Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Peace, War, Afghanistan, Hitler and Jesus (Dialogue column 7.27.10)

I originally wrote this for The Dialogue, the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of St. Joseph, MO.

A minister friend of mine likes to generate discussions on his blog, and this week he invited his church members, clergy friends and others to chime in on our on-going war in Afghanistan. Knowing how difficult it is to get anybody to read my own blog, I’ve been meaning to post to his on compassionate grounds. This week I ran out of excuses, so I’ve got to share something and I figure I’ll share my thoughts (in no particular order) with you as well.
1. I’m numb to the war in Afghanistan (and also to the continuing war in Iraq that we all seem to have forgotten), and I’m ashamed of my numbness. I’ve mentioned from the pulpit and in other venues how a war that does not demand sacrifice from a nation’s entire populace is an irresponsible war. In both Iraq and Afghanistan—under the Bush and Obama administrations—little has been asked of the American people, while an incredible amount has been asked of the relatively small number of our fellow citizens and their families who actually have fought this war. We do not bear the scars of battle—emotional or physical. We do not know the strain of repeated deployments on families. In fact, much political effort has been exerted to make sure we feel no inconvenience at all, so therefore we have little incentive to question whether the wars being carried out in our name are worth the effort. If the wars made prices at Wal-Mart go up, there would be howling in the streets, but the cries of grief by our soldiers and their families are far too removed from most of us to illicit more than abstract sympathy. I stand amidst the “most of us” who have little personal connection to this war.

2. I’m confused about what is the right thing to do. President Obama’s campaign framed the war in Afghanistan as the “right war” or “the necessary war” as opposed to the “wrong” and “unnecessary” war in Iraq. If that contrast ever was true, then it might have been true following the events of September 11, 2001 when Al Qaeda (the ones who attacked us on 9-11 after all) were still in Afghanistan, but the Taliban and other groups we are fighting today are a vague and mixed bunch. I think I pay pretty close attention to the news, and I’m no longer sure who the enemy is. When our generals and politicians describe our fight as against “the Taliban,” I wonder if they even know which clan, warlord-run gang or faction they mean. When our enemies do not wear uniforms or have a unified command structure, it is pretty hard to determine who they actually are, much less if they are really worth fighting. Add to this confusion, a corrupt and self-serving Afghan government and untrustworthy neighboring countries and things only grow less clear. No one wants another Taliban regime running Afghanistan, but no one has a viable alternative either.

3. I am afraid to ask just what Jesus would have to say about this war. A few months back, I was asked to speak to a seminary ethics class on another topic altogether. At the end of the class time, other topics surfaced and the professor asked us about whether or not each of us was a pacifist. I replied, “Yes but not absolutely.” Others made similar responses, and he shared his own opinion that we were “just wrong if we thought Jesus would ever support a war.” His words have stuck with me, because deep down I suspect he is correct. It is hard to conceive of Jesus, who went to the cross and refused to retaliate against his tormentors, as supporting a war.

Inevitably I hear other voices in my head that ask, “All war is wrong, huh? What about Hitler?” I’ve learned in my life to beware of moral arguments that depend upon an appeal to kill Hitler. After all, even if Hitler or someone like him must be stopped, does that justify everything that was done in World War II or in other wars since?? The questions that seem more worthwhile to ask—at least to me—have less to do with abstract arguments about the necessity of stopping Hitler or other evil people and more to do with whether or not war as it is prosecuted today is the best way to do much of anything. Is war our only option for responding to terrorists and dictators? If we had cared about Afghanistan as anything more than a space on a Cold War chess board would we be there now? What failed states and nearly failed states exist today that could become our future battlefields? Must we wait for war, or are there other choices that can be made today?

I feel numb, confused and afraid about many things regarding the war in Afghanistan, but I feel sure following Jesus means working now for peace in order to prevent future wars. Perhaps, if I had different feelings towards the war besides numbness, confusion and fear—say outrage, grief and horror—then I might be motivated to really work for the peace Jesus desires.

Grace and Peace,


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