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Marine Refuses To Fight


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Posted on Sun, Mar. 30, 2003

Marine reservist says he can't kill
By Brandon Bailey
Mercury News

After joining the Marines and going through boot camp
last year, Lance Cpl. Stephen Funk realized he was an
expert marksman who didn't want to kill.

And when his San Jose-based Marine reserve company
received orders to deploy for possible war last month,
Funk decided he wasn't going to go.

The soft-spoken 20-year-old, who has been AWOL since
mid-February, plans to turn himself in and apply for
conscientious objector status Tuesday -- one of the
first members of the U.S. armed forces to seek a
discharge on those grounds since the war with Iraq
began.

``I don't want people to be making the same mistakes I
did,'' said Funk, who is working with Bay Area
anti-war activists to publicize his decision. ``If
everyone was a conscientious objector, there wouldn't
be any war.''

Many people think of conscientious objection as a
relic from the days of a mandatory draft. But the law
allows those who voluntarily join the armed forces to
seek a discharge if they have developed a deeply held
moral or ethical objection to war.

Military officials say the procedure is little used:
Only 28 people were declared conscientious objectors
last year.

``We don't really expect to see a lot of
applications,'' said Capt. Shawn Turner, a Marine
Corps spokesman at the Pentagon who added that he
believes most Marines have only become more dedicated
to their jobs since Sept. 11, 2001.

But pacifist groups say they've had an increase in
requests for information in recent months, as the U.S.
began mobilizing for war with Iraq.

``Our call volume has doubled,'' said Teresa Panepinto
of the Oakland-based Central Committee for
Conscientious Objectors, which runs a program called
the GI Rights Hotline.

Applications for conscientious discharges always
increase during wartime. There were 111 granted during
the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Thorough process

The procedures are rigorous: An applicant must submit
a detailed letter explaining how his or her feelings
have changed since joining the armed forces. Then
there are interviews with a military chaplain, a
psychiatrist and an investigating officer, with a
final decision made by top military commanders.

``They don't make it easy,'' said Aimee Allison, a
former Army combat medic who received a conscientious
objector discharge in 1992. Allison, who lives in
Oakland, is advising Funk on his application.

Because he refused to report for duty with the rest of
his Marine unit, Funk said, he is prepared to serve
time in a military prison before being discharged --
although another adviser, San Francisco public
interest lawyer Stephen Collier, said they are hoping
Funk will get some kind of desk duty instead.

When his activation orders came in mid-February, Funk
said he had only recently learned about the
conscientious objector process, and he needed more
time to complete his application. Other members of the
San Jose-based 1st Beach & Terminal Operations Company
were sent to San Diego and were scheduled to go
overseas from there. But Funk didn't go.

``I didn't expect to be deployed so soon,'' he said.

Funk, who was raised Catholic but doesn't practice
regularly, said his mother raised him and his two
sisters in Seattle, with help from his immigrant
Filipino grandparents. Although he was never violent
as a youth, he said, his opposition to war
crystallized after he enlisted last year.

At the time he joined, Funk had dropped out of college
and was working at an East Bay pet store. He didn't
know many people here, he said. ``I didn't have a lot
of direction or a sense of connection.''

When a recruiter approached him -- ``I'm not sure how
he got my number in the first place'' -- Funk said he
thought the military might be like an adult version of
the Boy Scouts. ``I thought I'd be learning new stuff,
getting exercise, learning leadership and teamwork.''

Turning point

But he grew uncomfortable after he entered boot camp
and began combat training. A turning point came when
he got a high score in marksmanship, but an instructor
told him he wouldn't do as well in real combat.

``I heard that, and I knew he was right,'' Funk said.
``I said: `You're right. I think killing is wrong.' ''

But when he spoke with a chaplain and other officers,
he said, they never told him about the conscientious
objector law, which he eventually found on the
Internet. Funk said he is going public in part to
spread the word for others in the military who may be
regretting their decision to enlist.

Funk said he knows some people will accuse him of
cowardice or of making a political statement against
U.S. policy toward Iraq. The law requires
conscientious objectors to sincerely oppose all wars,
not just those that are unpopular.

While he does object to current U.S. policy, Funk
said, he would not support any war.

``I think that, deep down, everybody knows that
killing is wrong,'' he said. Of the current war, he
said, ``I just hope other people examine their
feelings about it, and not just politically, because
war is a real moral issue.''

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Contact Brandon Bailey at bbailey@mercurynews.com or
(408) 920-5022.