Friday, December 8, 2006
“He died trying to save his family.”
It is impossible for human hands to compose a nobler or more honorable epitaph.
Two weeks ago I was only dimly aware of the late James Kim, senior editor for the on-line tech journal CNET, and former contributor to the now-defunct Tech TV cable network. Like many others, I followed wire service accounts of the search for Kim and his family – wife Kati, and daughters Penelope (4) and Sabine (seven months) – after they got lost in the forbidding, snow-bound wilderness of southwestern Oregon during a return trip to their home in San Francisco.
James was not with Kati and the children when they were found alive last Monday. After spending a week stranded in the family's station wagon, James had made the desperate choice to strike out in search of help.
Wearing only street clothes to protect him from the pitiless winter conditions, Kim managed to traverse more than ten miles before collapsing in a shallow creek. That trek followed seven days with his family in their station wagon, which had become stuck on a road made impassable by a severe winter storm. Bear Camp Road was supposed to be closed to traffic, but vandals had destroyed the padlock on the gate that would otherwise have prevented the Kim family from taking their tragic wrong turn.
Marooned without cellphone coverage and with a tiny supply of bottled water and snack food, James and his family used the station wagon as a shelter, melting snow and eventually burning the tires for heat. After the food ran out, Kati was able to nurse the children.
After waiting several days for rescue, James made the decision – a mistaken one, as it turns out, but it was not for that reason the wrong one – to set off on foot for the town of Galice, which he erroneously thought was only four or five miles away. He collapsed roughly a mile away from a well-stocked fishing lodge, and had only been dead for a matter of hours when rescue workers located his body.
“He’s the most tenacious man- seven days in his car and hiked that many miles to get help for his wife and two little ones,” commented Jackson County Deputy Grant Forman, who had been part of the search. “With everything going on in the world, you have a man who will do everything to save his family. It’s just amazing. I don't think he gave up until he died.”
“He was very motivated – he traveled a long way,” observed Josephine County Undersheriff Bill Anderson.
While understandably devastated by Kim's death, his professional associates were not surprised by the self-sacrificing tenacity he displayed in trying to save his wife and daughters, because he had made it clear – in ways both large and small – that nothing was more important to him than his family.
I know nothing of James Kim's religious convictions, if any, nor do I know – or care – about his politics. This much, however, I know:
There is a quality of will inscribed in a father's heart by his Creator, a determination to protect those he loves at whatever price to himself. This essential quality of soul will impel a man to see his body broken before he will yield and admit defeat.
That defining trait of true manliness was displayed by James Kim, a bespectacled Gadget Geek who exhibited none of the stigmata of comic book machismo. May God grant comfort to Kim's wife and daughters, and may we honor Kim's memory for reminding us, albeit in such heart-rending fashion, of what it truly means to be a man.
Two days ago I had been shamefully ignorant of the life and martyrdom of Franz Jagerstater, an Austrian peasant patriot who was beheaded by his country's Nazi-dominated government in August 1943 for refusing to serve in the armies of the Reich. An unassuming man of an unremarkable background, Jagerstatter was a sacristan at his local church and a self-taught poet. Through weekly visits to the modestly appointed local library, he had “a ringside seat to the discussions, arguments, discourse and monologues of dialecticians, ethicists, orators and poets of the ages,” writes Justine Nicholas, who teaches English at the City University of New York. “He internalized their teachings, along with those he gleaned from the Bible, which he had committed to heart.”
Jagerstatter, like all Austrian men, was subject to conscription following the Anschluss. From October 1940 to April 1941, he served in the army, albeit not at the front. After a year at home with his wife and three daughters, he was called up once again, but this time, recalls Nicholas, he refused, “asserting that Hitler's regime went against the best of what he had read and experienced in life.”
He was arrested and interrogated by dutiful public servants who couldn't refute his arguments (which astonished them, coming as they did from the mouth of an unschooled peasant) but insisted that his duty was to power, not to conscience.
To fight on behalf of the Reich, Jagerstatter believed, “was a matter of personal guilt and serious sin,” observes one biographer.
“It is very sad to hear again and again from Catholics that this war, waged by Germany, is perhaps not so unjust because it will wipe out Bolshevism,” he wrote in 1942. “It is true that at present most of our soldiers are stuck in the worst Bolshevist country, and simply want to make harmless and defenseless the people who live there and defend themselves. But now a question: what are they fighting in [that] country – Bolshevism or the Russian people? When our Catholic missionaries went to a pagan country to make them Christians did they advance with machine guns and bombs in order to convert and improve them?... If we look back a little into history, we note almost the same thing again and again: If a conqueror attacks another country with war, they have not normally invaded the country to improve people or even perhaps give them something, but usually to get something for themselves. If we fight the Russian people, we will get much from that country which is of use to us here. If one were merely fighting Bolshevism, these other things – minerals, oil wells or good farmland – would not be a factor.”
Transpose those remarks into a slightly different key, and they would apply just as well to the Bu'ushist crusade against “Islamo-Fascism.”
Despite taking an oath of loyalty to the Fuhrer at the time of his forced induction, Jagerstatter “stubbornly refuses for personal reasons to fulfill his patriotic duty in Germany's hard struggle for survival,” wrote a military investigator shortly before the death sentence was carried out. Those “personal reasons” were Jagerstatter's sober and binding moral convictions, chief among them the belief that no government or ruler has the right to re-write the moral law to suit his corrupt whims.
Like his perspicuous critique of the true motives behind Germany's supposed “struggle for survival,” Jagerstatter's condemnation of Adolf Hitler's claim to be the Great and Glorious Decider for the entire Reich has contemporary resonance as well.
“Who dares to assert that among the Germany people in this war only one person bears the responsibility?” he asked of those who insisted that once their Fuhrer spoke, the thinking had been done. “What Catholic can dare say that these raids which Germany has carried out in several countries, and is still carrying out, constitute a just and holy war?... If the Church stays silent in the face of what is happening, what difference would it make if no church were ever opened again?”
Condemned to death for “sedition,” Jagerstatter was visited by his local Catholic bishop, who advised him to suppress his conscience in order to survive and live a “Godly” life after the war. Despite his desire to live and be reunited with his wife and daughters, Jagerstatter wasn't willing to surrender that which made him a man – his freedom to obey God's law – in order to live as a serf.
“When a leader allows himself to break the rules of humanity, it is the duty of every citizen to break the leader's rules,” he wrote. He recognized that he could “change nothing in world affairs,” but understood that his doomed resistance would be “at least a sign that not everyone let themselves be carried away with the tide.”
A man is not a cork carried haplessly on the eddies and currents of contemporary opinion, but a firm and immovable rock that the stream must accommodate. Jagerstatter was rock-like in his composure as he was led to the gallows, and he left an impression on those who witnessed his matrtyrdom. Father Jochmann, the priest who was with the condemned Christian patriot in the hours prior to execution, commented later that Franz Jagerstatter was the only saint he had ever met.
Sgt. Ricky Clousing was a “partier and snowboarder” in High School before having a conversion experience that convinced him that “God had a different plan for me.” Attending a local Presbyterian church in Washington as a teenager, he went on four mission trips to Mexico and was on an evangelical mission in Thailand through Youth With a Mission when the Towers Fell on Black Tuesday.
Like thousands of men his age, Clousing enlisted in the military after 9-11, eventually becoming a “human intelligence collector” -- that is, an interrogator – with the 82 Airborne. He spent four months in Baghdad and Mosul interrogating “insurgents” corralled by American troops. His experiences in Iraq, as well as his study of the origins and conduct of the Iraq war, left him convinced that the invasion and occupation constitute a monumental offense against God's law and our Constitution.
Sgt. Clousing “said he saw American soldiers shoot and kill an unarmed Iraqi teenager, and rode in an Army Humvee that sideswiped Iraqi cars and shot at an old man's sheep for fun – both incidents [he] reported to his superiors,” summarized a New York Times account. “He said his work as an interrogator led him to conclude that the occupation was creating a cycle of anti-American resentment and violence.”
After returning to Ft. Bragg, Sgt. Clousing described his objections to his superiors. He was sent for counseling to a chaplain, who recited the familiar statist catechism – Bible citations referring to war, orphaned from their context and conscripted to serve the cynical interests of the ruling elite. He was sent to a psychologist who informed him that he could be discharged from the military if he took the “Corporal Klinger” route – feigning insanity or homosexuality.
Clousing, who hadn't been looking for a way out of the military and wasn't interested in lying, was offended by that advice. And because he doesn't object to all warfare in principle, Clousing couldn't file for conscientious objector status. (Like countless millions who oppose the Iraq war – myself among them – Clousing supports the right of armed self-defense.)
When the order came to re-deploy to Iraq, Clousing chose not to show up for duty. Fourteen months later he turned himself in to military authorities at Fort Lewis. A court-martial in August found Clousing guilty of being AWOL, and sentenced him to eleven months in jail.
Before he surrendered for trial, many of Clousing's church friends rebuked him for refusing to re-deploy, insisting “God established government and we're supposed to be submitting to authorities, and by me leaving it's rebelling against the authority that God established,” he recalled. “Their politics has infiltrated their religion so much, they can't see past their politics.”
Those who reflexively disgorge this summary of Romans 13 misrepresent the single most important principle revealed therein: All authority comes from God, and thus can only be used on behalf of Godly objectives. This means that no ruler or leader has the authority to command us to support or carry out innately un-Godly actions – such as aggressive war waged on behalf of patent lies.
Clousing, 24, understands this truth and had the courage to uphold it at the cost of imprisonment, and in defiance of the advice he received from both friends and clergy.
Different as they are from each other, James Kim, Franz Jagerstattler, and Ricky Clousing all displayed glorious, principled intransigence in the face of insurmountable circumstances.
There are times when a man, in order to be a man, simply has to say “no” -- as in, “No – I will not let my family freeze to death without doing anything I can to save them,” or “No – I will not be complicit in an illegal war of aggression” -- and stick with that answer irrespective of the cost.
at 10:51 AM