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the Friend INDEPENDENT QUAKER JOURNALISM SINCE 1843
CONTENTS VOL 169 NO 11 3 American conscientious objector wins appeal 4 Japanese earthquake and Friends 5 European energy security? Simon Bond 6 Arms anyone? Ken Veitch 7 Census queries answered Anthony Woolhouse 8-9 Letters 10-11 What is a just war? Leslie Stevenson 12-13 Reclaiming humanism Janet Toye 14 Disabled church, disabled society Mandy Lawrence 15 Reaching for God Richard Bauman 16 Q-eye 17 Friends & Meetings
Cover image: Wind turbines. See pages 4 and 5. Photo: Trish Carn.
Images on this page: Quaker Ann Johnson will have an exhibition, ‘Crossings’, at the Hop Gallery in Lewes, Sussex from 16 to 28 April. Above are two of her works. Top: ‘Dragonfly’ and ‘September, turning’. Further information from www. hopgallery.com.
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the Friend, 18 March 2011 American conscientious objector wins appeal
A conscientious objector in the US has won his appeal for discharge from the navy despite anti-Quaker insults used by an officer investigating his claim. Michael Izbicki, 25, worked as junior naval officer. Shortly after completing his training, he became convinced that participation in war was incompatible with his commitment to following Jesus. He began to worship with Quakers. He applied for discharge due to conscientious objection three times before his claim was accepted (see ‘Conscientious objector denied status and told Quakers are a cult’, 19 November 2010).
The hearings became entangled in detailed theological and ethical debate, with officers quoting anti-pacifist theologians and citing just war theory (see pages 10-11).
One investigating officer described Quakers as a ‘cult’ and argued that pacifism is incompatible with Christianity. John Price, a lieutenant commander, suggested that Michael Izbicki’s view that the Bible is not inerrant meant that he could not sincerely claim to be following Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) heavily criticised the whole approach of the hearings. ACLU’s David McGuire said the hearings are intended to test the sincerity of an objector’s views, not the rightness or wrongness of them. He told the Friend: ‘The navy may not share Michael’s religious beliefs, but it may not legally deny him recognition as a conscientious objector because it disagrees with him about what Jesus and the Bible say about war’.
Things changed with the third application, and Michael Izbicki is now one of the few officers to have been discharged from the US navy because of conscientious objection. A navy spokesperson said it had been decided that it was ‘in the navy’s best interests to discharge him’. Michael Izbicki’s problems with the navy began during his training, when he found that the approach ‘did not live up to the ideals of the just war as I envisioned them’.
He explained: ‘I saw formulas for calculating the number and types of casualties that would result from using each of our weapons systems. We calculated the extent of civilian casualties and whether these numbers were politically acceptable.’
At that stage, he believed he could achieve change from within. But then he was asked if he would be prepared to drop a nuclear missile if ordered to do so. He shocked his superiors by replying that he would not. Michael Izbicki continued to reflect, pray, read the Bible and study history. He came to a firm conclusion. ‘I realised that I could not be responsible for killing anyone,’ he explained.
He was unaware of his right to apply for discharge because of conscientious objection until it was suggested by a navy chaplain. Campaigners in both the US and UK have called for clearer procedures for serving personnel to register a conscientious objection. They argue that for many, the right exists only in theory rather than in practice. Michael Izbicki now lives in a Quaker community, working in the garden and learning biblical Hebrew. He said he had few plans following the discharge, which has ‘opened the whole world up to me’.
Symon Hill the Friend, 18 March 2011