Christians in Complicity with the Military

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Definition of complicity:

  • shared responsibility (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, 4th edition)
  • partnership in wrongdoing (Webster’s New World Pocket Dictionary, 4th edition)
  • association or participation in…a wrongful act (Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (10th edition)

On Saturday (8/12/01), my despatch area in my office lost an important register book that was used to record incoming mails. It so happened that day that I was the person who pushed out the trolley from the strong room. The lost book happened to be placed on the trolley that morning – because it was awkwardly placed on top of the other books on the trolley and shaking as I pushed the trolley out, I remembered the book clearly. The book also fell just before the trolley reached its destination. Again, I remembered that. Whether I picked the book up and placed it on the trolley where it was before, I could not honestly remember.

Anyway, eventually the book was discovered to be missing later that Saturday. Since Saturday, they have been searching for it and an investigation was started.

Today I was interviewed.

I told the investigators exactly what had happened. I also clearly told them that although I remember the book dropping from the trolley, I couldn’t exactly remember whether I had picked it back up. I’d rather be honest with them than tell a lie. I’m sure I did pick it up. That was of course the normal thing anyone would do. Why I didn’t remember, I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because I hardly got much sleep the whole night and morning and thus my memory was bad? Or it could be that picking the book back up and placing it on the trolley was such a normal and perhaps spontaneous thing to do that I probably did so subconsciously and thus could not remember exactly picking the book up.

Whatever the case, I told them honestly what I remembered and what I could not remember. One of the investigators reacted straight away to me when I said I could not remember picking the book up. He got angry and started to shout and swear. The investigators could not believe that I couldn’t remember since it was only the previous Saturday. They gave me a few hours to go back to try and recall what had happened.

After lunch, I met one of the investigators to take my statement down. I continued to state verbally to him that I could not remember. I told him many times and he responded always that he didn’t believe me and it was not possible that I could not remember since Saturday was not a long time ago.

I knew from the start my plea of not remembering what happened would not go well with the investigators. I know inside that I probably did pick it up as any ordinary person would. But I’d rather tell them honestly what I could remember. After all, what happened if someone said they saw that I didn’t pick the book up? Won’t I get into bigger trouble for lying by stating that I remembered picking up the book when in fact I had not? Honestly is the best policy.

I told the investigator that I was being honest and asked him why wouldn’t he accept that I couldn’t remember. He said that I may be hiding something.

Eventually, after being told repeatedly by the investigator that he didn’t believe me, thus implying that I was lying to cover up something, I responded to him, “I have already told you so many times that I can’t remember exactly whether I picked up the book. Yet you refuse to believe me? What do you want me to say? To confess that I did something with the book?”

From then on, he got real angry. He shouted something like, “Don’t F#$@ around with me. Who do you think you are. You big F#$@ aye?”

When he started using the F-word, I just started at him. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t shout back or would have gotten into bigger trouble. So I just let him shout and say all he wanted.

Eventually things became ok. I wrote my statement down and we parted peacefully.

But this incident will always remain with me. Just like an incident about a year ago when I went to the Medical Clinic at my office area. The medical officer was not pleased with me for some reason and he also started to use the F-word on me. It so happened that almost everyone in my office complained about the attitude of this officer.

I hate the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). That’s not surprising. Probably hundreds of thousands others hate the Singapore Armed Forces. But they don’t do much about. They just talk. For me, I’m going to write about my feelings. And especially how I think every Christian should have no part to do with the Military. The kind of environment in any military force (not just the Singapore Armed Forces) is so oppressive and evil that I would like to challenge every Christian who serves voluntarily in the military to think about whether it is right to do so.

Most young Singaporeans who go through National Service hate the military. That’s because they face so much injustice there. But once they are out, they don’t care. They are just happy to be free. I think we need to go beyond that. I don’t mean in the sense of seeking to overthrow the government or military. But we should seek to change the kind of oppressive environment in there where people can abuse their power in any way they like. They can swear at you and do anything to you just because they are of higher rank.

I’m not writing all this because of the two experiences I have had as described above. I have nothing against the two people who interrogated me and swore at me unjustly despite the fact that I was merely honestly telling the truth. It is not because I hold grievances against them and cannot forgive them that I’m writing all this. Yes, whatever they have done to me has hurt me and made me angry. But I’m not going to get angry over that forever. This is a small matter. I have forgiven them. But I want to challenge the system and the environment in the military because there needs to be someone who does that.

Even if nothing bad had happened to me, I would still feel the way I feel now against the military because I know so many others who have experienced injustice there. People have experienced greater injustice that what I’ve gone through. So it’s not because of my experiences, but I’m just a person who cannot stand seeing injustice – whether it be done to me or others. I don’t think anyone should take injustice.

The government wants to produce more gracious Singaporeans. Yet if all young Singaporean men go through all the nonsense and injustice they go through in National Service, you sure aren’t going to create gracious Singaporeans. To create gracious and sensitive people, you show them grace and sensitivity to their feelings. But of course that’s not the way things work in the military. The military motivates people to do their jobs by promises of rewards and threats of punishments. That only creates self-interest and greedy people. If you want people of quality and character, you don’t threaten them.

Of course most pragmatic people will say that this is the way the military works and there is no other way to get people to be prepared for war than through strict and unjust rules that doesn’t make allowance for human fallibility and weakness. Well, if we want to be pragmatists, then by all mean be so. But I’m concerned about ethics here. I’m concerned about the plight and suffering of people. To say that this is the only way therefore we should just turn our faces away from the suffering of people and not stand up for them – to say all this reveals the kind of person one is. To say that this (being strict, unjust, nasty, threatening to military personnel) is the best means to the end (of creating a military force prepared and disciplined in time of war) is like saying that America’s war in Afghanistan (which has resulted in “collateral damage” of thousands of innocent lives being lost) is the best means to get rid of terrorism. In other words, this is simply unethical and we Christians cannot stand for such things.

I know of a friend who accidentally dropped his gun and stayed some time in the Detention Barracks. I think that’s simply unjust. I asked him how he felt and he replied that he’s quit blaming the SAF and has gotten on with his life and learned something from it. He is a Christian.

I’m not very comfortable with that answer. Sure, one should get over such things and quit blaming the SAF for that incident. But it’s not about blaming the SAF for that incident. There will be many more incidents. We may not be part of it. But others will. The system is thoroughly oppressive in nature. What are we going to do about it? Or are we just happy to get past the injustice we have faced, and not care about what others will be facing?

It’s good to learn something from it and accept everything as God’s will and not let this whole incident affect your life. That’s all good and well. But what about others who will be facing the same kind of nonsense? Do we just passively accept what the SAF does unjustly? I think if we just accept injustice done to us or others and don’t speak up, we are just as guilty of wrongdoing.

What I’m trying to get at can be illustrated by the theological question about God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility. Let’s take a look at one of Peter’s sermon about Jesus in Acts 2:23:

This man (Jesus) was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.

Firstly, here we see that it was God’s (the Father’s) purpose and plan to hand Jesus over to die on the cross because it is only through Christ’s death that man can be saved and be forgiven of their sins. In the Old Testament, Jesus was already prophesised to die for the sins of the world. In other words, God is totally sovereign and in control of what happened. He planned His own Son’s death.

Secondly, and equally important, is the fact that it was wicked men who put Jesus to death on the cross. Who is responsible for the death? Wicked men. Judas and other wicked men.

Putting the two truths together, we see that both are true: God is in control and planned Jesus’ death and the Jews who wanted Jesus dead were responsible and were wicked and wrong in seeing that Jesus would die on the cross. Both are true. God is totally sovereign in all matters – even in the matters of sin. But in the matters of sinned, we can’t hold God responsible. We need to fight sin and realise that we are responsible.

For example, if a big bully came and extort money from you in school one day, we should accept everything that comes our way. God is in control – even of the big bully’s sin and extortion. We should just accept the incident and get past it and maybe learn something from it. Ya, we should forgive the bully. But that does not mean that because God is in control and in a certain sense it was His Sovereign will for all this to come about, we therefore let the bully get off scot free and allow him to bully others. Of course we don’t. We ought to see that he doesn’t harm other people. That doesn’t mean we seek vengeance against him. No, we should forgive him, but he still has to be responsible for what he did and he has to be prevented from doing the same to others in future.

Jesus died on the cross. God planned that. But Judas and others were still responsible and had to pay the price. The bully extorted money from you. God is in control of it all therefore we should accept what comes our way and forgive the bully. But the bully is responsible and will have to pay the price. If we just let him get away like that, he will continue in his evil ways.

In the same way, I’ve tasted a tiny bit of injustice from the military. I am not too shaken by it personally because of my wounded pride or whatever. I have forgiven those responsible. But I can’t stand injustice and to know that many others are going to go through the same nonsense that I go through doesn’t rest with me well.

My challenge is to Christians who work in the military and especially who work in my unit also. My unit does a lot of investigation and thus does a lot of dirty work. There are a lot of Christians in there. But do they know how evil their own colleagues can be to others? Of course not, because they don’t experience it. If any Christian was there with me in the room I was interrogated as a silent observer and saw what was being done and the way the person unjustly shouted and swore at me, and if that Christian still had nothing to say and thinks that everything is ok and this was normal “procedure”, then I would seriously question how he lives out his faith.

The investigator said that he was already being very nice and lenient to me because I’m from his own unit and this was an internal investigation. I believed him. I can only imagine how much worse he would be if people of other units were involved.

So tell me, how can Christians continue to work in my unit and in the military knowing that you’re working for and being part of an organisation that causes people to suffer? The best I can describe Christians who happily work in the military is that they are simply ignorant of the evil that the organisation they are working for has done. But I don’t think they are so ignorant. They are just in denial. They don’t want to think about what evil the military has been involved in. This is worse. I think rather that these Christians are in complicity with the military. But continuing to serve such an oppressive organisation, they have to share the responsibility of its sins. Unless they are seeking to change the organisation from within, then I don’t see why Christians should work in the military at all. They are simply in “partnership in wrongdoing.”

On the 28th of October 2001, Reuters reported what the Wife of Gul Ahmad said. This was in response to America’s war against terrorism that killed her innocent husband and children:

They killed all of my children and husband. The whole world is responsible for this tragedy. Why are they not taking any decision to stop this?

I feel strongly how she feels. I think the world is responsible for the deaths because most of us are basically not doing anything to see this evil war stopped. It’s not a war against terrorism. More innocent victims have been killed than terrorists. And the number of innocent victims being killed I believe have exceeded the number who died on September 11.

Why don’t most of us do anything about it? Because we don’t feel what they feel. Because we’re so comfortable where we are. We can’t be bothered that much about what happens elsewhere.

In the same way, I am not surprised that Christians in the military can continue to work there despite of the fact that the military has done so much injustice to so many people. That’s because they aren’t at the receiving end of the injustice. They don’t bother about others. But is that the kind of attitude Christians should have? Jesus was for those who were poor and oppressed. He was the defender of those who had injustice done against them. Can the same be said of Christians who work in the military? The truth is you can’t exhibit much of Jesus’ character and the gifts of the Spirit expected of us if we work in the military. The whole system is contrary and not conducive to exhibiting what is expected of Christians.

I think I will end here. Before I leave my unit, I’ll be sure to talk to as many Christians in my unit and challenge them to think about what I’ve said. It doesn’t take a Christian to feel for those who are oppressed and those who have suffered injustice. Others have done so in the past. But if the Christian’s greatest love and master Jesus Christ so exemplified a spirit of sympathy and compassion towards the oppressed, dare we not seek to do the same? I’ll leave you with the quote by Jose Marti. If all Christians felt that way, I believe they would not be able to serve in the military with a clear conscience:

Every true man should feel on the cheek the blow to another man’s.

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