Our Bonhoeffer moment
By Jeff Leys
Co-Coordinator, Voices for Creative Nonviolence
Oct 4, 2007, 01:16
The Bonhoeffer Moment of nonviolent civil resistance and
disobedience to the world war being waged by the United States is clearly at
hand. As Congress considers an additional $190 billion to fund the Iraq and
Afghanistan wars through September 2008 and as the threats of war against Iran
become increasingly loud, it is time for us to learn lessons from the German
resistance to Hitler, to the Nazi regime and to the war waged by the German
nation-state. We must engage in the Long Resistance to this current world war,
using every nonviolent means to bring about its end.
I was set to be tried on October 2 for an act of nonviolent
civil resistance at the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command. The judge
dismissed the charge the day of the trial. Following is the closing statement I
prepared for the jury trial in Waukegan, Illinois.
Our Bonhoeffer Moment:
In 1942, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran theologian engaged in
resistance work to bring about an end to the Nazi regime, penned the following
lines in his letter, �After Ten Years.� He was in prison and under
investigation when he wrote:
�We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been
drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence;
experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and
open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we
still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or
misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, straightforward men.
Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with
ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and
Silence is golden.
Silence is Death.
Silence in the face of our country waging a world war is
complicity in the war; is complicity in the deaths of thousands of U.S.
soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens; is complicity in a crime
I chose to break the silence at the U.S. Military Entrance
Processing Command (MEPCOM) on July 5, 2006. I choose to break the silence
I chose to act at MEPCOM last July for a number of reasons.
MEPCOM is the command headquarters for the system of Military Entrance
Processing Stations. Each person entering the military takes their oath of
enlistment at one of these stations. MEPCOM, as the command headquarters of
this system, is the focal point of injustice being done to those who serve in
our country�s military.
I acted to oppose the injustice of stop-move orders which
force service members to extend their tour of duty beyond its scheduled end
I acted to oppose the injustice of stop-loss orders which
force service members to remain in the military beyond the agreed upon end of
I acted to demand that our country provide the highest
quality health care for veterans and their families, as well as for all who
live within the U.S.
I acted in solidarity with those members of the military who
have chosen to risk prison for refusing to comply with orders to deploy to Iraq
to fight in an unjust war.
I acted to demand that our country immediately withdraw from
Iraq and recommit itself to rebuilding the Common Good in Iraq and in the
United States -- funding hospitals, health care clinics, schools, jobs programs
and the like, rather than funding war, death and destruction.
I acted to engage in a conspiracy of Life with Iraqi
citizens suffering over these past 16 years of economic and military warfare
and to act in a conspiracy of Life with U.S. soldiers, citizens and others who
are engaged in nonviolent action to end the U.S. war in and occupation of Iraq.
Does this form of civilly disobedient action accomplish
anything? I don�t know. I believe it does, but I simply don�t know within the
context of a world war -- the first world war begun by a democracy. For
guidance, I look to those German citizens who engaged in resistance work to
bring an end to the Nazi regime and to end the world war.
In 1943, German students formed the group the White Rose
which advocated for the overthrow of the Nazi regime and for an end to the war.
Their simple, yet profound, act was to distribute flyers advancing their
positions calling for resistance to Hitler and his regime. Once discovered and
arrested, they were executed by the German state. Yet 50 years later, everyone
in Germany would come to know of Hans and Sophie Scholl and their comrades in
the struggle to end the war and the regime.
In 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and many others were also
executed by the German state for engaging in resistance activities to overthrow
Hitler. Bonhoeffer, in 1939, had the option of remaining in the U.S. where he
would have been able to ride out the war in the safety of academia. Instead he
chose to return to Germany to participate in resistance work. Writing as a
Christian theologian about his country in which the Church was a willing
accomplice in crimes against humanity, Bonhoeffer stated his reason for
�Christians in Germany will face the terrible alternative of
either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization
may survive, or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying our
civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose; but I cannot
make this choice in security.�
Bonhoeffer knew what choice he had to make, he made it, and
he paid the price for it.
Let this be our Bonhoeffer Moment of resistance to our country�s
world war in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere that the guns are being aimed.
The examples of Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl and Dietrich
Bonhoeffer echo down through the years. In 1983, German judges and prosecutors
recalled the example set by the German resistance efforts to Hitler and the
Nazi regime and crimes against humanity and determined that it was their
obligation to act to prevent nuclear genocide from occurring. German judges and
prosecutors actively blockaded the U.S. military bases to which Pershing
nuclear cruise missiles were being deployed. They acted to uphold international
law even though that meant violating national law.
So does an act of entering the U.S. Military Entrance
Processing Command do any good? I don�t know. I do know that my action did not
stand alone on that day. I do know that others are engaged in active nonviolent
civil disobedience to end the Iraq war. Since February 5 of this year, over 700
people have been arrested across the U.S. in actions to end the Iraq war --
with many more arrests to come.
I ask you today to join with us in this conspiracy of Life.
You have the opportunity today to find me guilty or not guilty. If you believe
that the war in Iraq is proper and just, you should find me guilty --
regardless of what the law says. If you believe the war in Iraq must be brought
to an end today, you should find me not guilty -- regardless of what the law
The choice is clear and stark. Life or Death. Not guilty or
guilty. The future of the war is in your hands today. I urge you to follow your
conscience -- regardless of the law.
Leys is Co-Coordinator of Voices for Creative
Nonviolence and a national organizer with Seasons of Discontent: A
Presidential Occupation Project as well as the Occupation Project. He can be
contacted via email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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