Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Post #62 - War and Peace
"God does not want any of us to misuse His Name by waging war in it." (Subdeacon Brendan Nichols)
"War is an act of force, and there is no logical limit to the application of that force." (Karl von Clausewitz)
"When [World War II] is over, then there will be in all countries a pursuit of secret war preparations with technological means which will lead inevitably to preventative wars and to destruction even more terrible than the present destruction of life." (Albert Einstein, 1944)
For a Christian, as Jim Forest has pointed out, “every war is fratricide.” There is no human being we may consider as dispensable. The line between good and evil, it has been said, runs not between countries or factions, but straight through each human heart. The willingness of Christ to go as scapegoat for the sins of others was extraordinary because he exemplified blamelessness. But it also showed us the blasphemy of crucifixion itself; it pointed to the unholiness of cruelty, it demonstrated the ungodliness of violence. “He who lives by the sword dies by the sword” was his advice, in the memorable moment when he rejected the use of violence even to save Him from being persecuted and killed. In doing that, he echoed the wisdom of the Old Testament: “Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” (Genesis 9:6)
David D. Perlmutter has written a marvelous book about images, graphics, photography and visual communications generally, related to war. In Visions of War, Perlmutter cites scholar J. De Bloch's reckoning that from 1496 BCE to 1861 CE, mankind enjoyed “but 227 years of peace and 3130 years of war; in other words thirteen years of war for every year of peace. Considered thus, the history of the lives of peoples presents a picture of uninterrupted struggle. War, it would appear, is a normal attribute to human life.”
Huston Smith, in The Soul of Christianity, estimated that 160 million persons were killed "by their own kind" during the last century. Perlmutter (based, in part, on work by J.A. Sluka) elaborates on our recent track record:
"Our century [the 20th] is bloodier than any before. The United States...fought more wars in the twentieth century than were fought in the nineteenth...We possess a military apparatus much greater in destructive power than any state in the history of the world...[I]n the 1960’s and 1970’s, at least 3 million natives died in the Indochina war, a sizable portion as a result of our actions; in the 1940s, we fought a war in which we killed more than 1 million enemy civilians by dropping atomic and conventional bombs on their cities.
"…there have been only 26 days of world peace since 1945, and some 150 wars have been fought or continue to be fought under such guises as traditional wars between nation states, border clashes, preventive incursions, punitive expeditions, revolutions, civil wars, 'dirty wars,' police actions, state terrorism, peacekeeping missions, anti-insurgency campaigns, ethnic cleansings, and humanitarian interventions."
In other words, we are getting worse, not better. As Huston Smith wrote, "The twentieth century, the most barbaric in history, makes the myth of progress read like a cruel joke..." Currently, we are finally ending a war (keep your fingers crossed) that has rarely gone according to plan or expectation. To place things in historical perspective, we should remember what T.E. Lawrence wrote, after visiting Baghdad almost a hundred years ago:
"The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honor. They have been tricked into it by a steady withholding of information...Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows...We are today not far from a disaster."
Yet, we all want to be safe, to “fight them there, rather than here.” For many Americans, the thing which sticks in their brain is: Isn't Islam all about war? This, despite the fact that Hindu or Old Testament scriptures contain many more bloodlettings and battlefield scenes than the Koran. As Prof. Nasr says:
"If it seems that more violence is associated with Islam than with other religions today, it is not due to the fact that there has been no violence elsewhere – think of the Korean and Vietnam wars, the atrocities committed by the Serbs, and the genocide in Rwanda and Burundi. The reason is that Islam is still very strong in Islamic society. Because Islam so pervades the lives of Muslims, all actions, including violent ones, are carried out in the name of Islam, especially since other ideologies such as nationalism and socialism have become so bankrupt."
Many Americans have genuine trepidation about our security generally, about "radical Islam" in particular and about potential danger emanating from Iran, specifically. We have long known that large countries, such as the Soviet Union, can target our cities for rapid destruction. Now, non-state actors such as al Qaeda can wreak havoc using limited resources and manpower -- what is called an "asymmetric" threat. Iranians held our citizens hostage for over a year while we watched and waited helplessly. And our president represents Iran as a serious threat.
But, how can we assess the dangers rationally and realistically for ourselves? By asking a series of questions that have not always been seriously asked or seriously answered -- some of those questions will be the subject of my next post...