Military mom and Goshen College peacemaker meet over coffee, common ground

Carolyn Schrock-Shenk and Dana Schmucker
Carolyn Schrock-Shenk (right), associate professor of peace, justice and conflict studies, and Goshen resident Dana Schmucker (left) wrote a letter to the editor of a local newspaper describing areas of common ground in their discussion about the military.

Editor’s note: This article was published in the months before the Iraq War began. A story about these two women aired on NBC Nightly News in April 2003, as well as in the book Chicken Soup for the Soul®: Stories for a Better World (2005).

GOSHEN, Ind. – It began with an impassioned letter to the editor by a soldier’s mother who was fed up with Goshen, Indiana’s “local pacifist rhetoric” and the lack of support she felt for her son.

“I would ask all of you to stop and consider what your harsh words in the paper mean to a soldier who is sitting in a remote location reading his hometown newspaper and seeing such a painful lack of support for our troops. While you enjoy your holiday season, please have some compassion for those of us who won’t be together for the holidays. We would prefer your prayers rather than your criticism.” (Nov. 7, 2002 – Goshen News)

In her peace courses at Goshen College, Associate Professor of Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies Carolyn Schrock-Shenk assigns her students the exercise of listening to “the other” – someone with the opposite views as themselves. After assigning this to her students several times, Carolyn said, “I read the letter and I just ‘knew’ what I had to do.”

A day later, letter writer Dana Schmucker received a phone call from Carolyn, an organizer of local war protests, inviting her to meet over coffee so she could understand more fully why the pacifist letters were so painful to read and to hear more about Nick, Dana’s son serving in Afghanistan. Carolyn told Dana she committed herself to not trying to convince her of her point of view and she wouldn’t even tell her point of view on a war with Iraq if she wasn’t asked. Dana agreed to meet.

Nearly half of the two hour meeting was spent getting to know each other and connecting personally. Then Carolyn asked Dana how she experienced the letters and the anti-war movement as a military mom. Carolyn very quickly realized that the peace protests need to make the link stronger that opposition to war is actually a support of American troops abroad, not just a support of Iraqi civilians.

After sharing with each other and recognizing that they are both mothers of sons, they share religious connections and both want peace for the world; the women decided to write a joint letter to the editor. The two wrote about their different views on this war, their commonalities and how talking with each other has “stripped away layers of assumptions and stereotypes.”

“We knew that we were on opposite sides when we agreed to meet for coffee, but talking felt like the right thing to both of us. … What we both know, at a very deep level, is that we want Nick, and the others like him, to come home safely. … We believe that our God of love is present with each one, all the time, no matter where they are or which side of a war they are on. …

We will continue to respond to the current situation in ways that we feel called to respond, but we will do so with some differences since our meetings. It is our hope that by writing this letter, we can encourage others to see that it is possible to “agree to disagree” without disrespect or malice.…

I (Dana) will respect and understand in a new way, those who want to prevent this war. I would ask them to remember our sons and daughters who are trying to do the right thing and who are risking their lives to do so. I believe our troops need to know that we love them and support them, whether or not we support the war in which they are fighting. …

I (Carolyn) will [continue to oppose this impending war] with a new awareness of how much pain and fear and love military members and their families experience. Nick and his family, and others like them, will be part of my awareness in a new way as I respond to my personal call to peacemaking. I understand more deeply that, at bottom, we want so many of the same things: peace, security, a world of promise for our children. It is these concerns that lead me to oppose this and other wars.” (Nov. 24, 2002 – Goshen News)

The response both women received from the community has “only been positive.” One community member, Diane Hertzler, followed up their letter with one of her own and referred to their joint work as the “most important letter of the year.”

As Carolyn recently planned another local peace protest, she wrote Dana to ask what she would think about the wording on a sign she wanted to hold (“Support our troops, oppose this war”). Dana wrote back to say it wouldn’t offend her, or Nick, at all.

By Jodi H. Beyeler