Thoughts On War
February 13, 2004
Props to swissmissrachel on Decapolis for posting a thought-provoking quote… If she didn’t live in Europe, I’d be crushing on her for being so damn cool.
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron. Dwight Eisenhower, April 16, 1953
I’ve been thinking a lot about war lately – everyone acknowledges that it’s a complex, multifaceted subject with no easy answers… until it comes time to defend their own position. Then it’s plainly obvious. I’m no different, of course. The questions I struggle with about our responsibility to pursue peace seem so powerfully obvious to me. It’s easy for those who don’t see them can feel calloused, cold, almost inhuman. But that’s my perspective talking. Not my head. I know, objectively, that they’re human beings who love and care and feel compassion and anger and love – we just see things from different angles on the question of war.
As Christians, what is our responsibility? Our faith was born in a subjugated culture, struggling for freedom. Some of the greatest atrocities the Church has ever known were committed when Christians (in name, at least) assumed command of empires. Growing up, I was a huge Tom Clancy fan. For those who haven’t read his books, they’re dense 600-page novels filled with weapons technology and military battles and the culture of noble strength. Pages and pages of prose describe of the inner workings of a 5.76mm FMJ round as it spins towards its target, earning his work the accurate label “Military Tech Porn.”
I was a military history buff for a while, too – the story of Israel’s birth as a nation, and their survival against pretty shocking odds, always fascinated me. Say what you will about the country, but from a purely tactical standpoint, it’s like Indiana being at war with the rest of the US for fifty years – and surviving. Amazing stuff, you know? I remember reading one of the accounts of the Six Day War, when a search and rescue team cam across the shattered wreckage of an Israeli heavy tank. It had been destroyed by enemy fire, killing the crew. Stretched out over the valley below it, though, were the burning husks of over a dozen Egyptian tanks that had tried to take it out before succeeding. Its ‘last stand’ had held a strategic road for a full hour while other troops had escaped. I remember the surge of vicarious pride, of achievement, of righteousness that I felt when reading about the tank crew’s last moments. What a way to go.
It’s strange looking back on that.
I can’t pretend that there aren’t deep associations for me between war and conflict and bravery and courage. I think that almost all males are born into that, to some extent. How much of it is our culture and how much of it is our wiring, is a matter of debate. Regardless, the idea of war as a crucible for courage and honor is deeply ingrained. War may be terrible and filled with horror, but there’s a heady rush that comes with the idea – the endorphins, the adrenaline, the life-and-death drama of being the one On The Line, defending home and hearth. Throw in romantic ideals of The Woman Back Home and things like that, and the pile of powerful archetypes is impressive.
I think that’s what Christopher Hedges was talking about in his book, War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning. No matter what dangers there are in the world, no matter what justification there is for the use of force, war is a terrible and dangerous thing. Its seductive power – its ability to give meaning and grandeur and power to the simplest acts, are a drug. I look back on the feelings I experienced reading about that Israeli tank crew, and I think I understand a sliver of what he means.
What would Christ have me do?
It’s too easy for me to hide behind the rhetorical curtain of National Defense and The Need For A Strong Army and The Complexities Of International Aggression. It’s too easy for me to argue the politics of it, to argue about funding and intelligence data and logistics. There are harder questions that I must answer about myself. Do I desire peace or retribution? Do I desire strength or wholeness? Do I trust God to protect me and deliver me if there isn’t a wall of billion-dollar military technology between me and danger?
More sobering: Do I weep at the death of someone who hates me? David, when he heard of King Saul’s death, tore his clothes and wept. He mourned the death of a man who’d hunted him for years, forced him to flee and hide in desert caves, running for his life. That man died, and David wept.
Would I weep at the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death?
Would Tom Clancy’s noble heroes weep?
Who among us would?
I don’t know, but lately, they’re questions that keep me awake at night.