2nd Essay

Conscience is among the causalities of war

Garland Robertson

What can cause a person no longer to have a living conscience? This concern arose for persons attending one of the seminars recently conducted during our National Assembly, an annual event sponsored by the Institute to Honor Freedom of Conscience. Soldiers who recently returned from combat situations in Iraq and Afghanistan were discussing with us lingering complications that have resulted from their exposure to the violence of war.

Within the spirits of these soldiers a confused awareness resides which informs them of past actions that contradict the deposit of wisdom present within them. The consequence of this divergent behavior is psychological, spiritual disruption–an overpowering disturbance prompted by incidents from the past that prevents the present experience of a fulfilling life. These young persons are disrupted in their inner nature and are struggling to find composure and contentment.

The condition of these young servants did not formulate for us the conclusion that it is possible for a person no longer to have a living conscience. It was obvious to us all that for each of these distraught persons their conscience is undeniably alive, intact, at work trying to guide them into the way that preserves justice, mercy, and respect–a pattern of human behavior that causes individuals to treat others as they desire others to treat them.

No, it was not these agonizing souls that made this observation evident to us. The actions of a country that subjects vulnerable young people to the unavoidable violations of war made this observation evident to us. Why would people in leadership positions intentionally work to make necessary by their misrepresentations of reality and covert maneuvers the occasion for trusting young citizens voluntarily to prepare for and engage in battles which demand that they perform actions which are incompatible with the spirit within their human nature? This is unconscionable behavior.

How do persons who require our young people to continue perpetuating the barbaric cycle of war lose the character of their conscience? What is the developmental process that causes the conscience to no longer be alive? And the question is not limited to leadership. The question applies to citizens who allow this irresponsible activity to continue, those of us who fail to hold leaders accountable for their transgressions. It is one thing to believe with sincerity that the military forces of our country are being directed into actions necessary in order to preserve our national security. It is another when we learn and are not disturbed that the reasons this order was given were intentionally and knowingly fashioned from false information, fabricated facts, and previous injustices. Only the absence of a living conscience could allow this kind of national behavior to occur and not be challenged.

Truth is the first casualty of war, and conscience seems to be a casualty of choosing to make war. Some soldiers returning from the present conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan confess that they cannot speak openly about all of the actions they were ordered to perform because they could be prosecuted for these actions. Think about this for a moment: they are told not to discuss the details of incidents they were directed to cause to happen. This situation is extremely disturbing because it creates an additional stressful predicament for these already tormented young servants. If they choose to honor this advice they will remain forever unable to be healed and experience consequential relief from their disorders.

Even though military officials who order this silence have no living conscience perhaps they reminisce that some persons may still have their consciences intact. At least they remember that existing human rights laws formerly created by a collective sense arising from conscience reach far enough even to critique the conduct of war and might continue to have some influence in civilized societies. Persons of conscience do still exist and some of them gathered for this recent annual assembly.

The National Assembly to Honor Freedom of Conscience intends not only to affirm, honor, and encourage persons who have the vision and courage to refuse war but also to clarify the motivations that cause an individual to make this sometimes painful and unpopular choice. And now with an additional ambition: to protect persons from crimes that can kill the conscience and to search for ways to resurrect consciences that lie silent among the other causalities of war.

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