Sunday, May 27, 2007

Sgt. Kevin Benderman

First published as a radio commentary on 2-28-05.

Hi, this is Jody Paulson from Moscow, ID with what they don't tell you.

There are two kinds of bravery: The bravery of the wise and the bravery of the fool.

The bravery of the fool comes fairly cheap. All you really have to do is be thoughtless -- thoughtless of the risks you are taking, thoughtless of the consequences that might ensue from your action. A high-school game of chicken on a stretch of road does indeed require some form of bravery, but it's nothing that can't be bought with a few sixpacks of beer.

Then there's the bravery of the wise. This kind of bravery requires you to be thoughtful, not thoughtless. You know what the consequences are, you've weighed them, and you've decided to take action anyway. This is the bravery of those willing to fight for what they believe in. Or in the case of Sgt Kevin Benderman, refuse to fight for what they don't believe in. If the rest of America had half this man's integrity, maybe this really would be the "land of the free and home of the brave," instead of what it really is, "land of the wage slave and home of the lemming."

Sgt. Benderman spent 10 years in the Army and recently, 8 months in Iraq. While he was there he witnessed dogs feeding off mass graves. When his convoy passed a girl no older than 10 clutching a burn-blackened arm, her mother pleading for help, their executive officer refused due to limited medical supplies. Benderman sent a letter to his wife referencing many scholars' belief that Iraq was home to the biblical Garden of Eden. He wrote, "Here I am in the Garden of Eden, and what am I doing here with a gun?" Benderman became troubled with the contradictions he saw in his own culture. "Why do we tell our children to not solve their differences with violence, then turn around and commit the ultimate in violence against people in another country who have nothing to do with the political attitudes of their leaders?"

When Benderman's unit returned to the United States, he sought discharge as a conscientious objector. His unit was to redeploy under stop-loss policy a month later, and commanders ordered Benderman to go with them. Here's what was going through his mind: "As I went through the process which led to my decision to refuse deployment to Iraq for the second time, I was torn between thoughts of abandoning the soldiers that I serve with, or following my conscience, which tells me: war is the ultimate in destruction and waste of humanity."

Of course, Benderman did not show up for his flight to Baghdad, knowing full well what the consequences might be. Last Friday it was announced that Benderman will be tried by a general court-martial, the most serious form of court-martial, on charges of desertion and missing movement. If convicted, he faces up to seven years in prison, reduction in rank to private and a dishonorable discharge. An officer called him a coward. His battalion chaplain shamed him in an e-mail from Kuwait. But I think it's a very brave, rare man who can stand by his convictions, as evidenced by these words from Sgt. Benderman: "I cannot tell anyone else how to live his or her life, but I have determined how I want to live mine -- by not participating in war any longer, as I feel that it is stupid and against everything that is good about our world."

I'm Jody Paulson, and I just thought you should know.

No comments: