Monday, July 28, 2014

The Fightin' Quaker, part 1: Humble Stumble

My career as a killer began early.  By the time I was thirteen I had killed each member of my immediate family (one of my sisters I had murdered numerous times),  countless cousins (the boy cousins because they were the only ones who counted back then), a number of my neighbors, and a slew of strangers.

I amassed a pretty high body count -- especially for a Quaker.  I picked them off with my Mattel Fanner 50, rubber band guns, ping pong ball squeeze guns, water pistols, wooden flintlocks, Thompson sub-machine guns, James Bond Walther PPKs with silencers, my finger, more.  The Indian head ornament perched on the hood of my grandfather's Pontiac Star Chief made a perfect sight for the twin .50 caliber machine guns mounted in the bumpers.  The last murder I remember was in Tijuana when I shot the person taking my picture right after I'd purchased the gun I'm pointing at her.

I guess, for a kid, I had a lot of pent up anger or something to be such a killer.  And, though I knew a little bit about Quakers supposedly being a peaceful people, that wasn't so much my experience of them.  At least the group I grew up in.  I had a whole bunch of family members who had served in the Army, Navy, and Army Air Corps in previous wars.  Many of my friends' fathers had been in the military, too.  And as I prepared to graduate from high school, it was going to soon going to be my turn.  The Vietnam War was at its bloodiest -- at least for the U.S.  Suddenly being in the Army didn't seem as much fun as playing army just a few years earlier.  While morally ambiguous about shooting -- really shooting -- another human being, I pretty sure I didn't want to be shot myself!

Then, as freshman in college, came May 4.  A week before my birthday.  Just up the road from where I was in college, members of the Ohio National Guard fired 67 rounds in 13 seconds into unarmed protesters (some of whom were throwing rocks and National Guard tear gas canisters), killing four of them and wounding nine others.  Two of those killed were not protesters, but students walking to class.   I had a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that, if I were drafted, I might be called on to shoot my fellow citizens.  Although I also thought I might just do it if they riled me up enough.  I was both afraid to fight and afraid I might like it too much.

And, while I'd always taken my faith seriously, I began trying to figure out what it meant to be a Quaker.  Not in the abstract.  But for me.  A question that kept coming was, "Who would Jesus shoot?"  Even though we told a joke about a Quaker farmer who, awakened one night by the sound of a burglar coming up the stair, grabbed his shotgun and pointed it down the stairs and proclaimed, "Friend Burglar, I would not harm thee for the world, but thee is standing where I'm about to shoot!", I wasn't so certain that my faith would let me shoot anybody.  Despite my willingness as a kid to knock off anybody who annoyed me.

My move toward peace and away from being a mass murderer was furthered when I came across the words of 17th century Quaker Robert Barclay -- "Whoever can reconcile this, ‘Resist not evil’, with ‘Resist violence by force’, again, ‘Give also thy other cheek’, with ‘Strike again’; also ‘Love thine enemies’, with ‘Spoil them, make a prey of them, pursue them with fire and the sword’, or, ‘Pray for those that persecute you, and those that calumniate you’, with ‘Persecute them by fines, imprisonments and death itself’, whoever, I say, can find a means to reconcile these things may be supposed also to have found a way to reconcile God with the Devil, Christ with Antichrist, Light with Darkness, and good with evil. But if this be impossible, as indeed it is impossible, so will also the other be impossible, and men do but deceive both themselves and others, while they boldly adventure to establish such absurd and impossible things."

Sure, the language was a bit stilted, but I caught the drift.  I couldn't reconcile those things.  What would I do if drafted?  Would I fight and deny my faith?  Would I even serve as non-combatant?  The issue was decided on the draft lottery of July 1, 1970.  My birth date was number 293.  I was beyond the range of who would be called.

But there was still the question of what to do with my decidedly unpeaceful nature.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Weren't you lucky not to have to answer that question. I was already almost a year into my tour. My fondness of Quakers was probably at it's all time low.i didn't "find" Quakers till many years later.