“I cringe to hear people talk of 9/11 in tones that suggest it was a simpler, kinder, more peaceful time. It wasn’t really.”
If you’ve cared enough to pay attention to details, then you already know that I’m a Discordian. What many don’t know is that many Discordians are former United States Marines.
I served in the marines from June of 1997 to June of 2001. It was a period in which I can honestly say everyone thought that the world had settled out; the Cold War was over, everyone seemed to be falling into line about making money of the poor, everyone was convinced the world was pacified, finally. Which is why in a sense 9/11 was a punch line. Even the people running the military thought this. I used to get briefings which in a sense seemed to have the purpose of informing me, “That the marine corpse definitely still had a reason to exist and that reason is blah blah blah”. Like any of that hokey shit matters now.
These are my memories of that period, a period in which people felt, wrongly, like they were at the end of history. I’ll try to keep this short. But it is an American tradition that you have to listen to a veteran recount his boring stupid tired stories, so now it’s your turn. This is going to be a mix of stories about my interactions with the U.S. government, and also what I saw as I traveled the world pretending to be useful. I have no idea how to do one of these things. Should I tell it linearly or write an alinear history? I’m going to start at the beginning, but don’t be fooled, this is definitely an alinear story. Also, you should know that 60% of all human memories are filler your brain makes up. But believe me when I say that I believe it was real.
I suck at being an infantryman. I knew it from the first week in the School of Infantry. Yeah, that’s literally what they call it. They’re infantryman, not MCU writers. So anyway, yeah, you’d have to figure that most people suck at it when they start. The problem is I didn’t seem to stop sucking. I imagine I’m better at it than some random person rotting in an office somewhere, so I have that going for me. But generally was not good at it. When I went through the School of Infantry, I was experimented on! It was an experimental fast track program, see usually the thing lasts, um, well I don’t know, I didn’t go through how it usually happens. I went through a month long program, complete with starvation training. Ever been so hungry you’d eat food out of a dumpster? Me too! Of course it is possible they lied, and that everyone that goes through the School of Infantry goes through all that.
Like I said, I only went once. It was around September, that this all happened, in California. That last part was the nice part, I had been living in Texas for all of high school. I was just happy to be home. Anyway, I mention the month basically to say that it was fall. This one guy, who will remain a nameless little wishnik troll person, complained that California was so brown, just desert, he thought, and that he missed home in Michigan where it was green forest. A spring later and he was amazed at how green it was. I could only say one thing, “Well, yeah, it’s spring.” So the take away from this part of the story is that I may have been experimentally starved and wishniks from Michigan don’t understand how seasons work.
It was the year 2000, December, when I walked off the plane onto Egyptian soil. I was ushered into a large tent made of carpets to a little bizarre, where I waited with the rest of the idiots to go to the base that had been built by the U.S. for Bright Star, 2000. A joint military training operation for the Mediterranean, hosted on the sands of Egypt’s Western reaches. Right in Libya’s fucking face. That’s how pathetic the U.S. had gotten, we were bullying dictators that we set up. Like paying someone to let you rough them up and take their lunch money. It’s fucking ridiculous! But this is how shit was and is. Anyway, as we rolled through town, I could see the bombed out buildings full of families scraping by. Building, after building, after building, after building, after building. These buildings, or what was left of them, were about four or five stories tall, often did not have a roof or all four sides, sometimes missing both, and had shit tons of people living in them. Fortunately they were reinforced concrete, or at least I hope they were, and so weren’t going to collapse any time soon. So we did a whole bunch of driving around, me being a reconnaissance scout for an armored unit, means I sat around in a hot metal box for hours a day.
So, reconnaissance, lets get some stuff straight. There are guys who are reconnaissance, and that is their special thing, and they are good at what they do. Very good. There are not many who can do this work as well as they. There are a lot of reconnaissance jobs all over the military and also the marine corpse. My job, as a reconnaissance scout in a light armored unit, was quite frankly, a waste of their time and the money spent to train them. So I wound up doing it. It was pretty boring. I played a lot of Pokemon on a Gameboy. Anyway, after the training, which mostly consisted of driving around, so the vehicle crews could practice being vehicle crews, and making hornless unicorns out of C4, because activities enrich your infantryman’s daily life, we had all bitched enough that they let us take a trip to the Pyramids at Giza.
But I’m not going to talk about my experiences inside. Instead, my memories of the palpable disgust on the face of the tour guide/information attendant at the pyramid site. You could see it on her face, if you were perceptive enough. The corners of her mouth, and the corners of her eyes, and the resting placement of her jaw told the story the rest of her face couldn’t. She would rather we not be on the same planet. I couldn’t blame her, I didn’t want to be on the planet either. I mean, why would she be glad to see us. Egypt’s then leader was a guy we were working with. Or maybe it was old fashioned bigotry. I don’t know, I didn’t ask. About halfway through the tear jerking boredom of “training” (to be honest C4 isn’t that great, in my opinion, for sculpting), they asked for volunteers. Now, if you’re smart, you know that this is an excellent chance to gamble. You could be doing something interesting, or tedious; you get a good lunch, or get a shit lunch, or get no lunch. At that point in operation bright stain I was ready to roll those dice. So I spent a week at a tank range radio tower and range control guarding it. Forces, alleged to be Bedouin, had already attacked once, and were repelled.
We were handed live ammo and left with the radio crew. And… nothing happened. Whomever attacked got the message the first time. I spent the week playing poker, reading, running down my batteries for my Gameboy, and doing the occasional react drill for boredom abatement and because practicing increases the chances of not dying. The last week I was there was fairly interesting, a friend of mine who was an Irish guy from West Covina, who could ululate like no one’s business, spent a night spooking our staff sergeant, which was hilarious, because this was a staff sergeant who couldn’t pass a physical fitness test without the entire command staff lying for him, and yet had the gonads to bust down my friend from corporal to lance corporal because he got a second class score on his test. So, we did our best to make an ass of him whenever we could.
The French Foreign legion got attacked the last night I was there. Presumably by the same “Bedouins”. It kind of makes one wonder if the Bedouins are blamed for much lawlessness that they statistically couldn’t possibly be behind. But that’s what they get for living on such lucrative coastal lands. So I guess the takeaway here is that the probability of her look of disgust not coming from a bigoted place is roughly a function of the probability that she was Bedouin. We were tourists after all.
I have the thirst. Not JFK levels of it, my wife keeps me plenty happy. But as a single guy, I had no reason not to indulge myself. Or at least I thought. I think it was my second time in Okinawa that a friend of mine, that I had met elsewhere in the marines, was stationed at the same base as I was. As I was reconnecting with him, shooting the shit with him as it were, it happened to come up that we was getting scuba trained. “Isn’t that expensive as fuck for a lowly serviceman such as yourself?” I asked him. “Yeah, but I got a friend paying for it.” What a lucky asshole, he just has a friend getting him scuba training. “Paying for the gear too?” He nodded his head. Unreal. “Who would do that for you around here?” Thus began his recounting of being a gigolo for old Japanese women. He was the favorite of a particular woman, thus the scuba gear and training. See, what it is, is that serviceman can’t be paid in cash, that’s prostitution. But a woman can give her man nice shit. That’s just being nice.
Now, my predilections being what they are, the mention of sex for pay with mature women did prick my ears up. Unfortunately for story telling purposes, I didn’t start whoring myself out. Not because I didn’t want to, but mostly because the people in my unit are hella chismoso, always sticking their noses in other peoples business. So I thought the better of it, and to this day, don’t know if I made the right decision or not. But I doubt my then current daddy Uncle Sam was looking to share. I mean, Uncle Sam didn’t give me any gold chains, but he did fuck me regular and buy me dinner. I can’t imagine he would have been cool with it. And we were so well kept in those days. So the moral of the story is that servicemen are sometimes exploited for sex. Though if you’ve ever been even at the edge of “Sex exploitation”, re: prostitution, you know the reality is more complex than some limousine liberal’s junior year liberal arts thesis can account for.
My friend didn’t need to learn scuba to live. He wasn’t getting beat down by his john, and there was no pimp. My experience with this is about as lightweight as you can get but the more I hear of the law coming down on sex workers the more it seems like the age old exploitation line that law men and “progressives” use, along with the immorality line the priests use, sounds increasingly like hokey bullshit. Really want to help sex workers? Legalize it and get rid of pimps and other middle men. Middle persons. Whatever, you know what I mean.
Remember the riots in Indonesia? Yeah, that’s ok. Not many people do. I was off the coast for the most of it. Why you might ask? Well, the U.S. Navy patrols the worlds oceans and keeps them clear of pirates and generally tries to make things “safe”. Sometimes they’ll have marines with them. That’s why I was there. I was on a pretty boat called an LSD, which I assume means landing ship deployer or something. I never asked. It had these fancy high powered fan boats that it poops out the back. We load our vehicles on, it deposits us on the beach, and we drive around and be effective as long as we don’t leave the beach and go into the Thai jungle. American supremacy at its finest. So as we sat off the coast of Indonesia, the government of the CIA backed Suharto collapsed. We didn’t lift a finger to help him, or the people rioting overthrow him. It wasn’t until much later that it seemed many of the Indonesian special forces were inciting riots and ethnic violence, particularly rape, against the Mandarin Chinese minority communities.
Why they were fomenting unrest I have no clue. But the result is that a U.S. backed anti-communist dictator’s government collapsed. But you are probably still wondering, amid all of this, why was I even there? Well, you see, Nike and McDonald’s corporations had some executives in the country that could have possibly needed help getting the fuck out. They didn’t, ultimately, because having your own private jets helps one to very effectively get the fuck out. But that was the reason. Then our staff sergeant came through and yelled at us that we were not there because of Nike and McDonald’s like they had just accidentally announced on the ships audio-visual system. I don’t know what is more pathetic, that they let the cat out of the bag like that, or that they then tried to gas light us about it.
Ok, that’s it. You’re off the hook. It’s over. I learned how to do a lot of violence, I saw many different kinds of exploitation, often time so comprehensive it took me two more decades to understand, and put it all together, and generally helped the U.S. government to spread its vision around the world. A vision that shattered on 9/11. I cringe to hear people talk of 9/11 in tones that suggest it was a simpler, kinder, more peaceful time. It wasn’t really. The world was never simple, or kind, or peaceful. These unfortunate people don’t realize that the times weren’t simpler, kinder, and more peaceful, they were.
A Discordian for 20 years, Patacelsus finally got comfortable when the 21st century “started getting weird.” When not casting sigils, taking part in Tibetan Buddhist rituals, or studying the unfortunate but sometimes amusing stories of the dead, he’s been known to wander the hidden ways of the city, communing with all of the hidden spirits one can find in a city. As Patacelsus sees it, we’re all already free; after completing the arduous task of waking up to that we can then proceed, like a doctor treating a patient, to try to rouse others from the bitter and frightening nightmares of Archism. He laughs at Samsara’s shadow-play in lovely California, in the company of his wife, two cats, and two birds.
A boy’s father has spent his life fighting for a cause he believes in. Despite the fact that he lives far away in another country, he sends aid in the form of money to the cause overseas. Eventually the father packs up the whole family and moves back to his homeland to fight for that cause.
The boy, eight years old, has never once seen that homeland, though he’s been told about it his whole life. Once he gets there he is forced to live a life in hiding, moving from place to place. At one point he is required to disguise himself as a girl in a culture that is repressive to women. He sees his father intermittently, if at all, but is desperate to make a connection with him.
In the meantime his father, who is in prison for suspected activities with fringe radical groups, is hospitalized for a hunger strike. Later he is released due to lack of evidence of wrongdoing.
Eventually the boy is old enough to join the cause. Desperate to be noticed by his father, he is taken along by a militant group as a translator. During that time he starts training in the use of firearms and other weaponry. He is fourteen years old.
While he is in a house with several full-grown men, and at least one woman and a child, soldiers from a foreign country set up a perimeter. It is part of a series of huts with a granary and a stone wall in the desert. There are weapons on the property. Is it a militant’s complex? Perhaps it is. The foreign soldiers seem to think so.
The soldiers bang on the door of the gate. The men inside tell the soldiers that they are villagers, but the soldiers demand to search the house regardless of their affiliation. They tell them to go away.
45 minutes later the support arrives. Now the house is surrounded by fifty foreign soldiers and a hundred locals. One goes to demand their surrender and is stopped by gunfire. One of the men in the group that the boy is with opens fire.
The woman and the small child flee while the firestorm is going on. The foreign soldiers are shooting at the people in the complex. The people in the complex are shooting at the soldiers. Now the boy, age fifteen, is caught in this conflict, and he knows that regardless of what the men he was with were doing or why they were there, now they are shooting at him.
The bloodbath is catastrophic. The militants in the compound manage to wound some of the foreign soldiers with grenades, but the soldiers call for medevac. Apaches show up and strafe the area, then take their wounded away. Then a pair of Warthogs arrive and blast everything into glass with several 500 lb bombs.
More troops arrive. Now there are a hundred foreign soldiers on the ground. Everything is burning. All the people the boy knows are screaming. Some are on fire. Some are watching their blood pour out onto the ground. Some are missing limbs. Some have no face left. He is one of two survivors of the air strike.
The foreign soldiers come in. A grenade is thrown. Most duck, but it lands near the rear of the group and goes off. A Special Operations soldier serving that day as an (armed) combat medic is fatally wounded in the explosion.
The troops move across the field and see a man with two chest wounds and a holstered pistol reaching for an AK-47. A special forces soldier with a classified identity shoots him in the head and kills him. When the dust clears, the special forces soldier sees the boy crouched, facing away from the action, and shoots him twice in the back.
The boy is allowed to recover. They learn his identity, and that despite being attached to this militant group, he is a citizen of one of the foreign country’s most important allies.
In the meantime a garbled version of events begins to erupt. Another soldier on the scene has a different story about shooting the boy three times in the chest, while he was reaching for a grenade.
This is almost certainly not an intentional falsehood. Those who have been in a life-threatening situation know that under those conditions it is easy to make a mistake. It is almost impossible to remember all the specific details when people are screaming and dying around you, especially if you have caused any of those wounds! Humans are not designed to kill each other. It messes us up.
But people are angry because a soldier died. And so they believe one soldier’s version of events over the other’s, though medical evidence suggests otherwise.
The boy is denied important surgery for damage to his eyes in order to force him to confess information. The allied government begins to get involved in his case. They are put off, denied, and not informed of the information they request, because the foreign government has reason to believe that the boy knows quite a lot about the force they are fighting, and they mean to get that information by whatever means necessary.
Then members of his own government collude in the interrogation! Theoretically there to defend him, his own government betrays him. They work to coerce a confession. that he has murdered a soldier unlawfully, by promising to bring him home.
And when he has recovered in part from his wounds, they send him to a prison for terrorists that is notorious for torture and abuse of its prisoners, despite his government’s requests, first, that they not do so, and then, that they are told when it happens. He is fifteen.
What happens to him there? I have no urge to repeat it because it is horrific by anyone’s standards. We can say three things for a fact:
One is that evidence is indeed found that show that the boy was actively involved in terrorist acts. He wired a detonator cord. He says at one point during his captivity that he intended to fight because he was told that the soldier were making a war to kill all the people of his faith.
The second is that the boy is tortured, repeatedly, and by a lot of different people. The worst of them, the one that everyone claims he is lying about, is convicted of abusing detainees to extract confessions when another of his charges dies from the abuse. I have no desire to repeat it, but because this, sadly, is a true story, you can read about it here.
The third thing we know is that he is told that if he confesses to throwing the grenade that killed the (armed) combat medic, he will get to go home. Back to his original home, the allied nation of the foreign soldiers who have him, the place where he was born. A place that by now must seem like a myth, or a distant dream.
He is lied to. He does not get to go home. When one member of the allied nation’s diplomatic efforts fail to return the boy, that member resigns in disgust.
A long saga begins. More torture and deprivation in prison. Legal challenges, lawsuits, demands for the right of habeas corpus. There are even sham tribunals to rival the darkest horror story you’ve ever heard of a fascist dictatorship. Nothing moves the foreign nation who has him, and nothing moves his home nation to intervene for him; not even Amnesty International and the UN Council on Human Rights.
At last he is sent back to a prison in his home country when he finally pleads guilty, after another year in this horrible prison. There he is locked up in a maximum security prison. It is a distinct improvement.
Pleas to treat him as a child soldier, or as a juvenile offender, fall on deaf ears, and he is forced to serve the totality of an adult’s sentence, though he was fifteen years old at the time of the battle, when he may (or may not have) thrown a grenade at a man trying to kill him who had just firebombed everyone and everything around him.
His case comes up for bail. It is denied. When it is granted two years later, the government of his own country appeals it. Only an election, and a change of governmental party, prevents the second appeal from going through, because they drop it. At last, though under tight supervision, a very damaged young man is finally free.
It has been thirteen years since the battle. He is 31 years old.
You’re probably heard his name again in the news recently. Canada’s Supreme Court found that the Canadian government, on helping to obtain his confession and being a party to the horrific events that befell this poor man, had violated his rights according to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which we hold as sacred as America holds its Constitution. They found that Canada had acted against the Geneva Convention and international law. They granted a sum of money to Mr. Khadr for his suffering.
But even after all that, there are those who would deny him even this. People are now trying to demand that they be allowed to sue him for that money that he was awarded as a (lame) apology for taking away the rights that EVERY HUMAN BEING is guaranteed in international law.
To those people I say: Shame on you! Whether he was an “enemy combatant” or not, Omar Khadr has paid more than enough for the crime of throwing a grenade at someone who was trying to kill him. And you conveniently forget, HE WAS FIFTEEN YEARS OLD. He was a CHILD SOLDIER.
Regardless of what he’s done, he’s one of ours. What he was involved in was horrible; what happened to him proved that the other side wasn’t the “good guys” either.
He says he’s sorry. I believe him.
The Canadian government has said that it is sorry in the only way it can.
Now the rest of you: if you can’t say you’re sorry, as you would if you had even a shred of human decency, then leave him alone and let him get on with what’s left of his life, as best he can.
I’m a Pagan and speculative fiction author, a professional blogger, and a musician. I’m proudly Canadian and proudly LGBTQ. My politics are decidedly left and if you ask for my opinion, expect an honest answer. I own a dog and am owned by a cat. I used to work part time at a bookstore and I love to read, especially about faith, philosophy, science, and sci-fi and fantasy.
The following essay was written by the late Isaac Bonewits (1949-2010), the founder of Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF). The original version of this essay was published in The Druid’s Progress #5 in 1989, and is reposted here with permission from Phaedra Bonewits and Arthur Lipp-Bonewits.
IT’S WELL PAST time to deal with some polytheological issues that most Neopagan groups have been ignoring—specifically those of violence, self-defense, and the ethics of being a cop or a soldier in modern times. Insofar as Neopaganism is going to develop doctrines (note that I did not say “dogmas”) about these issues, ones that Neopagans can take into a court of law, this essay is an attempt at articulating the arguments that seem relevant to me.
Like many members of the Neopagan community, I grew up as part of the 60’s counterculture. Our primary interactions with law enforcement officers and soldiers were generally of the negative sort. We saw them as the upholders of a corrupt status quo, mouthing platitudes about freedom and democracy while they beat in our heads or napalmed little children. Yet, most of us grew up thrilling to the adventures of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Robin Hood and his Merry Men, and other noble, idealistic warriors. In later years, some of us studied the martial arts, and watched television shows such as “Kung Fu,” where the emphasis was on the lone warrior who is a master of him/herself first, and of others only incidentally.
All of these experiences gave us conflicting ideas about the nature and role of violence in our lives. Those of our generation who suffered in Vietnam or in the ghettos are much less idealistic than those of us who have only been on the dojo floor or the medievalist tournament field. Yet our common “Nam era mentality” of cynicism towards governments and generals is perfectly appropriate as a base from which to begin articulating spiritual opinions.
As we create religions for the future, we must have a coherent body of polytheological opinions about violence. These opinions must reflect our ideals, while being fully informed about historical realities, if we hope to change the world enough so that future history will not simply be a bloody repetition of the past.
THE AWARENESS of this essential conflict between practical survival needs and ethical ideals is not new. The Paleopagan Indo-Europeans (like most other peoples of the past) spent a lot of time thinking about it, and preserved their wisdom in their myths, sagas, and folktales. So before I begin to express my own conclusions about the various issues involved, I’d like to quote from Jaan Puhvel’s excellent book on Indo-European myth and epic, Comparative Mythology (John Hopkins Univ. Press, 1987). After repeated tellings of the standard Indo-European warrior myth as it appears in the different cultures, he has this to say (in the chapter on “God and Warrior”) about it:
Basic to that [standard Indo-European warrior] myth is a profound anomic [lawlessness, social alienation] of the human and societal condition, rooted in the use and abuse of power. Order, security, peace—positive conditions all—tend to depend for their preservation on the readiness of something that is inherently destructive, such as “security forces” or a military machine with the attendant mentality. If boosters of law enforcement like to describe their favorite agents of public order as a thin phalanx protecting civilization from anarchy, there is an even thinner line separating champion from berserk, police action from police riot. Those trained as agents of aggression and repression may experience difficulty functioning as normal human beings under great stress, or conversely when the pressure is off. Such abnormality also induces clannishness vis-a-vis the general society, “fraternal orders,” “Protective” associations, gangs, juntas, and other forms of structured apartness.
This kind of perennial tension is reflected in the ancient myths. Warlike exaltation, martial ecstasy where fury gets out of hand, is displayed by the Third Horatius, by Cuchulainn, by the berserkir. The Maruts, sodalas, fiana, or einherjar constituted bands with their own inner structure and interactional dynamics, with a collective svadha or “ethos” (the two cognates meaning etymologically “self-law, autonomy”) that was only capriciously at the call of a commanding figure such as Indra, Publicola, Finn or Odin. The warlord himself could be an equally self-willed individualist and from inspired and inspiring leader shade over into a lone-wolf kind of martial toiler (Indra led the Maruts, and yet he was also eka- “one, alone, unique,” acted yathavasam “as he chose” and had a svadah of his own). The warrior thus had an ambivalent role as a single champion or part of a self-centered corps or coterie, both a society’s external defender and its potential internal menace.
After discussing the myths about warrior kings and warrior gods, Puhvel devotes the rest of the chapter to the stories about mythic heroes, of the sort that many Neopagans who perceive themselves to be warriors pattern themselves after. Here’s what he has to say (with my comments in the square brackets):
A third type was the warrior who was not divine but a saga hero manipulated by deity, not a king but merely in royal service. This is the kind most marked by a tense relationship to the environment where he operated, to his divine and human patrons and his social constituency at large. He had no agglomeration of transfunctional attributes to lose [as the warrior kings and warrior gods did], but he nevertheless managed to offend (or was perceived as offending) all segments of the social order by a structured set of misdeeds. With his flawed willfulness (or perhaps his “programmed,” predestined, predictable nature) he compromised his career by nadir episodes that involved impious/unjust/sacrilegious, cowardly/under-handed/unwarriorlike, and covetous/venal/adulterous acts respectively [the “three sins” against the three Indo-European social functions of legal and spiritual rulership, courageous defense of the community, and prosperity and fertility]. The varieties described are found in epic, saga and folklore, from the fells of Scandinavia to the jungles of India, from the Bay of Bengalk via the Gulf of Argos and the Tiber to Galaway Bay. These kinds are not extinct — they were spotted not long ago on both the Mekong and the Potomac [and in Central America, Afghanistan, Africa, Moscow, Iraq, etc.].
All of the points he makes are directly applicable to a discussion of Neopagans in the military. As I have said many times, “one of the primary tasks of the clergy has always been to ride herd on the warriors… Since the primary threat to life on this planet now comes from out-of-control warriors, it’s time we started taking that duty seriously again.” In this particular time and place, that riding herd process requires confronting some unpleasant and unpopular truths. We can no longer ignore the issues involved. Here, in no particular order, are some of my thoughts:
I perceive important distinctions between “warriors” and “soldiers,” with the former word having positive meanings for me and the later negative ones. In order to define my terms clearly, I will now oversimplify:
A “warrior” is a person who has been trained to use violence both effectively and selectively, but who refrains from doing so except when she/he perceives a genuine danger to her/himself or to others in the community whom she/he deems worthy of protection. She or he strives to use exactly the minimum amount of violence (if any) of whatever sort is necessary to defeat the danger, and is willing to risk her/his life in the process. A warrior prefers to see the face of his/her enemy, and takes personal responsibility for the ethics of his/her behavior. While she/he may enjoy her/his occupation and may experience and appreciate the thrill of battle, she/he does not enjoy or disregard the emotional and moral effects of killing. Warriors will compete with each other, not just to hone their combat skills, but to emphasize their individual identities. Courage, honor, integrity, and self-awareness are the ideals I associate with this image of the warrior.
A “soldier,” on the other hand, I perceive as a hired killer, whose primary task is not the defense of his/her community, although that claim is usually made, but rather the defense of that community’s political, social, religious, and economic rulers. A soldier enjoys being violent, especially when she/he has superior odds, and often becomes addicted to the battle frenzy (berserkirgang) experience—many to the point of receiving sexual satisfaction from the destruction they cause. He or she will kill any man, woman, or child that he/she is ordered to kill, simply because he/she was told to do so (as with the Russian airmen who shot down K.A.L. flight 007, or the American seamen who blew up that Iranian airliner). A soldier is perfectly willing to kill at a distance, without ever seeing the faces of his/her victims, and even when she/he sees them up close does not consider them to be “real” human beings (but “Huns,” or “Japs,” or “Gooks,” or “Micks,” etc.). A soldier considers rape and plunder to be a natural right in time of war, even if the war is against citizens of his/her own country. Perhaps most importantly for the purposes of this essay, a soldier takes no responsibility for the ethics of his/her actions, since she/he is “only following orders.”
To transform a person from a civilian into a soldier, it’s generally necessary to extinguish her/his individuality and integrity, and to replace them as much as possible with group identity and unthinking, machinelike obedience. (Robert Anton Wilson has an excellent, and somewhat terrifying analysis of military basic training as a classic “brainwashing” process in Prometheus Rising.) This obedience to authority, obsession with “winning,” and emotional insensitivity to the impact of his/her behavior on the lives of others, are the ideals of the soldier. Of course, most generals and admirals will tell the general public (and their soldiers whenever the public happens to be listening) that the warrior ideals are the ones that soldiers do and should have, but this publicly presentable official message is easily drowned out by the other messages delivered during basic training, and quickly vanishes in any real war zone.
These opinions come from growing up reading about Nazi war criminals, seeing films of soldiers dropping napalm on small children, studying the history of the European, American, and Russian Empires, going to high school near a major military base, reading reports of the Gulf War from foreign newspapers, etc. and comparing the data gained from these sources to the idealistic legends mentioned earlier.
BUT IN ORDER to avoid monotheistic dualism here, lets create a value spectrum with the above defined “warrior” on one end, and the “soldier” on the other. Most modern police officers, security guards, and members of the armed forces will fit somewhere along the line between the two extremes. About the only ones who will come close to being real warriors will be those individuals who have dedicated their lives to the Martial arts, and a few political, ecological, and social activists.
(Since some people like to play games with the phrase “martial arts,” saying that anything having to do with the Roman god Mars should be counted, including soldiering and C.I.A. assassinations, let me emphasize that when I say “martial arts,” I’m referring to Tai Chi, Akido, Karate, Kung Fu, etc. as well as similar practices from non-oriental sources, when followed as a philosophy and a way of life.)
Perhaps we need two more axes of polarity here, a vertical one for degree of sanity or insanity, and another going off at right angles to the first two, for ethicality and unethicality of character. Warriors going berserk or cops rioting against a group of [Editor’s note: The noun here was missing from the original essay; I believe it would have been “civilians.”] would go near the insane end of the sanity-insanity scale, while a C.I.A. hitman or the members of a S.W.A.T. team trying to eliminate a sniper might belong near the sane end. Of course, that hitman would probably belong on the Wrong side of the ethical-unethical spectrum (depending on his/her target?), as would a Mafia hitman, Nazi Storm trooper, or a Russian airman dropping napalm on children in Afghanistan. As American Neopagans, we might decide that the soldiers who fought in the American Revolutionary War were ethical to do so (English Neopagans might disagree) or those in the U.S. Cavalry during the “Indian Wars” (unless you’re part or all Native American, or have studied the history carefully, in which case those same soldiers become grossly unethical), etc.
Many of these judgments are difficult to make, especially if you belong to a multivalued, pluralistic religion such as Neopaganism. But it should be clear that, despite the conflicting ideals discussed earlier, not all warriors are ethical and sane, and not all soldiers are unethical and insane. Nonetheless, I will make the argument, for the rest of this essay, that in our time it is far more difficult for a soldier to remain both ethical and sane from a Neopagan point of view than it is for a warrior to do so (law enforcement officers wind up in the middle — as usual).
Let’s get down to some ethical/spiritual nitty-gritty:
It is wrong, under any and all circumstances, to drop napalm on kids, or to machine-gun women with babies, or to launch a missile towards a building full of elderly people.
It is wrong to kill a total stranger, simply because his/her politicians disagree with yours as to the best way the two of you should be swindled.
It is wrong to kill, maim, and torture people in order to maintain the wealth and power of multinational corporations, or of a dictator, or of the leader(s) of one’s religion.
It is wrong to defoliate thousands of acres of forests or jungles, or to poison rivers and wells, or to bury millions of land mines in areas where civilians will die from them for decades to come, or to disseminate new diseases.
It is wrong to teach dictators how to more effectively torture, rape, and enslave their own citizens (or those of neighboring countries), no matter what benefits our own political and economic masters might gain.
It is wrong, for any reason that a human is capable of inventing, to create, maintain, or use weapons that can kill every man, woman, child, plant, and animal on Earth, raping our Mother to death with nuclear fire. Our planet can survive a hundred or even a thousand years of domination by any “evil empire.” It won’t survive World War III. To assist in any way, shape or form in killing the entire biosphere (at this point the only one we know exists) is the ultimate blasphemy which a worshiper of Mother Earth could commit.
I could not live with myself if I did not know, on a gut-level basis, that these things are Wrong. All the metaphysical and theological and political excuses in the world cannot change these crimes into acts of virtue or heroism.
Yet each of them is an action that any member of most modern army, navy, or air forces (especially those of a “superpower”—what they used to call an “empire”) can expect to be ordered to commit, sooner or later. The excuses will be grandiose, the justifications noble, and the instructions quite clear: “Do as you’re told—that’s an order!”
EACH AND EVERY ONE of these actions is one that I expect a Neopagan (or a sane, ethical warrior of any other faith) to refuse to perform, even at the risk of court-martial and execution (that’s easy for me to say — all I have to worry about is execution, legally or illegally, for the “treason” of voicing these opinions). Thus, I believe that Neopagans, whether Wiccans, Druids, or members of any other variety of Neopaganism, have no place in a modern superpower’s military.
The Coast Guard or a state militia might be an exception to this basic principle, except when they are performing functions unconnected to actually defending the lives of the populace, but one would have to evaluate each such organization and situation individually. I know that the National Guard in California, for example, actually spends most of its time fighting forest fires, but I remember when it was used against antiwar demonstrators back in the 60’s. The kids who shot the kids at Kent State were members of the Ohio National Guard. And lately the Coast Guard has been spending most of its time busting drug smugglers (which gets us into the topic of Neopagans and law enforcement, to be discussed later in this essay).
As for those Neopagans who are currently in the military, and who are sensibly unwilling to risk death by firing squad (or by “accident”), I believe that you should attempt to get out, by any comparatively ethical means necessary, as soon as you can. If escaping really is impossible (and not just bloody inconvenient), you should try to get transferred to units where your activities will be only remotely connected (they can never be completely unconnected) to those of others actually committing the crimes of the sort mentioned.
The question of whether or not we should have Druid or other Neopagan chaplains for Neopagans who choose to join or remain in the military is a messy one. If, as I believe, you’re not supposed to be there in the first place, what role does a chaplain have other than to betray his/her faith by telling you it’s OK? Would the military allow a chaplain who went around persuading folks to quit? The suggestion that Neopagans, whether chaplains or laity, should be in the military in order to enlighten the armed forces from within is absurd — as soon as you got close to actually changing people’s minds, you’d be arrested for “subversion.” Offering more enlightened alternatives to a superior officer is as likely to get one branded a “bleeding-heart liberal” and ignored, as it is to change anyone’s opinions—not to mention destroying your military career. A discussion of Neopagan chaplains is quite moot, however. The U.S. military in 1987 commissioned its first non-Judeo-Christian chaplain (a Buddhist of all faiths!) and is in no rush to have chaplains from any other minority faiths. Besides, military chaplains are expected to have been ordained after a period of college level training in an accredited institution that would have prepared them for full-time, professional clergy work — and we don’t have any accredited Neopagan seminaries yet and are unlikely to for several years.
As for young people facing the draft, I say you should refuse to register, or emigrate elsewhere as soon as your government actually starts taking kids. If you do register, do it as a Conscientious Objector (and be prepared for a long, messy fight). If you don’t register because of your religious beliefs, expect to be discriminated against when applying for school loans, etc.
I CAN STILL HEAR THE screams from when I first published these thoughts, from Neopagans in the military: “How dare you tell us what to do!” “How can you make our ethical decisions for us!” “You commie-hippie-weirdo-freak!” “Your subversive and ‘unpatriotic’ stance is what undermines the strength and character of a country.” “Who made you the spokesperson for all Pagandom?!”
Well, nobody did. Nonetheless I have the same rights as anyone, polytheologian or not, to express my religious opinions. And as a “spiritual leader,” I have an obligation to be truthful about my beliefs. Every other major religion in the world has doctrines about these issues. It’s about time we started working ours out.
As for the Norse warrior types in our community, I can only say that the better (sane and ethical) old Norse heroes would have had nothing but contempt for modern military procedures (although I suppose some of the Vikings might have approved of the raping, looting, and pillaging parts).
“But what about national defense?” I hear some of you asking. Well, if the Chinese come swimming across the Pacific Ocean with atom bombs clenched between their teeth, or the Mexicans come charging over the border with their third-rate weaponry (we’ve never let them have more than they needed to keep their own people properly tyrannized), attacking San Diego and El Paso, I suppose even I might concede to a necessity for some sort of National Defense. But my response (“If I were King of the Forest!”) would not be to whip out weapons that can kill thousands or millions of innocent bystanders, but rather (if physical violence really were necessary) to unleash professional assassins against the individuals in the invading country’s government who are responsible. Of course, this sort of measured response, aimed directly at the genuinely guilty parties, is simply “not done.”
I’ve had several acquaintances, who used to be in military intelligence organizations, independently tell me that U.S. spies advised our government back in 1938 to assassinate Adolph Hitler before he got too dangerous. This plan was vetoed on the grounds that fighting a war by assassination was likely to get our politicians assassinated in retaliation. So to save the lives of a handful of politicians in the US and Europe, millions upon millions of men, women, and children died. A direct result of that war was the invention and use of the very weapons that threaten our planet’s survival today. Frankly, I would rather have lost twenty or thirty politicians.
None of this deals with the ethics of assassination, of course (which would require a full discussion of situational ethics). And so far, American government assassins have proven much more effective at eliminating democratically elected (but economically threatening) leaders (both foreign and domestic) than at killing genuine threats to world peace. Also, it’s been pointed out that making assassination the primary means of international conflict would lead to the creation of ever more fascist police states in order to protect the politicians. Nonetheless, I would far rather live in a world where wars were fought personally by the people who benefited most from them (the generals, the politicians, the dictators/kings, the billionaires, the commissars, etc.) than in what we have now: those folks pulling puppet strings to make the rest of us dance, and die, to their tunes.
But that’s a fantasy. We are stuck with what we have. The CIA and all their other alphabet comrades take their orders from the powers-that-be in each nation/corporation, not from ordinary citizens like us, despite the supposed oversight exercised by governmental committees composed of people we may elect. This may not change in our lifetime. So even if you could convince yourself that murder is sometimes ethically justifiable (a tricky proposition at best), a career in these agencies is going to be no more ethical than one in their associated armed forces.
BUT WHAT ABOUT the theory of the “just war”? That always comes up in these discussions. I say, it’s a just war if you defend yourself when the KKK attacks your farmhouse and tries to shoot your husband and kids, burn down your barn, and rape your cow. At that point you’re ethically, morally and even legally (outside of New York City) entitled to defend yourself and your family from “a clear and present danger.” But when the Front for the Liberation of XYZ attacks its country’s Gestapo in an effort to free prisoners who are being tortured for trying to organize labor unions, and the Russians or the Americans (or the British, the Israelis, the French, the Chinese, etc.) send in tanks, bombers, napalm, and experts to train the Gestapo in better torturing techniques—no, that’s not a “just war” for the invaders—no matter what impact the results might have on the President’s or the Chairman’s Swiss bank accounts, no matter what noninterference might do to the next quarter’s profit margin or the current five year plan, and no matter that the XYZ Liberation Front may be just as unethical as the folks they’re fighting.
The overwhelming majority of wars that have been fought in America’s brief history, like those of other nations, have had little to do with “preserving human freedom.” Our Revolution and the War of 1812 were fought so that a bunch of wealthy, slave-owning men (George Washington and friends) wouldn’t have to pay taxes to England, at least as much as they were for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of (male, land-owning) happiness.” The Civil War was an economically based battle between the Second Wave industrial North and the First Wave agricultural South, with the freeing of slaves an afterthought done more for its devastating economic impact than for any concern for human rights. The genocide campaigns against the Native Americans, the multiple invasions of Central America, the Spanish-American War, etc. were all done for the purpose of gaining physical territory and/or exclusive trading “rights” (“Hi, give us all your natural resources at dirt cheap prices or we’ll kill you!”). The First World War was for the benefit of the banks and the munitions manufacturers (who also had a hand in setting up W.W.II).
Even I have to admit that Hitler’s Germany needed stopping, although I’ve already indicated one way it could have been prevented—by all the Gods, it could have been prevented by the W.W.I victors simply not having been so nasty afterwards! While the Japanese in China and Korea were just as horrible as the Germans in Europe, the war in the Pacific was the direct result of the Japanese and American Empires disputing territory thousands of miles from either’s home turf (neither of them really had any “rights” to the Kingdom of Hawaii). The wars in Korea and Vietnam were also territorial grabs. We wanted to make sure that prime agricultural land (before defoliation, the Mekong Delta used to be called “the Bread Basket of Southeast Asia”), rubber plantations, tungsten mines, offshore oil deposits, etc., remained under our control (or that of our “friends”), rather than let the rival Chinese or Russian Empires have them. Not to mention the wonderful locations for air, land and naval bases close to our rivals (no “Monroe Doctrine” for our competitors, no-sir-ree, just for us).
The Persian Gulf War was fought for the benefit of multi-billionaire Kuwaiti royalty, the boys in the Pentagon who wanted to try out all their new toys (especially the desert warfare machines), and a President who wanted to prove that he wasn’t a wimp. A quarter of a million men, women, and children died—the overwhelming majority of whom were civilians—as a direct or indirect result of American and other Western European military actions. This was as many as died in the Burning Times (the Renaissance witch hunts) we Neopagans talk so much about as an archetypal atrocity. Yet the man we supposedly fought the war to dethrone is still running his country and only a fraction of his military personnel were killed.
None of this should be surprising, except for those who believe their high school history books, the stories in the mass media, or their old drill sergeants. Every Empire in history has acted this way: The Russian Empires (both Czarist and Communist), the Chinese ones, the British, etc., going all the way back to Mesopotamia, have all grabbed as much loot as they could and have made up whatever excuses, if any, their soldiers needed to hear. In most of the modern empires, however, it has become necessary to claim that one’s invading armies are not conquering turf, but are liberating toiling masses instead. China doesn’t commit genocide in Tibet, it “educates people away from their superstitions.” The American Empire doesn’t prop up sleazy dictators who are killing their own citizens, we just “help friendly governments to maintain a strong defense against communism/terrorism/international drug cartels.” The Russian Empire didn’t invade Afghanistan to gain access to the Middle East and create another buffer state around its former national borders, it was “helping a friendly government to maintain a strong defense against capitalism.”
The bottom line of all this political discussion is that governments—all governments—habitually lie to their citizens and the rest of the world, especially when planning and executing wars. The only thing that makes ours any better is that the U.S. was founded by a bunch of agnostic, skeptical Freemasons who didn’t trust governments very much—including the one they were founding—and who tried to see to it that intelligent people could keep the corruption and tyranny down to a dull roar. But that’s impossible if citizens naively believe whatever their government tells them is true, routinely obey whatever orders they are told have come down from on high, and object to essays like this one being published. I’m not the first to point out these unpleasant and “treasonous” truths—Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce, H.L. Mencken, and other famous/infamous people repeatedly remarked on the gullibility of the general public when faced with official versions of reality.
PEOPLE NOT ONLY tend to believe what they’re told when governments are leading young men off to slaughter, they tend to actively disbelieve any evidence to the contrary. Historians now know that the Lusitania, supposedly an innocent cruise liner whose sinking by the German navy was one of the primary incidents that led the U.S. into entering W.W.I, was indeed carrying ammunition to the British, just as the Germans claimed. Evidence has accumulated that the U.S. Battleship Maine was blown up by American spies in order to create an incident to goad a reluctant public into the Spanish-American War. John F. Kennedy, who was beginning to de-escalate the Vietnam War, was “coincidentally” assassinated, then replaced with someone who was quite willing to keep the war going as long as it was profitable. All this has been published over and over again, in scholarly journals, in the back pages of newspapers, in obscure political magazines. The mass slaughter of civilians during the Persian Gulf War was broadcast live by CNN! But very few people read or view these unpopular facts, and most of those who do, don’t believe them, since they contradict the history books, the government, the press, and the military. Those who do believe them are so cynical that they don’t think it really matters—after all, what’s done is done.
In one sense they’re right. We can’t change the past. All we can try to do is to remember as many of its lessons as possible. Among those many lessons are (a) governments seldom are willing to pass up any opportunity to gain greater power, (b) governments always become more powerful in wartime, and therefore (c) there is a built-in incentive for governments to be in a constant state of war. So we not only have to watch the scoundrels in our own government, but those in all the others as well.
How does all this political skepticism tie into Neopagan ethical approaches to military service? Very simply. When our government tells us, or anybody else’s government tells its citizens, that a war is necessary for “national defense,” the odds are a thousand to one that the government is lying. For the individual member of the armed forces, murder, rape, and pillage, whether direct or by remote control, become even harder to excuse when you haven’t even a shred of hard evidence that the crimes you are being ordered to commit are actually going to protect your loved ones at home from whatever theoretical threat is being waved in your face. What you can be sure your crimes will do—up to the point where someone starts W.W.III—is to fatten several national leaders’ Swiss bank accounts, generate enormous profits for the arms industry in all the countries involved (the same companies in Europe sold weapons to all sides in both World Wars, and are still doing it today), get rid of a lot of surplus teenage males (always a threat to the inner stability of any culture), totally wreck whatever environment your war takes place in, and thoroughly mix the gene pools of the survivors.
None of these results, except the last, is one of which Neopagan polytheology can approve and there are plenty of other ethical (and much more pleasant) ways to mix genes.
A few folks have mentioned that military personnel have the “right” to disobey “unlawful” orders. While true, this ignores the fact that many unethical things are perfectly legal, under civilian or military law, and that refusing to obey a direct order based on this right is far more likely to get one court-martialed and/or shot than it is to prevent a crime being committed. Your superior officer will merely order your replacement to perform in your stead. As for an obligation for American military men and women to serve as “world peacekeepers,” (1) I don’t recall them being elected to or asked to fill that role by the rest of the world, and (2) the U.S. government has been extremely selective about where and when and how it fulfills that “duty.” By some odd coincidence, it always seems to depend on American political polls and corporate profits.
So I’m forced to repeat my earlier conclusions. Despite all the traditional arguments about “just wars” and “national defense” and making the world safe for democracy/capitalism/communism, etc., a soldier, sailor, marine, or air fighter in a modern superpower armed forces organization is holding down a job where he/she has agreed, by the very act of signing up or letting him/herself be drafted, to commit or support acts of a grossly unethical and immoral nature whenever he/she is ordered to commit or support them, for reasons that will usually be equally unethical and immoral. That makes superpower military service (and that in many smaller nations) a “wrong livelihood” for a Neopagan. Period.
What about other forms of “serving your country”? If the government decides that all citizens must spend a year or two working as firefighters, or conservation corps members, or hospital workers, or street pavers, etc., then such service may be perfectly ethical and moral. An argument can even be made that such community service is a genuine moral obligation (nobody, except absolute Libertarians, likes parasites very much). However, if such service becomes “alternative service,” meaning that you are filling a job position so that someone else can go commit crimes in your place, then you haven’t escaped the ethical and moral issues, however worthy the service you are performing might be.
I’d like to emphasize that I am not saying that Neopagans in the military are “bad people” or “lousy excuses for Pagans.” Many very good people join the military for reasons that have little to do with wanting to kill. They join because of various psychological goals they think the military will help them accomplish (though military service often makes personalities more dysfunctional, not less), to get specific job training (though they usually get cheated in this area), to earn tuition to pay for college later, to travel around the world (…”visit exotic places, meet fascinating people, and kill them”), or because they genuinely believe that they will be helping to “defend their country” or be “world peacekeepers” by becoming part of the military machine. If you grow up believing everything that the government and the mass media tell you, this sort of innocence is understandable. Neopagans, however, are usually far too intelligent and well-read to be that naive.
What I am saying is that Neopagans now in the military, or contemplating being there, should think long and hard about all the issues and arguments, official and unofficial, overt and covert, genuine and fraudulent, before they decide to stay or join — not just swallow whatever propaganda they’ve been fed by career military people or right-wing politicians.
NOW, ABOUT THOSE PAGAN COPS: As I see it, the major polytheological point in evaluating the morality and ethicality of law enforcement has to do with the nature of the laws that are being enforced. This requires a discussion of two terms from the field of criminology, “crimes with victims” and “crimes without victims.” The former are the obvious ones: murder, rape, arson, theft, fraud, most traffic laws, etc. and some subtler ones such as bribery, graft, etc. The latter are activities in which there either is no victim at all or in which the primary “victim” is the criminal: the vast majority of sex, drug, and gambling crimes fall under this classification. In essence, Judeo-Christian preachers who have been unable to convince their congregations to stop “sinning” have used their political power to get the civil governments to declare various sins to be “crimes.”
It seems clear to me that no culture can survive for long if it allows crimes with victims to take place without efforts to prevent the crimes and/or punish the criminals. It seems equally clear that the legal creation of “crimes without victims” is a complete violation of the principle of separation of church and state, but such is not unusual. A Neopagan cop who is devoting his/her career to working on a homicide squad, or investigating arson, or solving rapes, etc., is behaving in a perfectly appropriate fashion for a Neopagan. Contrariwise, if she or he is arresting prostitutes, or busting gay couples for sodomy, or destroying pot fields, then she/he is not acting in keeping with Neopagan beliefs, but is instead using the force of the civil government to impose Judeo-Christian (and corporate) values on the general populace. That’s not only immoral and unethical, it’s unconstitutional as well. Unfortunately, in order to get promoted to a position where you can concentrate on crimes-with-victims, you usually have to spend several years enforcing victimless crimes.
The other major sorts of crimes without victims are the political ones. In these “crimes,” generally useful laws are reinterpreted to forbid what are supposed to be constitutionally protected protest activities. And this is where we get into gray areas of interpretation. If a hundred thousand people are marching down a street protesting a government policy (i.e., exercising their constitutional right to peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of their grievances), it’s immoral and unethical to attack them with billy clubs and police dogs, even if you think their opinions stupid, ignorant, or “subversive.”
These distinctions can be fairly clear. But if someone from an ecological action group has decided to destroy bulldozers, or sink whaling ships, or dump bags of red paint on members of a government commission who are neglecting their duties to protect endangered species — then we have a problem. Their activities are clearly illegal, and are indeed crimes that have victims (the developers, the whalers, the bureaucrats), yet they are being done to prevent even greater crimes, ones that many Neopagans would also oppose. Personally I cheered when I heard about the “eco-guerrillas” who sank the (empty) whaling vessel in Iceland, wrecked the whalers’ mainframe computer, and destroyed their freezing units. By committing crimes against property, they saved the lives of scores of whales who would have been slaughtered by that machinery. But approving of people “taking the law into their own hands” for “a greater good” gets us, as I was swiftly reminded when this essay first saw print, into yet another moral quagmire—one that opens the door to all sorts of abuse by special interest groups, such as “pro-lifers” murdering doctors, or right-wing Christians persecuting Neopagans, or anti-pornography feminists forcing bookstores out of business.
Unfortunately, when one becomes a law enforcement officer one swears an oath to uphold the law as written. One isn’t (officially) allowed to pick and choose which laws she/he will enforce and which she/he will ignore. Of course, every cop I’ve ever known did, in fact, pick and choose on a daily basis, simply as a matter of necessity in big cities (where there’s too much crime going on for the police to stop all of it), and of tradition in small towns (where the local cop or sheriff is often judge, jury, and punisher as well). However, as a law enforcement officer, one is supposed to enforce every law as it currently exists, no matter how unjust, stupid, immoral, or ecocidal it might be. If a Neopagan takes that oath, she or he is going to be in spiritual trouble sooner or later.
Yet, unlike the average member of a superpower military force, a cop routinely acts in a genuinely heroic way. The highway patrol keeps the drunks and crazies from killing the rest of us on the roads. Homicide detectives try to find murderers and stop them. SWAT teams capture or kill insane people who are shooting passersby. Cops pull people from burning cars and buildings, rescue drowning children, give mouth-to-mouth and CPR to collapsed victims of heart attacks, and risk their lives every day they go out onto big city streets.
If we had a legal system that was sane, rational, and upheld the separation of church and state, and a political system that was not terrified of its own citizens, then the career of law enforcement might be a completely honorable one, all the time, for a Neopagan. As it is, Neopagan cops must constantly be making complex ethical and moral decisions about their own behavior as cops. If one can find a section of his/her law enforcement agency where he/she can be exclusively involved in solving and/or preventing genuine crimes with victims, then one could have a long and honorable career. But if one is a general duty officer, then sooner or later he/she is going to be ordered to arrest people he/she thinks are harmless, simply because they’ve violated some Judeo-Christian taboo. Thus, being a cop can be a right livelihood for a Neopagan, but its a hard road to walk.
Nonetheless, there are advantages to the Neopagan community as a whole, in having cops around who know that Neopagans aren’t baby-killing monsters. Certainly the fundamentalist cops are working really hard to convince the rest of their colleges that Neopagans are no different from the “sincere sociopath” Satanists who do commit atrocities. Having some knowledgeable members of our community be also part of the law enforcement community can only improve communications between all of us.
HAVING SAID ALL THESE negative things about soldiers and cops, just what sorts if warriors do I approve of? Well it should be obvious from my earlier remarks that I believe that martial artists are worthy of admiration, as are spiritual warriors in the Native American style (though that phrase, like “shaman,” has been badly abused by New Agers and Neopagans alike). I also approve of Earth Warriors or “eco-guerrillas,” such as the members of Earth First! and the Sea Shepherd Society, who are willing to risk their own lives to protect our Mother, as long as they remain careful not to kill people in the process of their monkey-wrenching. I think that private citizens who fight for freedom and our constitutional rights, through such groups as Common Cause, People for the America Way, the American Civil Liberties Union, etc. are heroes (if not necessarily warriors) worthy of our admiration.
What all these warriors and heroes have in common, and what I think is fully in keeping with the warrior ideals of our Paleopagan ancestors, is a belief that process is as important as results. To a martial artist a dishonorable victory is not a victory. Eco-guerrillas try very hard to avoid endangering human and animal life while they are destroying ecocidal machinery. The legal action groups mentioned use constitutional means to defend the constitution, even though they know that their enemies will not.
And let us not forget the heroism of many people who do not think of themselves as warriors. The woman who pulls a plow because her children are hungry and the horse died, is a hero. The man who stays awake night after night nursing a sick child, is a hero. The nonviolent activist who lays her body down in front of a bulldozer or a truck carrying toxic waste, is a hero. The antinuclear protester who is willing to go to jail for his or her beliefs, such as Starhawk, is a hero. Many of these people are, in their own ways, warriors of whom we can be proud, albeit their opponents may be either abstracts (such as hunger or death) or specific corporate or governmental individuals.
A genuine warrior confronts her or his enemy as another human being, not as a faceless stranger or a nonhuman “thing.” A genuine warrior is willing to risk his or her own life, job, reputation, family relationships, and more, to fight for what he or she believes is morally and ethically right. A genuine warrior does not push a button to kill hundreds of civilians ten miles away, just because some bloody politician told him/her to—because that is terrorism (violence being used against someone who can’t fight back, showing a wanton disregard for human life), not heroism. A genuine warrior knows that her or his greatest challenge is internal, rather than external.
If any of us wish to call ourselves “Warriors for the Gods” or “Defenders of Our Mother,” then we must be willing to pledge “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” to the causes we claim to believe in. Anything less may be good on its own merits, but is not true warriorship.
Thor, Indra, Athena, and Kali are not impressed by fancy costumes, expensive weapons, or self-serving excuses. They are the ones who will judge whether someone is really a Neopagan warrior or a blowhard—not me, not the Druids, and not the Neopagan Community. So if we are going to have Neopagan warrior cults, their organizers are going to have to have their acts together. Each of them should select a cause with which most Neopagans can agree, then train themselves to fight for it effectively (not just romantically—but that’s another whole essay), and begin the process of fighting. Just sitting around drinking beer and swapping war stories/myths is not going to be enough to gain them any respect or support from the rest of us. Putting their bodies on the line for Our Mother will.
Isaac Bonewits was one of North America’s leading experts on Druidism, Witchcraft, and the Earth Religions movement. A practicing Neopagan priest, scholar, teacher, bard and polytheologian for forty years, he coined much of the vocabulary and articulated many of the issues that have shaped the Neopagan community in the United States and Canada. He is the author of the classic Real Magic (1971, 1989), as well as Authentic Thaumaturgy (1979, 1989), Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Witchcraft and Wicca (2006), Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Druidism (2006), The Pagan Man (2005), Real Energy (co-authored with Phaedra Bonewits) (2007), and Neopagan Rites (2007). He is survived by his wife, Phaedra Bonewits, and his son, Arthur Lipp-Bonewits. His collected writings are archived at Neopagan.net.
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We received the following communiqué and are pleased to repost it:
This is a call. Not to be heard, but felt. A call to be moved. A call to action.
Many of you now know of the struggle of the Standing Rock Sioux and innumerable other indigenous nations against the Black Snake called Dakota Access Pipeline. The prayer and action camp at Standing Rock has been sustaining a vibrant community in resistance to the pipeline since the spring, slowing down construction and withstanding militarized police harassment on a near daily basis. The 20 mile injunction placed on construction by the federal government has been lifted, and construction is now within just 6 miles of the Mni Sose River and the encampment. The battle has entered its most decisive moment.
Our indigenous relatives from across Turtle Island have come here to continue a struggle that has been kept alive for over half a millennium. They have come here as the original and sovereign land tenders, earth defenders, and water protectors of this place. As the original walkers of the path of right relationship. They have come here to take back power and to show leadership in the fight against exploitation and commodification, against the culture of colonization and inquisition, and for a healthy and bountiful world.
We are humbled and inspired by their initiatives, and unconditionally support them. Now is the time for us as allies in this anti-colonial struggle, to call upon our fellow comrades to join us on the battlefield.
To all who pray to our Earth and the water that cleanses her and brings forth life. To all who cast a circle and call in the elements, spirits, gods and goddesses, and deities; who ask for guidance from the spirit world. To those who listen to the ancestors as our descendants lay and wait. To those who align themselves with the cycles of the moon, the seasons, and the tides. For whom the cycle of life and death does not instill fear and aggression, but strength and comfort. To all who know how to listen.
It is time now witches, to deepen our work not only of casting spells and hexes, but of breaking them. We call forth the de-spelling of individualism, empire, spectacle, domestication, and whiteness.
It is time now witches to join us. Join us in spirit and join us in humility on this land. Bring your magick. Bring your prayers. Bring your bodies to the frontlines to protect all of creation. Come ready to take decisive action to kill this Black Snake. Come ready to follow in the path of indigenous warriors. We call you to join a frontline battle in a spiritual war that has been raging for centuries. A war against a dead civilization for all life on earth.
If you cannot come in body, take action from afar; the form of life of our enemies pervades all around us. If you cannot come, pray, cast, gather the coven, go to the wild, hold ritual, plan attacks. Ground yourself and continue to do the work. Continue to be moved.
We toss you a bundle of thread sweet witches, from the beautiful homelands of the Oceti Sakowin in each direction. It is the thread of centuries of resistance. Weave with it.
The Persistence of Ink
Though we’re not anti-technology ’round here (see: this site you’re reading), over-reliance on centralized networks powered by coal and accessed by machines built by children and others in near-slave labor makes the internet not quite the future any of us hope. In light of the massive Denial-of-Service attacks that shut down many sitesthis weekend, we’d like to point out that Gods&Radicals is also a print-publisher.
There’s a connection between the use of private security and those laws, by the way. The Pinkerton Detective Agency was formed in the United States as a for-hire private security firm (read: mercenaries) to arrest IWW members as well striking miners and railroad workers. Later, the Federal Bureau of Investigations was formed as a way of giving the government the same capability that Pinkerton had. The FBI is heavily involved in breaking the power of leftist groups, be they unionists, anarchists, the Black Panthers, environmentalists, or indigenous resistance movements.
History is full of repeating forms, and in this case it’s clear that private security (hired by corporations) and the government are working in tandem just like the early 1900’s. Laws once used against anarchists and communists never went away, and the same apparatuses used to put down earlier revolts continue to be used.
Soldiers and police officers are people–mostly men–hired by the State to maintain the ‘state monopoly on violence.’ Soldiers are hired to fight and kill people their government has declared enemies; police are hired for the similar purposes within the State.
As governments need to implement more and more violence in the world to maintain capitalism, they’ll need to continue paying and arming footsoldiers to do their will. The key, though, is pay.
Under capitalism, we are all mercenaries. We all sell our time and labor for a price. Police and soldiers are mercenaries like us, except their job is to keep the rest of us in line. Eventually, any resistance movement to capitalism and the state will need workers to refuse to sell their labor, to desert their jobs, and we’ll need soldiers and cops to do the same.
How do we get there, though? By widening the cracks in the system. When police start to sicken over their work and protest against the government’s use of their bodies to destroy the bodies of others, the state weakens. When the illusions that soldiers are doing ‘honorable’ work and ‘defending freedom’ starts to fall away, the state weakens.
Any anti-capitalist movement must use these moments to get police and soldiers to desert, to refuse to work, refuse to beat protestors and other workers, refuse to kill Black people, refuse to be mercenaries for the rich.
But we must also start to desert, too, and make the same refusals.
Eight years ago, I heard what sounded like a car backfiring. About a minute later, there was a knock on my door. I was half-asleep, got out of bed without throwing on anything but boxers and ran downstairs to see who was there. As I turned the door knob, I heard his voice:
“Help me! Fuck, please help me.“
A man stood before me, holding his stomach in pain. I was a bit slow, had just woken up, was maybe a little drunk, and anyway, I’d never seen so much blood. It was gushing from him, pouring through his hands, staining his shirt and jeans. His fingers were slick with it, there was some on his face, his white athletic shoes were splotched crimson.
“Fuck, man–hold on” I said. “I’ll call 911.”
“No” he shouted, really insistent, suddenly terrified. “They’ll send the cops. You gotta help me.”
I’ve no medical training. There’s realistically nothing I can do for someone who’s been shot. I told him all that, shouting a bit in panic. He was gonna die without medical attention, but would rather risk death than confront the police. What the fuck could I do?
I told him I’d be right back, that I was going to call the medics. I didn’t have a cell phone, so I had to run upstairs to make the call. When I returned downstairs, he was gone.
I didn’t hear sirens for another half-hour.
When the police finally arrived, they came without paramedics. I’d told the dispatcher it was a medical emergency, but they’d sent police instead, officers who seemed much less interested in helping the victim than they were trying to find out more about him. When I told them he’d left, they shrugged, asked me a few more questions, and then bid me goodnight.
I didn’t hear the sirens of an ambulance for another half-hour after that. A full hour had passed between the moment I’d called and the moment paramedics arrived to help him.
I learned the next morning that the man had died in some bushes less than a block away from my house.
Calling the “Authorities”
For months and years later, I couldn’t get the situation out of my head. A Black man came to the door of a white anarchist punk, bleeding from a gunshot wound, and all the anarchist knew to do was to call a phone number. Even though I knew the police didn’t care about people like him, I passed his life into their hands, to Authority. What else could I have done?
You might also find yourself wondering a few things about this situation. Some of those things may embarrass or frustrate you. It’s okay–I went through all those questions too. Questions like: was the man a killer? Had he done something so awful that it was better to die alone than face justice? What could anyone possibly have done for him? And why not call emergency services–that’s what they’re there for, right?
Those questions, those arguments, are all ways we try to find our way back to the reality we know, rather than the reality we’ve just confronted. They’re like our defense mechanism, keeping our mind from shattering when we confront something awful. The closer we get to an awful truth, the more our mind tries to protect us, even to the point of suggesting that a dead Black man maybe deserved to die for his stupidity, or really should have just ‘manned-up’ and faced whatever impending justice he was due.
For me, past all those questions and arguments and defenses was a terrible truth that I didn’t want to see. Despite being an anarchist since I was 19, despite having witnessed really awful things being done to people by police, and despite intellectually knowing that the institution of policing is inherently corrupt, it wasn’t until I faced my own helplessness when confronting a dying human and my automatic reaction–calling the police for help–that I understood how much of our lives we’ve ceded to the police, the State, and Authority.
Now, when an unarmed Black person, adult or child, is killed by police, I am no longer surprised or shocked. Sad, of course, and angry, but to act surprised or appalled would be completely dishonest. Besides, I’ve almost never witnessed police doing something helpful.
I’ve seen ’em do a lot of awful things, though:
I’ve watched friends beaten severely by police in protests.
A lover and I watched a teenage girl in fairy wings get punched and knocked to the ground by a police officer during an anti-war protest.
I saw a bi-racial friend of mine, the most harmless stoner you’ve ever met, forced to the pavement by 8 officers with guns pointed to his head.
During that same incident, I watched my companion get his phone smashed, his head bashed into a wall, and called ‘fucking faggot’ by other officers for trying to film the incident (wrong suspect, it turned out…).
A former client of mine, a deaf native wood-carver namedJohn T. Williams was shot 5 times (four in the back) just outside the shelter where he lived.
I’ve seen transfolk and dragqueens get the shit kicked out of them by angry cops while marching down the street in an ‘unpermitted’ queer march during Gay Pride (to the approval of the mostly white gay male business owners nearby).
I helped defend a queer socialist group from angry harassing protests whom the police actively favored, watching the cops repeatedly threaten us while giving extra allowance to right-wingers driving repurposed military vehicles on the sidewalk.
And I’ve had my own head pounded repeatedly into the hood of a cop car during an arrest because my lover kicked over an A-board sign advertising expensive condos (they didn’t charge me, just roughed me up damn well).
I could go on about all the harassment of homeless people I’ve witnessed, the violence against my social work clients, the batons and bikes used as bludgeons during peaceful protests–all shit I’ve seen in person. As far as my almost 39 years of life have shown me, unprovoked brutality is what police do.
Police, The State, and Capitalism
We call the police “the Authorities for a reason. They function as part of the State, by which I also mean ‘government.’ In fact, the police are the human instruments of most State policies, though they are not the only ones. Police enforce laws that the State has made, enact violence (arrest in the most pleasant situations, beatings and death in others), and otherwise provide a physical manifestation of the State in our everyday lives.
On the surface, police are supposed to protect life and property from thieves and murderers, providing for a sort of ‘general welfare.’ Stopping people who speed on roads (or drive drunk) protects pedestrians and other drivers; breaking up fights or riots protects uninvolved bystanders and nearby businesses.
But in my own experience, the Police don’t exist to protect me. Supposedly, I ‘benefit’ by their existence–they ‘keep me safe’ from murderers and thieves and drunk drivers, though this is an indirect benefit. Neither they nor I could point to a specific moment where someone who might want to kill me was prevented from doing so because the police exist.
In fact, like ‘terrorism,’ the idea that the police protect me from horrible people hell-bent on murdering me is a fantasy; I’m a rather nice guy and don’t go around doing things to make others want me dead. Also, I don’t own much–anyone who’d try to rob me at gunpoint or break into my home would be sorely disappointed. In fact, I’d feel so sorry for their wasted effort I’d likely offer them a cup of tea.
Others, of course, have a lot more to lose, and that’s where we start to understand who the police actually exist to protect. While I never have any more than $500 to my name, and nothing I own could be resold for more than $20 (no smartphone, a dying laptop, no automobile), there are plenty of people who have a lot more than that. If you’re poor and want to go the ‘criminal’ route of getting a little less poor, it makes more sense to steal from a business or someone who actually has money to take. They’re the sorts who need to be protected, because they actually have something someone else would want.
Police exist to protect wealth and those who have it.
The police don’t regularly go around bashing the heads of middle-class housewives in the suburbs against walls, nor do they regularly shoot their husbands or children because they were acting ‘suspicious.’ Why? It’s certainly not because they’re better people than anyone else.
Part of this is that such people tend to be white. But this isn’t the only factor–I’m also white, as were many of the people I’ve witnessed being brutalized by police. While there’s no doubt that the police in the United States are soaked in racism, the primary reason they don’t do these awful things to middle-class and upper-class white people is because the police exist to protect the orderly functioning of Capitalism. White people are wealthier than people of color because Capitalism is inherently racist (as Malcolm X said, “You can’t have Capitalism without Racism”), but racism is not the only reason Black people and indigenous people and immigrants are slaughtered in the US.
Most crimes, particularly after the birth of Capitalism, are so-called ‘property crimes,’ [see Foucault’s Discipline & Punish] because most laws after the birth of Capitalism were made to create, sustain, and protect the new social order capitalists required in order to become wealthy. And the modern police were created in order to enforce those laws. Other policing institutions, such as the FBI, were created in response to the government’s need to investigate and subvert radical miners strikes and anarchists in the early 1900’s, [and we’re still on their shit-list…for community gardens] and later turned the bulk of their efforts against Communists–that is, groups who threatened the Capitalist order.
If you have not personally witnessed violence at the hands of the police, it’s probably because you resemble (or are) the class of people the police are supposed to protect–usually white, never poor, never homeless, and never anti-capitalist. Most of all, you at least ‘appear’ to be no threat to the functioning of Capital or the State.
‘The Will of the People”
Police are not the only group of people charged with wielding the power of the State to ensure its proper functioning. The Military also exists for precisely this same purpose, except it performs these functions in foreign lands, amongst people outside the reach of State police.
Police exist to enforce the laws of a State–in a Democracy, supposedly the ‘will of the people.’ The Military likewise exists to manifest the ‘will of the people,’ except upon foreign people. Certainly, they’re also supposed to also ‘protect’ the people in the State, just like police are charged to protect law-abiding citizens.
And while the police have quite the record of killing unarmed People of Color, their slaughter is nothing compared to that of unarmed People of Color in other lands. For instance, in the first two years of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the United States military killed 9,720 civilians, 10% of whom were children. [Source]
You might be tempted to shake your head here and say, “But that’s war, right?” But one could just as easily dismiss the death of Tamir Rice or Michael Brown by saying, “but that’s just policing…”
But we should instead ask ourselves: Is there actually a difference between what the military does to other people and what police do here in our countries?
Can we really excuse the deaths of unarmed people in the Middle East at the hands of U.S. and European soldiers (that is, Capitalist Democracies) but not the deaths of unarmed people at the hands of police?
And is there maybe no real the difference between the Baltimore Uprising and resistance to military invasion elsewhere?
I, for one, see no difference. I’ll not favor the lives of people in other lands less or more than the lives of people here, nor will I ever allow the ‘Authority to claim it murders on my behalf.
Consider: what, precisely, has the U.S. Military done to manifest my ‘will?’ I don’t drive, so all the oil they’ve secured doesn’t do much good for me. I’m not anti-Muslim or anti-Communist, so none of the wars in the last 38 years personally benefit me. And I don’t have any wealth to steal.
In fact, everything the State has ordered soldiers to do ‘in my name’ has actually been something I’m utterly appalled by. Overthrowing governments, killing kids, making life miserable for millions–why on earth would I want them to do any of those things?
It’s the same with the police. Pushing homeless people around, killing unarmed Black kids and women and men, beating up protesters and queers–I can’t think of a single instance where I’d ever be okay with that stuff.
But then again, I’m not the sort of person the police or military are out to protect, anyway. I have no wealth, own very little, and really don’t like Capitalism or Authority. They certainly must know by now I’d never consent to them murdering in my name.
Besides, I know who both groups are really working for: the State, and the Capitalists for whom the State exists. It’s for them these people are being murdered, them and those who support them.
But not for me….and hopefully not for you, either.
Rhyd often lives in a city by the Salish Sea in occupied Duwamish territory. He’s a bard, theorist, anarchist, and writer, the editor of A Beautiful Resistance–Everything We Already Are, and co-founder and Managing Editor of Gods&Radicals, author of Your Face Is a Forest and A Kindness of Ravens, and is a columnist for The Wild Hunt.He growls when he’s thinking, laughs when he’s happy, cries when he’s sad, and does all those things when he’s in love. He worships Welsh gods, drinks a lot of tea, and dreams of forests, revolution, and men. His words can be found at Paganarch.com and can be supported on Patreon.com/Paganarch