3 August 2005

Freedom in jail

After the senseless destruction he observed while stationed in Iraq in 2003, US Army Sgt. Kevin Benderman became a conscientious objector to war, applied for CO status and refused to return to Iraq with his unit for a second tour last January.

The Army charged the 10-year veteran with Desertion and Missing Movement by Design. Last week, Sgt. Benderman was found not guilty of Desertion, but was convicted of Missing Movement and sentenced to 15 months confinement.

Although I do not agree with the pacifistic basis of Sgt. Benderman's decision not to return to Iraq, I support fully his decision to obey his conscience. And I greatly respect his willingness to stand and face his accusers, to make his best case, and to take the legal consequences of his decision, rather than going AWOL or fleeing the country.

As a Christian I am convinced that, just as the Bible permits an individual to use deadly force to defend himself or his family from criminal attack, it also permits a nation's rulers to go to war to defend their nation when another nation aggresses against them. Thus, I believe that across-the-board pacifism the general philosophy of "non-violence" is unbiblical. But because the Bible also teaches that God alone is Lord of a man's conscience, I support Sgt. Benderman's actions, which he has taken out of obedience to his conscience.

I had once hoped to counsel my three sons (ages 17, 14 and 12) to serve our country by doing at least one hitch in the Marines or the Army. (I'm a USAF vet, and didn't think the USAF was "military enough.") But over the last several years, I've come to realize that the chances they would be ordered into an unjust military action were too great to take that chance, and our invasion of Iraq is but the latest example. So now I'm counseling my boys not to volunteer for military duty unless we go to war because of an actual or imminent attack by an enemy force. (And if that ever happened, I'd be right behind them, asking the recruiter if they could still use a 40-something jet engine mechanic who also knows how to shoot!)

Re. Sgt. Benderman's sentence, Debbie Clark writes:
Cpt. Gary Rowley, the ... company commander who had been flown in from Iraq to testify against Kevin, was quoted as saying, "He got what he deserved. He's doing 15 months in prison. We're serving 12 months in Iraq."

I have to admit that Cpt. Rowley does have a point there and, in that respect, Kevin has definitely got the sweeter deal. How much better to serve 15 months in prison as a free man of conscience than to serve 12 months in Iraq fighting an illegal war.
I'm grateful for Sgt. Benderman's honorable service and moral courage, and I hope that he will ultimately prevail against the Army. Keep him and his wife, Monica, in your prayers. Our nation desperately needs more conscientious men and women in the ranks of her military. May Sgt. Benderman's desire to do what is right, rather than what is merely expedient, inspire scores of others.


Kind of two minds on this one... ...you sign up for service, you should complete your duty. OTOH, I sympathize with the conscientious objection to what this person feels is a unjust war.