The Power of Non-Aggression, Conscientious Objection, and a Heroic Woman
by Adam Alcorn
Seriously Suggested Reading: This is the transcript of a speech given by a friend of mine who is in the process of conscientious objection. Jessica gave up her life’s work as a military pilot because she lives true to her principles. She has displayed heroism that will carry the day for those of us who act on voluntary virtues. It was a pleasure meeting you and JJ at the LvMI this summer. And without further blabbering, I will proudly share your speech here, and thank you. – Adam
“…This is only my first engagement speaking as a veteran so I’m not burned out yet. I would like to take one moment to recognize all of the mothers in the crowd. It is a Mother’s Day luncheon. My own daughter is turning five months today, and she – more than anybody else – has taught me how precious life is. When you have children, the pursuit of peace becomes very real and very relevant. It’s much more important when you have some skin in the game. So, to all the mothers and all the parents here, I would like to wish you a Happy Mother’s Day and I wish you a peaceful world for your baby, whether they are five months old or fully grown.
So, most of us remember where we were on September 11th, 2001. I was a senior in high school. That day has impacted my life more than I ever could have anticipated. I was 18 years old. I had never considered a career in the military until that day. But on that day, I felt shock, outrage, anger, fear, I was sad, but most of all I felt compelled to defend this country and our way of life. I was 18 years old like I said and I fell victim to the jingoistic appeal for war. I wanted in on the fight that I knew was coming. I was angry. So, upon graduating from high school, I enrolled as a basic cadet at the Air Force Academy. For the next four years, between 2002 and 2006, I studied, played sports, and eventually earned a commission as a 2nd Lt in the Air Force. I had earned a spot for pilot training so I spent the next 18 months learning how to fly aircraft. Upon earning my wings I moved to Florida and reported for my first duty assignment, which…was Special Operations Command. So, for those of you who perhaps are not very familiar with the military, Special Operators are those people who, when you ask them the question, they say, “well I could tell you but then I would have to kill you.” Clearly, none of that is going to happen today – especially at a Mother’s Day luncheon geared towards peace – but, the unfortunate truth of that very cliché phrase is that there are some things I cannot share with you. I have signed Non-Disclosure Agreements. There are many things I would like to stand on that staircase and shout, but I can’t. I’m not ready to go to jail. What I did do, and what I can share, are some of the combat experiences, and how that led me to a mission of peace and conscientious objection, which, I had never heard of before. And I know there are a few of you here in the crowd that are also conscientious objectors, and I applaud you for that choice. [Emphasis Added]
…I deployed eight times to three separate regions of the globe. I went five times to Afghanistan, twice to Africa, and once to south-east Asia. I have flown more than 240 flights in combat conditions and have more than 1000 combat hours. It shames me now to say this, but at the time, and for most of those deployments, I never questioned the meaning or morality of what I was doing. And that’s embarrassing and that’s shameful to say now. I often wish that I could go back and change some of these things and make a difference. Because war, is awful. I probably don’t need to tell most of the people in this room that. But, when you see images of human bodies torn in half, it’s horrifying. When you recognize how fragile we all are, it’s awful. I don’t need to tell you that meeting a child who has lost a leg to an IED [Improvised Explosive Device], or who has survived astray bullet to the head – they represent the uncounted cost of war that we do not see in this country. When you go to memorial ceremonies for your friends, or even people that you just knew tangentially, that’s heart-breaking. When you watch a man stumble down a hill trying to avoid 500-lb bombs – you learn the value of life, when you see the vigor with which we all hold onto it.[Emphasis Added] No, the sword of murder is not the balance of justice. These things most everybody in this room can agree on.
The confession I need to make though, is that, in spite of seeing these things, and in spite of having those experiences, I was not compelled to leave the military at the time. Why? Why is that? What is the moral of my story? Will war continue until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige as the warrior does today? President Kennedy asked that decades ago. We have come far in some manners, but not in others. How does somebody like me abandon fighting and turn towards peace? How does somebody like me become a conscientious objector, and refuse to further prosecute warfare, or participate in it? It did not happen overnight and it was a small series of changes in the way I viewed the world. But they all hinged on one key principle, and that was non-aggression. I hadn’t heard of this phrase until 2012, but the basic premise is that the only justifiable use of force is defense. When I realized the simplicity, and the clarity, and the universal applicability of this principle, I knew that I could no longer be an agent of violence on the government’s behalf. When I learned that everything I had done in my combat missions in the prior five years was aggressive, I lost faith in the mission. When I learned that military members could be ordered to assassinate American citizens without charge or trial, I had to question the oath that I had taken to defend the Constitution. But most importantly, if the threshold for killing an American citizen is so low, what does that mean for an Afghani? Or a Pakistani? Or a Yemeni? Or a Libyan? Or a Syrian? At the end of the day we are all human. Unfortunately, this is the nature of warfare. And it’s not isolated to one period, or one nation, or one administration. The United States has been at war for my entire adult life, and I want no more part of it. The irony is that I may never have come to this position on peace without these experiences in combat. But the good news is that somebody as ingrained in the system as myself, who spends more than a decade in uniform, can eventually see the light. When I came to terms with the consequences of my previous actions, and what I may be asked to do in the future as a pilot, the right thing to do was to conscientiously object to further service. I must pause here and give credit to my husband JJ, who began his own path [conscientious objection] more than a year ago. He inspired me and he is the most principled and courageous man I know.
But how do we move forward from here? What is your call to action? Conscientious objection is a very personal journey and it’s very narrow in scope. Thankfully, most people here in the audience did not sign a contract giving years of their life away to the military – so, you’re not in a position to do the same thing. But the greater philosophy at play here is to ACT ON PRINCIPLE and live by example. Reflect on how you make your moral decisions, and never back away from what you believe to be the right thing. If you find that what you have been doing is wrong, as I did, then make amends, and change your actions accordingly. Setting a good example is a far better way to spread ideals than through the force of arms. Spread the message of peace and non-aggression within your sphere of influence – because there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. Talk to your children, your friends, your peers. Tell them that war will likely come again, but they will know to recognize it and peacefully resist. My charge to you is this – I’m paraphrasing from Thomas Paine – but live as though the world is your country, all mankind are your brethren, and to do good is your religion. Thank you.”
Thank you Jessica for sharing this with us, and for walking the walk. – Adam Alcorn