In just a few days, on the 11th day of the 11th month at 11:11 a.m., many people around the world will pause to think of those who have served their country. In some places a minute of silence will be observed on television and radio. It is hard to comprehend the kind of courage it takes to face the enemy in order to protect the freedom we all desire. While we go about our usual business, unaware of the dangers these brave men and women encounter, may we hold the people who continue to defend freedom in our hearts and prayers.
Corporal Desmond T. Doss of Lynchburg, Virginia chose to defend even his enemies and save their lives. The enemies were not from another country; they were from within his own 77th Infantry Division. When Desmond was drafted into World War II in April of 1942, he registered as a conscientious objector, refusing to use or carry a weapon into combat. As a Seventh-day Adventist, he also dared to keep the Sabbath as a day of worship. For this, he was ridiculed and marginalized, even though he worked overtime during the rest of the week. His supervisors even tried to declare him unstable and discharge him as unsuitable.
Eventually Doss’ division was sent to the South Pacific and there he risked his life many times over to bring others to safety, including those who had made his life so miserable. Because the risks and the number of men saved were so high, he received the military’s highest award on October 12, 1945. He was the first conscientious objector in the history of the United States to receive the Medal of Honor.
In the same world war, another man made a conscientious choice about whom to choose as his mentor. Karl Brandt admired the work of Theologian Albert Schweitzer. Both men had grown up in Alsace-Lorraine, then a part of Germany, now in France, and both men were physicians. Brandt was considering the same missionary life that Schweitzer had chosen. During the war, Brandt had the opportunity to treat a German soldier who worked for Adolf Hitler. His work was so impressive that it caught the attention of Hitler. After a short period of time, Hitler asked Brandt to be his personal physician. Hitler and Schweitzer were on opposite poles concerning the highest affirmation of life, which means valuing the life of all.
In 1948, Brandt was executed for leading Hitler’s plan to euthanize the disabled, the weak, and the vulnerable. Four years later, Albert Schweitzer was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his philosophy of “Reverence for Life.”
Being a conscientious objector could be rephrased in more positive terms as being willing to give conscientious affirmation to the lives of others. Even those of us who are not called into combat make conscientious choices every day, in fact every minute and every hour, to be affirming or to ridicule, to value others or to demean them, to accept or to exclude, to listen or to ignore.
This Thanksgiving season, as we consider ways to bring food, clothing and assistance to our community, think beyond the day of celebration we call “Festival of Praise” and make a conscientious choice to be affirming: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 2:5 (KJV)