THE HIGH MORAL GROUND
by J.M. Sylvan
American Reporter Correspondent
New York, New York
January 26, 2009
NEW YORK, NY. -- I got to talking to the Fort librarian about the conflict I was having working for the military while it was conducting an unjust war. She let me borrow a book for chaplains on ethics. I find it very helpful as I struggle with my troubled conscience. It gives me guidance by offering questions to help me focus on my behavior and those I work for.
My Dad struggled with his conscience too during Viet Nam. He was an aeronautical engineer for military contractors, companies like Grumman, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics (these companies are still a big part of the military-industrial complex today - go to Corpwatch.org to learn more about the part they play in today's wars). He also did design work for Sikorsky. They helped make the helicopters used in Viet Nam.
Dad was a Goldwater Republican before the war, but became conflicted when he saw his children's friends lose their lives in a war he once supported. We had many lively and sometimes angry discussions with family members at our dinner table about Viet Nam. Dad finally had a nervous breakdown as a result of his inner conflicts related to the war and other stressors associated with his job and family.
Dad felt his designs for helicopters and planes contributed to the deaths of young people he cared about. After recovering his mental health, he changed his political views and became supportive of my brothers and I as we spoke out about the war and other social injustices of the time.
Before the war in Iraq started, I protested against it many Sundays with my son, daughter and golden retriever Sam (both my children were in their teens at the time, and now in their 20's). My daughter and I were part of a new group formed in Southern California called Conscientious Objectors and their Supporters. We held signs in the parades that read, "Not in Our Name, War is NOT the Solution."
As a 20-year old, I attended Pacific Oaks, a Quaker college, for my B.A. and Ph.D. I'm a selective pacifist when it comes to most wars. Specifically, I am against wars that are preemptive, as well as those initiated against a country that may pose a threat in the future. I believe in promoting mutual understanding and peace on a family level and on a societal level.
Some days at work, I feel like I am putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. There is so much that needs to be done for the families that I have come to know and care so much about. I always feel good about being with the children and helping them manage their feelings of anger and fear, but they go home to such troubles and conflict because their parents are at war. The war work has taken a toll on many military families physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Some children lose their attachment to family members; parents come home exhausted or injured - and deeply changed.
I have had two assignments, each two months long, during the past six months. As the New Year began, I thought I should examine how I'm doing emotionally and ethically with this tough work. Research suggests that people are less stressed by trauma if they have a strong set of values and act upon them. I asked myself, "Do I still have my values in place, and am I acting on them?"
As I gave this some thought, I realized that my role as an expert and professional hasn't fully prepared me for these assignments with the military. I am fiLled with questions and doubts and feel I have so much to learn about how I can truly make a difference.
One of my goals is to help families flourish and to help children to grow to be good citizens. I respect and value the precious children that I serve.
How can I reach the children to foster good citizenship? Can I be a constructive influence to support flourishing families? Can I offer a new perspective and if I do come up with positive ideas, will the system be able to support them? Where is the goodness here? Is it in serving the children and the staff that serves the children?
To me, war means dehumanization, environmental destruction, historical and spiritual artifacts destroyed, coercive interrogation techniques, exorbitant collateral damage, loss of freedoms for ourselves and those we hold indefinitely, destruction of homes, schools and infrastructure, morally corrupt decision making, and loss of life for thousands of innocent civilian women and their children.
After examining these issues, I have decided for now, to chose to live with the tension of these questions and bring a few small but loving transformations. I will continue to support the teachers as they seek to instill values that teach character building at the preschool: tolerance, democracy, equality, restraint, creativity and self-awareness.
All these values are a part of the National Association for the Education of Young Children curriculum that is the backbone of the structure of each child development and after school center. I will continue to be a presence and a safe place for parents to open up in an honest emotional way. I will continue to work as a "special ops" mental health worker ready to jump in when there is a crisis. I will keep at it as I support children to express their grief and frustration at their parent's absence.
By supporting the staff and offering the families a chance to express themselves, I feel that I am helping them in a small way that they will remember the next time there is a crisis. I am offering them coping skills. I like to think I am helping them be more resilient. This has been a life long interest and curiosity of mine and I make the offer guidance to all who want to try new skills and in the process, I become more resilient, too.