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Old 03-16-2003, 06:17 AM
thedrifter thedrifter is offline
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Cool Former service members took different routes to pacifism

March 14, 2003

Former service members took different routes to pacifism

By Jeff Donn
Associated Press

For one soldier, personal transformation dawned with the intrusive memory of a Palestinian boy shot by an Israeli fighter. For another, it was when American missiles showered Baghdad. For a third, it was on South Carolina?s red clay during a bayonet drill, chanting ?kill with no mercy.?
Their roads to military discharge as conscientious objectors began differently, all since the last time their country faced war with Iraq. Now, with war again on the mind, a small number of today?s soldiers are confronting their consciences in the same way.

What turns Americans who wore a military uniform into opponents of warfare?

?I didn?t want to kill anyone else. That?s what it came down to,? says objector Charles Sheehan-Miles of Reston, Va. A decorated tank crewman, he helped crush a retreating Iraqi convoy and pull American soldiers from their own flaming tank during one battle in the Persian Gulf War.

Few soldiers and civilians know that military law provides for the discharge of conscientious objectors: people with a powerful, abiding belief against training for war or waging it. The military doesn?t broadly publicize the right to apply for this status.

It has deep roots, though. A paid exemption allowed by colonial militias, conscientious objection evolved into a legal right by the Civil War, when President Lincoln let objectors work in hospitals and teach freed slaves. Early objectors were largely from pacifist religions, such as the Quakers and Mennonites, but 20th century court decisions opened the gate for requests on profound moral grounds too. The current rules date to 1971.

Objectors were mostly potential draftees during the Vietnam War era. Today, the Army is all-volunteer, and yet they still turn up. Their numbers, though small, spike in wartime and reached a decade high of 111 in 1991 during the Gulf War.

Last year, the military services granted objector status to 28 personnel. The Army alone reports approving 17 of 23 applications.

In recent months, there have been signs of increase.

The GI Rights Hotline, a nine-year-old project of anti-war groups, reports 3,582 calls in January ? an all-time monthly record ? about conscientious objection and other military rights.

Those asking questions are often deeply troubled.

Sheehan-Miles wanted to be a soldier since boyhood; he was the son of a Marine who fought in Vietnam and grandson of a World War II prisoner of war. Yet when he thinks back on his first pangs of conscience, he remembers witnessing the shooting of a Palestinian boy, when he lived in Jerusalem before enlisting. In 1990, shouldering that memory aside, he volunteered as an Army tank crewman and went to Saudi Arabia with U.S. forces.

While waiting for the ground war, he read news articles saying the Iraqi army recruited children. ?I found myself picturing myself in combat against a brigade of 12-year-olds,? he says.

Afraid to break up his tank crew and endanger its other members, he finished his combat tour and applied as an objector several months later. He was approved and honorably discharged in 1992.

?Certainly, soldiers can have a transformation after joining the Army, but doing so right before deployment overseas places a serious burden ... on the soldier?s unit,? says Army spokeswoman Elaine Kanellis. ?That said, each soldier?s situation is reviewed on a case-by-case basis.?

It was the American air attack on Baghdad at the outbreak of the Gulf War that wormed into Dan Fahey?s mind. An ensign on a Navy cruiser, he was trained to fire nuclear-tipped missiles and did a three-week stint in the region after the cease-fire.

?I couldn?t envision ... fighting a war where I could conceivably feel comfortable shooting a nuclear missile,? says Fahey, of San Francisco. In time, he came to feel the same way about other weapons of war.

The Navy granted him objector status. Instead of accepting a noncombatant role ? an option for approved objectors ? he gave back $32,000 in college scholarship money from the Reserve Officer Training Corps and took an honorable discharge.

Army reservist Aimee Allison?s epiphany came, without warning, during bayonet training at boot camp in Fort Jackson, S.C. She still remembers the drill sergeant?s voice booming over a megaphone:

?What?s the spirit of the bayonet??

?To kill, to kill, to kill with no mercy,? the female trainees shouted back.

?What makes the grass grow?? the officer intoned.

?Blood, blood, blood makes the grass grow,? they chanted.

Another soldier began to sob, their eyes met, and Allison was changed forever. She couldn?t reconcile the war chants with her childhood?s gentle teachings in the United Methodist Church.

Still, it took her four years to marshal the courage ?to buck the system and do something that?s not expected of a soldier,? she says of applying for objector status.

She went through the preliminary interviews, which usually involve a chaplain, psychiatrist and investigating officer. Then it took two more years for her application to rise through the chain of command.

?The paperwork was lost,? says Allison, of Oakland, Calif. ?I don?t think it?s a priority for the military.?

The Army says it typically processes applications within five months, but independent GI rights counselors say it can take up to a year.

Jeff Paterson, of San Francisco, was denied objector status.

A Marine Corps artilleryman, he applied for it, then sat down in protest on the air strip when his unit was ordered to ship out to Saudi Arabia before the Gulf War. ?People took turns yelling at me: my commanding officer, my gunnery sergeant, my immediate sergeant in charge of getting me on the plane,? he says.

His objector application gave him no right under military rules to disobey orders. He was tossed in the brig for two months and eventually discharged dishonorably, without official objector status. He began editing a newsletter for military resisters.

Army intelligence veteran Anita Cole of Honolulu recalls feeling her unexpected, at first unwelcome change of heart in the din of M-16 rifles at a firing range. Discharged as an objector, she has also been speaking out and marching in recent days with other anti-war protesters. Many of them never wanted any part of the military.

But, says Cole, ?The military created the conscientious objector in me.?

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press


SSgt. Roger A.
One Proud Marine
Once A Marine............Always A Marine.............
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