Thursday, August 26, 2010


I penned this letter to an unknown American soldier at the onset of America’s attack on Iraq

March 17, 2003

Dear Soldier,

I have wanted to write this letter to you for some time.  Frankly, I ask your forgiveness and patience: forgiveness for any uncertainty you might have felt because of my silence or ambiguity, and patience as I try to express what is in my heart.

I write to make certain you know you are valued and supported by ordinary citizens of the United States like me.  For me, that means that while I do not believe our nation’s leaders have acted in the best wisdom in this impending conflict in which your very life is on the line, I challenge you to act with utmost courage and confidence in whatever lies ahead.

If that sounds contradictory, I can only attempt to explain; ultimately, you will have to believe that I believe in, support, and pray for you.

I have come to be in my middle age what some pejoratively label a “peacenik.”  This is how I express my patriotism, my love for America.  I’ve repeatedly written to the President and my Congressional representatives, encouraging them to find any other way but war to resolve this and other crises.  I have publicly voiced my opposition to war and the threat of war as the primary strategy our Administration should take to address and reduce international terrorism.

Personally, I have felt this conflict is a fight American leadership has picked rather than one forced upon us.  All deadlines and ultimatums are of the Administration’s making, including United Nations resolutions.  All associations of Saddam Hussein and Iraq to 9/11 and recent international terrorism are our Administration’s suspect or indirect linkages.  The perception that Saddam Hussein is an immediate international threat or an immediate threat to American security is a perception of the Administration’s own making.

Rather than a war, threatened and waged relatively unilaterally by the United States, I believe the best response to international terrorism of the kind we witnessed on 9/11 is an unprecedented international police action.  While unrelenting and fierce in its shadow-piercing pursuit of terrorists and sources of terrorism, it is far different than war.  Surely, you understand the vast differences between the two.  Our President has chosen to use the methods and means of war and the threat of military action instead of a police action.  Again, this is his Administration’s choice, not an inevitability or the only reasonable option available.

Nonetheless, there you are—somewhere in the Persian Gulf, preparing for war, rehearsing the part you and your unit will play in the larger war strategy.  I pray that you, should you be called upon to engage an enemy, will find courage with care.  Please do not shrink back from your task.  Please do not go beyond it.

I pray that as you engage in war preparations or engage in conflict that you will not become possessed by war and violence.  You may choose to participate in a military force and a war chosen by our nation’s leader, but you can simultaneously resist letting the power of violence and the culture of war to pierce your soul.  I deal every day with homeless veterans in whom war and violence still rages across decades.  May you not relish your task but carry it out with responsibility and restraint, with a respect for all created life.

It is likely that I will continue to advocate for restraint and alternatives to war even after it is chosen, if indeed it is chosen.  I will speak and write openly about this.  As I do, you must be assured that I do so with a heart full of care for you and your task.  I seek not to undermine your efforts or diminish your morale, but to end the violence of war.

May you find courage and grace in your chosen duty.  And may a merciful God direct your paths safely home to your family and community.


John Hay, Jr.
Indianapolis, Indiana

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