothers and sisters, those closest to our hearts.

But not supporting the troops does not mean that I do not support each and every individual who is part of the Armed Forces, including those in the commissioned officer ranks. I support them in all their struggles, particularly those of conscience. And I support them for the most basic and precious reason of all: they are all my brothers, human beings like me in need of support.

Not in criticality, but rather in quandary, I found it strange that your letters concentrated solely on the pain and suffering of those you minister and no one else. There is no mention of “the enemy,” be it lawbreakers or foreign fighters. Does humanity end at the tip of your Peace Keepers’ bayonets? I am certain that you don’t believe for a moment that such is the case… but I often question whether Americans, all of us, are too selfish in matters of humanity and distress. It’s always our dead, our wounded… our pain. Even if quantifiably we have inflicted those things to others manifold. Are people the Peace Keepers kill, maim and dispossess, perhaps children of a lesser god?

My dear chaplains, both of you have a very special mission in your ministry… but so do the rest of us, each fighting in our own way for a more peaceful world, for true brotherhood among all men; for a world where we are all Peace Seekers, and there is little or no need for Peace Keepers brandishing “at the ready” their bayonets.


Ben Tanosborn