In the video, Stephan Westmann noted that things like air strikes are impersonal and how close-combat is far more intimate. He was in a situation where he and a French soldier both had bayonets, and his enemy was only a bit slower.
Westmann recounted how he was told that “the good soldier kills without thinking of his adversary as a human being. The very moment he sees in him a fellow man, he is not a good soldier anymore.” Yet he openly admitted that he was ashamed that he had killed the man. He expressed how against his nature it was to want to kill others and how everything in him screamed that it was wrong. He harrowingly related how he felt physically ill after killing this French man. Westmann thought about the humanity of the man that he had killed – he was a poor boy, just like him; he had a mother and father, just like him; he may have had a family, just like him. Westmann saw that he and the man had more commonalities than differences. He wished that instead of being enemies who wanted to kill each other, that they instead had sought friendship with one another.
To his horror, Westmann found that many of his fellow soldiers did not feel similarly after they had taken lives, and in fact often gloated about their kills. He asked himself what would cause civilized people, who were perfect strangers, to want to so viciously and remorselessly kill one another. The conclusion that he came to was that there was a pride that was prevalent in their culture. This pride was only “a very thin lacquer which chips off the very moment we come in contact with cruel things like real war”.
This video with Mr. Westmann was recorded in an effort to preserve the history, and concluded by saying “Find out what you might have done in World War One.” After this I was struck by the possibilities of the choices I would have made. Would I be a soldier like Stephan Westmann or would I refuse to fight as Apostle F. Henry Edwards did? If the war were to erupt today, I know I would refuse to fight. However, if war began when I was younger and more naïve, I am less confident I would have the resolve to make that decision; I very well may have endured this living hell.
When this German man spoke of a pride that permeated his culture I couldn’t help but think of the pride in my own culture. The United States saw an attack at it’s capitol this year because of a pride from a large portion of Americans. 9 people died, over 130 people were injured, and our sense of stability and safety in our own nation has eroded. This pride was largely stoked by rich and powerful men who sought to pit Americans against each other in an effort to remain rich and powerful.
I have a great affinity for the scriptures, and I was reminded of the conflicts between the Nephites and the Lamanites. The Book of Mormon is largely a story that describes the horrors of war and how it degrades a civilized culture and human souls. Much of this tension was caused by the Nephites’ pride of feeling superior to the Lamanites and by political leaders who wanted to reassert their wealth and power. These stories serve as powerful scriptural warnings for us.
D&C 163:3 counsels us to “Courageously challenge cultural, political, and religious trends that are contrary to the reconciling and restoring purposes of God. Pursue peace.” I take this to heart, and I believe war to be morally wrong. More often than not the rich folks use middle or lower class people, like me, as pawns and cannon fodder to achieve their own selfish purposes. I refuse to kill, die, or be mentally/spiritually harmed just so the rich can get even richer or so a politician can get re-elected. My heart aches for people like Stephan Westmann and my personal friends who have lived through the horrors of war. I cannot, in good conscious, support creating more suffering in the world and strongly stand as an opponent to war.