"I have come to the conclusion that the Creator does not want us to fight wars or to leave our brothers to die in hunger or disease. We have been given the things we need to provide all men on the planet with what they need to get by in this world. Why should I not help another human being that needs what I can help them with? I have ignored that for far too long. I have turned my head when the homeless person asks for a little help. I have taken advantage of others when I should have been offering a hand up. I have done things in my life that I am not proud of. I have not lived a perfect life, so I will not tell anyone else how to live theirs. I have learned that I have done things that are not to the benefit of mankind, and to continue in that vein would be detrimental to my growth as a human being.
"I ask myself, ‘Why should I continue with what I see as self-destructive behavior?’
"Why should I continue a way of life that does nothing to alleviate problems that have plagued humanity for far too long?
"If a drug addict learns that the drugs are killing him, he is expected to stop using drugs.
"That leads me to ask, ‘If what I am doing is killing me spiritually, why should I continue?’
"We have become so ingrained to the face of war that we can no longer see that it solves nothing. I will no longer participate."
Sgt. Kevin Benderman, conscientious objector
People who haven’t experienced war and all of its trappings firsthand will never know just how deep the dehumanizing effects go (dehumanizing only if they succeed in barring people from their hearts and from acting on their consciences). For some, the effects do anything but dehumanize. For some, they galvanize against the robotic trend, and make us live from this point on, feeling everything, pain and good, knowing just how important every feeling is, for it means we are alive, we are safe and we are human after all.
War affects us all. We just don’t know it until it is sometimes too late to change what it has done. Mothers cry; Cindy Sheehan is crying, and there are mothers all over the world crying with her. This is beyond political. As Kevin said, we cannot tell others how to live their lives or what to believe in. We can, however, let others see our humanity, and hopefully others will come to face theirs as well, by asking questions of themselves, as we have, and demanding that they answer honestly, unafraid to feel in their responses.
It was midnight the night that Kevin’s unit deployed. The barracks room was eerily quiet, surreal, as if we were in a cocoon living out this last bit of time; separate from everything else that was going on. All of his movements cast shadows on the blank wall as the lamp on his nightstand kept us from darkness. Watching him put on body armor, a Kevlar helmet, 100 pounds of equipment and supplies, sneaking last-minute little notes into all the pockets of his uniform and armor so that he could find them in his downtime, was a difficult memory to keep. As he packed the charcoal chemical suit, the antidotes for chemical attacks, the gas mask so many thoughts surfaced and it all seemed to be slow motion there was little more to say there really aren’t any words. We drove at 1 a.m., in the dark, to the arms room to draw his weapon. Waiting more briefings, more waiting in the dark. Knowing that time was running out knowing everything the government had said about the horrors those soldiers were about to face knowing that he was so thoughtful about the idea of going to war and that we had to find the strength for what we had committed to knowing that there were many who would not respect what the soldiers were about to do and then 3 a.m. I had to let him go and watch while the units formed and marched past us into the gym. The only sound to be heard was the shuffled cadence of their boots. Something impacted me that wasn’t expected. Standing in the doorway watching, Kevin came through not a foot from me, and another soldier handed him a plastic chock to put behind the pin of his M-16 to keep it from firing on the plane. It was added safety but for me it was the realization that we were going to war.
Almost three weeks ago, in a courtroom that was eerily quiet even with people surrounding me, strangely surreal, as if we were in a cocoon living out this last bit of time, my husband was sentenced to 15 months confinement for not wanting to participate in war. As visitors left the courtroom, prosecutors tried not to smile but didn’t quite succeed, government witnesses shook hands as if they had accomplished their mission, and friends were not quite sure what to say or do. It all seemed to separate from where we stood. We wanted to remember every second of the short time in the waiting room, quick hugs and assurances we have been through this before. Together we will get through this again. Watching while the MPs came to lead him away, the only sound to be heard was the sound of the handcuffs and leg irons that his supervisor refused to allow the MPs to use, telling them that Sgt. Benderman would walk on his own to the van. As I stood in the doorway, Kevin came through not a foot from me with his head held high the power of his confident strength was added comfort and for me it was the realization that we were heading toward peace.
Cindy Sheehan and Kevin Benderman are no different, just using a different story to help others see how much we need to reach for a better way. War should be obsolete; it must be, if we are to regain our humanity. We should not have to watch our soldiers load their weapons and prepare to fight others. Sadly, no one can truly understand who has not seen or felt the entire experience. We hope the day will come when no one ever will feel it again. For those of us who have, we look at the sunshine a little longer and dare to walk in the rain. We see our children as gifts, not nuisances. We wake in the morning and do our best to defend good things and brush off the little ones that don’t really matter. We accept what we have as the gifts we must use. We do not take for granted that by being here, speaking out to no longer participate in war, to find a better way, we are fighting for freedom and the right to live, as we believe. We remember that we are not fighting for the right to destroy others or ourselves for the sake of power and control. We do not forget what good is all the natural gifts we have to share that have nothing to do with money or power or instant gratification. We do not forget the honor in being able to defend life over the taking of life to solve our problems.
For us, this is about our home, and the fact that it no longer seems to have real meaning for so many people who dare to speak against what Kevin has chosen: "I will study war no more." We join people like Cindy Sheehan, and so many others who are offering their stories with feeling, in the hope that it will help others to learn to feel as human beings again as well. It takes a strong person to have the kind of heart that is willing to reach out and help defend their home, especially when so many in that home are not ready to understand what they are being offered. Kevin, Cindy, those who stand with us, know that there is a better way. We will do everything we can to help others see the value of peace, because we have lived through the destructive force of war.
Glory comes from a life well lived.