Our Bonhoeffer Moment

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-Afghanistan war 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 straightforwardness?”


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 against humanity.

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 today.

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 date.

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 enlistment date.

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 returning:

“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 says.

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.

Jeff 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 at: jeffleys@vcnv.org. Read other articles by Jeff, or visit Jeff's website.

14 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Eric said on October 3rd, 2007 at 7:07am #

    Too many are willing to die as soldiers, but not as martyrs. The day every man will have the backbone to stand against any participation in war for any political reason, the earth will become a safe place to live in. Among those who resisted Hitler in Nazi Germany were Jehovah’s Witnesses, who were sent to concentration camps for that very reason ( see the US Holocaust Memorial Museum website for their story http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10005394 ). At the same time, they suffered persecution throughout the allied nations too for refusing to support the war effort. Of course, most will argue that you need some form of defence system somewhere, but why, really, when any ordinary man on earth want nothing but peace for his family? Well, you may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

  2. Robert B. Livingston said on October 3rd, 2007 at 9:48am #

    I endorse everything Jeff Leys wrote.

    Silence and acceptance of evil is a form of nihilism that puts us at risk of losing our humanity.

    We must choose life.

  3. Lloyd Rowsey said on October 3rd, 2007 at 11:30am #

    I don’t have the guts of Jeff Lays. But fifteen minutes before reading this incredible piece, I emailed to a friend: “I’m really schizoid about whether taking a stand for bringing the troops home from Iraq is preferable to screaming bloody murder about Iran. I guess where I keep coming down is that — despite not just knowing but feeling that the Chipmunk still has absolute power to hit Iran this afternoon, AND that the stronger the Bring ‘Em Back surge gets the more incentive he’ll have to do it, AND that once he hits Iran, all bets are off — the only edge we have right now is our guys and gals being killed right now. ”

    I think Iran is and must be secondary. You can read about Iran in the New Yorker, the Washington Post, or the NYT, if you’re a reader. But right now, our only edge –whether our self-image is writer or activist, whether we’re gutless or brave — is: Stop the F-ing Machine in Iraq.

  4. gerald spezio said on October 3rd, 2007 at 12:10pm #

    Everybody in Merica watched and loved rasslin in 1949.
    1949 television was rasslin, rasslin, and more rasslin.
    Millions of us suffered severe brain damage in 1949.
    Some bewildered souls are still rasslin.

    It was so bad, it was good.
    You had to love it.
    There wasn’t much else
    Except the test pattern.

    Everybody smoked cigarettes while they watched rasslin.
    My Mum puffed away on Phillip Morris.
    My Fathah sucked up two packs of Old Golds a day.
    I ran to the drug store when they ran out.
    Clouds of smoke choked us in our living room.
    Clouds of smoke even choked the rasslin ring.

    Good guys and bad guys rasslin in a victorious Merica.
    The “boys” were back home from the good war.
    The Goddamn Krauts were whipped.
    The Japs were all burned up from the Bomb.
    Oh Boy, did our boys give it to those bastids.

    The boys had been nourished by Spam.
    Spam was embalmed meat in a crazy tin can.
    Spam helped to win the war.
    Merica was strong and powerful because of Spam.
    God gave Spam to Merica.
    Rasslin, television, and Spam
    Helped to make Merica what it is today.

    My Mum was real smaht about Spam
    And she solved the I-hate-Spam problem;
    “If it was good enough for the boys, it’s good enough for you.”
    I felt so guilty for hating Spam.
    I felt even more guilty for wanting to puke.

    Step over toe-holds and hammer locks.
    Forearm blows, and more forearm blows.
    Argentina Rocca with his rolling take-downs
    Gentle giant Yukon Eric, handsome, blond, and pure of heart.
    “Yukon Eric is mad now,” my Fathah said.
    “He hates dirty fightahs.”
    And Yukon Eric would crumple “the dirty bastid.”

    The mysterious sleeper hold.
    My Fathah loved the sleeper hold.
    He squirmed in his chayah.
    “Yup, he’s goin to sleep,
    He’s goin, he’s goin, there he goes…”
    Then the captured flailing rassler would stop flailing
    And collapse in a lifeless heap on the canvas.

    The bad guys always got their comeuppance, almost.
    And they got it good.
    There was an evil bald Kraut named Hans Schmidt.
    Really mean and ugly with a thick Kraut accent.
    Everybody hated Hans Schmidt.
    My Fathah hated Hans Schmidt so much that he wanted to kill him.

    We had real champ-peins for the working class.
    My Fathah always pronounced it “champ-pein.”
    Vern Gagna, the pure champ-pein, without a wart or blemish.
    A body builder with a big chest and good diction.

    Frankenstein Hans Schmidt won the first battle.
    “That Schmidt used dirty tricks,” my Fathah said.
    Vern Gagna destroyed Schmidt unmerciful in the big re-match
    Even though Schmidt tried every dirty trick in the book.

    We watched rasslin and hated Commies.
    The Commies were bad and mean, but we had the Bomb.
    We could blow the bastids to Kingdom Come.
    Everybody knew that we had a big one.

    Then the Commies exploded their big one
    Now, we hated the Commies even more
    Because they had a big one, too
    And they hated God.
    Then the Gooks swooped into Korea like ants.
    We knew the Commies wanted all our stuff.
    The Commies were out to destroy the whole world.

    The hated Commies had no humor, just bombs,
    Like humorless murdering Merica today.
    Murderous Merican crazies are rasslin for real.
    Merica is snarling and waving their big one.
    No humor, no reason why, just bombs
    The big one and the big hate.

    Everybody watchin rasslin on television in 2007.
    It’s the sleeper hold again.
    “We’re going, here we go…
    We’re going, going, going…”
    Everything smoking, everybody choking…
    Burning up like Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
    The big sleep for everybody.

  5. M. Chatterjee said on October 3rd, 2007 at 3:27pm #

    Indeed, the greatest, most deafening sound of the past 7 years of global nightmare at the hands of the murderous Bushco criminal gang has been the silence and inaction of people in this brain-washed Consumerland. Worse, a substantial number of the “sheeple,” agonizingly unread, ignorant, and yet imbued with weak, spineless characteristics (such as needing “security,” being told “what is good for you,” responding to vicious and hateful slogans of us vs. them and good vs. evil)- have indeed gone right along cheerleading the genocide and ruthless mass-murder and profiteering/plunder being carried out by the criminal gang.

    Times such as these need incredible courage, sense of moral outrage, and belief in our inalienable humanity to bring the monstrous Goliath of Imperial America, vicious, hateful, illiterate, arrogant and thoughtless beyond measure- to proper accountability before the powers of goodness, decency and justice. With unchecked military power with unlimited weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a mega-idiot with unlimited appetite for murder- NO ONE IN THE CIVILIZED WORLD IS SAFE.

    Like the monks of Burma- people in vast numbers must take to the streets and face the instruments of violence thrown at them by the gangsters- and thankfully, many are. But many, many more are needed- until such time as the gangsters are rounded up, and tried for their immeasurable acts of crime and hatred.

  6. Daniel said on October 4th, 2007 at 12:41am #

    If only the American people, who currently are kept in a state of ignorance by their media, could understand how their country is viewed by most people in the world they would be horrified.

    Why should the American people, which make up about four percent of the world’s population, control the rest of the world using military force so that they can enjoy a higher standard of living than other countries?

    We need to radically change the way our world operates. Countries like America and Israel are anachronisms.

    The Scandinavian countries have the right idea.

  7. Lloyd Rowsey said on October 4th, 2007 at 7:50am #

    gerald, you’re a poet.

  8. gerald spezio said on October 4th, 2007 at 11:02am #

    Grazi, Lloyd.
    I am not a poet.
    I am a reader.
    My typing is not poetry.
    It’s typing against murder.
    Posta be entitled, “rasslin Boston 1949”
    Leo Szilard, a magnificent man and a physicist, taught me how not to be a poet, or maybe how to make it simple, if you can.
    My fathah worked his ass off, but he never knew who the real pricks were.

  9. hp said on October 4th, 2007 at 1:14pm #

    Maybe you never saw me, but i lived right next door.
    You may have heard me though,
    cheering for Billy Red Lion.

  10. gerald spezio said on October 4th, 2007 at 2:13pm #

    hp, If you are Hewlett Packard, I don’t know youse.
    But quit this mystery or I will go blind, crazy, or worser with curiosity.

  11. Lloyd Rowsey said on October 5th, 2007 at 11:36am #

    Daniel, thank you.

  12. Lloyd Rowsey said on October 7th, 2007 at 9:14am #

    Gerald. Speaking of Szilard, have you read Freeman Dyson’s The Scientist as Rebel? My review of it at Amazon.com is entirely a slightly paraphrased quotation from the book’s chapter about scientists’ responsibility for the development of the atomic bomb. In the quotation Dyson doesn’t mention Szilard; but he more than mentions Joseph Rotblat.

  13. Mike McNiven said on October 7th, 2007 at 5:17pm #

    Lest we forget about human rights when we talk about peace! The imperialists do not care about human rights, otherwise Saudi Arabia would have been the Mecca for human rights by now!


  14. gerald spezio said on October 9th, 2007 at 4:15am #

    Lloyd, No, but thanks for the direction.
    I could not find your review.
    I pounced on the quote from Weinberg though because W. recently came out passionately in support of Israel’s policies in the ME.
    Paraphrasing – When good people do bad things, it takes religion.
    An Atomic phrase from Weinberg, and right on point.

    I recently read Hans Bethe ‘s take on Dyson in The Road to Los Alamos.
    Bethe says that Dyson was first to ” prove that renormalization theory gives finite results in all orders of perturbation thoery.”
    And Dyson convinced Oppy a short time later.