Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Madness That Is "War Patriotism"

John Witmer's lifeless body was returned to the tiny town of Colombiana, Pennsylvania on October 10, 1918. Those gathered to receive the 21-year-old's mortal remains included his father Dan, his siblings, and his would-be fiancee, Nola, all of whom were members of a local Mennonite community.

Like thousands of others who shared his faith, John had been kidnapped at gunpoint from his family farm by the World War I-era draft. The local draft board had turned down John's appeal for Conscientious Objector status, telling him that once he had enlisted he could seek recognition as a CO and receive a non-combat assignment.

Like nearly everything else originating from a government entity, the draft board's assurance was a lie, of course.

John's refusal to undergo military training forbidden by his religious convictions marked him as a “slacker” in the eyes of the command staff at Camp Sherman, a large training base outside of Columbus, Ohio. The reaction on the part of fellow inductees was immediate and violent, beginning on the train trip to Columbus: When John and a Mennonite friend named Harvey Blosser said grace over their meal, they were immediately singled out as “preacher boys” and treated to a fusillade of profane abuse.

The hostility escalated to physical assaults and even murder attempts before John and Harvey were reassigned to a CO camp, which was essentially a prison, given that the same facility was used to house German prisoners of war. The weather grew colder and influenza began to incubate in Camp Sherman, but John was denied requests for adequate bedding and even dry clothes. Predictably, the young man contracted the Spanish Flu – which had imported to the US because of our foolish involvement in World War I – and died.

John's body was returned in a flag-shrouded coffin – a gesture considered an honor by most Americans, but an affront to his family's religious sensibilities, which didn't permit them to make acts of allegiance to anyone or anything but God. In a sense, wrapping John's body in the US flag was one final proprietary gesture by the government that had stolen the young man from the family who loved him, the community that had raised him, and the young girl who wanted to be his wife.

A crowd had gathered at the train station to witness the arrival of John Witmer's body, and the reaction of his Mennonite family. Most of the spectators knew that the Mennonites didn't support the war; their principled pacifism and insularity had provoked both curiosity and suspicion. The Witmers enjoyed what could be called probationary sympathy from the crowd.

As John's family was about to learn, few things are likelier to provoke sanctimonious violence from war-maddened Americans than a conspicuous lack of enthusiasm for killing foreigners whom the State has designated the “enemy.”

Dan Witmer sadly approached the coffin bearing his son's body and carefully removed the flag. Given his ignorance of proper flag etiquette, it's not surprising that Dan folded the banner as he would a blanket.

This act of perceived, but not intended, sacrilege was too much for the crowd to endure.

“The mood of the onlookers turned from one of sympathy to hostility,” recounts Lily A. Bear in her book Report for Duty.

“Mennonites!” hissed one disgusted onlooker.

“Got what he deserved!” declared another of Dan's dead son.

“Traitor!” bellowed another outraged pseudo-patriot.

Someone hurled a stone that hit John's younger brother in the shoulder. A second stone, missing its target, landed at the feet of the mourning father. John's young sister Mary, puzzled and hurt by this display of murderous hatred, began to cry. After making arrangements for his son's funeral, Dan took his family home.

This was hardly atypical of “war patriotism,” circa 1918. Across in the US, the so-called American Protective League (APL) and similar government-supported cabals of bullies sought to intimidate civilians into buying war bonds and displaying the appropriate “war will” -- when they weren't harassing and terrorizing Americans of German heritage, or acting as a quasi-private secret police.

In many communities, the APL, sometimes aided by the Ku Klux Klan, helped track down and round up those who refused to comply with draft notices.

On at least a few occasions, these effusions of “patriotism” resulted in actual lynchings.

All of this took place in the context of an unnecessary war against a distant European power, Wilhelmine Germany, that posed no conceivable threat to the United States.

There's no better specimen of the murderous irrationality that seized our nation during WWI than the near-pogrom that occurred in Colombiana because a grief-stricken Mennonite father, distracted by the loss of his eldest son, thoughtlessly committed what his war-crazed neighbors considered an act of disrespect toward our flag.

Fast-forward nearly nine decades, and little if anything has changed.

Last May 21, Dale Croydon, who raises beef cattle near Croydon, Iowa, decided to fly his U.S. Flag upside down as a gesture of solidarity with fellow Iowa resident Terri Jones, who lost her son as a result of the Iraq war. Terri's 23-year-old son, Jason Cooper, developed severe psychological problems while serving in Iraq. On July 14, 2005, Jason, plagued by unbearable memories and clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, hanged himself.

Since that day, Terri Jones, a member of Gold Star Mothers for Peace, has flown her flag upside down. After reading of her experience, Croydon,a veteran, decided to do likewise. In short order, he found himself on the receiving end of WWI-vintage “patriotic” intimidation and harassment.

“I went to the local Case equipment dealer and bought some parts, and the salesman comes out and asked me why I was flying the flag upside down,” Croydon told The Progressive. “So I explained it to him.”

The salesman, apparently more eager to profess proper reverence for the State than to treat a customer with respect, replied: “I've lost all respect for you. I'll buy you a one-way ticket anywhere you want to go out of the country,” according to Croydon's entirely believable account.

“The mail carrier left me a personal note” of rebuke for his protest, Croydon continues. After a local TV reporter did a story about Croydon's protest, the rural farmer was charged with “disorderly conduct.: He was hauled before a magistrate on July 6. Terri Jones was in the courtroom to offer moral support.

But some purported patriots are not placated by the prospect of prosecuting Croydon for his political views.

“Any scout snipers live in Croydon, Iowa???” inquired a message posted on, a web community for Marine veterans. “If the flag is flying upside down, it means he's in trouble, right?” wrote another poster. “I think we Marines should show up and get him `out' of trouble.” “Corn hole 'm,” chipped in a third hero.

One poster, who proudly claims “the God-given title Marine,” as if that admittedly honorable title were bestowed by direct revelation from The Almighty, denounced Croydon for supposedly breaking the law by displaying his flag upside down and insisted that his protest was tantamount to treason.

“I would have NO trouble pulling the trigger at firing squad or dropping the door on the gallows against a traitor or against one of this countries [sic] citizens or one deemed by this country to be a terrorist foe,” he wrote.

Granted, since this chest-thumper recalls enlisting some 33 years ago, it's more likely that the only PT he's had since the first term of the Clinton administration has consisted of 16 ounce curls at the local VFW post. And the same is likely true of most of the others who have casually endorsed the punishment of anti-war views through assassination.

That guy and his ilk are bold as Achilles when they're talking about taking down a middle-aged farmer in rural Iowa. I doubt they'd be quite as frisky if they were dealing with any of the thousands of disillusioned Marines who are mustering out of the Corps after serving in Iraq.


dixiedog said...

I agree. That's surely a sad and tragic prima facie exposé of what a warrior mentality, conjured and brewed up by a government-media complex, produces in any age. However, I'd caveat that and say that in the current age there ain't many, like those Mennonites and others at that time, who loudly or otherwise overtly oppose the imperial warmongering undertaken by whatever contemporary regime in office at the time.

Deafening silence or indifference is as much a show of popular support for a given warmongering duopolistic regime as the loud roar of a "conservative" or liberal commentariat.

BTW, I noticed you seriously dig posting images, as if it was a newfound capability you recently discovered with this blog ;). But please, don't take offense. By all means, keep 'em coming; I'm just making note of it is all.

dixiedog said...

and to dixiedog, it may be a good thing that some do not speak out against the horrors that are going on. hear me out. God has given everyone a purpose. each person is to walk in his purpose and accomplish it. to fail to do so would be to get to heaven and to hear....,"I never knew you."

Hmm, no. You're confusing the judgement of rewards, in which Jesus would never say, "I never knew you. Depart from me, ye that work iniquity.", with the final judgement (of the condemned) in which he would. Otherwise, how could you be in heaven in the first place, only to be cast out of the same?? If He "never knew you" you're not going to be present in Heaven. Remember the "I'll never leave you or forsake you" promise? But I digress.

The Great White Throne judgement, or final judgement, takes place after the millenial reign of Christ on earth. The judgement of rewards is for believers after they have been caught up together in the clouds with the ressurected dead in Christ to forever be with Christ in heaven.

On a side note, I'm absolutely not the caracature that you apparently have conjured up in your mind that I am. First, let me say that there's a difference between tact and thereby keeping your mouth SHUT, unless it is profitable and edifying, and supporting evil in your midst by keeping ones mouth SHUT. A huge difference. A roar is not always bad, if it's supportive of something good and righteous!

I don't want to get into a debate on theological nuances here, however, since they can distract from the core focus of the topic at hand ;). But, here we go...

i seriously believe that, although the Lord does care about what's going on down here, He is not worried about it cuz He's got it under control. His message to the church right now may not be to focus on what our govt is doing because there are greater issues He needs to address in His church. i mean, if His church is focused on the affairs of this world, then how can it be effective spiritually if it's paying attention to man and not to God?

Indeed, I believe most of that in essence also. But you also bring to the forefront here yet another faux dichotomy. That is that those who are "focused on the affairs of this world" are simultaneously not focused on the spiritual affairs and condition of this world. That's just not so, or shouldn't be so. Let's again, look at what the Bible says about just this topic. Read James 2:15-16 for the most precise cut to the chase contrarian concept of what I think you're espousing here. Remember, that focus on God does not mean the matters of the world are left forlorn in the process. No, au contraire in fact! Also remember, there's no such thing as "separation of church and state" nonsense either, which seems at first glance to be part and parcel of your mantra here as well.

john the baptist had a mission--make way the coming of the Lord. now, along the way john got into doing something else...telling king herod he was wrong. herod was wrong, but what did God tell john to do? "make way the coming of the Lord." what was his focus to be? God would send nathan to rebuke king david without many present, or in private, but john? john railed against herod in public. do we aever read "and God sent john to see herod"? nope. john got distracted from his focus/mission, and john got his head lopped off. when you think about it, had john not attacked herod, he may have become an apostle...but....he spoke to an issue that was not his purpose....and died because of it. (maybe i'm wrong, but go tell the president at the white house gates he's x, y, and z and see what happens...hard to be affective for Christ behind bars). but i digress. back to my point.

Rick. It doesn't matter that he, as you say, "railed" against Herod, since many all through history were decapitated anyway because they didn't RAIL AGAINST CHRIST or RAIL FOR whatever pet philosophy the leader in question harbored. You can be loudly silent or loudly rail and still get slaughtered because you failed to either RAIL for/against or be SILENT for/against the proper philosophy in vogue at the time. Get it? That's just a fact of life (or of death as the case may be) we all have to contend with. You're certainly not saying that Christians should merely "go along to get along" are ya? That never works and, more significantly shows your true colors. Don't worry so much about dying, Rick, because it's coming one way or another. Just make sure that you're fighting the good fight of faith, regardless of when/how you die.

esther. esther had a purpose, one single purpose. save her people. had she done anything else the jews might have been wiped out. but of course that would not have happened because of God's promise, but things would have been in a bind. back to esther.

Yes, Esther had a purpose. So did Joshua when he killed ALL the Amorites, with God's hand in it as well! We don't propose committing genocide today do we? Much of the OT was of such a savage nature for the simple reason that God had to make certain that the Israelites remained pure and did not mix with the heathen and pagan cultures and societies surrounding them ALL for the specific purpose of preserving the lineage through the subsequent centuries to the birth of Jesus. But Joshua did not simply kill all the heathen societies he confronted outright. It was only when/if they refused to bond with Israel and become their servants. Only then were they to be slaughtered in their entirety.

ESTHER HAD TO KEEP HER MOUTH SHUT. satan knew God would try to save His people but did not know how He would do it. satan was expecting God to move one way, but did not see that He would sneak a jewess into the kings harem and have this jewess becaome his wife only so at the right moment, she would speak up to influence the king's decision. i'm sure satan thought God was gonna replace the king or something.

Same with Esther, but in a different manner of course, as she was likewise a key individual to maintaining the purpose of preserving the the Jews at large, the lineage to Jesus.

so what am i saying? God has spies. and spies (like us) do not/should not reveal themselves until it's time to move or act. some groups may be quiet out of fear, but there are some, i am sure, that are spies, and are accomplishing a mission, that in the end, will change things. we want to see changes one way. and that "way" is what satan may be focused on and trying to prevent...and doing a good job at preventing. so God says, "ok, i see you satan...and what you are doing. but while you are looking that way, I will move in these ways." it's not hard for God to trick satan. He did it at calvary. so if we are working in our flesh and not in our spirit... we will fail.

Huh?? A "spy" of what, for whom?? Only debauched man requires spies. Besides, who needs spies to know the evil that is at work around him. If you're around the wicked, you're to be salt and light, not participating in their deeds among them. You're in the world, but not to be of the world, partakers thereof. Jesus never said to keep the Truth and the way to salvation hidden in your attic and kept secret from the heathen.

as for the church, and those like the mennonites, maybe it is silent because God has told it/them to focus on a different area?

I didn't say the Mennonites were silent, Rick. I instead said that there ain't many like the Mennonites of that day that make it known overtly, albeit even if unintentionally, that they cared nothing about the warmongering president, in that day Woodrow Wilson, today it's George Bush. Translation? They were NOT silent!. Quite the opposite, in fact. Once again, if you are silent (or indifferent) to a policy, it can mean either you support it, or you oppose it depending on the groupthink aspects. The Mennonites made their opposition, in this case, clear by their total "silence" and lack of a ROAR for Wilsonian warmongering and "making the world safe for democracy" mantra that afflicted the commoners of the day.

you know, and i'm not aiming any of this at you, but merely pointing something out, when we know that a storm is coming, focusing on what the everyone else is doing about it is of no consequence. what is of consequence is what God would have us do. yeah, our country is going to hell in a hand basket and it's run by wicked people. what? as the ordained piano player should only play the piano, as the ordained guitarist should only play the guitar, i think God's people should focus on God's business.

...which is the world, the people in it, that is. On this, I agree. Again, James 2:15-16 8).

dixiedog said...

Well, I took your comments in stride, but yes, since much of your commentary focused upon "silence" and the wisdom of it and the fact that Grigg mentioned nothing of it, that you were naturally speaking to me. But, if I was wrong, I apologize. I'm not one to make a mountain out of a mole hill. Macht nichts.

Anyhow, I do have a simple question, ready? Should one do everything an authority figure commands (or asks, matters not) of him/her, knowing that to disobey means his/hers probable demise even if the commands in question are unequivocal violations of the Word of God?

The simple answer to that question speaks volumes. Nevertheless, as you said, to each his own. But, may no one win the whole world, yet lose his soul in the end.

Regards ;).