Fighting to Die: Confusion About the Purpose of Martyrdom
Reborn on the Fourth of July: The Challenge of Faith, Patriotism and Conscience (InterVarsity) was not the book Logan Mehl-Laituri, an Iraq War veteran, wanted to write. As he recently wrote on his blog,
After a few months in seminary, it became clear to me that God was calling me to write about Christian faith, military service, and national identity. In the spring of 2011, I submitted a proposal to a number of publishers that would profile a number of soldier saints and patriot pacifists. I was excited about it, put some good energy into it, and then I got rejected. A LOT.
Friends told him that he should instead share his own story, so he "wrote up a brand new proposal, sent it out and had an 'embarrassment of riches in enthusiastic publishers who gave this new project the green light.'" The reaction is telling, though not surprising. Editors—including acquisitions editors—tend to be bad at math, which is why, given the opportunity, they would reject a book profiling a dozen stories about "patriot pacifists" and publish the singular tale of an individual patriot pacifist.
Had he been able to include stories other than his own, Mehl-Laituri might have been able to achieve his goal of presenting a compelling case for pacifism. He does make the attempt, but despite being a talented and sensitive writer, he lacks the willingness to adequately engage the long and robust theological history on the subject of whether Christians can engage in just warfare. At least a half dozen times in the book, Mehl-Laituri notes an engagement on the issue with a pastor, chaplain, or Christian soldier. Each time he dismisses their view as inadequate without providing any explanation for why they are wrong. His personal story is only slightly more compelling. Despite being a combat veteran, his experiences are largely unremarkable and his turn toward pacifism, while obviously sincere, is not entirely coherent.
While his memoir covers the six years from his enlistment to his discharge, the main story occurs within a span of seven months. During this period, Mehl-Laituri has a "crystallization of conscience" against war in any form, applies to be a noncombatant conscientious objector, leaves the Army after his request is granted, and travels to Israel with a group of Christian peace activists. Although he includes several appendices which explain his views in more depth, the questions about his own story are the ones we want answered. Why was he expecting to deploy with his unit to Iraq in the same month when his enlistment was set to expire? Did he really expect to be deployed to a combat zone after a psychiatrist deemed him "unfit for deployment"? If he really wanted to serve as a noncombatant, why did he choose to leave the Army after being granted his request?
The most troubling question, however, is whether Mehl-Laituri, who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) because of a traumatic experience on a previous combat deployment to Iraq, had a theologically inspired death wish. "I never thought explicitly about taking my own life," he writes, "but it is clear to me that I didn't have a sincere interest to live." His lack of interest in life may be why he talks incessantly in the book about seeking to be martyred as a pacifist.