By Leo Tolstoy
“There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be
made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered
in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body
but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul
and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:26-28)
“Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than men!’”
So here you are a soldier, you have been trained to obey without question, to shoot, stab, march, read manuals on weapons, survival, and have been through military exercises and paraded before dignitaries by those who have been through wars before you. It probably did not even enter your mind to ask yourself whether what you were doing was good or bad.
Now imagine, without notice, the command comes to your company or squadron to prepare for action using live ammunition. You travel, without knowing where you are being taken. You are delivered to a town or school, and you see from a distance that a crowd of local people are in an open square – factory workers, students, men, women with children, old men and women. The governor and other civil authorities, accompanied by policemen, are talking to the crowd and the people about something. The crowd is at first silent, then the people begin to cry out louder and louder, and protest placards are raised, and the officials step back and separate from the crowd. You see that these common people, students, and factory workers are riotous and that you have been brought there to pacify them. The officials walk up to the people and walk away again, but the shouts grow louder and louder. The officials talk among themselves, and you are commanded to load your weapon with live ammunition. You see before you regular people, the same as you used to be: men in suit coats, blue-jeans, and tennis shoes; women in scarfs and jackets, the kind of clothing that your mom, dad, and wife or sister might wear. You are ordered to fire the first shot over their heads, but the people do not disperse and the shouts get louder than before. Then you are given the order to shoot, not over their heads, but straight into the crowd.
You have been taught that you are to obey without thought and that you, in concert with others, are not responsible for the results of your firing, but you know that the man who, wallowing in blood, fell down from your bullet and was killed by you and no one else; and you know that if you would not have shot, the person would not have been killed.
What are you to do in this situation?
It is not enough for you to lay down your weapon and refuse to kill your brothers. Tomorrow the same could be repeated across county, state or international lines, and so, whether you wish it or not, you must consider the situation and ask yourself what this calling of a soldier really is, which has brought you to such a state that you are commanded to shoot at unarmed civilians.
What does the Gospel say? It says that we must not only not kill our brothers, but also that we must not do what leads to murder, i.e., that we must not be angry with our brothers, and that we must love our enemies instead of hating them. In the Law of Moses, it says distinctly, “Thou shalt not kill,” without any explanations as to who may be killed and who may not. But, in the rules that you have been taught, it says that a soldier must obey any command of his superior. In the official explanation, given by the Church and the state, of the sixth commandment, they are told that, though the commandment forbids killing, he who kills in war does not sin against God. On the contrary, you are told that you must kill because you have taken the oath, and are led to believe that the leaders, and not you, are responsible for your actions. But before you swore an oath, before you made a promise to mere men to do their will, you were, even without an oath, under orders to do the will of God, of Him who gave men life – God has commanded us not to kill.
Thus it was wrong of you to swear that you would do everything demanded of you by men. For this reason, it says directly in the Gospel (Matthew 5:34), “Do not swear at all… Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No.’ Anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” And the same is said in James 5:12: “Above all, my brothers, do not swear – not by heaven or by earth or by anything else.” Thus the oath itself is a sin. And when they lead you to believe that not you, but the authorities, will be responsible for your acts, it is a lie.
Can your conscience be in the sergeant, captain, colonel, president or anybody else, and not in yourself? Nobody can decide for you what you can and must do, and what you cannot and must not do. A man is always responsible for what he does. Adam, so the Bible tells, sinned against God and then said that his wife had told him to eat the forbidden fruit and that the devil had tempted her. God justified neither Adam nor Eve and told them that Adam would be punished for having listened to the voice of his wife and that his wife would be likewise punished for having obeyed the serpent. He did not free them but punished them. Will not God say the same to you, when you kill a man and say that your captain commanded you to do so? Thus, by killing on the command of your superiors, you are as much a murderer as the robber who kills a merchant in order to buy drugs. The robber is tempted by the money, and soldiers are tempted by the desire to win medals or the praise of patriotism. A man himself will always answer for his acts before God. No power on earth can make of you, a living man, a puppet that can be handled by others. Christ taught men that they are sons of God, and so a Christian cannot make his conscience subject to the power of another man, no matter what his title might be.
The simple fact is that these men, who have taken charge of you, are cheats, and that therefore, you must not obey them. More shameful than the harlot, whose master controls her body, is the soldier whose master commands him to commit murder.
Consequently, the Christian who wants to live a Godly life must give up the disgraceful and the godless calling of a soldier.