For those of you coming to this entry post-broadcast, Soldiers of Conscience is available on the POV website through November 30, 2008. Watch it now and return here afterward to enter your comments on the film.
Soldiers of Conscience is not a film that tells an audience what to think, nor is it about the situation in Iraq today. Instead, it tells a bigger story about human nature and war. The film begins with a little-known fact: after World War II, the Army’s own studies revealed that as many as 75 percent of combat soldiers, given a chance to fire on the enemy, failed to do so. The studies showed that soldiers, despite training, propaganda and social sanction, retained a surprising inhibition when it came to taking human life. The statistics surprised and alarmed America’s generals, who developed training techniques to overcome the reluctance to kill. But if the military found a solution to its problem, the moral contradiction for the individual soldier remained. The mental and emotional burdens carried by soldiers who have killed affect America’s families and communities after each of its recent wars. As this film shows, every soldier is inescapably a “soldier of conscience.”
Soldiers of Conscience airs on most PBS stations on Thursday, October 16 at 9 PM. (Schedules vary, so check your local listings.)
Joshua Casteel is a conscientious objector who was raised as a deeply religious, highly engaged Evangelical Christian. He asks, “When are there situations in which loyalty to a nation-state comes into conflict with loyalty to the kingdom of god?”
Lt. Col. Pete Kilner is a West Point professor of ethics, and a former infantry commander. He has studied the morality of killing, but for him, “The million people who are out defending our country fighting our wars, and the millions who have done it throughout history are not immoral people. No one likes to kill — no healthy person. . . . It may be nasty, it may be unpleasant, but the alternative’s worse.”
Filmmakers Catherine Ryan and Gary Weimberg worked to bring the voices of eight American soldiers, including four conscientious objectors, and four who believe in their duty to kill if necessary, together in the film. “[One of the goals we] had in making this film was to build respect for one another — even when we disagree,” says co-director Ryan. “We tried to make a war film that examines and explores our common ground. Where we can find common ground, we can eliminate problems. Perhaps even war.”
Do you think American soldiers are properly prepared for the realities of war? Is killing a difficult but necessary action in war time? Or is it morally wrong? How can individual soldiers reconcile their personal and spiritual beliefs with the army’s training? Share your thoughts about Soldiers of Conscience with us in the comments below.