The Common Good
November-December 1998

Disarming Ignorance

by Phillip Berrigan | November-December 1998

Veterans look at the reality of war.

Come behold the works of the Lord....She makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; she breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; she burns the chariot in the fire (Psalm 46:8-9).

We Americans are a "how" people: How do we do this? How do we do that? What techniques or technology will "get the job done"?

Too seldom do we question our "how" with a "why." That error can take ruinous directions because the why implies a sense of consequences; the how always has consequences.

Since Hell, Healing, and Resistance is exclusively about war, here are a couple of imperative questions inspired by it: How do we end war? (It is only by disarming our hearts and the empire’s weapons.) How can we risk disarmament? (It is only by risking obedience to God, which is no risk at all since the risks of disarmament are nothing compared to the risks of armament.) How can a people disarm its government? It is only by insisting on disarmament, justice, and peace. A disarmed people and an armed government is an impossibility, a contradiction.

As a start, Americans must dispel the abysmal ignorance about war. Arguably one of the most violent people in history, we still know little about war. We can learn that war victimizes everyone and everything-the devious, blind old men who initiate war; the young soldiers who fight it; the innocent civilians maimed or killed by it; the environment fractured and poisoned by it.

Nobody wins in war. Everyone, and everything, loses.

A FIRST STEP toward disarmament would emphasize a spirituality of nonviolence. Information that tells the truth about war is required background.

Hell, Healing, and Resistance

is an ideal resource, written by veterans of World War I, World War II, and wars in Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf. It peels back the putrid veneer of war, strips it bare as The Big Lie. I’ve read the great anti-war novels: War and Peace, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Red Badge of Courage. But none moved me as this book did. Novels can dramatize war, but Hell, Healing, and Resistance depicts war in all its savagery and lunacy.

A close reading explains how Americans learn war, giving it mad, jingoistic support or a cowardly silence. As children we were a tabula rasa-a clean slate-vulnerable to the ambiguity of parents, children’s war games, the wasteland of television, the silence of classroom and pulpit, slanted history. Imperceptibly, the culture programmed us in violence. We developed the spirit and psychology of warriors. The veterans writing in Hell, Healing, and Resistance relate how they had to un-learn violence and war: tediously, agonizingly.

The authors give graphic accounts of how the military creates a warrior. The military "totalizes" a person, seducing and bludgeoning mind, conscience, will, emotion, personality. In Orwellian fashion, it attempts to remake a person into one who has no scruples about total war, about mass killing. With such mechanized versions as soldiers and hi-tech weaponry, we totaled Vietnam, Panama, Iraq-destroying military, infrastructure, civilians, children, the unborn, and the environment. As for Americans, we became totalitarian to wage total war.

What does a war-making society cost us? The veterans write of that also-$14 trillion since 1946 (past, present, and future wars); crumbling infrastructure and cities; escalating poverty and homelessness; polluted air, soil, and water; high homicide rates; and so on. The violence of nuclear and interventionary gamesmanship is so colossal that it infects everyone and everything. The veterans reveal personal cost as well-separation, loneliness, danger to life and limb, and moral perplexity about killing, guilt, despair.

This book is a rarity-a scathing, authoritative (who knows war like a veteran?) indictment of war. It is excellent enough to be hesitant about reservations. But where is the nuclear warrior-the Air Force or Navy launch officer? Why are so few of Hallack’s veterans resisters? Where are the counterparts of Charlie Liteky, George Mizo, Duncan Murphy, Roy Bourgeois? Perhaps some of these veterans/resisters would explain resistance as healing.

Yet no book can be the final word. Even as it stands, may Hell, Healing, and Resistance inspire sermons, give politicians and tycoons pause, educate families, lend meaning to classrooms and media broadcasts. As for the reader-buy the book, get it into your gut, pray to God, and act.

PHIL BERRIGAN, a member of Jonah House community in Baltimore, is currently serving a two-year sentence in federal prison for a Plowshares civil disobedience action.

Hell, Healing, and Resistance: Veterans speak. Daniel Hallack. Plough Publishing, 1998.

Sojourners relies on the support of readers like you to sustain our message and ministry.

Related Stories

Like what you're reading? Get Sojourners E-Mail updates!

Sojourners Comment Community Covenant

I will express myself with civility, courtesy, and respect for every member of the Sojourners online community, especially toward those with whom I disagree, even if I feel disrespected by them. (Romans 12:17-21)

I will express my disagreements with other community members' ideas without insulting, mocking, or slandering them personally. (Matthew 5:22)

I will not exaggerate others' beliefs nor make unfounded prejudicial assumptions based on labels, categories, or stereotypes. I will always extend the benefit of the doubt. (Ephesians 4:29)

I will hold others accountable by clicking "report" on comments that violate these principles, based not on what ideas are expressed but on how they're expressed. (2 Thessalonians 3:13-15)

I understand that comments reported as abusive are reviewed by Sojourners staff and are subject to removal. Repeat offenders will be blocked from making further comments. (Proverbs 18:7)