Four years ago, after a long day in Marine basic training on how to kill someone from 500 feet, my son sent me a question: “If I have to kill someone, will I go to hell?”
My first impression was to tell him to talk to his chaplain, but then I figured, duh, maybe he was talking to his chaplain.
His letter enlarged my heart with pride, but it also gave me an indescribable ache. I was proud to know that he was seriously examining such a powerful question. Yet my heart ached knowing that we live in a world where he was forced to examine these questions at only 18.
Personally, there are two reasons I’ve never really had to struggle with the question. First, I made a choice a long time ago never to own a gun. I suppose my choice makes me a marginal pacifist.
I say pacifist because I could never use a gun to take the life of another human being.
I use the modifier marginal because I have no hesitation to defend myself (plus, I like the word better than hypocrite).
Intruders be warned: I have a heavy flashlight beside my bed with which I’d readily whap the living daylights out of you if you arrive uninvited.
Second, the Geneva Convention dictates an unarmed pacifist stance for those of us who wear the chaplain’s cross.
Not everyone understands this. I once had a National Guard commander who encouraged me to qualify on an M16 assault rifle. When I demurred by telling him that this would be a violation of the Geneva Convention, he balked.
“Do you think those insurgents know anything about the Geneva Convention?” he asked, with that commanding voice for which he was highly paid to inflect.
My nervous laugh egged him on.
‘”Are you telling me that if your convoy suddenly found themselves in a firefight, you don’t even want to know how to fire a weapon?”
My commander’s quandary easily was answered by producing a letter from the Air Force chief of chaplains stating that any chaplain who violated Geneva Convention policy by becoming weapons qualified would be dismissed from service.
My son’s question also is easily answered.
No, son, you won’t. Christian Scripture reminds all faiths that love wins when in declaring, “No power in the sky above or in the earth below — indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God . . .”
Still, the heart of my son’s query should give people of faith and ethics pause. It certainly begs more questions: how can people of faith be a part of the military? Even more so, how can people of faith and ethics support a government that trains an army to kill?
These are issues with no easy answers. Killing in self-defense is permissible in nearly all faith interpretations, but beyond that, our own political interests and selfish causes entangle the answer.
All other questions aside, I do think we are stuck with a tougher one. How much more killing will we sponsor in the name of a war on terrorism? We are good at declaring that our freedom is worth dying for, but we remain perplexed by the question, “What is worth killing for?”