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An Army of One


For a number of years, I had led services at TPUUF on the July 4th weekend Sunday, generally selecting topics related both to American history and to the principles of the UU faith practice and tradition. I had never before spoken about my own pacifist views; this year I decided to do so. Once again, I have included the entire order of service.


An Army of One(7/1/01)


Welcome and Announcements

Chalice Lighting/Call to Worship:

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

                                                            Thomas Jefferson (1787)

However, our first covenantal principle commits us to affirming and promoting the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

Our sixth covenantal principle commits us to affirming and promoting the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all.

Are our UU principles consistent with the need for us, patriots all, to preserve our liberties and those of others, from the encroachment of tyranny, by force and the threat of force?

At this time of celebration of our nation's birth, the very root cause of our independence and liberty, let us consider both our principles and our necessities.

If we cannot find the answers, let us at least try to understand the questions, for answers are few and questions many.

Come, let us worship together.

Sharing of Joys and Concerns

As we gather in community to share our joys and concerns, let me begin with a deep personal concern.

During study and preparation for this service, I was stuck once again that we live in a time of permanent conflict.

It has been said that the peace is not the absence of war.

Here, on this dreamy July morning, that is certainly true for us.

Ostensibly, we are at peace ¨ there are no tanks in our streets nor bombs falling in our fields, but?.

As we sit here, there are more than two dozen wars disfiguring our planet. Call them what you may, in Ireland, Spain, Cyprus, Bosnia, Turkey, Macedonia, Israel, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, The Congo, Ceylon, The Phillipines, Chiapas, Columbia, Ecuador and on and on, the fires of conflict smolder and periodically irrupt anew.

As we sit here, men and women and children, of all colors and cultures, are trapped in war, and die daily.

As we sit here, young American men and women, volunteers all, stand at arms under the sea, in the air and on the ground in more than 100 countries across the world, protecting our liberty.

Our culture is perfused, saturated with the values and metaphors of conflict, of warfare. Our games, our industry, our educational system, our medical establishment, even our political system all mimic the structure and conduct of war. And, in any pursuit, in any aspect of our community life, when we wish to be taken seriously, we use the vocabulary, not of peace but of war.

We speak: of campaigns, of struggle, of weapons, of adversaries, of attack and of defense, of victory and of defeat*.

Olympia Brown, the great Universalist minister, taught thus:

"We can never make the world safe by fighting.  Every nation must learn that the people of all nations are children of God, and must share the wealth of the world.  You may say that this is impracticable, far away, can never be accomplished, but it is the work we are appointed to do.  Sometime, somehow, somewhere, we must teach this great lesson."

I am concerned, deeply concerned that in the ordinaries of our individual lives we forget, or even worse, chose to ignore this great truth.

******* (sharing of community joys and concerns)

I light a candle for all of those joys and concerns unspoken in our hearts and minds. Let us now share some silence and reflect upon these.

*Hymn: The Battle Hymn of the Republic (Howe - 1st 2 verses)

David Robinson, in his history of the Unitarians and Universalists, writes thus of Julia Ward Howe: "Author, lecturer, organizer, reformer -- she played all of these roles. ¥What is the ideal aim of life?' she was once asked. Her response summarizes her ideals: ¥To learn, to teach, to serve, to enjoy.'

There were few social problems in mid-19th cen. America she did not concern herself with.

However, in 1862, at the urging of James Freeman Clarke, the Unitarian minister of the Church of the Disciples, in Boston, she wrote the Battle Hymn of The Republic, setting her words to the then familiar tune better known as ¥John Brown's Body.' It quickly became the most popular Union anthem of the Civil War.

Comments: Michael Williams

And now, from an earlier war, let a faceless soldier speak for himself. The scene, as set by Shakespeare in Henry the Fifth, is the late night/early morning of October 24/25, 1415. It is near the end of the Hundred Years' War. The place is a wooded plain in Northern France, near the wood of Agincourt. Henry the King, or young Hal, since he is only 27, facing the first major battle of his reign, is concerned. His forces are outnumbered 3 to 1, some accounts say 10 to 1, the ground is rough, muddy and uncertain, the weather threatening; morale is low, for the English army has been in the field for a month since landing at Harfleur and his men are hungry, tired and dispirited. Donning a cloak, he wanders through the camp, unrecognized by his men, and Michael Williams, a young Welshman, speaks thus to him:

But if the cause be not good, the king himself

hath a heavy reckoning to make when all those legs

and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join

together at the latter day and cry all, ¥We died at such a

place,' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some

upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the

debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left.  I

am afeared there are few die well in a battle; for

how can they charitably dispose of anything when blood

is their argument?  Now, if these men do not die well, it

will be a black matter for the king who led them to it;
who to disobey were against all proportion of subjection.

The River (Springsteen - 1985)

Bruce Springsteen needs no introduction; he is our contemporary and can speak for himself. When he is finished, we will share silence together. During the silence, if you wish to speak softly the name of someone who went away to war and never returned or who came back changed forever, that would be alright, that would be good.

(A recording of the spoken introduction to this song was played. In it, Springstein recounts the conflict between him and his father ("Wait until the Army gets you ¨ they'll make a man out of you!" and his father's subsequent relief when he failed his pre-induction physical during the Vietnam War.)

Meditation & Silence

Responsive Reading: #583 - The Young Dead Soldiers

In England, the war dead are memorialized on Remembrance Day, November 11th. But any day can be remembrance or memorial day. Let us now honor those who went away, in body or in mind, by joining in this responsive reading.


Comments: ________

Unlike the massed boys in Blue and Gray, unlike Michael Williams and untold nameless others, unlike Bruce Springsteen, there are those who chose to resist. ___________ (a conscientious objector, member of the TPUUF community) will now speak, not for Michael, but for himself.

*Hymn: #159 - This is My Song

Comments: Jonathan Black

Today, July 1st, is the anniversary of the start of the Battle of Gettysburg, the high water mark of the Confederacy, in 1863. Two long years of fighting were behind them as the troops warily circled each other on a morning like this, through the dusty fields about the town. Gone were the spectators in their fancy clothes and the hoorays, the hopes for quick, decisive victory. Ahead lay nearly two more years of that dreadful conflict which would in all take more than 500,000 American lives; brother would kill brother and we would be changed forever.

Truth is always the first casualty of war.

Even the reasons for the fight were hidden in the smoke and dust of that day: States Rights, Freedom, Abolition, Liberty.

Both sides judged the war to be just, to be justified - could both have been right or, perhaps, were both wrong? All that was left was the need for those in butternut gray to kill those in union blue and for those in blue to return the favor, if possible.

I could speak at length about the three days at Gettysburg, about their causes and consequences. However, I want you to reflect on this: on each side, on the ground and on horseback, there were certainly both Unitarians and Universalists, as well as men of many other religious persuasions, save perhaps only of the Society of Friends, of the Bretheren, of the Amish and the Mennonites, since their faith practices foreswear fighting. And I doubt not that even some of those were there, having made, as the Unitarians and Universalists there had done, individual decisions to join the fight.

But, but, but... even on that day many rethought themselves at the moment: some deserted, some wounded themselves, some hid, some damaged their weapons, some never fired a shot.

Throughout our history as a nation, the conflict between individual moral values and the demands of warfare; between the intention to honor men and women all, as creatures of God, and the perceived need to break things and kill those very same children of God in the name of patriotism, has been real and pervasive.

In the beginning of our national history, there were few choices for men: Resist taking up arms, as the Friends did, and perhaps die, at the hands of hostile natives or even mobs of your fellow citizens, or compromise your principles, fight, and perhaps survive until blood is no longer the argument.

By the time of Gettysburg, there was the possibility, if one were informed by religious principle, to purchase, for $300, freedom from combat and to serve in a civilian role, as an orderly or a nurse.

Gradually, over the years, we, as a principled nation, expanded the license we would grant to resisters. Conscientious objectors, a few thousand in every war we fought, were recognized, withheld from combat and dealt with, sometimes benignly, sometimes harshly.

However, the Vietnam War tried us sorely, tested us to our very limits. That war saw not only religious objectors, resisters from both combat and non-combat roles, but philosophical objectors to payment of war taxes, to a war that was deemed unjust, or which might become nuclear or, even, to any war at all, and those who refused even to register for the draft.

A few statistics from David Dickerson's recent book North to Canada reveal the true situation, unknown to most of us at the time:

During the draft era of the Vietnam War, there were:

60 million Americans of draft age.

33 M were women and were exempt, leaving 27M.

Of 27M men, 9M enlisted voluntarily, leaving 18M eligible for the draft.

Of 18M eligible men, 15M received deferments of various kinds or avoided combat by enlisting for six months of National Guard training.

Of the remaining 3M men, 2.2M (or about 3/4ths) were actually drafted.

Of that 2.2M men called to service, 700,000 (or about 1 in 3) either evaded the draft or, in the case of 200,000, actually deserted.

Of that 700,000 men, less than 14,000, or about 2%, were actually prosecuted for draft evasion or desertion; far fewer went to prison.

Perhaps if these numbers had been generally known at the time, there would have been major war resistance and civil disobedience that would have dwarfed the actual demonstrations and sit-ins and evoked the large scale draft riots of the Civil War era.

As a consequence of this unfortunate experience, the United States moved to an all volunteer armed force. There were no military draftees in Desert Storm - all were volunteers.

The Army today has a very different face from that of 1/3 of a century ago. The recruiting materials boast of "An Army of One," implying scope for independence and initiative, and speak of adventure, financial advantage, benefits, skill training, education, money for college, even opportunities, if one can pardon the expression, for women. But for all the glitz and glamour, for all the promises, the role of the soldier remains the same: travel to distant places, break things and kill people. Armies wage war, they do not build peace.

That unfortunate contemporary recruiting slogan, An Army of One, vividly calls to mind Thoreau's admonition to be a majority of one: he wrote of the necessity for you each to do the right (and moral) thing because you, you alone, on your own authority, know it to be right. This hardly seems consistent with military order and the chain of command. The Universal Code of Military Justice, in the era after Nuremberg and Mi Lai, requires the soldier to obey only lawful commands but does not define the unlawful, the immoral. The army of one must, perforce, be a majority of one.

However, the Army is still and will always be, the Army. And we Americans collectively honor and support it, enable and encourage it, with our pervasive culture of conflict.

Now the last question I pose to you, the one I leave you with, is this:

Can a Unitarian Universalist, one who knows and understands the seven covenantal principles, their historic roots and their sources;

who, as most UUs do, agrees with most of them, most of the time;

who, as her Unitarian forebears, at least suspects that the sermon on the mount is true;

who, as his Universalist forebears, at least suspects that all, patriots and tyrants alike, will ultimately be saved;

can he or she serve, even as a volunteer, even as a non-combatant, in our or any other Army?

The Friends, the Bretheren, the Mennonites, the Amish, have addressed this question in their own religious and moral context and answered, steadfastly, consistently, NO!

How answer we?

How answer we?

How is it to be?


Now we have a brief time for some congregational response.

However, I ask you please not to recount anecdotes of wars fought and survived but to hold to the main question: can we as principled persons, of the UU persuasion, stand and fight?

Closing Words (Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace)


If we are peaceful, if we are happy,

we can blossom like a flower,

and everyone in our family,

our entire society,

our world,

will benefit from our peace.


              Blessed be