As Peace News went to press, US conscientious objector Stephen Funk was about to stand trial (scheduled for 4 September) in a military court for “desertion”.
In February 2003 his unit was called up to “serve” in the war on Iraq. Funk failed to report for “duty”, though for the next six weeks he kept in touch with his commanders while continuing the process of formally applying for CO status. A man with an activist history (WTO protests, supporting political prisoners etc), he states that he also used his time to “attend anti-war protests with hundreds of thousands of others”.
During the build-up to the war and the conflict itself, hundreds of serving soldiers and reservists applied for CO status in the US (a handful in Britain) and thousands called CO support groups in the US and Britain for advice, but, given the consequences of making such a choice, few followed their feelings of concern with practical action and none in as public a way as Stephen Funk.
More than just a news story
On 1 April 2003, amongst a flurry of media attention, Stephen Funk handed himself in to the military. Now his trial for failing to report will begin and, four months after the supposed end of “major hostilities”, his story isn't quite as exciting to the mainstream media.
But cases like Funk's are more than just “news”, they represent a number of issues and indeed human qualities which undermine the power of violent states: personal courage, a refusal to commit violent acts at the whim of others; a desire to inspire others to action. All of which smack of personal empowerment, all of which are an anathema to authority.
Preying on the young
When speaking about how he - an activist with abhorrence for violence - ended up joining the US marines, Funk identifies the persuasiveness of military recruiters and their promises of “leadership, teamwork... a sense of purpose and belonging”.
Signed up at 19 years old, when he was lacking personal direction and in a vulnerable state, this is a story which must be familiar to many young men and women who join the military and then, a little later, realise the full implications of their decision.
Funk's case demonstrates the importance of challenging the insidious presence of military recruiters at schools, colleges and public events, wherever they take place.
Up front and personal
Stephen Funk should be commended, not just for the fact that he refused to fight, but also for the honest and public way in which he has gone about his objection to military service in this war.
He has also been open about the fact he is a gay man and has spoken out specifically against the inclusion of gays in the military, on the basis that he does not believe in military action per se. This is an argument that will not gain him much support from the mainstream lesbian and gay community who are working to the “equality” agenda, but throws down an important challenge in the discourse of assimiliation.
Prisoners for peace
Since 1957, War Resisters' International has marked 1 December as Prisoners for Peace Day, to show support for those imprisoned for their activities for peace.
Each year War Resisters' International publishes the Prisoners for Peace Honour Roll - a list of those known to be in prison for peace activities - and asks everyone to send letters to them. As in previous years, the list, along with associated articles - this year focusing on South Korea - will be published in the December issue of Peace News.
A duty to resist
While Funk says he has been harassed and received death threats because of his position, he also acknowledges that there are many in the military who are sympathetic and even support what he has done.
The growing levels of disillusionment and cynicism of ordinary soldiers in the US military about the ongoing occupation of Iraq is becoming more and more obvious, with military personnel and their families openly criticising US foreign policy and initiating campaigns to bring the soldiers home (see news, p4 for more details). With British soldiers in Basra also experiencing intensified hostitity, it may only be a matter of time before they begin to feel the same.
In commenting on why he has been so public about his objection, Stephen Funk said, “I spoke out so that others in the military would realise that they also have a choice and a duty to resist” - a principled position that may well cost him a substantial time in military prison.