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If Given the Order, Would You Launch a Nuclear Bomb?

Answering no, in the United States Navy, may put you up for “psychological testing”.

A couple months back I linked to Slate’s interview with Justin Stieber (that’s Stieber, not Bieber), who applied for and was granted conscientious objector (CO) status during his tour in Iraq.  And yesterday, the NYT published this article about Michael Izbicki, who graduated at the top of his class in the Naval Academy, and was also recently granted CO status after a long, arduous process.   He now lives as part of a Quaker community in New London, Connecticut, where he spends his days—get this—gardening, praying, and studying Hebrew.

Money quote:

Mr. Izbicki said he also began exploring his commitment to Christianity. He studied the Gospels, read widely about the early history of the church, took up Hebrew so he could read the Old Testament in the original, and started to measure his faith according to the evangelical touchstone “What would Jesus do?”

It was in that light that he encountered the exam question about launching a nuclear missile in early 2009, shortly after he was assigned to submariner school at the Nuclear Power Training Command in Charleston, S.C. Seeing the question spelled out like that, he said, made it impossible to hide his emerging pacifism any longer.

“I realized that I could not be responsible for killing anyone,” he later explained.

His answer flagged him for psychological testing, and a consultation with a Navy chaplain, who was the first to suggest that Mr. Izbicki consider applying for discharge as a conscientious objector.

How revealing that saying, “No, I wouldn’t kill potentially millions of people with the push of a button,” causes the US Navy to question your psychological health.  Like he’s the crazy one.

Thank God we live in a country where obtaining CO status is even possible (if difficult!), but there’s something deeply wrong with any culture where anything but unquestioning obedience when it comes to something as devastating as launching a nuclear missile, and potentially, you know, ushering in the apocalypse, is seen as reason for psychological investigation.


Interview with a Conscientious Objector

Slate interviews Josh Stieber, who decided during his tour in Iraq that he “would rather go to prison than remain in the military.”  He got conscientious objector status instead, but the whole interview here is compelling.  Money quote:

I thought back to all the stuff I’d heard sitting next to this guy in church, and I asked him, “Well, even if he is guilty, what about the idea of loving our enemies and returning evil with good and turning the other cheek? How do you reconcile all those teachings?” My friend said, “I think that Jesus would have turned his cheek once or twice but he never would have let anyone punk him around.” Hearing him say it that way just made it sound so ridiculous. Here we supposedly had faith in this guy who very clearly was punked around, and ended up living and dying with sacrificial love. From then on, I really had to face the fact that I couldn’t have it both ways. Either I was going to try to find this inward reality where sacrificial love was possible for a higher goal, or I was going to let self-defense be my ultimate value.

Read the whole thing.

Two of my best friends in high school went straight into the military after graduation—one into the medical corps, the other into the infantry.  I never could have done it.  Back then, I wouldn’t have done it because I was 127 pounds (not that that’s changed much) and more interested in religion (surprise, surprise) than national security.  But now, I resonate with everything this guy is saying.

I am also continually amazed at Christian folks’ ability to circumnavigate the Sermon on the Mount.  Man.

(Hat tip: The Daily Dish)