Robert Gates at Duke University

I was included in a video that aired on the news in Charlotte, NC last week.

This is my response;

As a former combat veteran and current divinity school student at Duke University, I was eager to attend the lecture given by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on our campus last night.  Secretary Gates’ speech touched on many crucial points upon which he and I agree, not the least of which was the indictment of the general American population for their aversion to national service.  For less than 1% of 300 million people to be doing the dangerous work of war is inexcusable.   As America grows more obese in body (as Sec Gates pointed out), we simultaneously grow complacent and indifferent in spirit.

However, a criticism I would have lays in Sec. Gates implication that the armed forces are not a place for practicing Christians. At the end of his speech, I explicitly asked how Christian service members like myself could be denied their Constitutional right to religious expression as a consequence of his department’s refusal to recognize selective conscientious objection. The necessity for service members to object to particular wars, in adherence to Just War principles, is not recognized by the U.S. Armed Forces.

The primary choice that is recognized is the one I made to sign my name on the dotted line in 2000. However, I was promised college money and a steady paycheck, which makes me more a contracted worker than a volunteer.  Sec. Gates even mentioned that fact in his response to me, implying that such a choice is considered by his office to be essentially immutable.  His response to my question, therefore, was troubling. “Anyone who has joined the military since 2002 has known they would be going into war.”  Failing to recognize “volunteer” and “contractor” as mutually exclusive terms is dangerous.  The Secretary would do well to grasp this distinction.

Last night, Sec. Gates seemed to dismiss the idea of honoring the consciences of over 400,000 Christian members of the Armed Forces, whose denominational bodies largely labeled the war in Iraq as failing to satisfy basic Just War principles. Yet even my secular comrades who do not follow a particular faith should be entitled to such moral agency.

Many might be justifiably offended by the psychological slavery imposed on soldiers by the twin obligations to obey the orders of the officers appointed above them and yet disobey “unlawful orders” which are not defined within the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  Others still by the very proposal of legitimating objection to particular wars, but to keep our service members in this debilitating moral ambiguity does them, and their combat readiness, a disservice.

It is time we as a nation consider the duplicitous demands we expect our service members to fulfill.  As one of the states that Sec. Gates highlighted as “military-friendly,” let us be the first to answer the call to resolve these conflicting commands, by asking our lawmakers to consider legitimizing selective conscientious objection. It’s no time to be complicit in our silence.

3 thoughts on “Robert Gates at Duke University

  1. someone forwarded me this: http://katskornerofthecommonills.blogspot.com/2010/09/and-ann-powers-becomes-part-of-problem.html

    “Gates is claiming contracts trump God. That’s not how it works. And that is offensive to a large number of Christians. It is offensive to my parents and it is offensive to me. A contract does not trump your religious beliefs and how dare Robert Gates claim that it does. [. . .] Let me make it really clear for Gates who apparently doesn’t know a thing about Christianity: He can vote in every election, he can drive the speed limit, he can pooper scoop after his dog, he can obey every state and federal law, every municipal code and that won’t get him into heaven. In the Christian world, which is what the question he was asked was about, God trumps all. If Gates can’t grasp that, it’s on him. He owes American Christians an apology.”

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