Army C.O. Application by Joshua Casteel

“…While ‘national interest’ is certainly no candidate for a Christian justification to kill, voluntary military service in no way conforms to the parameters of St. Paul’s proclamation to submit to the governing authorities…who bear the sword for a purpose’ (Romans 13). For, I am paid handsomely for my submission.”

(1) An express, specific statement as to whether the person requests classification as a conscientious objector 1-0, or as a conscientious objector 1-A-0.

Conscientious Objector 1-0, separation from military service.

(2) A description of the nature of the belief that requires the person to seek separation from the military service or assignment to noncombatant training and duty for reasons of conscience.

To take another’s life is the quintessential statement of divine judgment, and faithlessness toward the possibility of reconciliation and redemption. It is better for a righteous man to die at the hands of an enemy than to defend himself with lethal force, because the mere entity of life itself is not what is of greatest importance, but rather the manner of one’s living – living virtuously and loving all, especially enemies. If a man takes me to the place of forfeiting my own virtue, morally speaking I have become his slave, and I am now made in his image as I assume his violent actions over my own free decision to put aside resorts to violence. In reality, however, I am always free to choose. To engage in, or support, actions or systems of premeditated lethal force has no place in a Christian life, and can be in no way thought within the bounds of Christian participation, even if a person were coerced into such deeds, forced under punishment of death or incarceration. And while “national interest” is certainly no candidate for a Christian justification to kill, voluntary military service in no way conforms to the parameters of St. Paul’s proclamation to “submit to the governing authorities…who bear the sword for a purpose” (Romans 13). For, I am paid handsomely for my submission.

Willfully picking up and systematically employing weapons of lethal force has no place in a life which claims to be authentically “Christian“, although I can certainly remain sympathetic to those motivated out of a desire to “protect the innocent”. Yet, if I am bound to the belief that God is in control of the cosmos, and miracles can and do happen, then there is no possible “hypothetical situation” wherein God’s ability to perform miracles through the faithful actions of the merciful ceases to be a possibility. And, I would rather die myself than err in this fashion, having too hastily chosen preemptive judgment. All that being said, I have not been coerced to serve my country, but in fact have been given many liberties at the free expression of my faith. I willingly submitted to the authority and ethical parameters of the US Army on February 4th 1997, and reaffirmed that willingness on May 29th 2002. As long as I am obligated under the UCMJ to follow all lawful orders, I will continue to do so. But, it is also my moral and religious duty to seek all avenues to avail myself of the opportunity to make my own moral judgments, submitted to the conscience of Christ, rather than abdicating them to another’s interests or discretion – be they the interests of a man, organization or nation-state. My allegiance is to a Kingdom not of this world, and there shall be no other gods before Jesus Christ.

(3) An explanation as to how his or her beliefs changed or developed, to include an explanation as to what factors (how, when, and from whom or from what source training received and belief acquired) caused the change in or development of conscientious objection beliefs.

I come from a military family, my father, aunt and grandfather all served in the US Army. I was first recruited between the ages of 15 and 16. I signed my first enlistment contract under the Delayed Entry Program 4 February 1997, 38 days after I turned 17 and attended Basic Combat Training the following summer at Fort Leonard Wood, MO. I first encountered problems during bayonet training while having to chant, “Kill! Kill! Kill, without mercy, Sergeant!” or “Blood! Blood! Bright red blood, Sergeant!” I could not say the words every time. Yet, I simply took this as a more general aversion to violence on account of my Christian upbringing, rather than a dogmatic disavowal of its possibility.

The following Fall of my Senior year of High School I won an appointment to the US Military Academy at West Point, in lieu of my military background and achievements in athletics and academics. During most of high school I was rather mesmerized by feelings of loyalty and fidelity to Country, believing almost Puritanically in a myth of America’s Christian heritage as perhaps a New Israel or Ronald Reagan’s “Shining City on a Hill.” Patriotism was very much weaved into my Christianity, which in turn helped make the world appear intact, gave purpose to my direction. I was also accepted to Wheaton College and awarded an ROTC scholarship, which was the only way I could have paid for such an expensive private school. But, the nobility and uniqueness of West Point was, for me at that time, too much to turn down.

Yet at West Point I only encountered more problems. Whether it was the restrictive academic environment, the military duties, the camaraderie I never truly felt a part of, or simply a desire for greater freedom and the opportunity for a more liberal college education, my time on the Hudson did not bode well for me. At this stage, however, my wrestling with the military was of a more personal nature. At the age of 18 I did not yet have the maturity or perspective to see my personal struggles as being motivated by anything deeper than personal discomfort – I simply felt suffocated at West Point. A clear example of my struggle there can be summed up in an experience in an English class. One day all the cadets in my English class had to write “poetic descriptions” of a statue from the courtyard. There are numerous statues on Academy grounds, but that particular day we wrote about General George Patton. We all assembled in a square formation around the Patton statue, wrote our poetic descriptions, filed back into the classroom and wrote our poems on personally assigned chalk boards.

Cadet after cadet wrote lines such as, “Pride streams from undaunted eyes, and a gaze of patriotic victory!” I was the last cadet to read his poem, which went more like, “Pride dies with withering youth, and vain ambition falls to the floor like weathered metal.” All eyes locked on me, mouths gaping. I spent the next week in the Chaplain’s office, and exited Academy grounds about two weeks later. Gradually discovering that my interests and gifts resided in different venues, and my temperament clearly of a different stock, I returned to civilian school to study philosophy and the arts and humanities. The Academy was amazing, but we were not a fit in any way.

When I left the office of my Regimental Commander, I was completely in tears. He scolded me for about fifteen minutes about how he would never allow me re-entrance into West Point (should I reapply) and how I had the makings of a substandard leader and a weak-fibred individual. Confused enough about how my experience of a place I had spent years preparing for had so greatly missed the mark, the Commander’s words simply added insult to injury. The next year of civilian education was a mess.

Being the youngest child in a middle-class family (two sisters having attended both private and public universities) I still needed some way to pay for college. I already owed the Army a service obligation from my enlistment in the Reserves (having planned simply to “transition“ to West Point), and being that I had been awarded a four-year ROTC scholarship, my family and I decided it would be best to continue on a path toward becoming an officer. Wheaton College dormitories were already at maximum capacity, and 1998 enrollment deadlines had passed for most colleges and universities across the country . The University of Iowa, however, completed all of the transfer papers on my behalf, and I started classes the very next day after leaving West Point.

However, my track record militarily at the University of Iowa was not necessarily great. I was awarded and commended for my skills and abilities in specific areas, and maintained quite good relations with my chain of command, but I was the only first-year cadet not promoted at the conclusion of our first year’s studies. My BN Commander said it was to reinforce in me the chain of command’s belief that I “lacked dedication to the unit and to development toward being commissioned as an Army Officer”. Clearly, they were correct.

I sought the possibility of taking a year off to regain some perspective, which the Army told me would forfeit my ROTC scholarship. Then, in researching other options, I discovered that the University of Colorado at Boulder had openings for two-year scholarships, which they said could be awarded me if I could pay for my Sophomore year out of pocket. I could not afford out-of-state tuition for UC Boulder, but after applying to a small private Christian college in near-by Denver, at which my sister Naomi was a Graduate-Assistant-in-residence, I was awarded an academic scholarship. Upon arrival to Colorado Christian University (CCU) I discovered that the president of the University was a West Point graduate, Dr. Larry Donnithorne. I studied everything from philosophy and physics to theology and art theory that year, and spent many hours in Dr. Donnithorne’s office, who had also been a professor of philosophy at West Point for a time. I told him of my plan with UC Boulder, but he tried to convince me to discontinue this path, seeing perhaps that my gifts and abilities were most suitable some place outside of the military. I eventually concurred, and after finishing that year at CCU where I reacquired my zeal for academics, especially philosophy and literature, I decided to return to the University of Iowa to complete a Philosophy degree.

Colorado is where I first started wrestling with issues such as Christianity and patriotism, Just War and pacifism, truth and relativism, etc. My main interests, however, were predominantly philosophical rather than theological, so my venture into Just War (in particular) was superficial at best. At this point, I was at a minimum convinced of the Roman Catholic doctrine of Just War, which is incredibly rigorous and intended to deter war not “justify” its use. By and large, however, my philosophical preoccupations were in other areas.

I continued my education at the University of Iowa, which included a semester-long “study abroad” stay at Keble College, Oxford University at the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (CMRS). During these final two years of college is when I started almost exclusively attending Anglican services, at either Episcopal Churches in the US, or traditional Anglican and Anglo-Catholic services in England. Keble College at Oxford is itself actually an ordaining institution for the Church of England, once having been the epicenter of the Anglo-Catholic “Oxford Movement”, which sought to regain the catholicity of the Church of England.

Yet, before I left for Oxford, I met a playwright named Naomi Wallace. Wallace is a Macarthur Grant (otherwise known as the “Genius Grant”) recipient and an outspoken and politically active artist, who when I met her, was preparing a new play condemning the Iraqi trade embargo. I participated as a student in her workshop at the University of Iowa, and after learning that she currently resided in England I decided to introduce myself and let her know of my upcoming stay at Oxford. Wallace was perhaps pleasantly surprised by the idea of a soldier taking an interest in her writing (as she is not often a close kin to the US military), and we began emailing on occasion. Wallace also began sending me both political and artistic literature. Much of the political literature resonated of intellectuals like Noam Chomsky and Edward Said, incendiary critics of American foreign policy, especially the overzealous use of American military might. While very intellectually convinced of much of Wallace’s political convictions, I could not bridge the personal divide which placed my remaining duties back within military service. I simply decided then to live with a degree of paradox and contradiction.

During my stay in England I met up with Wallace in London, at the opening of one of her plays. The next day Wallace called me, informing me that a rather prominent London stage and cinema director, David Gothard, wished to meet me. Gothard, as I later discovered, works extensively in arts proliferation in war torn areas of the world, such as Israel/Palestine, the Balkans, and areas of Communist China. We set up a time to meet in London, where I submitted to him some of my creative writing, and we have maintained a personal friendship ever since. We have on numerous occasions spoken of professional collaboration as well. This input of creative and influential intellectuals who are active politically in their crafts has contributed to my ongoing personal struggle with regard to my military service. While in England I also lived with three individuals who were all from the initial school I turned down in order to attend West Point, Wheaton College. Sharing this nearly same-taken path, as well as our American Evangelical upbringings and the Anglican character of our Oxford experience, I started to a much deeper degree speaking and understanding my philosophical education and political outlook in a distinctly theological manner.

Yet, I started classes at Oxford four months after the September 11th attacks. So, my theological discussions by necessity took a very pragmatic, political and ethical tone as well. Politics became theological and theology became political. Yet all the while, I knew prior to coming to Oxford that I would be re-entering Active Duty upon the conclusion of my studies. For about the entire year prior to September 11th I had been receiving letters from an Army Retention office in Des Moines, IA about a new “program” in Congress which would restructure the Inactive Ready Reserve (IRR), which is how I had been classified militarily after my departure from both West Point and the University of Iowa ROTC program. This program stated that all IRR members would be forcibly reactivated to active Reserve Duty status if they did not voluntarily report to a specified unit. Since I had not completed Advanced Individual Training (AIT), but had gone to West Point during the summer in which I was previously scheduled to receive my specialty training as a 51B (Carpenter/Mason) , I was in a place where I did not belong to any unit in particular, and would have to be trained in order to be reactivated in any capacity.

I brought the Army Retention letters to local recruiters, who actually discovered that they were fraudulent, and used by a Des Moines recruiter to boost enlistment numbers. Technically, I was “free again”, but this experience forced me to remember the fact that I had once signed a contract in which I had pledged service. I stood at a cross-roads of genuine and exciting post-graduate opportunities in both the UK and US as prior commitments stared back at me. In the wake of September 11th, whether or not I could have legally maintained my inactive status, I felt it an act of cowardice not to do something that bore the mark of finality. Opportunities or no opportunities, I felt I had to go back or get out – completely. Politically, I was very much opposed to some sort of nebulous “war on terrorism” and as this “war” turned to Iraq my political misgivings intensified greatly. But, I still lacked the articulation of a conscientious objector, and felt that in the absence of such an articulation it was my duty to go back. Some sort of action was demanded by September 11th, and in the absence of an articulate alternative, I came to the conclusion that my prior obligation had demanded the path for me already. I graduated with Honors from the University of Iowa with a Bachelor of Arts degree in “Literature, Science and the Arts” (Philosophy emphasis) and days later reentered full Active Duty May 29th 2002.

My decision to become an Interrogator, as opposed to a Chaplain’s Assistant or medical specialist, simply rested in the fact that I thought interrogation to be where my gifts rested. I come from a family of lawyers and counselors, I am skilled in learning languages, and I have had a pretty good amount of acting experience and training. I thought that if I had to do something which I really did not want to do to begin with, I should at least do something at which I had a reasonable chance of being skilled. And, indeed I proved skilled in interrogation. I received awards at the Basic Interrogator school and Defense Language Institute (DLI) for both my abilities as a linguist and in soldiering and interrogating.

The only real ethical dilemma I encountered at Fort Huachuca was signing the “consent-to-lie” form. It seemed a backward thing for a Christian to do, on a certain level. But, as an actor, I could not come up with any dogmatic reason why deception was in itself immoral. And, still, the blanket issue of “deception” is not necessarily a theological problem for me, as say “manipulation” is – or as we say in the field, “exploitation”. This is the moral issue, manipulation and exploitation, from which my CO convictions began to crystallize.

Yet, it was my time at DLI in the Arabic school where my convictions developed. As the War in Iraq began, I sought for some way in which to formulate my ethical/theological convictions into something that would allow me to function, yet again, as a soldier-in-training. Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Episcopal/Anglican Church have maintained a dual-stance on the issue of war and violence – pacifism OR Just War. Both churches, however, are dogmatically opposed to simple resorts to violence to solve political problems. Both the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Pope John Paul II condemned the invasion of Iraq. Yet, the intense nature of my language studies precluded, practically speaking, any extra-curricular investigation of the theology of Just War, so I rested in the general authority of the Church as offering me a bit of freedom and latitude in my vocation. But, as a soldier watching my comrades in war from a leather chair, and internally quite undecided about many ethical problems, I was very restless.

I began working with a group called “JETs” (Junior Enlisted Trainers) which trained newer soldiers at DLI in Common Tasks Training. But, after seeing the way in which this group conducted itself, I began to feel as if I were working within something quite like a “religious organization”. The NCO’s with combat experience played the role of “Apostles” for us, and we were the “disciples” who in turn went out into the community of DLI to make new disciples, trained in the ways of soldiering. There was a genuine religious zeal for what we did, and a spirit of evangelism to help make others into better soldiers. This brought me a temporary sense of belonging and purpose, but the religious undertones simply brought out the deeper need I had for a specifically religious expression, apart from the military and my vocation as a soldier. I stopped JETs entirely, and began to seek vigorously for a constant church community, and began reading Scripture and theological works during much of my time away from class.

Additionally, one of my friends from Oxford, Jacob Florer, who had just returned from Baghdad and Israel/Palestine, began telling me of his involvement with the International Centre for Reconciliation (ICR). Centered at Coventry Cathedral (Church of England) and led by Rev. Canon Andrew White, the ICR was established by evangelically minded Anglicans at the close of WWII as a means of actively engaging in the reconciliation of nations, focused primarily on peacefully negotiating political, religious and ethnic disputes. I was both inspired and depressed to hear of Jacob’s tour of the Middle East and intimate work with the ICR, knowing quite well my own upcoming time abroad would be of a very different tenor.

Then, about five months before my graduation from DLI (at which point a deployment to Iraq had become virtually assumed), I attended a theology conference in Seattle, WA at which my three Oxford/Wheaton friends were in attendance, another of whom, Joseph Clair, delivered an academic paper. The keynote speaker at the conference was a man named Professor Stanley Hauerwas, under whose instruction Joseph was also graduate student. Professor Hauerwas is an outspoken and renowned pacifist theologian from Duke University Divinity School. In his keynote speech, Prof. Hauerwas outlined a few minor points of his pacifist position, expounding upon them specifically within the current context of American foreign and domestic policy and the idea of a distinctly Christian notion of participation
in American politics.

I talked with Prof. Hauerwas after his speech and asked him a few practical questions about what a Christian already within the military might do, being that I was quite impressed and persuaded by much of his position. He told me he would like to help me find a way out of the military. At the time, I found his “advice” a bit extreme. I instinctively agreed with his theological positions, and that non-violence/non-coercion had been the witness of Christ and the Apostles. But, for personal reasons or other, I could not fully embrace simply exiting the military outright. My agreement with Prof. Hauerwas felt too instinctive and inarticulate, and frankly too “new” for me to make such a drastic life change. Some sort of change I felt was indeed necessary, but weighing my commitments to both faith and nation, I looked to what those options might be within the military first.

Directly upon my return to DLI from Seattle, I set up an appointment with my BN Chaplain to discuss the possibility of becoming a Chaplain. Both my parents are ordained ministers (ordained as “counselors” and not as “preachers”), and having developed a desire to pursue theological education after exiting the military anyhow, it seemed like a proper fit to fulfill both my commitments to nation and also remain faithful to my growing convictions of non-violence. My BN Chaplain was enthusiastic about the prospects of my becoming a Chaplain in light of my philosophical education, the current shortage of Anglican priests in the US Army Chaplains Corps, and my family’s background in professional counseling.

Yet, directly upon my return from Seattle I began reading almost obsessively in the literature of Just War, pacifism, international relations, ethics, etc. The politics of non-violence became quite important to me, and I began reading about Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi, Thomas Merton, the “Solidarity” movement in Poland under a brilliant priest Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II), the history of the Mennonite tradition, as well as the history of pacifism in both the Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions. I began working also alongside an Episcopalian priest at St. Joseph’s Chapel (Monterey, CA) , Father William Martin, who advised me to “hasten slowly” regarding issues of pacifism and conscientious objection, himself not a pacifist. My political convictions regarding American foreign policy were very much in line with the incendiary criticisms levied by professors such as Stanley Hauerwas or even Noam Chomsky, but my theological articulation remained lacking, and thus an official protest from military service still eluded me.

I became an acolyte at the church, spent a great deal of personal time with Father Martin learning a bit of what pastoring consists of, and began preparing for official confirmation as an Anglican. I was confirmed by Archbishop Robert Sherwood Morse of the Anglican Province of Christ the King (APCK) on March 7th 2004 and began discussing with him the future prospects of ordination and commissioning as an Army Chaplain. Archbishop Morse was very enthusiastic about my ordination as a priest for his province, and being curious about the potential of a chaplain’s position (as none from the APCK currently serve in uniform) we began to plan future dates of my seminary education which we expected to take place following my deployment to Iraq.

The seminary which is run by Archbishop Morse, St. Joseph of Arimathea Anglican Theological College, is currently not accredited and offers a “bachelor’s level” degree (Bachelor of Sacred Theology) for priestly formation, and thus he directed me to apply to the Graduate Theological Union, in which there is a Dominican School (Roman Catholic) that allows APCK seminarians to conduct master’s level education alongside their priestly formation at St. Joseph’s, in order to fulfill the educational requirements of the Chaplain’s Corps. Two weeks before I deployed to Iraq I was accepted for a dual-Master’s degree program in Philosophy and Theology at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology at the Graduate Theological Union (Berkeley, CA).

(4) An explanation as to when these beliefs became incompatible with military service and why.

When I deployed to Iraq, 15 June 2004, I left my political literature at home, realizing that somehow I had to find some way to function in the midst of my many misgivings and objections. I understood that political convictions can change and develop as peoples, policies and economies change, so in an attempt to remain open-minded and patient, I brought instead my spiritual literature, attempting to focus primarily on priestly formation, philosophy, church history, and dogma. I left my more radical spiritual literature at home also, desiring to at least give time for the many non-pacifist spiritual influences in my life to have their moment, as I experienced the world of conflict and combat.

About a month into my deployment, however, I was on buying hoards of books on New Testament interpretation, Biblical ethics, Just War, pacifism, and various spiritual and intellectual outlooks on both the “war on terrorism” and the war in Iraq. Daily encounters with “the enemy” brought out so many moral dilemmas, all which I expected or feared I would encounter. My first moral difficulty dealt with deception, and from this issue everything else evolved. From my very first interrogation until now, I have simply lacked the ability to look at the person I interrogate in a way that does not demand I also think about what is best for him. If I cannot run an interrogation approach which will either genuinely help a person’s position in life or enlighten that person about some moral issue, I cannot run the approach. I tried many times in my first weeks at Abu Ghraib to be more “strategic”, and I attended confession after each of these sessions because of an overwhelming burden to atone for what I considered the sin of reducing individuals to strategic “objects of exploitation”. It did not matter if the detainee was a war-hardened jihadist bent upon my destruction or just a wrongly accused farmer, what I discovered in interrogation is that I personally cannot offer an incentive I know I cannot (or will not) actually follow through on, present scenarios which I myself do not believe, or manipulate preexisting feelings of enmity or create new feelings of enmity in a person for the purposes of “intelligence exploitation”. Every time I walk into the interrogation booth I see a man in need of redemption, and because of that I have had to utterly re-create my interrogation methods in order to reconcile the demands of my job with who I am as a person and as a Christian. I am still recreating my methods, and confessing my sins (for as long as the task is mine), having in no way found the answer of how to reconcile these conflicting worlds.

For the first month on the job I lacked the ability to smile freely during working hours, overburdened by what I thought my job demanded of me ethically. I have not been able to eat during the work day for most of the time I have spent at Abu Ghraib, although for months I would eat excessively after work hours to help relieve stress. I have never lost and gained weight so frequently, smoked so much, or drank more coffee than during my time as an interrogator. To this day, I still battle greatly with personally giving myself the moral permission to do this job, albeit I continue as best I know how.

Yet there was one day in particular when all of the stress, ethical misgivings, and personal doubt came to a head. I spent a morning researching for upcoming interrogations. That day I researched “bad guys” for the entirety of the morning – personalities, groups, structure, command and control. My interrogation that day was not until the afternoon, so I took the morning to prepare and learn the atmospherics of battle and area of operation.

As I studied insurgents and their organizations, the morning after a feebly executed attack on the prison had left insurgents simply obliterated, my anxiety grew. The strategies of battle argued in my mind. “These insurgent groups have check points they operate, openly – armed check points? Why haven’t we taken them out with Apaches? Why haven’t we simply taken them out yet? I mean, the firepower these sandal-clad guys can muster is ridiculously inferior to what the United States Armed Forces can bring down upon them. These groups, the same ones which suicidally attempt to blow up walls 100 meters from where I sleep, are the same groups killing other Muslims in their absurd attempts to fight Coalition Forces. Why are we just sitting on our thumbs just letting these guys parade around with RPG’s, surface-to-air missile launchers and heavy machine guns, when a single Apache attack helicopter can take
them out in minutes?”

I then left the interrogation center to go back to my room. I was still not eating during the day, at least not in public, not around people. I usually just returned to my room, read a book, watched a movie, wrote letters or poetry, and then finally would nibble on something to help unwind. That day I was reading a book called Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas. Having talked to him personally, and being best friends with two of his students, his ideas were not necessarily novel to me, but after watching myself strategize mentally over the best way to quell futile insurgent violence, I began to think something was gravely amiss.

As I read, I’d look down at my watch – 12:10. I read some more than looked back at my watch – 12:35. I had an interrogation at 1:30, and my anxiety seemed to simply undo me. The purpose of my upcoming interrogation was to reassert control, assess, find the missing links, extract the needed information. 12:42. I didn’t know what was so massively coming over me. It was minutes past when I ought to have already left in order to make it back to the office in time to resume my planning and prep. But, I sat in my chair in a dark room illuminated only by a clip-lamp, while I nibbled on dry fruit and chips, continuing to read because I was terrified to go back to my job.

I then made a decision to forego the interrogation altogether in order to talk with the Chaplain. My interrogation partner agreed to take over for me in my stead, and I went to search out Chaplain Fischer – a young First Lieutenant, not that much older than me, but a deeply and sincerely Christian man situated in a much different place in the military, which I hoped might offer the kind of perspective that perhaps my proximity to my own circumstances might not afford. We talked, prayed, I vexed, and then I summoned whatever strength we could conclude upon to go back to my interrogation, take over from my partner, and finish what I had previously planned. And I did so with relative ease. Instinct is a keen ally. I was not afraid to demand authority, to play upon certain weaknesses of my detainee, and to question in a most heated fashion – because ultimately I thought it would lead me to a more accurate assessment of the veracity of his statements. I transgressed no lines of proper conduct, but I certainly, and without hesitation, used a man’s anxieties, weaknesses and fears, and my particular place of power and dominance to assess him according to his word. A few weeks later, I had even secured his release. Yet, after I left the interrogation, everything simply seemed wrong.

I finished reading Resident Aliens, then went on to read The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder, Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic and The Peaceable Kingdom by Hauerwas, The Cost of Discipleship and Ethics by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Moral Vision of the New Testament by Richard Hays, The Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle, and numerous other essays on war, politics, pacifism, visions of the “just society”, and Christian ethics. If I was not on duty I was either reading about the nature of my moral quandary, reading exegetical commentaries of the New Testament, or brushing up on my Biblical Greek (which I had studied in college) and Aramaic in order to re-read key passages of controversy concerning soldiering and violence. Then came my interrogation with the Saudi Arabian jihadist.

The entire interrogation seemed almost mythical. When I finished I actually had to confess to my section leader what had happened, and how badly I had lost my objectivity as an interrogator, thinking it probably better to transfer the case to a different interrogation team. We spent most of the interrogation discussing ethics, Islam and Christianity. The man was a self-professed jihadist, come from Saudi Arabia for the sole purpose of killing people like me. Yet the entire time we spoke, he talked to me with a gentle calmness and evangelical tone, whereby I genuinely believed he desired my good – as I truly desired his. He tried to convert me to Islam from start to finish, and coming from an Evangelical Christian background, I felt in familiar territory, as if I were speaking simply to my Muslim counterpart. Then, we began to discuss war and violence. I asked him why he came to kill, he asked me why did I. At that point I knew I could go no further, unless I wanted to get into a debate about which one of us had the “more just” cause.

He then told me that I was not following the actual teaching of Christ, who said to “turn the other cheek” and to “not resist an evil person”. Coming from a jihadist who flat out told me he would kill me if he had the chance, I did not take the personal challenge all that seriously, but I came to a clear recognition of the fact that I absolutely agreed with him. I was in complete and total agreement with him, and I told him so. I did believe that my participation in systems of violence debilitates my Christian witness. I wanted to tell him that there was a different answer to injustice than the cycle of vengeance and violence condoned by Islam and by most systems of secular law: “killing in the name of justice or civil order”. I wanted to tell the jihadist that Jesus Christ (in Islam, the prophet “Isa”) had taught another way, and that I was living that way as a flesh-and-blood example for him – but I could not. For a moment, my job and duties completely faded to the periphery and all I cared about was confessing to this enemy my own sins in the hopes that he would recognize his. But, I could only take him so far. I could not actually lead him down a different path by my own example.

What I realized that day is that I whole heartedly believed, even when challenged by an enemy lacking legitimacy, that my participation in systems of violence completely debilitates the living example I believe is my bounded duty as a Christian to offer. And I believe this lack of coherence made my Christian witness totally impotent to a man who believed he was fighting a “just cause”. I have never fired a bullet at anything other than paper and plastic targets. I have never actually had to play the role of a “combatant” other than the lawyering I do as an interrogator. Being a “combatant” or a “non-combatant” is not the point. My approval of the coercive and violent system, of the notion of war itself, is the delegitimizing factor which makes my witness of a “more perfect way” invalid. As a Christian who believes that the pivotal moment in all of human history was the willing death of Jesus of Nazareth, who did not institute Divine law by coercive means, but offered it freely even to the point of his own “unjust” death, I believe it is my duty to carry on that cross and to disavow all notions of coercion, even for the approximation of justice – perhaps especially so. It is my duty to suffer in the midst of injustice for those who might be saved by my mercy – especially for those who are my so-called enemies. Enemy love is the absolute heart and soul of Christianity, because Christ died for those who were enemies to God – all of us. It is especially for enemies, and especially for those who are unjust, for whom I must turn away from methods of coercion, so that I might orient them to a higher law that is freely given. And no loyalty to nation trumps that.

Pope John Paul II said that any time we engage in actions which reduce people to objects of an abstract ideology, objects to be “exploited”, we participate in what he calls modernity’s “culture of death”. Coercion, or more precisely “lethal force”, reduces individuals to objects of threat, as opposed to persons offered grace by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I heard on many occasions from top US officers of the Coalition’s mission to “kill or capture” all “anti-Democratic Forces”. When I heard that kind of utterly lethal and Manichean “us v. them” mentality from top officers, I simply felt nauseous. It is possible to use non-lethal force in such a way that is merciful, which allows a person the opportunity for reflection, and to choose a better path. But, such an act of force keeps in mind always a desire for the offender’s good, for the offender to rectify ways, and leaves open the possibility for repentance – not to mention demanding humility from the person in the defensive posture to learn perhaps why aggression is being directed toward him. Lethal force denies any of these possibilities and simply eliminates the threat for the sake of temporal expediency. And there is nothing I have, or possibly could have, that is so worth defending that I should ever intentionally allow myself to enact such instantaneous and self-righteous damnation upon another human being. A Christian is called to a much greater notion of justice – one that involves self-sacrifice for the sake of the offender. I have no option but to believe this, because it is in fact what I believe. I have to admit this first to myself, then to those under whose charge I am.

The anxiety I feel every day I strap a weapon to my back, and map out my strategy to best get at the information a man has within him is anxiety over my own identity. As a result, I often default to a “therapeutic model” of interrogation, picking up on the Casteel family trade. And yet all things are permissible, just not necessarily profitable. My dilemma is not so much one of moral action, but of sheer identity. My anxiety is built upon a premise of living directly opposed to the true nature of reality – the reality made manifest in Christ, who says “not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord”. God has shown us what it looks like to operate according to the way the world actually is – Christ. The tension of that reality to the powers and principalities which rule this present darkness is a tension which ultimately lead Christ to the cross. And what are we told? “Pick up your cross and follow me today! Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed in the renewing of your mind! Fear not he who can destroy your body, but he who can destroy your soul! Whoever does not abandon all for my sake is not fit to be my disciple. These things I have spoken unto you, that in me you might have peace – In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world!”

(5) An explanation as to the circumstances, if any, under which the person believes in the use of force, and to what extent, under any foreseeable circumstances.

Premeditated lethal force is never justified. Systematic premeditated lethal force (war) is unconscionable. If a person is irrationally forced into a situation where one is caught unawares, the right to use lethal force for self-defense should not be dogmatically restricted. But, to plan in advance in the use of lethal force, rather than fully exhaust all methods to resolve conflict peacefully in order to engender reconciliation, is categorically un-Christian and utterly lacking in faith. To defend oneself or others with non-lethal, restrained, and proportional force is entirely different for it still allows the aggressor(s) an opportunity for reflection and even rehabilitation, as well as possibly preventing an evil from occurring. To defend in such a fashion, could even be seen as gracious. Vengeful force (even non-lethal) is never justified. War, however, is the epitome of every wrong instance of force summarily collected into one systematic institution – it is altogether evil.
(6) An explanation as to what in the person’s life most conspicuously demonstrates the consistency and depth of his or her beliefs that have rise to his or her claim.

Before deploying to Iraq, I submitted a DA Form 4187 to my supervisor in lieu of an anticipated application to the Chaplain’s Corps. Once deployed and we began conducting base defense plans in Iraq, I first asked to be put into a support role, not wishing to actively engage in combat. I later told my chain of command, however, that I would accept any post given to me should the need arise, being that my mere presence within Iraq as a soldier was itself an act of violence, the guilt already upon me. The difference between me, not having fired a weapon, and the Marine tower-guards who protect me daily, is only one of degree. I am maintained by means of violence, and I participate in systems of violence daily. I may not have to take the body-memories with me of having tangibly killed individuals, whose faces or silhouettes I can recall. But, the intelligence reports I write do the same job effectively. The blood is just as much on my hands, and it does not matter, morally speaking, whether I pull a trigger or simply play a role within the system. I participate in a violent system, and I will remain a violent participant until I am outside the system entirely. My mistake was ever enlisting in the first place, and learning and participating in systematic violence. That being said, I will not add insult to injury by abandoning those who count on me to discharge the duties for which I am sworn. Protesting is not a moment for moral superiority, but to substantively live a different life. There is a proper way to protest, and I will make my protest in the legitimate way afforded to me, humbly accepting the fact that at one point in time I did in fact make a commitment. Correcting that mistake is something I am passionately pursuing, but it is one which humility demands I pursue with patience.

Since the day I walked onto Academy grounds at West Point, I have been in an ongoing and quite conscious battle with my military service. Whether it was my first decision in college to turn away from military service altogether or my post-September 11th decision to return to service, I have been attempting to mitigate conscience and duty for the past seven years. In the absence of a clear and articulate objection to service, I have defaulted to evolving forms of duty as my guiding principle. While deployed, I spent hours with my chain of command and chaplains discussing the ethics of interrogation and the use of lethal force in the approximation of justice. Having to actually see the “enemy” face to face, and be the ambassador of an aggressive institution is what sealed the deal for me. During my deployment I have written numerous reflective essays on the topics of Just War, American history, and the Sermon on the Mount which have already been included in undergraduate and graduate level courses in Ethics and Religion at Wheaton College and Duke Divinity School, been utilized by spiritual formation groups and churches across the country, and have even been read to audiences by officials of international peace organizations.

My chain of command has witnessed my ethical misgivings in various forms as well as commended my personal
commitment to conduct my duties faithfully until such a time is given where I may dutifully lay down all means of violence. There has been a clear and distinct development of my beliefs since the day I left West Point, starting with my decision to forego officer development and further military service altogether, which was forcibly altered by political events outside of my control. Upon return to Active Duty, the fact that I actively pursued the Army Chaplain’s Corps,
for which I obtained a letter of recommendation from my previous BN Chaplain, finalized my confirmation as an Anglican to enable the pursuit of priestly ordination, gained acceptance to an accredited seminary of high academic reputation, and made relations with all Chaplains at Abu Ghraib for the purposes of pursuing the Chaplains Corps is a distinct example of my desire, first of all, to pursue non-combatant status. I, however, came to the conclusion that my broad criticism of the institution of war simply made it unrealistic to suppose that I could meaningfully discharge pastoral duties, which simply would have had to include at least a tacit support for systematic premeditated lethal force, which I do not condone. All of this goes without saying that it would have been incredibly hypocritical to assume a pastoral role shepherding people in a job that I did not myself condone. It would have been better for me to have simply followed my own spiritual vocational counsel (which I would have theoretically given to others), rather than run to the Chaplaincy or the medical branch simply to avoid combat. My misgivings run much deeper than merely personal distaste for a vocation. It is not “the job” but the institution. My path to conscientious objection has been slow but consistent. Conscientious objection is now the only way dutifully to fulfill my obligations both to faith and to nation, and to my own internal commitments to personal courage.

(7) An explanation as to how the applicant’s daily life style has changed as a result of his or her beliefs and what future actions he or she plans to continue to support his or her beliefs.

Just recently, I received word that one of my closest friends committed suicide. This was a friend with whom I dreamed and collaborated creatively on many occasions. His death has confirmed in me that I simply cannot rest if I do not fearlessly pursue what it is I believe, and utilize what it is I have been given. I will carry on where Travis left off, and live a life of affirmation, not mere “objection”. Thus, even during my stay in Iraq, I have begun the exploration of grant committees and connecting various of my academic, artistic, and political contacts in order to establish a non-profit institute in partnership with the University of Iowa dedicated to creative policy alternatives to the use lethal force. I intend to visit Wheaton College in order to speak to the class now using my writings in their course materials. I fully intend to continue developing my relationships with Professor Stanley Hauerwas from Duke Divinity School, Rev. Canon Andrew White of the International Centre for Reconciliation at Coventry Cathedral (UK), and other notable individuals committed to non-violent political involvement with whom various of my friends and colleagues have developed relations. I intend to continue my training in the Arabic language as a means to participate in humanitarian organizations working for conflict resolution in Israel/Palestine, Iraq and the greater Middle East. I am set to start graduate studies at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology at the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley
in Fall of 2005, as well as begin priestly formation at St. Joseph of Arimathea Anglican Theological College. I have begun the writing of a script chronicling fictionally my experiences of war which I fully intend to produce collaboratively with David Gothard (London). I intend to apply to Ph.D. programs in Theology and Politics and continue an articulation of Christian theology as a witness to divine reconciliation in public life. My life upon exiting military service will be
one of academic, religious, and creative development and overt political activism in the world of social justice, economic equity, and providing policy alternatives to the use of lethal force and military intervention. Leaving the military as a conscientious objector is in my mind a lifetime affirmation and commitment to social involvement that is dedicated to non-violence and non-coercion, be that violence or coercion which is economic, social, political, philosophical, or military. This is my public witness to the Gospel.