Against Militarism but Supporting Military Families

This is a difficult and complex topic that I have been thinking deeply about for years….and am far from resolving within my conscience and heart. But I wanted to share a few thoughts because of the blog entry I wrote recently slamming the Boy Scouts for their newest forays into militarism. I want to be heard clearly that I am opposed to war and to militarism – but that I also feel nothing but compassion for military families and number many military people among my dear and respected friends. How do I live with what might seem like a contradiction such as this?
I am utterly and totally opposed to warfare of all kinds. I have nothing but contempt for the term “just war” and see violent armed action as being only in the interests of the powerful monied elites of this world. On a short-term level one might just about justify certain “conflicts” – but taking the long-term view? Never. As an anthroposophist who seeks to understand the development of humanity over the aeons and into the future, I see war as an outmoded, barbaric and wholly inexcusable activity at this stage of our shared human development. The stakes are too high – our very humanity is threatened by engaging in warfare.
So….how do I feel about military families? How do I feel about soldiers – in general and as individuals? This is where it gets complicated – this is where my assertions need to broaden out to take account of the complexities of human life. For although I will not compromise with my stance on warfare, when it comes to the actual human beings involved in such activities, I feel that I must allow for a whole range of thoughts and feelings. I have loved and love, respected and cared for many people who are or who have been soldiers.
And one of the most interesting observations I have made about military people I have known over the years is that some of the most up-standing, moral and honest folks I have ever had the privilege to meet have been ex or present military. Yet I feel more than ambivalent about what defines a large part of who they are – their relationship to the military (whether of this country or any other).
So this is interesting for me. I have not “figured it all out”. I cannot just say “well, everyone’s got to do what they believe in” – where does that end up logically when what we are talking about is not a personal choice that effects no one else, but a choice to take part in an institution which purports to stand for us all and whose actions effect us all now and into the future? Yet I also know that many people join the military for the highest reasons – love of country (being anti nationalist I have a bit if a problem with that one but I can see its higher side), family ties, wanting to serve. And I also know that many people in the armed forces hold on to those high ideals throughout their period of service and many, in their way, are able to live up to them.
Well…this is complicated. Very complicated. But I thought I would put forward a few very unfinished thoughts on this difficult subject – I was too aware of the possibility of seeming hypocritical to not hazard a few thoughts.  I welcome others’ observations and in-put.

Posted on July 7, 2009 in Children and Society

  • Alyssa says:

    I just read the post on Boy Scouts. I sent it to my Dad, who was an Eagle scout and is still involved in fund raising for scouting. He felt he gained a lot of life skills and experience that he is happy to see my son being given at his Waldorf School (PHWS). He has been asking me to consider starting a scout troop at the school so my son can share in his good experiences. I have felt uncertain about how scouting fits with Waldorf, and he feels that it has a lot to do with the individual leader and troop how things go… I am curious if you or others have additional thoughts to offer and I will let you know about his response to the NYT article as well.
    Yet again, I find myself wanting to find a “bridge” – can we offer Boy Scouts something that will make it better? Can a waldorf boy scout troop help bring light to that organization? Or is it better left alone…?

  • Donna says:

    On the surface of things, there is no reason at all why Waldorf and scouting shouldn’t fit together. The problems might come when one goes deeper – as the woman who posted a comment on the original blog I wrote about the Boy Scout Commandos said, the basis of the Boy Scouts is militarism – Lord Baden Powell, the founder was explicit about that. But for sure, during most of the happy history of the scouts, this hasn’t been an issue – and, as your father says, each troop is really different. For instance, the troop my sons were briefly in was, in my opinion, excessively patriotic. They joined Scouts to learn about woodlore and survival skills, not how to fold a flag or about how we love the USA more than other places…Having said all that, Eagle Scouts are somewhat different than plain old Boy Scouts – and this is where this new and disturbing manifestation of the original foundations of scouting are developing, as the New York Times article reports.

  • Alyssa says:

    Thanks for your comments, Donna, I thought I would pass along my dad’s also…
    It will be an interesting discussion for he and I, because, in my opinion, looking deeper does matter.
    Anyhow, his comments:
    The article is about one type of Venturing Crew. Venturing Crews are not your typical, traditional Boy Scouts. They are for boys and girls ages 14 to 21. For information about Venturing, visit the Boy Scouts website at
    There are as many types of Venturing Crews are there are careers. Police, Firemen, Doctors, Lawyers, Marine Biologists, Forestry, Photography, Journalism, Ministries. You name the career and there can be a Venturing Crew.
    There are also High Adventure venturing crews. That is what most are. Those are mountain climbing, white water rafting, camping, etc.
    I never joined a Venturing Crew. I was a traditional Cub Scout starting at age 7 and the a traditional Boy Scout from age 11 to 16. The max age limit for a traditional Boy Scout is 18.
    So to say I won’t allow my son to be a Boy Scout because the organization sponsors Venturing Crews that teach combat type careers is like saying I won’t allow my son to go to UW Madison, Marquette, St. Norbert College, etc. because they have ROTC. Or I won’t allow my son to go to WCTC because they teach police science. I certainly understand if you would say you would not let Tenzin join a law enforcement venturing crew. But what if he wants to join a an organic farming venturing crew?
    The part in the article about sexual abuse is troubling. But we both know that any article where adults and youth participate could have such a statement. Boy Scouts recognize that some creeps abuse kids. Boy Scouts teach youth protection to teach a boy what to be aware of, to not be afraid to tell, etc. Just like they teach knots, first aid, cooking, etc. It is absolutely forbidden for an adult to even go into a boys tent.

  • Amie Fries says:

    I just wanted to comment on the above article , as I have had similar thoughts and troubles in separating the military people from the larger powers that be . Having two family members that joined the military has also lead to more thought on the topic. I see these family members ideals and values as being true and good with high morals in their personal lives. In both cases they joined for the education they would receive and although they both served over in Iraq, they seem to have distanced themselves from their choices as well as the effects these choices have had. In one case , my sister in law – a black woman- she doesn’t seem to see the racism in the war(as well as the racism that happened to her- the only one in her unit to be sent back twice) It is almost like joining a corporation where you become a part of the machine , which is working on its own now and no one holds responsibility. I have also heard the opposite from a Navy Seal (friend of a friend) – ” can’t wait to get a piece of the action” which disgusts me.
    I really felt that this war somehow duped a lot of people with all of the patriotic B.S. and the fear tactics- including the solders. It was really perpetuated by the mainstream in so many ways and if that is your source of info. you believed it.(or if you didn’t you were afraid to speak out) I personally felt all of the info was there black and white, the Noam Chomsky’s and Amy Goodman’s of the world were speaking out if people tuned in.
    We had a simple sign in our front yard in Colorado “All Children deserve Peace” -WOOOW that created such a stir, neighbors coming over and tearing in down, yelling at us on our doorstep. How about road rage all across the country from CO to MI at a sign in our van window ala Micheal Franti ” you can bomb the world into pieces but you can bomb it into peace.”
    I don’t know, I personally would leave the military if it was doing wrong. I know everyone has their own reasons for joining, at different times in their lives as well as reasons they can’t leave… Life happens.. But life was certainly happening for those innocents that were bombed ,tortured , named in the name of oil. I avoid the subject with most people. I know people who were in the military that I just don’t want to go there with I am not going to change anything. I sometimes think that they are loyal to something else- I joined this organization, I must be true to that regardless of the rest. I feel very confused on this subject, as in Vietnam the soldiers were blamed and I have met people from that who say ” I want to get out of that situation”. But there was a draft then.
    Donna I want to know how you balance this questioning you are having with the friendships. Do you discuss this ? Do ever get to the “edge” where it seems there is a chance to fall off and the frienship fall apart. I do not know how to do this.
    Regarding the Boy Scouts issue. I think it is different to send a child into the boy scouts knowing what they WILL learn (regarding Venturing Crews) then to send them to a University where they could be studying Science and have nothing to do with ROTC whatsoever.
    I would rather send my son to Sacred traditions class where I know he is learning primitive skills, nature studies, practical knowledge without the patriotic stuff, religious indoctrination, and yes the possibility of sexual abuse. The whole boy scout thing just feels like another indoctrination of children into the ideas of the powers that be.

  • donna says:

    Hi Amie,
    I want to thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. I think that this is an incredibly difficult issue – but the more we can turn to one another from our humanity, the better chance we stand of understanding one another and moving forward.
    I have no definitive answer to this issue. You asked if I have spoken to my friends who are in the military or who are ex military about this….yes and no. In my life I have tended toward being a very black and white kind of person – it is interesting for me to live in the uncertainty of no clear answer with an issue such as this. There was a time in my life when I would never have had friends that had anything to do with the military. I have learned to move forward and to see how inhuman and narrow such a position is. I have learned an enormous amount from my military friends. Does that mean that I have in any way watered down my feelings and thoughts about warfare? Not a jot.
    But….have I had definitive conversations about all of this with all of my friends. No. Sometimes it takes a bit of time.
    Again, thank you so much for your contribution. This blog and my work is enormously enriched when people like you take the time to share their important and heart-felt thoughts.

  • khadijah says:

    you can love a person and hate what they do. maybe oversimplified, but i think this an extension of that concept.
    also, there are characteristics in warfare or military families which are admirable (such as the desire to love and protect) as much as there are possible ugly characteristics (desire to kill and maim to raise one’s own own ego) – we can fall into either of these categories in our every day actions and attitudes.
    if someone is noble in their everyday conduct and character we are more likely to be attracted towards them and trusting, to build friendships with them, but that doesn’t mean we’ll draw the same conclusions as them in every matter.

  • Amie Fries says:

    please could you elaborate on how the black and white thinking is inhumane in your mind.
    I don’t get an impression of narrowness when I listen to to Noam Chomsky, or black and white thinking. Perhaps it is about listening deeply. He still has a clear message and opinion without wavering. When I try to listen deeply regarding a strong disagreement I can hear my mind going into its own internal dialogue that gets in the way of the listening- it is like arguing with a spouse, I am already getting ready with my come back . I know this is not very evolved in a lot of ways, but it happens.
    Also, the things you have learned from your military friends- are we talking about learning and understanding about the military more deeply, or other learning between two people because you relate and enjoy this other person regardless of their political choices?

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