Who Will Save the Young?

"There is an easy way to assess foreign policy initiatives such as making defense commitments or sending American troops on foreign missions. First of all, determine the objective. Then ask yourself these two questions: Would I be willing to die to achieve this objective? Would I be content to see my children die to achieve this objective? If the answers are no, then oppose it."

Charley Reese
Orlando Sentinel
March 16, 2000

While working in Mississippi in the mid-seventies, I spent some time roaming through the Delta and visited the national cemetery in Vicksburg, where Ulysses Grant’s forces once defeated a southern army entrenched in the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River in as gory a siege as has ever taken place on this continent. It is a beautiful place but overwhelmingly somber given that it is filled with the remains of 18, 19 and 20-year-old boys. I have visited other military cemeteries in the U.S., England, Israel and Russia. It’s always the same: Countless lives destroyed because of leaders and belief systems that demonize others and sacrifice their young in the name of some mad goal or the other. Dead by virtue of the blindness, crimes, egotism and opportunism of their secular and religious leaders, the interred are testimony to the anguish created by economic, ideological and religious wars.

I am reminded of this when I read contemporary revisionists proclaiming that the Vietnam War was indeed just and worthwhile. Or, when I read of fevered talk emanating from hawks in Washington, Beijing, Taipei, Serbia and Kosovo and too many other places about how ready they are to go to war – generally with someone else’s children, of course. Or, in trying to reconcile myself to Israel’s seemingly endless war with Palestinians and especially its war of attrition in Lebanon. This latter fiasco led Hannah Kim to ask in Ha’Aretz [Feb.15, 2000] "why did so many families send their children off to those killing fields for nearly 18 years without questioning the initial megalomaniacal aim of the war (to solve the Palestinian problem, for anyone who has forgotten)." Concerned about their children, soldier’s parents have begun urging that Israel leave southern Lebanon, though, she writes, she hardly reads of too many concerned about innocent Lebanese children killed in bombing raids or whether a self-declared "security zone" was ever actually necessary. Instead, Kim concludes ruefully, "What remains is only the desire to protect fledglings, 18 years after the graveyards have already become filled with them."

Yet there are always exceptional people who refuse to adhere to the voracious demands of governments and their wars, even at the risk of punishment. Israel, for instance, has always had its share of principled conscientious resisters from Yesh Gvul to silent resisters to the newly formed New Profile Movement [POB 48005, Tel Aviv 61480]. One young Israeli, Yigal Ben Moshe, recently refused to enter Lebanon because was allegedly afraid and for which he was remanded to serve 28 days imprisonment. Though he was released early from prison and returned to his army unit, at this writing he is being checked by a psychologist, which, The Other Israel reports,"may be a sign that they intend to exempt him for being ‘mentally unfit.’" Still, can you imagine? A soldier afraid? The fearless John Wayne, who never served in a real military, may have been heroic (at least in Hollywood) but, said New Profile in defense of Ben Moshe and yet another objector, "In such a war – he who refuses is the hero."

And in the new Russia, Dmitry Neverovsky, a young Jewish man, has been imprisoned for refusing to serve in the ferocious war against Chechnya, in which Russia is trying to re-establish its hegemony over the Caucasus even if they have to murder every Chechen man, woman and child. Neverovsky, who belongs to the Antimilitary Radical Association in the Kaluga region, and whose mother is a longtime human rights leader, requested alternative service and was refused. Better to kill than to heal?

So, who will save the young? Only those who refuse to join in the carnage.

Author: Murray Polner

Murray Polner has written for The New York Times, Washington Monthly, Commonweal, The Nation, The American Conservative, Columbia Journalism Review, Newsday, and other publications.