Thursday, 15 May 2014

International Conscientious Objector Day and the fog of . .

Well it should be war but instead it has to be misinformation and manipulation! I say this because so far this morning I have heard three people speak on the issue of conscientious objectors. All were spot on when they spoke of the integrity and courage of so many of those who were abused and berated for maintaining their position and the attitudes that existed in 1914-18 and into today's mindset.

One spoke of the courage that so many of them exhibited as they formed part of mobile hospitals and carried the wounded from the jaws of death (facing death themselves at every turn) - one of them, Lance Corporal William Harold Coltman, VC, DCM and Bar, MM and Bar, one of the highest awarded soldiers being a hero of mine, was sadly not mentioned (but deserved to be).

Another spoke of the inner sanctity of life and how this needed to be heard to stop us being involved in taking life around the world in the name of serving the oppressed.

The error, and perhaps intentional misrepresentation, came when all used the word 'kill' in the context of Exodus 20.13 and explained how this shaped conscientious objectors then and now and this is the focus of my concern for the word, as I understand it, is of not 'kill' but 'murder'.

Now in a world where we can move from 'sex' and 'gender' and assume them to be one and the same it is perhaps no surprise that many also view 'kill' and 'murder' in the same way - but of course there is a great, and most important, difference.

Murder is the unlawful taking of life - regardless of the circumstances or situation - it is something that the British Forces take extremely seriously (as do all who are signatories of the Geneva and other conventions). There are strict rules regarding conflict and the way that it is enacted. This is why we have extensive teaching on the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) and why all those on operational duties have in their possession a 'Rules of Engagement' (RoE) card - something that outlines when, why and how deadly force might be taken up - because soldiers don't (or should not) murder anyone!

Killing is the taking of life in circumstances that are not regarded as murder. If someone is sentenced to capital punishment, regardless of how one might view that issue, they have been killed. If someone loses their life through an act of self defence, then the other party walks away without the stigma, or penalties, that is associated with being a murderer. Taking a life to stop a criminal act, always regrettable as it is, is not murder either.

The Bible is quite explicit on the use of the word 'Murder' and this is how it is translated in the majority of the translations (the King James Version and it's many variants being the majority user of 'Kill'). Murder, in the Exodus context was (and for this I draw on the rabbinic teaching I received whilst studying Jewish Christian dialogue): The unlawful taking of life and the taking of life by mischievous or culpable negligence. The negligence part amazed me for it meant that should a workman cut corners to complete a job (say fitting a wheel to something or building a wall) and that causes a failure that takes life - they were guilty of murder.

So having made the point that life may be taken legally or illegally and, I hope made it clear that military engagement is not about committing murder but stopping it, let's move on to pay tribute to Coltman (and the many like him). If you can make it to the Staffordshire Regiment's museum at Whittington (between Lichfield and Tamworth) you can find his medal and WWI trenches named in his honour too.

Coltman saw action but came to the decision that his Christian values were in conflict with carrying a weapon and so, already tested by war, exchanged his rifle for a stretcher and served his nation and his God. A man of undoubted courage and Christian commitment - but don't take my word for it. Here's his entry in the London Gazette:

For most conspicuous bravery, initiative and devotion to duty. During the operations at Mannequin Hill, north-east of Sequehart, on the 3rd and 4th of Oct. 1918, L.-Corp. Coltman, a stretcher bearer, hearing that wounded had been left behind during a retirement, went forward alone in the face of fierce enfilade fire, found the casualties, dressed them and on three successive occasions, carried comrades on his back to safety, thus saving their lives. This very gallant NCO tended the wounded unceasingly for 48 hours.

William Harold Coltman VC, DCM & Bar, MM & Bar

So today, please take a moment to remember ALL who have for reasons of conscience made decisions that have changed the direction of their lives and the regard of those around them. I applaud people who think and challenge that which is before them because of their belief (and lack of belief too) and act with integrity.

Please pray for those who seek to be peacemakers in wars that deny the taking up of arms and for those who do bear arms and travel to foreign lands.

Please pray for those who through ignorance might decry and belittle those who for reasons of faith or philosophy that they would find within themselves charity and understanding - if not to accept then not to oppose in ways that deny God's love.

One of my desires is to help people with their choices and to remove misinformation and misunderstanding wheresoever I can - hence part of this entry today. Another is to recognise, honour and celebrate courage, integrity, justice and mercy - after all that's what God calls all people to exhibit isn't it?*

ps. The 1916 Conscription Act brought into be a 'conscience clause' which gave the right to claim exemption from military service and yet the instructions to the panels who heard the applications (and there were almost 17,000 of them) was to deny them and get as many in uniform as possible. All part of the same mindset that shot brave men who had been broken in mind and spirit. A sad part of our history indeed!

*Micah 6.6-8


Oliver Harrison said...

"Murder is the unlawful taking of life". Law and war. Govts make both. They just change or interpret the law to suit the war. Et voila! The war is lawful and therefore the killing is not murder. Cf. Iraq

JonG said...

Thank you for the pointer to William Coltman, who I agree should be far better known.
But I also very much see Oliver's point. I am reminded of the story of the Lintilla clones in Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, where the cloning machine malfunctins and cannot be turned off without killing a clone:
"The lawyers experimented vainly with various ways of redefining murder, reevaluating it, and in the end even respelling it in the hope that no one would notice."

Personally, I think that more should be said on the positive aspects of Sloth: