a conscientious objection, pt. 3

Some more of the essay...

I waited one more month to make sure I understood. I went to Ireland, walked a hundred miles from Dublin to visit another monastery, and said one more prayer before going home.

When I presented my passport in the U.S., the customs agent entered my information, then paused, staring at her computer with a look of concern on her face. For a terrible moment I was sure she was going to call security and have me arrested. I wouldn’t be able to see my parents or turn myself in voluntarily. Then she looked up, smiled, and waved me through.

I watched my mother cry when she opened the door and embraced me. The next day my parents went with me to mass and heard the priest read the story of the prodigal son. Then I rode twenty hours to the naval base in Virginia, staring out the window of the bus, reminding myself what I was doing.

But it wasn’t until I was onboard the ship again that I truly felt fear. I remember standing on the thick carpet in front of the Executive Officer’s desk; he was patiently ordering me to put on my uniform again. I had been an officer and it seemed they wanted to handle my situation quietly. I spoke calmly but my knees felt weak. My face seemed to twitch and tremble and it was all I could do to hold it still. I told him I couldn’t do that—it wasn’t right. He looked at me for a moment. Then he dismissed me.

Not that I considered myself a pacifist at the time. When I joined the Navy I saw military service as honorable, and I believed that some wars could be just. And my recent change of heart had not been theological or ideological. It was caused by the tension that grew inside of me as I tried to be a good officer and a good Christian at the same time. The existential tension between mercy and discipline, meekness and power. Finally, when it had become unbearable, I had admitted to myself that I could not do both. I had to choose. That was all there was to it.

So when I refused to put the uniform back on, it was not because I didn’t want anything to do with the military. It was simply because it seemed false. I wasn’t an officer any more, no one was going to give me the responsibilities of an officer, I didn’t deserve the respect of an officer, so why should I pretend to be an officer? And I hadn’t come back to play along with a lie, hoping for mercy. I had come back to submit to discipline.