A good friend The Rev. Earl Beshears, Rector of St. Paul's Georgetown, De., made this presentation to a Delaware Clergy Day. It is a powerful statement by a veteran, a fine priest and a good friend. As war goes on and on, and peace seems never nearer, his reflection, made from a place deep within, is a gift.
HELPING THE WARRIOR MAKE PEACE
The truth of history tells us that our world often rushes off to war. How do we help the warrior, the men and women we send off to war, make peace with us, with each other, with themselves and with God? Beyond the warriors' obvious physical trauma, I ask you to consider the warriors' sense of betrayal and guilt and their need for spiritual healing.
THE PARABLE OF THE OLD MAN AND THE YOUNG
Wilfred Edward Salter Owen was born on March 18, 1893. He was on the Continent teaching until he visited a hospital for the WWI wounded and then decided, in September, 1915, to return to England and enlist. "I came out in order to help these boys-- directly by leading them as well as an officer can; indirectly, by watching their sufferings that I may speak of them as well as a pleader can. I have done the first" (October, 1918). Owen was injured in March 1917 and sent home; he was fit for duty in August, 1918, and returned to the front. November 4, just seven days before the Armistice, he was caught in a German machine gun attack and killed. He was twenty-five when he died. The bells were ringing on November 11, 1918, in Shrewsbury to celebrate the Armistice when there was a knock on the door at his parent's home – a person bringing them the telegram telling them their son was dead.
The Parable of the Old Man and the Young
by Wilfred Owen
So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb, for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an Angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him, thy son.
Behold! Caught in a thicket by its horns,
A Ram. Offer the Ram of Pride instead.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
In Wilford Owen's poem, The Genesis story of Abraham and his son Isaac is recalled and we can hear Owen's sense of betrayal as those of us of a certain age send those of a younger age off to war. We can hear in this soldier's voice his sense that we not only betray the soldier but we also betray the God who sends his angels to restrain our knife.
This sense of betrayal is experienced by many of the men and women, on all sides, who are thrust into war's destruction. The warrior knows betrayal from the realization that justification for war is often false and the promised glory of war is a sham. The warriors know betrayal with the realization that people will wave flags, give medals, sing patriotic songs and soon forget them. The warriors know betrayal with the realization that no one, especially those who send them off to war, wants the true story of war told.
A Service of Unity and Peace
from the Book of Worship for U.S. Forces
Brother, forgive us.
Brother, help us to understand.
And when to the Lord:
a prayer for courage. Help in living with the truth.
We are brothers who seek to destroy.
Peace is a truth lived.
A prayer for peace is an outstretched hand.
In every prayer for peace there is a touch of blasphemy.
It is as though war were inevitable and only war can extricate us.
But, we are the warriors, the makers and wagers of destruction.
(Not God – not even "they")
And perhaps our prayers for peace should be for forgiveness.
And perhaps they should be said first to our brothers.
For "if you are bringing your offering to the altar
and there remember that your brother has something against you,
leave your offering there before the altar,
go and be reconciled with your brother first…"
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is part of many warriors' experience – sometimes PTSD begins on the battlefield and sometimes it does not begins until years later, long after the homecoming.. Earlier wars called PTSD "shell shock" or "battle fatigue" or "cowardice."
Part of PTSD is attributable to the warrior's guilt.
- "Guilt in the evil in which I have participated." We teach our children not to fight, to care for other people and that harming others is wrong. Then we send them off to war to fight and destroy and kill – to violate the values, ethics, and morals we teach them.
- "Guilt that I am alive and my buddy is wounded for life or dead." Why did Johnny die and not me? He had so much more potential, so much more promise. It can even be guilt that I am alive and that my enemy or innocents in our line of fire are harmed or dead. Why am I blessed with life, health, and family and my brothers in arms are crippled and dead?
- The warrior needs forgiveness. The warrior needs forgiveness for participating in the corporate acts of war and for personal actions in war. The warrior needs to forgive the fellow warrior and all the people and forces that start the wars and send the warrior to war. The warrior needs self-forgiveness for surviving, no matter how physically or mentally wounded the warrior may be.
The warrior's reaction to war is certainly more complex than "betrayal and guilt." However, it is in the domains of betrayal and guilt that the priest and parish can help bring healing to the warrior. Critical to healing and perhaps in preventing future war, is giving the warrior the chance to tell the story. It is a kind of confession where the truth is revealed and the story told. The warrior needs to tell the truth of war and violence and betrayal and guilt, not the sanitized or Hollywood version. The church can be a safe place to give the warrior space to confess, to be reconciled with God and with one's conscience. The parish must be willing to hear and listen to the stories, perhaps over and over. The parish can be the place where the warrior can ask for and receive forgiveness, receive words of regret (an honest "I'm sorry") and place where the warrior can offer give forgiveness.
WRITTEN IN PENCIL IN THE SEALED RAILWAY CAR
Translated from the Hebrew by Stephen Mitchell
here in this carload
I am Eve
with Abel my son
if you see my other son
Cain, son of man
tell him I…
Tell him what? What do we tell the child who slays other children? What do we tell Cain after he slays Abel? What do Cain's mother and father say? What do Abel's mother and father say? Maybe they will say nothing and simply listen for a while.
Have you seen the movie Munich? It is a very disturbing movie about the Israeli secret service's murder of the Palestinians who killed the Israeli Olympians at Munich in 1972. The killings were particularly brutal, aimed at revenge and teaching other potential terrorists a lesson. At the end of the movie, the leader of the Israeli assassins is home with his mother. She tells him how proud she is of him serving his country and doing honor to the family. He looks her in the eye and asks his mother, "Do you want me to tell you what I did." She answers "No."
We live in a culture where the warrior is encouraged to be silent and not speak about war. Oh, humorous stories and buddy stories and practical joke stories from the war are OK. Even the occasional hero story is OK. Most often, our culture keeps the real story of war hidden in the shadows. There are graphic war movies but they are still just movies like any other violent horror movie. Politicians, generals, reporters, and movie directors give us a version of war. The story of real war, real horror, and real tragedy stays locked away. Maybe if the warriors' tale was told by those who fight the wars on the front lines, by those who risk all and give all, and if we were willing to hear the violent truth, maybe there would at least be a serious conversation before we begin our next war.
Every warrior needs the chance to tell the story aloud and the blessing of someone to listen. Confessing the truth is one of the ways the wounds of betrayal and guilt begin to heal.
Every warrior needs the chance to begin on the path to forgiveness – forgiving and being forgiven is one of the ways the wounds of betrayal and guilt begin to heal.
We who send the young off to war need the chance to hear the truth of war told by the people that we send off to fight our wars.
What can we do? We can begin by following the advice that The Rt. Rev. George Packard gave us at Diocesan convention and listen to our soldiers. He is bishop to the Episcopal military chaplains serving in our armed forces. To paraphrase, Bishop Packard said: "When people call and ask for the names of soldiers or veterans to pray for, I tell them to find a veteran with that hollow blank expression and talk to them."
Find a veteran with that hollow blank expression and talk to him or her.