The Regional Corrections Facility at Ft. Lewis, Washington is vintage World War II. The windows are cracked and can’t be closed. It’s below freezing on most nights now.
I could go on–but what good will it do in this country of warmongers, idealistic pacifists, and evangelicals? Nothing like love for a cause–any cause–as long as it’s impersonal enough that everyone can remain detached, can share their emotions through the war cries and protest chants, staring out into a field of people whose gazes are just as vacant as the featured speaker of the day.
The military prison is filled with the usual criminal element, narcotics and alcohol abusers, thieves, and child molesters. It has been said that the best chance of parole from this facility is for the child molesters–tells you a lot about our society–the society that professes such a high moral standard that we can dare to invade other countries to bring that same standard to their shores.
In among the criminals, sleeping on a three inch thick mattress, sitting in plastic chairs staring at the walls all day, and waiting for months at a time to have his request for a call to his attorney fulfilled, is one who is furthest from the criminal element, a man the Anti-War movement lovingly refers to as a “Prisoner of Conscience.” Labels, always the labels. Sgt. Kevin Benderman stands for everything that should be right in this country. This man stands for liberty, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, FREEDOM to be himself and live as he chooses.
This “Prisoner of Conscience” is jailed because we have been told that we must fear him, just as we fear those who have committed crimes against society, the rapists, molesters and thieves who victimize with their lack of moral principles. Our government has told us we must fear the Conscientious Objectors because they have stood against an illegal war of aggression. Our government, threatened by Sgt. Benderman’s moral stand to defend humanity and our constitution, has imprisoned him in the hopes that the slamming of the rusty, mildewed bars will silence his message of truth.
I know I will get letters, and I know I will anger many. To quote a rather public common citizen of this country, I say “Bring It On.” It’s time for America to face what it has refused to see–itself in its death throes.
War will never bring peace. War will only bring one more generation who will seek war as a solution. We hear repeatedly that victory must be achieved in this war for us to move closer to peace, and that victory means the end to all those who are our enemy now fighting against us. Where is the victory in killing? We are only creating more enemies, and the time without war that will follow will not be a time of peace.
That time will be a time of regrowth, when the wounds of the generations to come out of this war lay quiet and fester. When the anger at the crimes of humanity suffered at our hands is fed with the education of lessons learned in this most recent battle. In time, when we least expect it, the fetid smell of a people no longer willing to live with the guilt of the atrocities they allowed us to commit on their lives, will creep across the oceans and slither across our shores. Our new generation, lulled to sleep with the false sense of peace brought on by an illusion of superiority, will find itself shocked and awed that the security we thought we had was nothing more than a blanket now burning at the foot of a 100 story building built to represent success at the edge of the ghettoes we drive home to each night.
We cannot win at war. No one wins in war. Calling Sgt. Benderman a “coward” because he refuses to be a mercenary for men who do not have the courage to defend themselves, does nothing except show a person’s true colors. Relying on someone else to die so that people can sit on their sofas and grow fat on beer and chips, justifying their right by claiming they pay taxes to this country, is about as worthless an excuse as “men” can have.
Pacifism without a commitment will not achieve peace; it is a cop-out–no different than those evangelicals who go to church each week waiting in prayer believing that someone is coming to save them. Protest marches on weekend afternoons that have been planned for months so that those we speak against will be prepared with cleverly scripted comebacks, are not the way to achieve Peace. Singing the praises of the “prisoners of conscience” who wait in cells for someone to finally see the light, but not demonstrating our commitment to their stance in our own lives, is not the way to achieve Peace. The songs may be great for morale, but whose? Who benefits by songs for a cause when we forget that the “cause” has men like Sgt. Benderman as its foundation. This man speaks the truth so strongly because he is a soldier who has been to war, and yet sits behind bars for the fear he instills in the administration when he says he will no longer be party to their destructive ways. How can we fight to end a war, and not fight as strongly to end the wrongful imprisonment of a man who dares to speak the truth for all of us?
Sgt. Benderman is wrongfully imprisoned, not for doing great things, but for doing the right thing, and for standing against a corrupt system whose administration fears the statement his actions speak. He is imprisoned because his country has done so little to demand that the principles of our constitution be upheld. He is imprisoned because the citizens of this country have shirked their responsibility by believing the work of Peace was not their job. The citizens of this country have failed, by NOT demanding that moral conscience be the foundation of all of our actions.
He is told how great a stand he is taking and encouraged to continue, and to know that the difficulties he is facing are worth the struggle for the manner in which he is leading others to the truth, all the while people on both sides take full advantage of their “freedom”, taking for granted exactly what the word freedom really means.
Peace takes work; does anybody know what that means? Peace takes passion. Peace requires that we allow ourselves to feel–pain, hurt, agony, loss, heartache, rage, hate.
Peace requires that we act on those feelings with control, and patience. Peace requires that we never let our enemy know we’re coming.
Peace requires that we fight the terrorist tactics of those who would claim that war is the answer by using every passionate means we have to keep ourselves from acting on the pain, the hurt, the agony and the rage with anything less than absolute moral courage.
Peace requires a trust in knowing that rifles and tanks are no match for an adherence to strong ethical principles, the weapons of moral courage that bear NO resemblance to loaded guns.
Peace requires that we look into the eyes of another and see their pain, but also feel their love. Peace requires that we know ourselves, that we look in the mirror and see who we are, our strengths and our weaknesses.
Peace requires that we ACT–that WE act, not that we rely on the actions of another to represent what we would do if we had the courage. Peace requires that we act as a non-violent, yet aggressive consensus against what our government has done in our name.
Peace requires that we all have the courage to face the reality of this dying country, and nurture its goodness in the ways that haven’t been for generations, so that its spirit knows we care enough to fight for its soul, its heart–and defend its life by living up to the ideals on which it was founded, each of us in our individual lives.
Peace requires that we look at those men and women so impersonally labeled as “prisoners of conscience” and know their names, and know what they are fighting for. Peace requires that we know in our hearts that we must give with as much passion for life as they have, and not in words alone.
Can you bear the cold to be honestly free? Can you bear a Christmas without the warmth of a Yule log, without the comfort of a family around you, without the voices of angelic carolers at your door?
Can you dare to look at your enemy square in the eye, lay down your loaded weapon and honor life, putting your enemy’s life above death, trusting your strength enough to know that you can lead him to Peace?
If you cannot, then you do not deserve to say that you fight for Peace, and the strength of the “Prisoners of Conscience” will indeed be something to fear.
Sgt. Kevin Benderman is a wrongfully confined as a “prisoner of conscience” for refusing to participate in war. Please visit www.BendermanDefense.org and www.BendermanTimeline.com to learn more about his actions.
His wife, Monica may be reached at email@example.com