Reflections on the Peace Testimony

By Kathy Dahlk

“War Is Not the Answer”. The FCNL’s poster speaks my mind. At the beginning of war there is always great energy on both sides. The initiators believe their assumptions that they can bring glory to their nation or, in the case of George Bush, bring democracy to Iraq and get rid of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and end terrorism. The invaded countries fight to defend their homeland; their cities, towns and farms. Such impossible promises and hopes become clearer as the costs of war– the destruction of homes, schools, hospitals and the ever-increasing number of lives that are lost or shattered—accumulate on both sides. And, no one even bothers to calculate the enormous damage done to Mother Earth.

I was a young wife and mother during the Vietnam War and marched in Central Park with others from my babysitting co-op under the banner Spock Babies for Peace. Having a draft meant that college age men were forced to participate in ways they didn’t choose and campuses across the country erupted in antiwar protests. Some seeds of the bitter divide in our nation today sprouted during that time.

As a therapist for over 40 years I witnessed the mental health damage our soldiers suffered for things done to them and things they were forced to do to others while always living with a heightened sense of fear and distrust. PTSD (formerly called shell shock) became the new official mental health diagnosis; easier to name than to treat.

Becoming a soldier is often sold as being faithful to God and country; a way to show personal courage by risking the ultimate sacrifice. But if you talk to Conscientious Objectors or read their stories you realize how much courage it takes to make that unpopular decision. Some went to prison, some did alternative service in hospital or work camps while others chose to be non-combatants in the armed forces. (Bill Brown was an ambulance driver in World War II and Bill Powell was a C.O. during Vietnam.) If you haven’t read Tim O’Brien’s book, The Things They Carried, I urge you to do so. He describes his decision not to go to Canada (as JW Spear almost did) because he lacked to the courage to tell his family. He served in Vietnam and writes of the horrors he witnessed with great tenderness.

My gender protected me from having to live the consequences of being a pacifist. I did not have to go before a draft board and prove my case. I do feel called to support peace makers like AFSC, Waging Nonviolence and WAVE and I try to show up whenever I can as one of the “helpers” (thanks, Mr. Rogers) The whole earth is experiencing signs of irreversible climate change which will cause great suffering so the question I am trying to live is “How to bring kindness and healing to those who suffer?” The good news is I have lots of opportunities to practice, not just in times of war.