Will War Ever End?

Iraq War veteran U.S. Army Captain Paul Chappell will speak at the Pickaway County Public Library 31 January at 1:00 p.m. on his belief that we can and must work to end war. Captain Chappell notes in his book Will War Ever End? A Soldier’s Vision for Peace for the 21st Century that in his studies at West Point he realized that a great many Medal of Honor awards were given not to soldiers who had killed the enemy, but rather  who had selflessly sacrificed to save others under fire. Capt. Chappell writes in the midst of a rocket attack in Iraq of troops, civilians rushing to aid the wounded :“The suffering of their comrades had called them to action without hesitation, summoning them to help and to heal. In this chaos I witnessed a power that all people have. This is the same strength that calls people to action when they hear the cries of their loved ones.”  I am reminded of Army Warrant Officer “Buck” Thompson who landed his helicopter, leveled his machine guns at U.S. troops at the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, thus saving many civilians. Captain Chappell asserts we can harness what Lincoln called these “better angels of our nature” and end our addiction to war.

By December 1914, in just five months, over one million troops had been killed in World War l. Certainly WWl battlefields were as close to hell on earth as this first fully modern war, or any subsequent war, could create. We are familiar with the combat scenes on D-Day from the film Saving Private Ryan. WW1 battlefields were like Omaha beach, day after day after day. Thousands died with no movement in the battle lines. The dead piled up and rotted. The next day’s charge into machine guns was made over the artillery shattered remnants of corpses left there for weeks. Rats owned the field. German soldier Eric Blumenthal wrote to his family, just before Christmas 1914 “What good is it to escape the shells if my soul is injured?”. Eric was killed within a week of his letter. 

Christmas 1914  near Ypres the Germans began singing “Stille Nacht” ( Silent Night) while placing Christmas trees on the  trench parapet. The English responded with caroling. Soon German troops called out over No Man’s land “We don’t want to fight today, come out and have some beer.” English and Germans climbed  out amongst the shell holes and barbed wire to bury their dead, share photos of their families while learning that the “enemy” was just poor souls like themselves. The English produced a soccer ball and a pick-up game lightened the horror these men were living daily. Many personal stories of the troops on both sides of the trenches , photos of English and Germans arm in arm are available in Stanley Weintraub’s Silent Night: The  Story of the World War One Christmas Truce.

Command on both sides had to rotate these troops out. These men would no longer fight, fired their artillery at harmless fields and their rifles in the air. Modern warfare in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Gaza, Yemen allows little opportunity to experience the humanity of the enemy. We don’t see the civilians killed by our remote controlled drone weapons. Captain Chappell asks that we see the humanity of the “enemy” , while ending his book with President Eisenhower’s lament: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed… The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in 30 cities. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat… This is not a way of life at all… it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.” Join us 31 January as we support Capt. Chappel in his soldier’s vision for peace.

--- Brad Cotton, On behalf of Circleville Quakers and Veterans for Peace.