I will call him X. I met a soldier recently who asked me to keep his name and rank secret.  I met X at a party, where he learned that I am for peace. His friend asked me, “What do you think about the men and women in uniform?”

By the way that he asked, I knew it was a loaded question. By the cleanly shaven flattop his friend wore, it was a pretty good bet he was in the military. Everyone in the room audibly held their breath, and tensed. They knew the young man, and knew that he was given to explosive anger.

I replied, “The first thing I always say when I meet someone in the military is thank you. Thank you for being willing to die to serve us, to serve me. Thank you for being willing to lay down your life so that I may preserve mine. Thank you for believing so strongly in something that you will sacrifice everything for it.”

Then I tell them, “I am doing my best to see that you come home…and never have to encounter war again. I know you would rather be grilling and drinking a beer with your family in your backyard, rather than being over in a ditch somewhere waiting to kill someone.”

“I realize that you are trying to serve me. I am trying to serve you.”

After this the young man and I talked for about 2 more hours privately. He confessed that he realizes that there is no good reason for us to be overseas right now. No good reason for the defense (read offense) department to receive 60% of our budget unchecked, while people are at each other’s throats over healthcare. We devote over half of our budget to taking lives, and argue about the pittance we use to save them.

He said, “I thought you were going to be like some of the so called ‘hippie peace-loving types’ at my university. They don’t know anything, and they say the vilest things about US soldiers. I just want to smash their fucking face in. They have no idea what it is like.”

“I’ll give you an example,” he continued. “The guys we are fighting know our rules of engagement, the Geneva code, and our tactics so well, that they have figured out our weaknesses.” He told me how he and his group where in a convoy and a sniper started taking them out. 7 men were dead before they realized where the shots were coming from. Once they started returning fire, the man simply dropped the weapon, and joined the other civilians. Unarmed, he became a “Civilian Non-Combatant”.

Even though they caught him, they knew who he was; they couldn’t detain him under the Geneva code. Later that week, the same man killed more troops.

This is what America doesn’t know…and doesn’t care about, he said.” “They haven’t seen an entire village killed because a soldier came in and gave the children chocolate and vaccinations. They don’t know about the man who gave us directions and later the Taliban gouged out his eyes. None of us want to be there…and yet we all signed up. There was no draft. We all went willingly.”

The young man was conflicted. He really wants the best for the people of Afghanistan. He told me of building a school for girls, and then a week later finding all the women of the village slaughtered inside. He doesn’t agree with war, and yet his heart aches to see the young girls who were gang raped for being caught talking to a boy.

But then, upon returning to college, being called a baby killer, was more than he could take. “People just don’t know what we have seen,” he said. “That is why every 18 hours another vet tries to commit suicide.” “To be used by politicians, preachers, and peace activists as a pawn”…puts him a little over the edge.

It wasn’t the first time however that he had been pushed to the edge, to a place where violence felt like the only solution. When he was growing up, his father was an abusive alcoholic. He had borne the scars of his father’s fists, and had to watch as they were leveled upon his mother and brother. When he was 15 and his brother 14, their father put their mother in the hospital for the 7th time, and broke her cheekbone and her jaw.

The boys waited till their father was drunk, tied him up, gaged, blindfolded, and drug him into the woods. When he sobered the next morning the boys came back with a knife to his throat and delivered a solemn promise, “If you ever touch me, my brother, or our mother ever again…” Their father must have taken the message to heart, for he never touched one of them again.

How is this different from what this young man is trying to do now? He sees women and children being hurt by people who most of us would say have lost their minds. And yet, something in him wishes there were another way. The message of peace would be so nice…if there was only a way.

“There is no way to peace, peace is the way.”

I reminded him of the words of Gandhi:

“Every enemy is a human being – even the worst of them. And he believes he is right and you are a beast. And if you beat him over the head you will only convince him. But you if you suffer under his rage to show him that he is wrong, your sacrifice creates an atmosphere of understanding – if not with him, then in the hearts of the rest of the community on whom he depends.”

I said to him, “What if after 9-11, even if we knew for sure who did it (and we don’t), what if we dropped flowers, books, food, building supplies, and love on Iraq and Afghanistan instead of bombs?” Again Gandhi said:

“We will not strike a blow – but we will receive them. And through our pain we will make them see their injustice—and it will hurt, as all fighting hurts! But we cannot lose. We cannot. Because they may torture my body, may break my bones, even kill me . . . They will then have my dead body – not my obedience.”

I asked him, “Do you love your father? Does your father love you?” “Or do you just live with the other’s presence, constantly afraid that the other might attack again…a sort of cold war?” “Has you violence solved anything? Or has it just been hidden…poisoning your life?”

“You have made war on two fronts in your life, both with admirable and noble intentions. Your courage and willingness are above repute. But, I feel that you have been robbed; no one has shown you that there is another way. You do not know peace. You do not have peace at home, and we do not have peace on this Earth.”

If the course we are pursuing is not giving us the results we desire, why then do we continue down the wrong path? The road of love is difficult. In pursuing peaceful non-violent resistance, there will be battles lost, sorrow, heartache, atrocities, and death. But are there not battles lost, sorrow, heartache, atrocities, and death in war. It is just with peace, you do not add to their number willingly.