President Eric Spina, faculty and students stand in front of the Ukrainian flag during the seminar. Photo courtesy of Judd.
Lucinda Judd | Entrepreneur
Benjamin Salmon was a man who answered the call to serve in World War I and dutifully entered the draft. But when he was called up on a fateful Christmas day, he refused to serve on the grounds of Catholic conscientious objection.
Salmon was thrown in prison for his refusal to serve. According to Nicholas Rademacher, a professor in the Department of Religious Studies at UD, military service from World War I to the present has been viewed as an objective moral good. Rademacher also emphasized the idea that just because someone is anti-conflict doesn’t make them “pro-Putin, pro-totalitarianism, and therefore undemocratic and therefore anti-American.”
“Today we find ourselves in a similar situation, embroiled in a military conflict in Ukraine,” Rademacher said. “Even without troops on the ground, we are committed to his cause and his continuation.”
Rademacher was one of several professors who presented at a seminar on the war in Ukraine on Tuesday, March 22. The event was organized by the Center for Human Rights, which is led by a number of professors, graduate assistants and student interns. The position of Executive Director is held by Shelley Inglis who was one of the organizers of the event along with Ph.D. of Philosophy, Paul Morrow. The five-hour event covered five topics: history, politics, law, war and peace.
On the 4 p.m. peace show, Rademacher, along with two other speakers, discussed the ideas of Catholic conscientious objection, war romanticism, and Gandhian nonviolence.
Rademacher’s overriding thought was that people who are engaged with faith in any aspect, such as attending a Marianist Catholic university, should actively practice nonviolence. He urged the students, professors and visitors present not to attempt to justify the war between Russia and Ukraine and instead to engage in practical measures to oppose it.
Religious studies professor Kelly Johnson also touched on the idea that war and faith are intertwined. When discussing the idea of a just war, it brings out a sense of sacrificial violence – that someone is fighting something inherently wrong, according to Johnson.
“There is spiritual beauty in rage. There’s a kind of purity of its own, a simplicity of right and wrong, especially for those of us who watch the war from a distance,” Johnson said.
War often becomes an excuse to hate the enemy, and the idealization of violence and war is often the root of Christian extremism. Images of Ukrainian civilians learning how to make Molotov cocktails, rearrange road signs and stand in front of tanks inspire passion and the romantic idea that an average person can become a hero.
However, Johnson believes this romanticism can lead to extremism and the glorification of the loss of life. Instead, she suggests that people who want to engage with aspects of the Ukrainian conflict should train in nonviolence. Those who engage in conversations about war must remember that those on the other side of war are still human, she said.
“Russian soldiers are human beings, Vladimir Putin is a human being; all parties to the conflict in Ukraine, Ukrainians, foreign fighters, Russians, they are human beings, and at this university we have a deep commitment to recognizing the human dignity of every person,” Johnson said. “They are human beings who are of value before God, not monsters, they are not monsters.”
Mahatma Gandhi said something similar in a letter he wrote to Adolf Hitler during World War II.
“[Gandhi] says he doesn’t believe he’s the monster portrayed by his opponents, but he knows his actions are monstrous,” said Jacob Baur, a professor in the philosophy department.
Gandhi, although he was seen as a pacifist, told his followers that in times of war people should side with the defender. In the current situation, people should side with Ukrainians as their nation is under attack.
Baur went on to say that Gandhi is not a pacifist but a satyagrahis, or a follower of satyagraha. Satyagraha is the practice of non-violence but from an active point of view. The term pacifist is often confused with the idea of doing nothing, not acting at all, according to Baur.
People should be nonviolent, but their nonviolence should align with the defender. Different versions of this would be non-cooperation, civil disobedience, boycotts and interposition. All of these things are things Ukrainians and all other nations need to train on to practice nonviolence, Baur said.
The three speakers agreed on the struggle faced by those who have faith or spirituality in times of war. They stressed the importance of not developing hatred towards the Russians in this war, nor romanticizing the idea of violence. Baur ended his discussion with the idea of bringing Russian President Vladimir Putin to the proverbial discussion table.
“The idea is to wake up the opponent and bring them to the table in a way they may not be used to, instead of killing people until they give in,” Baur said.
The workshop ended with words from UD President Eric Spina, who thanked the organizers and speakers for their time and willingness to educate the campus community. Spina was unable to attend the entire session but attended much of the event.
“I found the part I was here for brilliant, meaningful, thought-provoking and above all that we consider this conversation, terribly complex,” Spina said.
He then called on the UD community to center the Ukrainian people in their thoughts, hearts and prayers throughout the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
If you want to learn more about how you can support the people of Ukraine during this time, take a look at some of the resources provided by the speakers; Catholic Relief Services, Pax Christi USA and the Metta Center for Nonviolence.