A French Saint for Memorial Day

I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.
~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

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On Fatherhood, Selective Service, and a Space for Nonviolence

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There are no makers of peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war—at least as exigent, at least as disruptive, at least as liable to bring disgrace and prison and death in its wake.
 ~ Daniel J. Berrigan, S.J.

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Syria and My Boys

It’s appalling to me, appalling to me, that we spend two or three or four weeks debating whether to create a whole new category of war called humanitarian war, rather than dealing with our own problems and trying to solve them.
 ~ Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla.

Syria is suffering. The situation is dire; the stakes, high; the consequences of our choices, maybe catastrophic, maybe not. Who knows?

We get updates, analysis, and speculation around the clock, and from folks far more knowledgeable than me, so none of that here. Instead, I’m writing as a dad—specifically, a dad of sons. It’s my boys that got me thinking about Syria, and now I’m scared, sad, and angry.Syria-Civil-War

First, the scare. My 18-year-old recently sent in his Selective Service card, so he’s all signed up for the draft. I know that a draft is about as unlikely as a spontaneous peace in the Levant, but I still got spooked when he dropped that card in the mail slot.

The Pentagon routinely insists that they prefer an all-volunteer armed forces and that they don’t want conscripts, but Selective Service is still in business, and the laws compelling 18-year-old males to enroll are still in force.

Consequently, there must be some consideration in Washington that a draft may be necessary someday—that we’ll get embroiled in so many conflicts that there simply won’t be enough volunteers to fill the gaps.

The President promises us that there will be no “boots on the ground” in Syria, but once we drop the bombs, everything’s up for grabs. I’m scared because it looks like we’re going to get locked into yet another war at a time when young men (and women, for that matter) are in shorter and shorter supply. Could another war or two exhaust our stock of volunteers? Is a draft possible?

Even if a draft is only a remote possibility, I want our country to stay out of the way of other people’s wars as much as possible. That’s not isolationism; that’s just a dad talking. What’s happening in Syria is horrendous, but it’s happening in Syria. I grieve for Syria, and I pray for Syria. Nevertheless, I would not want my own son to have to kill and risk being killed on behalf of Syria. That’s just the plain truth.

Then there’s sadness. My 13-year-old is a football fanatic and a dedicated student of the game. And when I say student, I don’t just mean stats and records and scores. He’s really a student of play-calling and game-planning—a self-taught tactician, and an astute observer of strategy. He loves to play on the field, but he also loves to play in theory, and he’s never more animated than when trying to explain to me why some quarterback or coach did what he did.

His passion for tactics and strategy makes me think he could excel in the study of military science. That, along with his disciplined character and respect for authority, might incline him to pursue a future in the armed forces. But I would never encourage him to enlist—not now anyway.

The men and women rising to the political top these days—the decision-makers, both Republican and Democrat, who send our troops to war—show an appalling lack of judgment regarding the use of  military force. I don’t trust any of them to make prudent, lawful decisions about when to put our sons and daughters in harm’s way. The politicians have got an abysmal track record, and I’ve strongly urged my children to avoid enlisting in any capacity.

Finally, the anger. My nine-year-old son is an eager third-grader who loves to read, ride his bike, and hang out with his friends. He also has Down syndrome, which makes him a statistical survivor. About 90% of babies with Down’s are aborted in this country. It might even be higher than that. It certainly is higher than that in parts of Europe.

The chemical attacks and indiscriminate slaughter taking place in Syria is rightfully condemned. It’s awful and sickening. It has to stop. The same could be said for the attacks on the unborn and the slaughter of innocents that legally takes place in our own communities every day. Then there’s euthanasia and mercy killing. Then there’s capital punishment. All human life is sacred. Killing is always a tragedy. Our outrage and sorrow extends to every occasion when human life is intentionally targeted and cut short.

popeBut returning violence for violence only perpetuates the madness. There must be another way. There must be.

This evening, I ask the Lord that we Christians, and our brothers and sisters of other religions, and every man and woman of good will, cry out forcefully: violence and war are never the way to peace!
~ Pope Francis

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A version of this story appeared on Catholic Exchange.

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