Sunday, February 13, 2005

Some Disjointed Thoughts on War

I've been thinking a lot about war the past few weeks.

I've been thinking about my time at Eden and how the general air was against going into Iraq.

I've been thinking about various views on the internet that give reasons why the U.S. needed to go to Iraq.

I've been asking myself if Jesus really was a pacifist.

I've been thinking about all the people in the world who want to kill Americans, who want to kill Christians, who want to kill. And I've been thinking about people in the world who want to kill Iraqis, Arabs, or Muslims. And of course we can add blacks, Jews, homosexuals, and virtually any and every group on the planet to the list, depending on who you talk to. And I've been thinking about how people who want to kill them don't stop until they are imprisoned or worse. But of course their ideas live on.

I attended a talk on war this past Tuesday given by an orthodox rabbi. He gave some of the usual rhetoric some may recognize as 'just war' reasoning, even providing a one-line litmus test for whether one is a pacifist or not: 'If someone were to break into your home, would you use violence to stop them from harming your family?' At certain points he dangerously approached the line of moral relativism, but I don't think it's necessary to expound on that here. But he said some things that I needed to think about. That pacifist test got me.

Jim Wallis, along with a group of religious leaders, in the case of Iraq, sought
a third alternative to 'just war' and pacifism. He speaks of an international police force and international court to try Saddam Hussein. He speaks of forcing him out of power with means other than war, although I cannot help but think that violence would have been used in this third option. How else to remove Saddam and the Baaths from power? How else to take him to the proposed tribunal? Might it be less violent? Could an insurgency have been avoided if this plan were followed?

So I've been thinking about war, and will continue to think about war. I will think about how sometimes perhaps violence is necessary, but in many other cases how war is used for selfish political ambition. I will continue to think about how war has stopped further violence and has encouraged further violence. I will continue to think about how war, no matter who thinks of themselves as the 'good guys' (and nobody thinks of themselves as the 'bad guys'), people die. People die. And it's never just the combatants. And I'll keep thinking about the lack of outrage, humility, and restraint that is sometimes shown by the 'good guys' when that happens. I'll also think about the outrage I feel when I hear about another beheading.

And I'll also keep thinking about how platitudes like 'War is Hell' don't help.

As a 'necessary evil,' as it is often called, is it truly always necessary? And is it ever not evil?

If we are all God's children, what does God think when the 'bad guy' dies, no matter how corrupt or despicable their actions?

Maybe a more appropriate Lenten study this time around should be Bonhoeffer's decision to join the assassination attempt on Hitler, a book on 'just war,' further study on 'third alternatives,' or something else.

'Violence is not the answer.' To which question?

I hate this. I'm gonna go buy groceries.


Anonymous said...

Jeff, you're doing a lot of thinking, and I'm glad you are, because these are things that I certainly should think about.

You're asking questions I'm not prepared to answer, and that's good, too.

I suppose, if you were to write a paper or a book on this, you'd have to come up with some definitions. Defining war, for instance. Again, your arena of expertise, not mine.

Hoping you're doing ok.

greg said...

Good thoughts. And difficult ones. I once asked my pacifist professor the same question the rabbi asked: the one line test. His reply: the question for Christians isn't what would I want to do in event X; they are, was Jesus a pacifist and do we believe we are to model our lives after him? It's apparent what most of us would do if someone broke into our home. However, the question might be, can I put myself in harm's way so that my family can safely escape?

The third way option would necessarily involve war and violence. Some people don't play nice. That's why I like Yoder's approach: the world will find it necessary to fight wars; Christians shouldn't kill.

Jeff Nelson said...

'However, the question might be, can I put myself in harm's way so that my family can safely escape?'

That's an interesting way to look at it. I hadn't thought of that. I'm drawing a blank on Yoder's book on issues of war. I know he wrote one (Wallis even cites it in 'God's Politics'), but maybe that should be added to my ever-growing stack on the nightstand.

Thank you both for your comments.

Phyllis said...

I'm so glad I came here.
I have decided to cease participating in the UCC forums, for again, the war forum is becoming an attack area.

I seek to discuss theology or philosophy of others, not become involved in blame or attacks.

In looking at the Just War principals, one could say that U.S. entry into the latest two aggressive acts, Afghanistan and Iraq, do not begin to conform to the Just War principals.

I am very new to pacifism. It has been only in the last 6 years I have grown to where I now am.

As a child, I must say I always looked at war as wrong, but I too would have been willing to use violence to save my family, or even another person.

Approximately 6 years ago, our daughter who was in college, came home and tried to engage me in a conversation regarding the situation in Israel/Palestine. I was uninterested in engaging in this conversation because I felt it had nothing to do with me. However, that Sunday in church, during prayers, I feel God speak to me. What did he say? He said, go to Israel/Palestine.

Well, you can imagine, I quickly put such a ridiculous notion out of my head.

But God is very persistent. Over the next 5 years, He would continue to speak to me during meditation, prayers, and through other people.

In April of 2004 I finally traveled to Israel/Palestine with a group called Christian Peacemaker Teams. Our delegation trip was short, only 14 days, 11 actual days of meetings with people on both sides of the conflict. But this journey has indeed changed my life. It has convinced me even more that pacifism is what God wants of us.

By that, I do not mean we stand idly by while others are mistreated, or killed. Mearly that we do not use violence to attain the goal of peaceful coexistence.

Your questioning is good and right. There is no easy answer, but with God, there IS an answer.

Blessings and Peace,

Phyllis said...

You might find these writings helpful.

Jeff Nelson said...

Hi Phyllis! Welcome to the table.

I think I'm generally settling on the idea that by the time war becomes necessary, both sides have already failed. This is something the rabbi I mentioned said as well.

Unfortunately, there are some people who do not wish to come to any sort of negotiating table, who have no intention of stopping activities that demean and destroy life.

At the same time, I believe the question should always be asked whether a particular action of war is just, to be differentiated from justified. As I've said elsewhere, any war can be justified, either to oneself or to those who look on from the sidelines. But is every war just?

Phyllis said...

I somewhat agree with your assertion that by the time war becomes "necessary" both sides have already failed.
Where I disagree is the necessary part.
I do not believe war to ever be necessary. Perhaps in our minds, but not in actuality.
I don't know if you recall my quote from the gentleman I met my last day in Israel/Palestine. The father of Smadar, the 14 year old girl who had been killed by a suicide bomber.
I believe he put it quite succinctly.
I'll post it here in case you have forgotten, or didn't catch it at first.
“The Bereaved Families Circle seeks peace through dialogue, compromise, and reconciliation. We who have paid the highest price are leading the way. We victims of the conflict wish to break the spiraling violence, the endless cycle of revenge and retaliation. We have suffered an unbearable tragedy and it places upon us a responsibility to tell our truth, to do everything we can to prevent other families from suffering the same fate.
When will it happen?
It will happen in a year or two, or five or five hundred. It will happen when the price of No-Peace is higher than the price of peace, after a certain amount of anguish and agony, horror and nightmare, after a certain number of casualties, when there is weeping in every home, and the cries of both peoples reach the heavens. Only then will both sides, completely exhausted, crawl freely or by force, back to the negotiating table and start all over again—exactly where they left off, to achieve the very same solution. And only the bereaved families on both sides will continue to weep…..”

The victims realize there is an alternative, why is it that governments do not see this until after tooooo many have died?

I'm doing fine thank you.
I felt God tell me to continue on with my posting on the UCC website.
The comment by Alice was also a good reminder for me. "My experience is that people change greatly when I pray for my attitude towards them to change. For God to soften my heart and make me more receptive, loving and forgiving. To pray for someone else to change is an insult because that person may be the one that God has chosen to teach me. I can only change myself in the end."

Blessings and Peace,