Soldiers of Conscience

Soldiers of Conscience reveals important details about war and conscience and fosters a conversation that is long overdue within and without the US.

Soldiers of Conscience

Director: Gary Weimberg and Catherine Ryan
Cast: Peter Coyote, Camilo Mejila, Aidan Delgado, Joshua Casteel, Kevin Benderman
Distributor: Docurama
Release Date: 2009-10-27

When I read that Soldiers of Conscience was “made with official permission from the U.S. Army” I was immediately skeptical. I expected to watch a film that ultimately supported war and dismissed conscience as a luxury that a soldier cannot afford. While I am still somewhat skeptical about the U.S. Army’s desire to discuss consciousness and morality, Soldiers of Conscience is a compelling, balanced documentary that does not strive to present a “side”. Many angles are examined making it clear that there is not a simple answer to the question that the tagline proposes: “To kill or not to kill?” Soldiers of Conscience pulls back the curtain on “the war within”.

Soldiers of Conscience reveals important details about war and conscience and fosters a conversation that is long overdue within and without the U.S. Army. Maj. Peter Kilner, a soldier with an Army-sanctioned M.A. in philosophy, provides one perspective. He argues that the kind of “reflexive fire training” that the U.S. Army uses creates effective soldiers but does not allow for any kind of “thinking through” regarding the act of killing. This lack of reflection carries over generally since “we [the U.S. Army] don’t talk about it”. It is exactly this approach to training and war that, the documentary implies, creates conscientious objectors like those featured in this documentary. As Camilo Mejila argues “nothing prepares you” for the “level of destruction you bring” to others “let alone to yourself”.

Soldiers whose stories are undeveloped within the context of the documentary provide perspectives on the necessity of killing and their ability to do “whatever it takes” to defend their country. These perspectives provide balance to a discussion about morality and war. They remind us that each soldier has his or her own perspective on the necessity of killing and some can justify this act to themselves. But the documentary reminds us that the U.S. Army does not prepare soldiers for conscience; they train them to be “reflexive”. Several soldiers reveal that killing is something that “you just don’t talk about” and that each soldier wrestles with the idea of killing another human being. Soldiers of Conscience asks us to talk about, and think about, these issues.

The most compelling parts of Soldiers of Conscience are the stories of Camilo Mejila, Aidan Delgado, Joshua Casteel, and Kevin Benderman. Each of these men describes his path toward the decision to become a “conscientious objector” to war. The right to do so was established in 1775 and, yet, the process is long and arduous. For Camilo Mejila, the first Iraq veteran to go AWOL, and Kevin Benderman, a veteran with ten years of service and one tour in Iarq, the decision resulted in a court marshal and jail time. For Aidan Delgado the decision resulted in many months of service in Iraq as he continued his work, his duty, without a weapon and with the scorn of most of his unit and command.

The stories these men tell are diverse despite the similar thread of conscience. Because of his Evangelical upbringing, Joshua Casteel questioned his role as a soldier on his first tour but re-enlisted after 9-11. He then became an interrogator at Abu Ghraib (two months after the prisoner abuse scandals broke) where he faced his hypocrisy head on during an interrogation with a “self-proclaimed jihadist”. Casteel wondered how he could really justify his actions in light of his beliefs, like the belief in a “gentle Jesus”. When Delgado began to question his conscience, he found answers through Buddhism and countless hours of conversation. Regardless of the different impetus for each of these men, the decision was not an easy one. It was made after months, even years, of service and after months of agonizing over the questions, consequences, and impacts of their decision.

This decision was also made, in each case, after serving in Iraq and this documentary puts the war in Iraq in perspective through the idea of conscience. For some soldiers, the perceived lack of purpose to this particular war and especially the devastating effects upon an entire nation were a large part of their decision to become conscientious objectors. Soldiers of Conscience shows graphic never-before-seen footage of the war in Iraq as well as U.S. Army basic training where cries to “kill, kill, kill” echo chillingly. Delgado includes photos of such devastation in presentations he makes in his work toward peace. These images provide only a glimpse into the true conditions of war in Iraq and the soldiers in the film remind us not only that “soldiers do what soldiers do” but also that “war’s not as clear cut as they portray in the movies”.

What all of these conscientious objects share is a desire for peace and a vision that includes a kind of mass movement of conscientious objection. Mejila believes that while some may think the idea naïve, “peace is not a utopian vision”. It may start off this way, but he, and others like him, are convinced that once people really start to see what is happening they will have no choice but to be conscientious objectors.

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. I can’t help but wonder, however, what the U.S. Army will do when soldiers begin to choose to be conscientious objectors and cite Soldiers of Conscience as their “moment of crystallization”—the moment when they became aware of their conscience and their inability to carry out the necessities of war. There may just be a mass movement.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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