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Profound silence of a conscientious objector

  • 25 April 2012

I remember the day my older brother came back from the navy. This was long ago. He was 20. I was 11. He had been in the navy for the summer. I had a postcard he had written me under my pillow and I read it every night and never folded it or let any of our other brothers touch it because it was mine and it had been sent to me from his ship and it was mine.

He slouched in his chair, my older brother, tanned and weary and dismissive and friendly. I wanted to say something amusing to make him see me but no words came so I just sat there and stared. His eyes were closed.

I knew nothing of what was happening, that soon he would quit the navy, and so be eligible to be fed to the war, and that he would stand before the draft board and speak bluntly about his conviction that war was a criminally stupid way to solve problems, and that he would serve his nation during the war instead as a teacher and coach in a school in mountains so remote that many people there could not read or write.

He seemed much taller and leaner since he had come back from the ship. I sat there staring. He must have felt my gaze because he opened his eyes and said something witty and dismissive and I laughed although I was not sure what he meant. I asked him if he wanted a sandwich and he said sure and I ran to get one. Sandwiches were a way of talking in our family.

He was in the navy and our dad had been in the army. Our dad had been in not one but two wars. Our dad was proud of my brother when he left the navy. He was proud of my brother when he stood before the draft board and spoke bluntly about war being a criminally stupid way to solve problems. That's the kind of dad he is.

He came home from work a few minutes later, after I had given my brother the sandwich and resumed staring at him from across the room. When our dad came through the front door he