3rd Essay

Daring to Look beyond the Borders: The Legacy of Conscientious Objectors

Garland Robertson

The national community of the United States lives in disillusionment which provides a fertile context for frustration and fear. The reality is created by a disconnect from the patterns which operate in the international community. National leaders commit, deploy, and engage resources in ways that do not involve the participation of citizens. These critical decisions are made beyond the reach of public opinion. Therefore these choices produce a circumstance where a few powerful persons direct US maneuvers in the international community for the purpose of achieving what appears to be most appropriate within their controlled and privatized field of vision.

The third annual National Assembly to Honor Freedom of Conscience celebrated all courageous persons who refuse to allow their presence and influence to be sabotaged by isolated, secret political strategies. With the absence of responsible representation by elected lawmakers to hold public officials accountable for their actions, individual citizens have even greater responsibility under constitutional mandate to express intentionally their opposition to authorized actions that contradict the witness of their consciences.

Participants in the annual assembly, a project of the Institute to Honor Freedom of Conscience, affirmed the bold and beneficial contributions of conscientious objectors to the welfare of the human family. Rather than allowing their membership in the national community to be discounted or hijacked by political processes, persons of conscience demonstrate their deep resolve to look beyond the temporary and restricted benefits of national initiatives. Conscientious objectors dare to extend their vision to observe not only how conflict arises among groups of persons but also how the actions of the United States in the international community impact the lives of other persons living in the earth, in particular those persons at home in the neighborhoods where war and violence are being promoted.

Knowledge in their spirits that continued violent engagements will not bring resolution to the grave problems which generate conflict in the world today comprises another factor which produces disillusionment for US citizens. The use of violence to manage conflict has been repeated throughout the history of the human presence in the earth. And repeatedly it has been proven to be incapable of bringing reconciliation to persons, groups, and nations that have been plagued by strife and challenged by disagreements. All persons realize in their spirits that the use of violence works only to impose the predetermined solution of those with the most power. Such an approach to manage conflict only represses problems. Violence can never resolve problems.

Citizens of the US also understand from knowledge within their primal human nature that conflicts are created by actual or perceived injustice. Conflicts do not necessarily occur. Persons are not required to be in conflict with another person in order to live meaningful and fulfilling lives. Conflict arises only in situations where a person or group senses or experiences unjust and disrespectful behaviors directed toward them by others. Initially the pattern involves resentment followed by résistance. Unless the issue prompting discord is addressed and equitably resolved at this early stage, conflict will erupt and demand to be acknowledged. Politicians have historically succeeded in their efforts to fashion the orientation of US citizens to believe that whenever conflict erupts, the use of violence is the most appropriate, most efficient, and the swiftest response. Violence is a purely pragmatic and selfish option. And yet, the distinctive quality of human creatures is the capacity to reject violent response to conflict and to choose to preserve community rather than to destroy it.

The National Assembly to Honor Freedom of Conscience affirmed persons who have opposed the programmed, uncritical endorsement of US international policy. Conscientious objectors are persons who refuse to participate in or otherwise support an authorized act of violence because the action contradicts the wisdom of their conscience. Because all humans share a common nature, all persons know within their own spirit the consequences of actions—which behaviors provide encouragement and affirmation and what actions create feelings of distress and separation. The basis tenet that guides human relationships, ‘do unto others as you desire them to do unto you’ also has a dark side. If the actions directed toward others produce pain and suffering then actions intended to cause pain and suffering will be returned. The only way to reverse this pattern is through repentance, confession, and seeking forgiveness.

The prevailing opinion that COs are merely cowards and wispily unpatriotic is totally false. Anyone who has ever taken a position of conscience knows this. Conscientious objectors in reality are the most courageous, bravest of all of America’s citizens, including the national servants who serve in the military organization. Conscientious objectors dare to follow the dictates of their conscience as a trustworthy guide for fashioning relationship with other persons and with the creation. Conscientious objectors dare to take stands that are unpopular and that almost always create hardship and inconvenience for themselves. In spite of insults and assaults from more narrow-minded and self-centered persons in their community, COs continue to persist in making this choice because they believe it is the right thing to do: their response considers not only the welfare of the national community but also the welfare of the persons impacted by the consequences of violence elsewhere in the world. This is indeed a noble legacy, one to be applauded and embraced.

The extensive influence of conscientious objectors will continue to compel us all. May it become the chosen standard for every person who shares life in the earth.

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