True Acts of Valor – Biting Off Buttons

A MIDWEEK ESSAY

In past postings I have called attention to the troubling trend of merging entertainment with the military.

(see https://peacegrooves.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/going-past-midway-dont-tread-play-sing-dance-on-me/ and  https://peacegrooves.wordpress.com/2011/11/11/817/ )

Not too long ago a movie came out that featured Navy Seals in action – I guess as a way for the media to continue the Special Forces love fest so fresh after the killing of Osama Bin Laden. I have wanted to write something about the movie when it came out but wasn’t able to. It seems fitting to do so on Memorial Day.

I have many problems with the movie, but I will simply whip the same dead horse I seem to do so often. Such “entertainment” glorifies violence, trivializes the sacrifices of soldiers, citizens, and their families, and diminishes the enormous human and monetary costs of war. On this day, when we honor those who “serve” or “who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom,” I felt it was important to highlight those whose acts of valor are not memorialized, who in some cases gave their lives rather than kill others, and whose sacrifice paved the way for more democratic freedoms for citizens whose conscience objects to them going to war.

The following is an excerpt from an Amish Country News Article by Brad Igou http://www.amishnews.com/amisharticles/peopleofpeace.htm

The “war to end all wars” spelled problems for the Amish and Mennonites, whose Pennsylvania German dialect made them suspect in some people’s eyes. By this time, Amish dress and customs also made them more distinct from average Americans. The Amish declared conscientious objector (CO) status. As Albert Keim writes in THE AMISH AND THE STATE, “CO’s were drafted into the army and posted to military camps with the hope that they would enter noncombatant service.” The question then became one of how much to “cooperate.” Their resistance to wearing uniforms rather than their plain clothes, and their refusal to bear arms, resulted in harassment, beatings, and humiliation in many cases.

A book recounting these incidents called NONRESISTANCE PUT TO THE TEST was published in 1981. Particularly shocking were the experiences recounted by Menno Diener at Camp Taylor, Kentucky, where he witnessed the bayonet stabbing of one Amish boy. During the course of his stay, Menno protested having to wear a military uniform and take orders. Here is how he describes what followed…

So the commander got a broomstick and beat me across the legs till he broke his stick. I had streaks and swelling on my legs. Then he got a 2×4 about three feet long that had four spikes in one end, and threatened to hit me in the face with it. He put it near to my face and then back again like a ball bat and said, “If it weren’t for the law, I would like to see how far I could sink these spikes into your face.”

A few days later another boy, his face black and blue from beatings, was placed on display by a public road. Someone placed a sign on him that read, “I refuse to fight for my country.”

When camp officials were court martialed for their actions, the Amish refused to testify against them because “it would be helping to punish them and cause ill feelings between resisting and nonresistance, and be a poor light of Christianity in our church and background.”

The book contains stories of suffering in many other camps, including one where a boy was pulled for half a mile on the ground by a horse. At another camp in Georgia, a man was hung by a rope until unconscious.

According to Steven Nolt in his HISTORY OF THE AMISH, “Officers occasionally ‘baptized’ Amish COs in the camp latrines in mockery of their Anabaptist beliefs.”

In Kansas, Amish bishop Manasses Bontrager wrote a letter urging his members not to buy Liberty Bonds, and urging support of the Amish youth serving in the camps. In his words…

Many people can’t understand why we don’t want to defend our country. Christ said, “Render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar, and to God that which belongs to God.” Caesar protects our property, for which we should willingly pay our taxes as Christ asked us to…. But our coming in this world, our intellects, our physical powers — these do not belong to Caesar. If he claims them to defend him, Christ’s laws strictly forbid our yielding to such a claim.

A few months later, Bontrager was arrested by a U.S. Marshall and put on trial for Violation of the 1917 Espionage Act and was fined $500 for “inciting and attempting to incite subordination, disloyalty, and refusal of duty in the military and naval forces of the United States.”

When I was in college, one elderly gentlemen told me a story from WW I involving Amish as well. Amish Mennonite men imprisoned for their beliefs would take the buttons off of the clothes they were forced to wear. When they were handcuffed to keep them from doing so, they would bite the buttons off. I also read that some men were then forced to stand naked in their cells. The image of simple men behind bars with lips bloodied rather than wear clothes that resembled  a military uniform is one that shames and inspires me.

Contrary to popular belief, the military does not have an exclusive corner on fighting for one’s beliefs. Acts of valor have been occurring every day throughout the history of this country. Countless times, citizens (pacifists and others) have put their lives on the line to help, rather than kill others. Yet we do not see fit to memorialize this “army.”

My forbears, some of who are mentioned above, would not want to be recognized.

Yet doing so perhaps will redefine within the body politic such terms as: valor, freedom, sacrifice, service.

Then and only then will our country truly live up to the ideals it was founded upon and be a nation that exports life rather than death.

Originally posted May 28, 2012

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