Journal Title George Fox Journal Online

Point of View

A Quaker at a War College

MaryKate Morse Last summer, this longtime Quaker experienced the War College at Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania. I was an invited guest to the 50th National Security Seminar (NSS). The seminar is the culmination of a year of study for 320 students, 60 of them international. These students represent the upper-echelon officers from all military branches. The 125 guests were assigned to one of 20 seminar groups in which students had studied.

The primary purpose of the NSS is to allow military officers to hear the views of civilians. At this point in the officer’s career, he or she has spent an average of 15 years in the military and, therefore, is often insulated from the thinking of the American public. Reciprocally, the experience allows civilians to listen to future military leaders.

A secondary purpose of NSS is to provide a forum to hear distinguished speakers on issues of strategic and international importance. This year, General Hill, commander of the U.S. Southern Command; Dr. Norman Ornstein, a scholar with a conservative think tank; Retired Lt. General Scowcroft; and others spoke on issues ranging from American politics and civil-military relations to nation-building in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq. Primary speakers opened morning sessions, then students and guests asked questions. From there, we went into seminar groups for more intensive discussions.

I was assigned to Seminar Group 10, which included a colonel from Germany, a Muslim from Malaysia, an African-American colonel and lawyer, a Marine who fought in the Persian Gulf, a Chinook pilot who led troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, a political scientist from Panama, a Mexican-American intelligence civilian, and others. Guests included business owners, a political science academic, a multi-media entrepreneur, a forensic scientist, a town-hall administrator, an attorney from Puerto Rico, and me. It was an extraordinary mix of cultures, backgrounds, and worldviews. Today, I can easily talk two to three hours about critical national and international issues. However, the changing of my perceptions impacted me most.

The media often presents the military as war-mongering. However, again and again, I heard these officers speak about promoting peace, not fighting wars. One officer said, "If you have ever been in a war, you never want to be in another one or take any young people into one. I abhor war. It is one of the ugliest and most dehumanizing things people do to one another." The No. 1 value of the Army is loyalty to the Constitution of the United States, and they will give their lives to make sure that its truths are not compromised. The officers want to accomplish that through peaceful means. They see themselves as deterrents, as guardians of the peace.

A second perception change involved the quality of the War College students. They knew world religions, current international events, and American government leaders and political issues. They talked about globalization, the true meaning of jihad, peace treaties from various wars, the cultures of Iraq, and the causes of terrorism. They understood the deeper issues of America’s culture of fear and the role the media plays in sustaining that through over-reporting trauma and under-reporting good news. These were persons of integrity who wanted to protect the United States and serve other countries. They had a global worldview often lacking among the American public.

I understand not all military personnel think like this. But these are students who will lead the armed forces of tomorrow. I am a pacifist. I can be nothing else. However, perhaps as pacifists it would be helpful to build bridges with the military by encouraging these kinds of discussions. If we respect them and contributed to serving them, we might make deeper inroads into changing hearts and minds. The students thanked me for coming. They understood that the military machine can eat your soul if you are not careful, and they wanted understanding and support - not for war, but for the price they pay.

MaryKate Morse is associate professor of pastoral studies and spiritual formation for George Fox Evangelical Seminary.

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