Marine obeys his conscience
Reservist didn't ship out with his unit to Iraq
Pamela J. Podger, Chronicle Staff Writer Wednesday, April 2, 2003
A 20-year-old Marine reservist showed up at the gates of his San Jose base Tuesday -- conscientious objector papers in hand -- ready for punishment for not joining his unit's deployment to Iraq.
Marine Lance Cpl. Stephen Funk said he had had a lapse in judgment when he signed up as a 19-year-old, swayed by his recruiter's pitch of new skills, camaraderie and a naive belief that it would be "like the Boy Scouts."
At the San Jose base, Marine Capt. Patrick O'Rourke said Funk must report for duty at 7:30 each morning while his application is reviewed.
"The Marine Corps understands there are service members opposed to the war, " O'Rourke said. "He'll be treated fairly."
Funk is one of several service members in today's volunteer military who are seeking conscientious objector status.
The recruits say their idealistic expectations of military service -- travel, tuition and adventure -- jarred against the harsh realities of killing another human and ran afoul of deeply held religious, ethical or moral views.
"They don't really advertise that they kill people," Funk said. "I didn't really realize the full implications of what I was doing and what it really meant to be in the service as a reservist."
In San Diego, Marine Staff Sgt. Nick McLaren said the new recruits are clearly told about combat and involuntary recall to active duty in the case of a national emergency. Recruits also must declare whether they have conscientious objector reservations stemming from firm or fixed beliefs.
Funk said his moral quandary had begun at boot camp, where he was trained to shout "kill, kill" as he slashed with his weapon. He said he felt like a "hypocrite." He shared his qualms with military chaplains.
When his unit was deployed Feb. 9 for active duty, Funk failed to show up. He has prepared a statement on his pacifist beliefs and will be interviewed by a military chaplain, psychiatrist and investigative officer before his fate is clear.
"There are so many evil things about war," said Funk, who is originally from Seattle. "There is no way to justify war because you're paying with human lives."
His mother, Gloria Pacis, 49, said she prayed daily for her son. "I'm proud of the fact that he owned up to his reservations and was not a hypocrite," she said.
The military acknowledges that recruits may change their views during training and allows service members an exit if they prove a religious, ethical or moral objection to war. Conscientious objector applications can take up to one year for review. The outcomes range from a noncombat job, still in the military service, in the United States to, in the worst case, a court martial and possible prison terms.
Funk's attorney, Stephen Collier -- a member of the National Lawyer's Guild Military Law Task Force in San Francisco -- said he would seek a general discharge for his client.
Anti-war groups report that their hot lines have been flooded by calls from service members. The "GI Rights Hotline" that counsels service members logged about 3,500 calls in January and 3,100 in February -- double the monthly average in 2002.
Teresa Panepinto of the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors in Oakland, which runs the hot line, says in today's mostly volunteer military there is "economic conscription" as young people join the forces for job skills or tuition -- not to fight wars.
"The ads for the military are sold as a scholarship tool. There is no footage of combat," she said. "It is a real bait-and-switch that is costing young people their lives."
Critics of conscientious objectors, however, say it is disingenuous to volunteer during peace time and then seek an escape hatch when war breaks out.
Jason Crawford, 23, who founded the Internet site Patriots for the Defense of America, said: "I think it is a grave dishonor to back out when your country needs you. There aren't any proper objections to this war. It is a just war."
Funk is being helped in his bid for a discharge by 1991 Gulf War conscientious objectors: Army reservist Aimee Allison, 33, of Oakland who ultimately took her fight with the military to federal court and was given a discharge, and Marine Corps reservist Erik Larsen, 35, of Milpitas who spent five months in the brig and was granted a dishonorable discharge after his case was handled by Amnesty International.
"There is nothing un-American or unpatriotic about saying killing is wrong, and I won't kill," Allison said.
According to the Center on Conscience and War in Washington, D.C., there had been an estimated 3,500 conscientious objectors in World War I; 37,000 in World War II; 4,300 in the Korean War; more than 200,000 during the Vietnam War; and 111 during the 1991 Gulf War.
George Houser, 86, who once lived in Berkeley and now lives near New York City, said he and seven others had spent a year in federal prison in Danbury, Conn., for defying conscription. "For me, that year in prison was an important slice of my life," he said. "It led to other things, one step at a time."