Deryck Durston, M.Div., S.T.M.
Associate director of the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education
Wallace Stevens wrote in his 1940 poem “Of Modern Poetry” that modern poetry has to “think about war.” In an article on the Inside Higher Ed website published October 13, 2008, professor Keith Gandal bemoans the lack of consideration of war in literature since the early 1980s. He points out that because most of the academics working today came of age during the Vietnam era, they were mostly against that war and did not want to have anything to do with war. “Since the Vietnam era — and this marks a break with previous attitudes — most American intellectual elites have not wanted to be in the military or to study it: They associate the military with an aggressive foreign policy and with homophobia, and the military’s degree of complicity in these policies is of course a legitimate concern.” Gandal goes on to point out that the military’s contribution to society has been under-emphasized because of this reaction, and notes that its contribution to meritocracy and equal opportunity has been strong for most of the last century.
I saw Soldiers of Conscience with a sense of relief that this topic is being addressed. I was flooded with memories of my experience coming of age in South Africa in the 1970s after being sent to fight against the guerillas/freedom fighters in Namibia — most of whom had left South Africa in order to turn around and fight against the destructive policies of apartheid. I, too, could not see the benefits to a society of war. I had a cousin who freely gave himself as a paratrooper in that war. He saw me as the lowest of the low because I refused to carry a rifle and ultimately left South Africa rather than inhibit the fight against apartheid. Watching Soldiers of Conscience, I was taken reeling back to those conflicted family discussions, accusations and differing perspectives. Honest people come at their decisions relating to war in all sorts of different ways. We turn away from what we abhor. As in the last 20 or 30 years in this country, not many have wanted to study war anymore, whether to promote it or to analyze its effects or to think in the classroom about it. War is not on the decrease and its consequences are far from clear. I applaud this film for raising the issues in the context of human stories without denigrating any of the perspectives that are in conflict.
Looking closely at the wrenching stories that speak to the agony of war is not an easy thing to do, but iIt is an essential task for people who do not want to keep the war machine running just because the economy has come to depend on it.
Deryck Durston, M.Div., S.T.M., is the associate director at the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, a multicultural and multifaith organization devoted to bringing theological students and ministers of all faiths (pastors, priests, rabbis, imams and others) into supervised encounter with persons in crisis. He earned his S.T.M in Pastoral Care from the New York Theological Seminary. Previously, Mr. Durston was a chaplain and clinical pastoral education supervisor at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Decatur, Georgia.