Conscientious Objection

Soldiers of Conscience: The War Within Those Trained to Kill

Life is easier in black and white, when things are clearly right or clearly wrong. We tend not to like the gray very much. It was certainly easier for me to hard-headedly disapprove of all war, including those who took part in it. But, working at an orphanage in India, I met Chad, a young man fresh from Iraq with an American flag tattoo, and he muddled up my clarity.

Valor, Honor, Conscience

When Jason Webb joined the Army in 2004, he hoped his assignment as a telecommunications operator would keep him at arm’s length from combat. Though Webb, now 24, wanted to serve his country, he felt uneasy about killing another human being. He hoped a desk job would save him from a crisis of conscience.

It didn’t. After seven months stationed in Heidelberg, Germany, Webb decided he could no longer live with himself if he stayed in the Army, so he applied for honorable discharge as a conscientious objector (CO) under Army Regulation 600-43. Several weeks later, with his CO application still in process, Webb was deployed to Iraq. A graduate of The Master’s College, an evangelical Christian school in California, Webb knew his family wanted him to fulfill his term of service. He also knew he couldn’t fire a gun at another person. So although he deployed to Iraq as ordered, Webb would not carry a working weapon on patrols. Now he had nothing but conscience to protect him.

“The reason God has given [humans] a conscience is to be a moral compass,” Webb wrote in his application for classification as a CO, “to serve as a guide to what is right and what is wrong. It is for that reason that I cannot kill, participate in warfare, or support any organization that does.”

Webb’s transformation from enlister to objector is not an aberration. Since the start of operations in Iraq in March 2003, a growing number of American soldiers have been seeking CO discharges. How many remains disputed. According to an Army Public Affairs spokesperson, 188 soldiers applied for CO discharges between January 2003 and December 2005; of those applications, 87 were approved.

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2006
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News Bites

  • Gold Medal. Palestinian Christian Naim Ateek, founder of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem, received an award from the Peace Fellowship of the Episcopal Church in the United States for his peace work among Israelis and Palestinians.
  • Nuke-Free Church. The World Council of Churches, which represents 550 million Christians, in May called on Iran to halt uranium enrichment, condemned the U.S. for refusing to take a nuclear strike option against Iran off the table, and promoted a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.
  • Glory Goal. Anglican clergy bested Muslim imams in a pre-World Cup 2006 interfaith soccer match held in Germany to raise awareness of racism and human trafficking issues associated with the international soccer event.
  • Good Fight. Army Spc. Katherine Jashinski received a four-month prison term in May for refusing deployment to Afghanistan. “As the first woman GI to publicly take a stand against this war and to declare herself a [conscientious objector], Katherine’s actions are very significant,” said Aidan Delgado of Iraq Veterans Against the War.
  • Be Happy. Emory University’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion will launch a research project this fall on “the pursuit of happiness.” Studies will include the connection between self-care and unselfish love, and between traditional religious and scientific findings on happiness.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2006
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