Monday was Memorial Day in the United States. As expected, all our medias were filled with barbecues, fireworks and mini-flags installed on rows and rows of grave markers. On Facebook a collage of photos made the rounds showing people in various upright or prone positions, clutching at the grave stones of deceased loved ones. So sad.
To be clear, what I am opposed to are politically driven aggression, cultural militarism, blind nationalism and army-envy which cause soldiers, families and entire nations to suffer for the wrong reasons instead of the right reasons. Frighteningly, these issues are so normalized that we don’t even take issue with them.
That’s a problem.
However, I’m not suggesting that I am ungrateful – I am respectful of those who make the ultimate sacrifice to keep us safe and free. That will be a discussion later on when we get to the conclusion of this series.
In the meantime…
… Mark Twain is one of my favourite writers. He had initially been a supporter of armed aggression in the Spanish-American War but quickly came to see it as his own country’s brazen attempt to accumulate territory. In 1906 he wrote a very brief but deeply insightful short story which criticized the motives of government, the blindness of patriotism and the cooperation of religion.
Interestingly, he and his family realized that it was too controversial for him to make public while he was alive, so he asked his publisher to release it after his death. The War Prayer was not published until shortly after World War 1, one of the bloodiest wars in history.
I’ll let the three page story speak for itself, but you really need to read it.
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So, that’s kind of an interesting blog about war.
Thanks, it’s a complicated topic.
Until you realize that it is good for absolutely nothing.
Yes but you never know…
Actually, only bad comes from it.
Yes but we obviously need to defend ourselves.
Maybe, I’m not sure, to be honest.
I mean, we have to defend ourselves when we’re threatened.
But Jesus said to love our enemies.
Yeah but Jesus went on a rampage in the temple and attacked people and overturned tables.
He didn’t touch anybody.
Okay, but he was mad enough to.
Not sure what that means. But he didn’t.
Anyway, it was righteous anger.
Yes, but he didn’t kill anybody. Important distinction.
But you have to admit that sometimes violence is justified.
When you say ‘violence’ do you mean war: destruction and death without rules?
Well, like I said, sometimes the good guys have to protect themselves.
In war it’s hard to know who the good guys are; usually the lines get blurred at some point.
Technically there are rules of engagement.
Which are routinely ignored.
Wasn’t’ it the early christian theologian Augustine who developed a ‘Just War Theory’ for that very reason?
Yeah, increasingly over the years the early christians refused to join the military.
So didn’t Augustine find justification for some wars? Kind of a lesser evil thing?
Justification but not permission. And what exactly is a lesser evil?
Defensive war is better than offensive war.
If you say so. Soldiers and civilians die in both.
The bottom line is he found that states can fight wars for defensive reasons.
States yes; Christians no.
He basically concluded that there might be some appropriate, if unfortunate, wars.
The Just War Theory is intended to prevent wars and provide rules of engagement – and has never been followed.
But still it’s a guideline. It’s better than just laying down and rolling over.
Except there’s no mention of just war in the New Testament. Jesus said to turn the other cheek and pray for our enemies.
I don’t think he was referring to fighting to protect your country against invaders.
If you say so – I’m just repeating what Jesus said. You know, that Jesus.
Yeah but he must have meant something else because it’s not practical.
Ever hear of ‘impressment’?
Well there was a law in occupied territories (like where Jesus lived) that a Roman soldier could ask you to carry his pack for 1 mile and you were legally required to drop everything and do it. Obviously people hated and resented that law.
Oh wow, that would have been annoying. Especially when you had to walk all the way back afterward.
Well, Jesus was obviously referencing it when he said, ‘If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.’
That doesn’t make sense.
He did say that the ways of his kingdom would seem foolish to our human wisdom. I’m sure that Christian generosity would have blessed the soldiers.
Problem is, if we didn’t fight wars then Hitler would have conquered Europe or more.
And then he would have bumped into the Japanese and had another war.
And we’d all be speaking German or Japanese now.
Oh man, that’d be bad for me – I’m terrible with languages. I just wonder if that would have been worse than six years of full-fledged war. It’s not like the whole war thing has ever exactly been a safe option.
The point is that it was right for us to fight the evil of Hitler and the Nazis.
But what if German Christians had said no to Hitler’s un-Christlike words and actions in the first place instead of empowering and justifying him? What if Christians had refused to serve or support his military?
Hmm. Hard to know.
I think the answer is that he would not likely have unified his power in the first place or been able to carry out his list of evil.
I remember reading about the Allies interviewing a German general after the war. He spoke about how they dealt with civilians in occupied countries: they had no problem with open resistance or passive resistance but had no answer for how to deal with citizens who welcomed them and cared for them.
How about this: what if Christians all over the world today resisted injustice and refused to participate in name-calling and violence?
That’s just wishful thinking.
Yes it is. Although, compared to war, it does seem reasonable that there might be a better way for us to act in a dangerous world.
We have never done it before.
Many Christians choose what words of Jesus they will hear and what words they won’t. Selective obedience.
But I hear you – what if?
What if we obeyed Jesus rather than our own ‘wisdom’? Maybe that’s the main point – what could be possible if Christians would just speak and act christianly?
I guess we probably would constantly work for good and justice – and peace.
Seems to me like that would head off a whole lot of trouble in the world and multiply the goodness.
You might be right. I hope we find out some day soon.
The week of this writing we learned that the Trump White House is unilaterally increasing arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, worth more than 6 billion dollars.
Six billion more dollars of dead fighters, gutted cities and burned out homes. Six billion more dollars of innocent civilian starvation, disease, rape and death. Six billion more dollars that could have helped them live and eat and grow in peace.
The White House is also considering pre-trial pardons for soldiers charged with war crimes (in one case killing a civilian girl in a flowered dress; in another, posing in front of the flag with the body of a dead enemy and the knife used to kill him).
We are reminded daily that the implications of unchecked nationalism are current, relevant subjects with real lives in the balance.