There is a strain of pacifist thought that blames soldiers for the existence and perpetuation of war, but I don’t buy into that. Technically it is true that without soldiers there would be no war—“What if they held a war and nobody came?” reads the classic protest sign. But I say that we can honor soldiers while condemning war itself.
Many soldiers serve in the military through a pure sense of duty and honor, loving their country and its values seeking to protect it. Other soldiers are lured into service because the promise of decent pay is higher than their other options. All of these people deserve respect and gratitude for their service and the risks they take. And, I believe that our Unitarian Universalist principle of “The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all” calls us to reduce the military, not to increase it.
The tension between honoring military veterans and seeking to end war altogether is present in Unitarian Universalism, including among ministers. At General Assembly this past summer, the moderator made strong anti-military comments that offended some UU’s in the audience. Among UU ministers, some serve as military chaplains as their calling—choosing this instead of serving in a congregation or a hospital chaplain position. They train and deploy with their troops--all the training except for bearing a weapon. They serve as spiritual advisors and support to their military units.
As I wrote last week in the wake of the election, I don’t see any American political party advocating an end to war. Allegiance to the military seems to be required in public life in this country. But I am fond of quoting Dwight Eisenhower, World War II general and later the president, who said that
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.
On this day, I honor those who serve and have served in the military. And I pledge to work for peace, both at home and abroad, creating a world where every nation’s army is small and its social services are huge.
Spirit of life and love, protect the troops of this nation, those training and those deployed around the world. Protect the troops of every nation, every one of them a child of God. May all the soldiers be well and safe.
May humans find our wisdom to see that war destroys and does not create. May the generals be wise and restrained. May the presidents, prime ministers, and leaders of the world resolve their differences at the conference table and not on the battlefield.
May it be so, for us and our children and our children’s children.
Rev. Andrew Frantz