In 1950, U.S. leaders decided it would be a good thing to shoot some people in Korea who were called Communists. For young men of Anabaptist heritage, it was time to decide: bear arms or be conscientious objectors. I went into “the service,” which is a wrong way to put it. In fact, I went into the military. “Service” is something you do to a car or a washing machine. When applied to the military, “service” helps justify violence, just as “defend our freedom” and “bring democracy” lower our barriers against aggression.
I was trained to kill people and went to sea on a Navy tanker. After my discharge, I went back to school, where I shocked rats and monkeys to get a Ph.D. and found out what my mother knew all along: “Be careful around an animal when it’s hurt, because it might bite you.” Violence breeds violence. Just like the Anabaptists said.
In 1971, I and a number of friends bought land to start a back-to-the-earth farm community. Neighbors called it a commune. We called it hard work, and I became convinced that my grandparents and Amish relations were a lot smarter than our modern educational system would have us believe.