John Dear: The Soldiers At My Front Door


Richard Moore

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Date: Sun, 30 Nov 2003 17:28:38 -0500


Published Sat., Nov. 29, 2003 by

The Soldiers At My Front Door
by John Dear

I live in a tiny, remote, impoverished, three block long town in the
desert of northeastern New Mexico. Everyone in town--and the whole
state--knows that I am against the occupation of Iraq, that I have
called for the closing of Los Alamos, and that as a priest, I have been
preaching, like the Pope, against the bombing of Baghdad.

Last week, it was announced that the local National Guard unit for
northeastern New Mexico, based in the nearby Armory, was being deployed
to Iraq early next year. I was not surprised when yellow ribbons
immediately sprang up after the press conference.

But I was surprised the following morning to hear 75 soldiers singing,
shouting and screaming as they jogged down Main Street, passed our St.
Joseph's church, back and forth around town for an hour. It was 6 a.m.,
and they woke me up with their war slogans, chants like "Kill! Kill!
Kill!" and "Swing your guns from left to right; we can kill those guys
all night."

Their chants were disturbing, but this is war. They have to psyche
themselves up for the kill. They have to believe that flying off to some
tiny, remote desert town in Iraq where they will march in front of
someone's house and kill poor young Iraqis has some greater meaning
besides cold-blooded murder. Most of these young reservists have never
left our town, and they need our support for the "unpleasant" task
before them. I have been to Iraq, and led a delegation of Nobel Peace
Prize winners to Baghdad in 1999, and I know that the people there are
no different than the people here.

The screaming and chanting went on for one hour. They would march passed
the church, down Main Street, back around the post office, and down Main
Street again. It was clear they wanted to be seen and heard. In fact, it
was quite scary because the desert is normally a place of perfect peace
and silence.

Suddenly, at 7 a.m., the shouting got dramatically louder. I looked out
the front window of the house where I live, next door to the church, and
there they were--all 75 of them, standing yards away from my front door,
in the street right in front of my house and our church, shouting and
screaming to the top of their lungs, "Kill! Kill! Kill!" Their
commanders had planted them there and were egging them on.

I was astonished and appalled. I suddenly realized that I do not need to
go to Iraq; the war had come to my front door. Later, I heard that they
had deliberately decided to do their exercises in front of my house and
our church because of my outspoken opposition to the war.
They wanted to put me in my place.

This, I think, is a new tactic. Over the years, I have been arrested
some 75 times in demonstrations, been imprisoned for a "Plowshares"
disarmament action, been bugged, tapped, and harassed, searched at
airports, and monitored by police. But this time, the soldiers who will
soon march through Baghdad and attack desert homes in Iraq, practiced on
me. They confronted me personally, just as the death squad militaries
did in Guatemala and El Salvador in the 1980s, which I witnessed there
on several occasions.

I decided I had to do something. I put on my winter coat and walked out
the front door right into the middle of the street. They stopped
shouting and looked at me, so I said loudly, publicly for all to hear,
"In the name of God, I order all of you to stop this nonsense, and not
to go to Iraq. I want all of you to quit the military, disobey your
orders to kill, and not to kill anyone. I do not want you to get killed.
I want you to practice the love and nonviolence of Jesus. God does not
bless war. God does not want you to kill so Bush and Cheney can get more
oil. God does not support war. Stop all this and go home. God bless

Their jaws dropped, their eyeballs popped and they stood in shock and
silence, looking steadily at me. Then they burst out laughing. Finally,
the commander dismissed them and they left.

Later, military officials spread lies around town that I had disrupted
their military exercises at the Armory, so they decided to come to my
house and to the church in retaliation. Others appealed to the
archbishop to have me kicked out of New Mexico for denouncing their
warmaking. Then, a general called the mayor and asked him to mediate
"negotiations" with me, saying he did not want the military "in
confrontation" with the church. Really, the mayor told me, they fear
that I will disrupt the gala send-off next month, just before Christmas,
when the soldiers go to Iraq.

This dramatic episode is only the latest in a series of confrontations
since I came to the desert of New Mexico in the summer of 2002 to serve
as pastor of several poor, desert churches. I have spoken out
extensively against the U.S. war on Iraq, and been denounced by people,
including church people, across the state. I have organized small
Christian peace groups throughout the state.

We planned a prayer vigil for nuclear disarmament at Los Alamos on the
anniversary of Hiroshima this past August, but when the devout people of
Los Alamos, most of them Catholic, heard about it, they appealed to the
archbishop to have me expelled if I appeared publicly in their town.

In the end, I did not attend the vigil, but the publicity gave me
further opportunities to call for the closing of Los Alamos. I receive
hate mail, negative phone calls and at least one death threat for daring
to criticize our country.
But New Mexico is the poorest state in the U.S. It is also number one in
military spending and number one in nuclear weapons. It is the most
militarized, the most in need of disarmament, the most in need of
nonviolence. It is the first place the Pentagon goes to recruit poor
youth into the empire's army.

If we are to change the direction of our country, and turn people
against Bush's occupation of Iraq, we are going to have to face the ire
and persecution of our local communities. If peace people in every local
community insisted that our troops be brought home immediately, that the
U.N. be sent in to restore Iraq, that all U.S. military aid to the
Middle East be cut, and that our arsenal of weapons of mass destruction
be dismantled, then we might all find soldiers marching at our front
doors, trying to intimidate us.

If we can face our soldiers, call them to quit the military and urge
them to disobey orders to kill, then perhaps some of them will refuse to
fight, become conscientious objectors and take up the wisdom of
nonviolence. If we can look them in the eye and engage them in personal
Satyagraha as Gandhi demonstrated, then we know that the transformation
has begun.

In the end, the episode for me was an experience of hope. We must be
making a difference if the soldiers have to march at our front doors.
That they failed to convert me or intimidate me, that they had to listen
to my side of the story, may haunt their consciences as they travel to
Iraq. No matter what happens, they have heard loud and clear the good
news that God does not want them to kill anyone. I hope we can all learn
the lesson.


John Dear is a Catholic priest, peace activist, lecturer, and former
executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. His latest books
include "Mohandas Gandhi" (Orbis) and "Mary of Nazareth, Prophet of
Peace" (Ave Maria Press). For info, see. 

Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space
PO Box 652
Brunswick, ME 04011
(207) 729-0517
(352) 871-7554 (Cell phone)


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