Nick Cardell 1925-2002:

From Prisoner of War to Prisoner of Conscience

For years Nick Cardell battled emphysema. In early October Nick breathed his last hard breath. He was an engaging, gracious, clear-minded man. He loomed large on our landscape; for many of us he was a valued friend and mentor.

Nick was minister emeritus of Syracuse's May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society. A World War II paratrooper, Nick was captured at the Battle of the Bulge. Within three months he escaped from his German captors.

In 1998 Nick was one of the "SOA 25," all of whom were fined $3000 and served six months in federal prison. Seven of the SOA 25 were from Central New York. Their crime: nonviolently protesting against the US Army's School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, GA. Here, verbatim, is Nick's trial testimony:

Strange as it may sound, today began for me in World War II. As a prisoner of war in Germany, I often witnessed the suffering warfare inadvertently inflicts on innocent people. On one occasion, after a long day's march, I stumbled along the body of a tiny girl no older than three. She had been killed by a misdirected hits from bomber
I had earlier cheered on their way as they flew overhead.

Now, I don't regret my military service. In fact, I'm proud of it and my division's part in a war that I still believe was as necessary as it was horrible, but a war that might not have been so incredibly cruel had it not been for people so dedicated to obedience that they could not bring themselves to say no, even to the most murderous of laws.

I fervently hoped and vowed back then never again would I be involved in any way with the killing of innocent people. You see, in some strange way I felt complicity in the death of that little girl, and it helped to shape the rest of my life.

Years later, in the early 1980s, I learned of the assassination of Archbishop Romero and of many of the other atrocities committed in El Salvador. In 1993, I went to El Salvador to learn more. And I learned of other atrocities. I saw the evidence of the massacre of an entire village, El Mozote, and one image remains vivid in my mind. It was referred to yesterday _ the skeleton of a woman, legs akimbo, as in the act of giving birth, and between her legs, the skeleton of her infant.

Now, I have since come to know who was responsible for those horrors. Graduates of the School of the Americas committed those rapes, tortures, murders and massacres. But the ultimate responsibility, Your Honor, lies with you and with me and with every American citizen. It is our taxes and our acquiescence that maintains and sustains the School of the Americas. [Latin American] military personnel come to the school, go back to their homes, commit murder, torture, or what have you _ and return to the school for refresher courses. And they return home with credentials that make it known that the United States government and the US Army sponsor these people, credential these people, train these people.

It was Latin Americans who first called this School of the Americas, "Escuela de Asesinos, School of Assassins." We did not originate that. The hopes and dreams and lives of thousands of innocent people in Latin America have been and are being betrayed and crucified in our name. So, too, are the values and morals we espouse as a democracy of religious people, of caring human beings. As long as the School of the Americas remains open, we are Judases by proxy. If I remain silent, if I do not speak out, my silence gives assent, and I become an accomplice once more.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once noted that modern psychology is very, very fond of the word "maladjusted." He acknowledged the importance of seeking to live well-adjusted lives, to avoid neurotic or schizophrenic personalities, but he also observed that there are some things to which we should all be maladjusted. For example: discrimination, mob rule, and the tragic effects of the methods of physical violence and tragic militarism. Like Dr. King, I never intend to, nor can I, adjust myself to such things.

And so I find myself come full circle from prisoner of war to prisoner in the pursuit of justice and peace. And now it appears I will be a political prisoner as well.

On November 15-17 the "Nick Cardell Memorial Brigade," a group of CNY SOA Abolitionists, will serve as peacekeepers at the SOA Watch vigil action at Ft. Benning, GA. For more information about this annual event (it was at the November 1997 vigil action that Nick was arrested), check out www.soaw.org or call the Abolitionist office, 478-4571.