Soldiers of Conscience
To kill or not to kill? For some the war is within.
Directed by Gary Weimberg and Catherine Ryan
Produced by Luna Productions
Executive Producers: Stan and Mary Friedman, Philip and Donna Harris
Editors: Gary Weimberg and Josh Peterson
Director of Photography: Kevin O'Brien
Original Score: Todd Boekelheide
Narrator: Peter Coyote
From West Point grads to drill sergeants, from Abu Ghraib interrogators to low ranking reservist-mechanics, soldiers in the U.S. Army today reveal their deepest moral concerns about killing in war. Their message: every soldier wrestles with his conscience over killing. Although most decide to kill, some refuse.
"Never presumes to tell you what to think. It simply makes it impossible for you not to." John Brummett, The Morning News
SOLDIERS OF CONSCIENCE reveals that far more soldiers decide not to kill than we might expect. Made with official permission from the U.S. Army and filmed in high definition video, SOLDIERS OF CONSCIENCE includes never-before-seen footage of basic training and the war in Iraq, with an original soundtrack from an Academy Award winner and composer. It is a realistic yet optimistic look at war, peace, and the power of the human conscience.
WARNING: This film shows images from war.
Note: There is also an 87-minute version of this film. Please be sure to specify the longer version if you want to order it rather than the 54-minute version. The long version costs $295 to buy and $95 to rent.
Grade Level: 9-12, College, Adult
US Release Date: 2008
Copyright Date: 2007
DVD ISBN: 1-59458-799-X
"Soldiers of Conscience and Secrecy offer critical, historically aware discourses on the ethical quandaries raised by contemporary conflict...The films lend considerable credence to their arguments...While both are unquestionably products of a previous era of presidential politics, they refrain from giving the problems they identify the too easily adopted epithet `Bush.' In doing so, they highlight the fact that contemporary manifestations of American power are no neoconservative aberration. Indeed, it seems certain that in the context of a re-branded but effectively unchanged `war in terror,' questions of soldierly conscience and state secrecy will remain pertinent well into the future."
Nicholas Witham, University of Nottingham, Journal of American Studies
"SOLDIERS OF CONSCIENCE thoughtfully explores the moral dilemmas encountered by U.S. Army soldiers who served in the current Iraq War. Skillfully interspersing scenes of the war as experienced by U.S. soldiers and the Iraqi people with the compelling testimonies of soldiers who became conscientious objectors, and other soldiers who opposed that choice, the film challenges viewers to search their own consciences. SOLDIERS OF CONSCIENCE deserves a wide audience. It should stimulate excellent classroom discussions."
Dr. Michael Burton, Professor, Department of Sociology, Loyola College in Maryland
"The award winning documentary, SOLDIERS OF CONSCIENCE takes on the core human contradiction to never kill against the duty to kill as a combat soldier who has volunteered for service. Approved by the U.S. Army, this documentary provides rare footage of how the military turns civilians into killers through reflexive fire training while giving voice to combat soldiers who reconnect with their humanity by claiming conscientious objection when serving in Iraq. The powerful narratives of four soldiers who have faced the hell of war and turned against it, Camilo Mejia, Joshua Casteel, Aidan Delgado and Kevin Benderman, tear viewers away from feeling absolved of a war being fought by volunteers to confront why we are not standing with them to end it. It is a testament to the filmmakers that one of the most significant anti-war documentaries of the post-9/11 era has the approval of the U.S. Army."
Michael Musheno, Professor of Criminal Justice Studies, San Francisco State
University, Distinguished Affiliated Scholar, Center for the Study of Law and Society, University of California at Berkeley, Co-author, Deployed: How Reservists Bear the Burden of Iraq
"A captivating look inside the U.S. Army...Soldiers of Conscience offers up important data and commentary on U.S. military society. The film thus provides a valuable entrée into what Catherine Lutz has called 'ethnographies of empire,' anthropological research concentrating on the people living in and around U.S. military bases and designed to reveal the human face and vulnerabilities of American imperialism."
Rebecca Forgash, Metropolitan State College of Denver, Anthropology Review Database
"Gary Weimberg and his team have assembled and filmed an admirable selection of real SOLDIERS OF CONSCIENCE who have engaged in close combat. Some of them have become Conscientious Objectors within the terms of military regulations. Others are called by their sense of duty to return to the danger, horror and exhilaration of battle. Never have I seen both perspectives presented so clearly and movingly, side by side."
COL (Ret) Jim Stokes, MD, Army psychiatrist and developer of the Combat Stress Control doctrine
"The core moral teachings of Christianity have long been known - and almost as long ignored. SOLDIERS OF CONSCIENCE startles us - Christians and others alike - out of our moral slumbers by showing us brave men who dared to think for themselves about the morality of war. Their courage in facing genuine moral problems will give rise to continued ethical and moral reflection on the pressing issue of our time. Highly recommended."
Rev. Dr. Derek R. Nelson, Assistant Professor of Religion, Thiel College
"A uniquely powerful film in exploring conscientious decision-making about war both from the perspective of soldiers dedicated to fighting and those who have refused."
Rev. William 'Scotty' McLennan, Unitarian Universalist Minister, Dean for Religious Life, Stanford University
"SOLDIERS OF CONSCIENCE is to our generation what Paths of Glory, Full Metal Jacket, and Platoon was to theirs. It packs a dramatic punch while challenging the conscience of America."
Professor Arthur Blaustein, University of California - Berkeley, Author, The American Promise
"I showed a brief excerpt from the film in a recent treatment group session with OIF/OEF combat veterans at the SFVAMC. The content was carefully selected to exclude graphic or startling images that could be triggering for veterans who have served in a war zone. The clip generated an excellent group discussion about killing, guilt, and shame among the veterans in the room and helped them to reach a deep level of sharing and reflection about their personal experiences. The clip and resulting group discussion also helped veterans to better understand that they were not alone."
Shira Maguen, Ph.D., Assistant Clinical Professor, UCSF Medical School, Staff Psychologist, San Francisco VA Medical Center
"A great movie in terms of impact, quality of production, [and] usefulness in theological education."
Deryck Durston, Associate Director, Association for Clinical Pastoral Education
"You have produced a wonderful learning tool. Thank you. It is such a relief to know there are people who continue to bring multiple perspectives to bare on such complex and important issues."
Shan Oglesby, Social Studies Teacher, Kamiak High School
"The film was powerful and thought-provoking. As an educator, I especially appreciated the straight talk from all the people filmed. I imagine using the film as a way to proceed into a discussion of the morality of killing [and] nonviolence."
Monica Fisk, Masters of Education Candidate, Antioch University
"A balanced and mature acknowledgement that some people will follow the dictates of their own consciences over the commands of a temporary 'superior.' Recommended."
"I found myself humbled and moved by the film...A candid, eloquent and truly provocative discussion amongst soldiers from all sides of the story...Transcends the noisy bluster of political rhetoric and gives a clear, uncensored voice to the young men and women who are charged with protecting our nation."
Matt Glaser, The Zong
"Has an eloquence and passion that will open hearts as well as eyes."
Paula Nechak, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer
"A thoughtful, challenging, and remarkably wide-ranging examination of the nature of war and its alternatives."
John Hartl, The Seattle Times
"Brutal and completely captivating, SOLDIERS OF CONSCIENCE is a fine example of modern documentary filmmaking done right. Both sides of the issue are given time and attention, and no clear-cut judgments are made by the filmmakers. Though it undoubtedly takes a more anti-war stance during many segments, we're treated to an even-handed meditation on the cold reality of modern warfare and the people it directly affects...Firmly Recommended."
"Wonderful...deeply personal...reminds us that the burdens soldiers and Marines carry in the desert heat are far more complex and long lasting than we can possibly know."
Bob Kerr, The Providence Journal
"Thought-provoking...An unbiased look at soldiers who sincerely believe that the killing of war is at times morally justifiable, juxtaposed with those whose consciences have forced them to set down their weapons and answer to a higher calling."
Andrew Gorby, Center on Conscience and War
"The movie takes its own calm, even-handed approach...Directors Gary Weimberg and Catherine Ryan don't pull any punches...A film that stirs things up."
Robert Horton, The Everett Herald
"Never presumes to tell you what to think. It simply makes it impossible for you not to."
John Brummett, The Morning News
"Tears at the heart."
Beth Ashley, Marin Independent Journal
Jan Stuart, Newsday
"Thoughtful...Fascinating...Tight and balanced storytelling."
Moira Macdonald, The Seattle Times
"Gripping and real...Through the eyes of soldiers."
Bryan Fung, Northwest Asian Weekly
"This chilling documentary explores how we condition our children to bypass their morals."
Lindy West, The Stranger
"Doesn't just preach to the choir...It has the virtue of including voices from across the ideological spectrum."
Frank Paiva, Seattle Weekly
"Illuminating...[one of] my five movies to look for during the Atlanta Film Festival."
Felicia Feaster, Creative Loafing
Bob Longino, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"Speaks volumes about the psychological toll taking another life enacts."
Charles Judson, CinemaATL Magazine
"The film's focus makes Soldiers of Conscience accessible to pacifists and warriors alike. The soldiers' candid and deeply personal reflections remind us that in war human beings make choices they must live with the rest of their lives...The candor of these soldiers evokes questions that haunt us. What are we asking of those ordered to kill on our behalf?"
National Catholic Reporter
"Soldiers of Conscience is a compelling indictment of the successful campaign by the U.S. military to defeat our universal human instinct not to kill. Using intimate footage of basic training and mind-numbing images of the continuing Iraq War, the film puts into horrifying perspective how the Pentagon teaches recruits to obey orders and kill without consulting conscience. These revelations are tempered by interviews with soldiers who say no to such demands and exit military service, but as the film ends a lingering and unsettling question remains: Why do those opposed to war number so few?"
Peter Laufer, Journalist, Author, Mission Rejected: U.S. Soldiers Who Say No to Iraq
"Soldiers of Conscience doesn't berate one view and glorify the other, but instead looks honestly at the moral conscience at play in each, allowing the soldiers' experiences to paint the complex pictures. This film asks us to try something new by thinking something new -- by listening to voices that have walked a difficult road."
Kaitlin Barker, Sojourners
"The film is a thought-provoking look at the central purpose of war that invites viewers to reflect not only on their own perspective but also on the other side of the coin."
Chuck Vinch, Army Times
"Weimberg and Ryan have created one of the rare breed of documentaries that have a point of view, but don't try to manipulate viewers into sharing it."
Martin Stillion, Christianity Today
"It's a modest, unpretentious film, and more affecting for it. Conveying not just the grimly harrowing circumstances of modern combat but also a real sense of the bright, mature, and morally serious minds that terrible crucible has forged."
San Francisco Magazine
"This thoughtful and disquieting film...explores the fundamental contradiction between the killing required by war and the remorse required by humanity."
Glenn Garvin, The Miami Herald
"Although most Americans would prefer not to think about Iraq, Soldiers of Conscience is required viewing for anyone living with this war...Serving in the military is an honorable profession, and Soldiers of Conscience explores the difficult area where honor, duty, morality and choice intersect and then collide."
Wyatt Montaner, BeyondChron.org
"This film is an important new tool in efforts to promote peace and understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims and Arabs and non-Arabs in the United States and abroad."
Fatema Haji-Taki, Islamic Insights.com
"Soldiers of Conscience explores the moral dilemmas of eight U.S. soldiers who struggle daily with the question of whether killing is ever justified."
The Washington Post
"A thoughtful look at war and its aftermath."
Kevin McDonough, United Feature Syndicate
"A thoughtful documentary on fighting men who have second thoughts about killing."
Roger Catlin, The Hartford Courant
"[Soldiers of Conscience] lets a handful of soldiers do just about all of the talking, and their personal accounts respective to their diverse backgrounds and beliefs put some powerful faces to the otherwise familiar talking points."
Billy O'Keefe, San Luis Obispo
"Soldiers of Conscience doesn't take sides, it is not an anti-war or a pro-war film; instead, it truly surveys and attempts to understand the complexities of a moral conundrum...The film, possibly unintentionally, engenders a newfound respect for the soldiers that experience hell daily on the front lines, while simultaneously questioning the fundamental idea of war."
Jessica Mosby, The Women's International Perspective
"EXCELLENT...a MUST SEE for all conscientious people."
Catholic Peace Fellowship
"Soldiers of Conscience is a film that will challenge your beliefs. I'm still confident in mine, but I know other military folks who were disturbed by the questions the film raised in their own consciences...If you get the opportunity to see the film, I recommend it. It is unbiased (rare for the genre) and very interesting."
MAJ Peter Kilner, USMA West Point, soldier-ethicist.blogspot.com
DVD features 7 extra short films designed specially for classroom discussion purposes, including separate pieces on the four COs featured in the film - Camilio Mejia, Joshua Casteel, Aidan Delgado and Kevin Benderman - plus two trailers and a gallery of the oustanding posters designed for this film.
Soldiers of Conscience website, includes trailer
The producer's website
PBS website and trailer
PBS Facilitator's Guide
PBS Discussion Guide
Awards and Festivals
Nominee, Outstanding Individual Achievement In A Craft: Editing, 30th Annual Emmy Awards for News & Documentary
National PBS Broadcast on "POV"
Best Documentary, Rhode Island International Film Festival
Best Documentary, Salem Film Festival
Best Documentary, Foyle Film Festival, Northern Ireland
Best Conflict & Resolution Documentary, Hamptons International Film Festival
Seattle International Film Festival
Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival
Big Sky Documentary Film Festival
United Nations Asocation Film Festival, Stanford
Atlanta Film Festival
Denver Film Festival
Maine International Film Festival
Mill Valley Film Festival
Ashland Independent Film Festival
Nantucket Film Festival
Atlantic Film Festival
Cucalorus Film Festival
Global Peace Film Festival
Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival
Hollywood Film Festival
New Hampshire Film Festival
San Diego Film Festival
Mendocino Film Festival
River Run Film Festival
Everett Women's Film Festival
Western Psychological Association Film Festival
American Psychological Association Film Festival
Citizenship and Civics
War and Peace
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The story of conscientious objectors in World War II.
Raised to be Heroes
Through the example of Israeli Refuseniks we learn what happens when soldiers act out of conscience.
Sir! No Sir!
The untold story of the GI movement to end the war in Vietnam.
The Quiet Mutiny
John Pilger reveals the shifting morale and open rebellion of Western troops serving in Vietnam.
Focuses on the human cost of the Iraq War to contrast corporate-controlled media coverage with independent media.
Tells the inside story of how the U.S. government adopted torture as official policy in the aftermath of 9/11.
The War on Democracy
John Pilger reports that, in spite of a history of repeated US-backed suppression, popular democratic movements are gaining ground in Latin America.
Breaking the Silence: Truth and Lies in the War on Terror
John Pilger dissects the truth and lies in the 'war on terror'.
A seven-part series that gives context and perspective to events since the 2000 presidential elections and 9/11.
A 2-DVD set designed to help students critically analyze some of our foreign policy interventions since World War II.
... more Reviews
"Brought me to tears or near tears and I believe that it really hits the emotional nerve that it was intended to hit. Its relevancy in the current context of war is enormous."
Oskar Castro, National Youth and Militarism Program, American Friends Service Committee
"Soldiers of Conscience is a must see film for all those concerned about issues of conscience in times of war...In training for combat, young men and women are conditioned to set aside much of their moral upbringing and take on a different moral code...When I was a chaplain in a Basic Training unit, I always went to the field training site when this training was being conducted. I never had a time when I did not have someone wanting to talk to me about what they were experiencing. It was cathartic for them to be able to express these very real and usually troubling feelings to someone who would treat them with non-judgmental warmth and hold their conscience in empathetic regard. I did not justify the training or try to talk them out of what they were feeling. It was important for them to honor their training and their conscience. One of my ethics professors used to say, 'If you sin against your conscience, you commit moral suicide.' I was determined to protect the conscience of these soldiers...The
film Soldiers of Conscience rightly stays with the moral dilemmas of conscience present in the modern military."
Chaplain (Colonel) Herman Keizer, Jr., U.S. Army (Retired)
"Soldiers of Conscience poignantly examines the array of choices and challenges that thoughtful human beings face when they find themselves in a conflict that their hearts and minds cannot justify. Anyone who wrestles with choices between evils should see Soldiers of Conscience."
The Right Rev. Marc Handley Andrus, Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of California
"Soldiers of Conscience moved me in a way that few other films have. It is ideal for churches and faith-based organizations that are interested in presenting the difficult realities of war fairly, but with a clear commitment to examining the moral problems of war."
Rick Ufford-Chase, Convener, Christian Peace Witness for Iraq, Executive Director, Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
"I've sat with total pacifists and combat veterans both, who've each thought the film had significant themes to contribute to conversation about what is often a very difficult subject, for both soldiers and civilians."
The Rev. Canon Debra Shew, Canon for Community Ministries, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta
"This powerful film helps those of us who are removed from the immediacy of the Iraq war to understand the realities that our soldiers face and the questions of conscience that they struggle with. It raises questions for all of us to ponder."
Rev. Carol Jensen, Pastor, St. John United Lutheran Church, Chair, Lutheran Public Policy Office of Washington State, Chair, Lutheran Peace Fellowship
"By showing the real pain of war, I think this film will help our congregation to be more balanced and grounded in our peace activism. It's important to really understand the pain and suffering. There are very few active service men and women in our congregation, and Soldiers of Conscience invites us into profound conversation with soldiers and their struggles. This film breaks down barriers."
Rev. Joan Montagnes, Associate Minister, East Shore Unitarian Church
"This film raises complex questions about war, hiding nothing. It allows us glimpses of the humanity of those who serve in the military and those who train them. It offers a compelling, stunning, and disquieting examination of the moral dilemmas soldiers confront when they make a choice to kill and when they choose nonviolence."
Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock, Founder, Faith Voices for the Common Good
"We strongly encourage our members to use this documentary as a tool to educate their congregations, communities, families and friends. The film raises important questions for the American people, in whose name soldiers are fighting, dying and killing."
Wayne Smith, Manager, Civil Liberties Program, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
"This film really resonates with viewers - and not just with peace activists. The veterans who've seen it have really enjoyed it. We've had some wonderful post-screening discussions."
Anne Miller, Director, New Hampshire PeaceAction
"Soldiers of Conscience is an urgent, deeply moving reflection on the tension between our duty as citizens and our responsibilities as ethical beings. The stories of these soldiers offer no easy answers; on the contrary, they make us feel the profound difficulty of war's challenge to conscience, and the courage required to face it honestly."
Tobias Wolff, Vietnam Veteran and Author, In Pharaoh's Army
"I thank all those people involved in the making of this poignant and relevant look into what it is to be an American soldier. May you and our soldiers find some peace in knowing that a new understanding is growing and with that understanding will come a new sense of responsibility to what we do and what we do not."
Benjamin J. Tatrow, Sergeant, US Army Military Police Corps (Retired)
"I have personally wrestled with the decisions discussed in Soldiers of Conscience - as a Christian, as a former Infantry officer and now as an Army chaplain. My discussions with veterans of all wars reveal to me that most (if not all) soldiers will wrestle with this issue; my desire is that they settle the issue in their minds before - rather than after - the battle."
Chaplain (Captain) Brian G. Koyn, US Military Academy at West Point
"I found Soldiers of Conscience powerful and haunting. Haunting, because I was a pilot in Vietnam who in the midst of war made the lonely journey that ended with my deciding that what I was being asked to do was immoral. Powerful, because the soldiers who become conscientious objectors in this film begin to see through the moral fog of war with a clarity that stands in stark contrast to those who soldier on."
Charlie Clements, Vietnam Veteran and President, CEO, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
"[The film] was powerful, effective and informative - useful for discussion and exploration of these issues and brings the effects of war into reality, into the heart and soul of the people rather than a distant story that seems so unreal in the mind of the average American. Thank you for your commitment, efforts, and passion about this war and those who serve and pay the ultimate sacrifice. We must always remember and honor our warriors. I believe this film does just that."
Rev. Susan G. Turley, Chaplain and CPE Supervisor, Palo Alto VA
"Soldiers of Conscience provides not only a needed conversation, but also a wealth of information and ideas to consider. The DVD extras include excerpts for further conversation. The way in which these clips are listed and labeled make them helpful as conversations starters in the classroom, the boardroom, or basic training."
Sarah Hentges, PopMatters