The video was horrific.
Desperate crowds of Afghans streaming into the airport in Kabul, cramming each entry, grappling for a way out of their country. Then it got worse: crowds blocked the runway and swarmed the air transports, clutched at the landing gear and fuselages, risking death for a sliver of a chance for escape.
After decades of war in Afghanistan the allies have had enough. Thousands of troops, billions of dollars, and the prospect of endless military engagement have sapped the resources and the wills of the country’s protectors. Many had forecast the advance of the Taliban but the swiftness of their takeover has been mind-numbing nevertheless. Now, as the terrorists begin forming a government, the retributive killings and subjugation of citizens have also begun. The airport remains chaotic.
Hidden in the headlines are some heart-rending interviews with people trying to come to grips with what is unfolding – desperate friends and relatives unexpectedly separated by the events. Especially compelling are the thoughts of mothers whose sons were killed in the conflict – some able to see a purpose in it all, others struggling to see any purpose at all.
Danny Winter was killed in 2009. His mother Carolyn Hughes took a positive view of his sacrifice when she wrote, “Danny and all the armed forces of the countries involved made a huge difference to a wild, war torn country … “Because of them, terrorist attacks on our country was avoided and countless lives were saved … “The women of Afghanistan were safe to walk the street and get an education, something that had always previously been denied … “People were happy and felt safe.”
Aaron McClure died in 2007 when he was only 19. He and two others were killed by ‘friendly fire’ when a U.S. F-15 fighter attacked them thinking they were Taliban fighters. McClure’s mother Lorraine expressed that she was “absolutely knocked back” when she learned of the Taliban’s advancement. “We know the boys done good when they were out there, but the ripples that run through the families of the fallen, to the guys who’ve taken their life since they’ve come out of the Army, to the injured, PTSD, it goes on and on and on”.
Closer to home, Andrew Eykelenboom was one of about 40,000 Canadian troops served in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014. He was a medic who died in 2006 when a suicide bomber killed him three days before he his tour was to end. His mother Maureen is saddened as she watches the Taliban advancement but she also has a more affirming view of the sacrifice. “Nothing is when you do nothing, when you see a problem and you do nothing to try and resolve it. Trying to help is not a waste.”
Sean Binnie was killed in Afghanistan in 2009. His mother is proud of her son’s sacrifice but as the recent days have unfolded she is feeling increasingly despondent. “I gave my son to the Army; to the Government, but now I feel like he has just been used … “Sean’s death now feels a waste. I feel it was for nothing. It is such an empty, horrible feeling.”
Whatever view you take of military intervention, the heart-felt emotions of these four mothers should stab us in the heart.
It’s difficult, isn’t it? On one hand we can justify war but on the other hand it’s impossible to justify war.
What is confounding is that we try so hard to find a glint of logic or purpose in our conflicts – patriotism, duty, honour – but in the end war has a way of turning it all into senseless violence.
Earlier this month the National Post re-published an article from 2017 about the first atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki 76 years ago. You might recall from your high school history that the U.S. reluctantly used the nuclear option at the end of World War 2 in order to avoid a land invasion which would have meant high military and civilian casualties. However the article complicates that narrative with some interesting side-facts:
At the time the bombs were detonated the Japanese were already facing a massive attack from as many as 1.6 million battle-hardened Soviet troops in Manchuria. In the span of only a couple of weeks the Soviets had driven the Japanese back to their own shores.
The United States had been bombing Japanese cities to rubble long before the A-bombs were used. In fact, months of air raids had obliterated over 60 cities, causing more death and destruction than occurred at either Hiroshima or Nagasaki. For example, the firebombing of Tokyo alone was so horrific that “… in a single night we burned to death 100,000 Japanese civilians in Tokyo; men, women and children.”
Before the A-bombs were dropped, the Japanese were already contemplating surrender due to the Soviet and U.S. advances and the Americans seem to have been aware of that. In fact, some high ranking White House officials always believed the war could have been won without either a military invasion or atomic bombs.
I’m not taking sides – we can’t know all the factors that led to the decision to use the atomic option because war is never simple. We didn’t sit in the meetings or hear the intelligence; we didn’t endure the loss, feel the fear, or experience the hatred that was cloaking the world.
But we can know that violence always rolls over into increasingly violent hatred.
It’s complicated, isn’t it? Peace isn’t easy in an evil world. The story we see is never the whole story, yet the outcomes are all too easy to observe. We find ways to reason through the awfulness even though the loss, destruction, debt, and psychological scars are almost infinite.
But that’s how war works. War is a death match that always spins out of control at some point and gives way to atrocities on every side. And when the war is over we make more weapons and wait for another time and place to use them.
That’s why it’s hard to hear families asking the answerless question, “What did my son die for?” We have to work hard to make sense of governments sending loved ones to kill (and be killed by) the loved ones of other governments.
Instead, the larger question for us as a nation, as a species, and especially as christians, should be, “What is worth dying for?”
That is a much shorter list.
the war on peace
I’m officially a pacifist, I guess. Pacifism is maligned by many people because it doesn’t seem reasonable to them. My only response to them is to agree – pacifism doesn’t make sense to me either. But it does to Jesus.
Yeah I’ve heard the argument: “What if somebody broke into your house to steal everything and attack your family? Would you just let them?”
But pacifism doesn’t mean being weak; it’s doesn’t mean always surrendering – it means undertaking a lifestyle of non-aggression. Pacifism means we resist in an appropriate manner when lives are threatened because life is sacred. It means standing strong only when it matters most.
Being peaceful means our physical intervention is always the last resort of all the last resorts. Trespassing on property or stealing from someone shouldn’t be a death sentence. Pacifism means I talk to an intruder rather than beat them; I restrain them instead of killing them; I buy an alarm system instead of an AR-15. It more broadly means we don’t support arms sales or military parades or exorbitant defence budgets.
Peace requires more strength than fighting does.
we need a movement
There are always reasons for the nations of the world to wage war – that’s part of their job description. And they always will until there is a some sort of movement that unites to stop them.
There is only one movement that can accomplish that, isn’t there?
A movement with no stake in the game;
a movement that believes all people are equally valued;
a movement with no nationalistic or political allegiances;
a movement with higher allegiance than power or money or comfort;
a movement that understands love generosity, and sacrifice.
Remember when Jesus said that his kingdom was not of this world? He means that his people have no higher allegiance than the kingdom of God: not governments, not political parties; not religion. It also means we don’t have time to fight about silly issues like vaccines or theology or our rights.
Because, more than anything, christianity is about life.
My very first official Sunday morning sermon was from John 13 where Peter expresses his passion for Jesus by saying, “I will lay down my life for you” (v37).
Jesus’ searching response in the next verse is, “Will you really lay down your life for me?” Will you give me your living? Jesus isn’t looking for people to die for him, he is looking for people to live for him.
What is startling is how many christians are willing to die for nationalistic reasons yet they are not willing to sacrifice themselves in order to be life-giving.
On the other hand, christians are supposed to be the antidote for war because we are people of peace. Imagine if most christians around the world united to say: No more pettiness; no more hurting each other; no more oppression, no more war. No matter what it costs, we will give our lives to being peaceful and kind.
There would be peace on earth.
Yes, it sounds corny, I know – but if there is to be peace on earth it has to ‘begin with me’.
We need a movement. Let’s have a movement.
Our sons and our daughters are dying.
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