“Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right.” ― Henry David Thoreau,
This Remembrance Day I remember and honour a veteran. He is a teacher and mentor here in Newfoundland. I will not give his name. He is a great man. His greatness does not come from killing or battlefield prowess. His greatness emanates from his courage. It lives in his quest for understanding, and justice.
After being drafted and sent to fight and die in Viet Nam, he sought to understand those he was ordered were his enemy. He educated himself and learned about the history of Viet Nam and its liberation struggles. Indeed, he educated himself in something his policy-makers who gave orders did not understand, or chose to not understand.
From his education he came to know the United States was fighting on the wrong side in the Viet Nam conflict. In the midst of the darkest moments of the war, during the invasion of Cambodia, his officers gave him orders to carry a rifle and shoot at who they commanded were his enemy. When given these orders he showed bravery and had courage to seek right from wrong.
To oppose war is to seek justice.
His bravery led this veteran to throw his rifle to the ground, facing court–martial, stigma of disapproval for standing up against the biggest military machine the world had ever known, stating, ‘No, I will not kill. I will not fight for you. I will not cooperate with your war. And I do not care about the consequences.’ He refused to follow orders or contribute to the war in any form. He was brave enough to see war as wrong.
To his surprise he found thousands of other soldiers doing the same. So many that the U.S. had to shift to an air-war. Even this did not last. Eventually enough people began to say no, we will not go, we will not fight, we will not kill — so the killing stopped happening and there was peace. This did not come from a treaty, but rather from acts of individuals like my mentor.
I am thankful for his conscientious objection. Thankful he and so many had the courage and tenacity to think critically and to say no. War is the most monstrous and barbaric elements of us. We must not forget that war is mass murder, and murder is criminal. To oppose war is to seek justice. The only ends that arise from its implementation as a means are dispossession and suffering.
In an age where we have amazing technological and social advances we owe it to those who we lost, to never do it again. Lest we forget, let’s put an end to war.
Matthew Fuchs / St. John’s