Thursday, November 10, 2011

Post #64 - First in War, First in Peace

The two presidents who arguably knew more about war than all the rest were Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight D. Eisenhower. They were both decorated generals of our armed forces and credited with major roles in achieving victory for the United States in the most critical conflicts of our history -- one to preserve the union, one (as many see it) to save the world. Neither said, as President Bush said “I am a war president.” A 2007 article in the New York Times by Jean Edward Smith explored their records:

"Ulysses S. Grant condemned war as 'the most destructive and unsavory activity of mankind.' Surveying the carnage at Fort Donelson during the Civil War, he told an aide, 'This work is part of the devil that is left in us.'

"Dwight D. Eisenhower, another former general, was equally outspoken: 'I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, as only one who has seen its brutality, its futility and stupidity…. War settles nothing.'"

President Grant, Smith found, managed to find peaceful outcomes for problems that many advocated using military might to solve: Indian/settler clashes on the Great Plains, border tensions with Britain in Canada and rebellion in Cuba against the Spanish. Eisenhower slashed defense spending, rejected the use of nuclear weapons against Vietnam and refused to back the British and Israelis in an invasion of Egypt. Both of these men had seen first-hand the scourge of war, and had felt the crushing weight of responsibility for the most obscene death and destruction (not just “collateral damage” or “up-ticks in violent incidents”). Surely, it was this that made them determined to keep our country out of war if they possibly could.

We don't have to go even as far back as that to find a “profile in courage.” Jim Douglass, in his preface to a new collection of Cold War Letters by monk and theologian Thomas Merton, takes us back to the early 1960s:

"John Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev seemed locked in a hopeless ideological conflict...Yet, as we have since learned, Kennedy and Khrushchev...were writing their own desperate but somehow hopeful Cold War letters – secretly to each other. Even as they moved step by step toward a Cold War climax that would almost take the world over the edge with them, they were at the same time smuggling confidential letters back and forth that recognized each other's humanity and hoped for a solution...
" the most decisive hour of [the Crisis], when both sides and the world with them were falling into darkness, Nikita Khrushchev turned to his Foreign Minister, Andrei Gromyko, and said something totally shocking. Khrushchev said, 'We have to let Kennedy know that we want to help him.'

"...In a secret meeting between Robert Kennedy and Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, RFK had specifically asked the Soviets for help for his brother, whom the U.S. military were pressuring relentlessly to bomb and invade Cuba...
"After a short silence...he repeated [himself] to a wondering Gromyko: 'Yes, help. We now have a common cause, to save the world from those pushing us toward war.'...When Khrushchev withdrew his Soviet missiles from Cuba, and Kennedy in turn pledged not to invade Cuba (and secretly promised to withdraw U.S. missiles from Turkey), neither side “won” in the missile crisis. In fact, each leader made vital concessions to his Cold War opponent that dismayed zealots in his own camp...
The planet survived our Cold War demons – just barely.
"Almost a half-century later, with our demons in command once again, we are ready to repeat our a chain reaction of violence that may include nuclear weapons...
"We were the cold in the Cold War, just as we are the terror in the War on Terror. We are also God's faith and hope – the Creator's reasons for putting us on this planet, God's faith in each of us, with the hope that we should choose finally to embody the love from which we came."
We must ask about the rightness, under any circumstances, of an endeavor so fraught with hazard and so befogged with unknown quantities. Chuck Gutenson, a professor at Asbury Theological Seminary has written (blog on March 7, 2007):

"...for Christians, there are really only two broad frameworks in which to assess the use of military force. Either one embraces Christian pacifism, or one embraces the Just War Theory...we can see that neocons do not embrace Christian pacifism. So, for neoconservatism to be acceptable to Christian faith, its vision must conform to the Just War criteria. But does it? First, there simply is no basis in the Just War criteria for going to war in an attempt to establish a 'pax Americana,' nor for 'regime change.' Neither of these constitutes a 'just cause.'"

In the lead-up to the war in Iraq, the British government -- in the now-famous 'Downing Street memos,' written just weeks before the start of the war -- recognized that 'regime change cannot be the objective of military action.' (It would have been more accurate to say 'cannot be the overt, public objective.') This public relations bind led to the launching of some pre-invasion 22,000 sorties over Iraq, to soften-up and attempt to provoke Saddam's Iraq. Gutenson goes on:

" ...neoconservatism simply does not take the concept of human sin and evil seriously enough. It is surprising because it is often the neocons who point out that there is genuine evil in the world that must be confronted. At the end of the day, however, neoconservatives are simply too optimistic about our own goodness. In other words, too much of the neoconservative agenda rests on the belief that while 'they' are 'bad,' 'we' are good. Note that the issue here is not 'moral equivalence,' i.e., no one need think of 'us' as [being as] bad as 'them.' Rather, we only need recognize that no one should be entrusted with the sort of unilateral power implied by the neoconservative dream.
"We, as followers of Jesus, should reflect on the differences between our calling to be imitators of Jesus and that to which the neocons would call us. And, most of all, we need to recognize the incommensurability of the two ways of being in the world."

Military action that is preemptive or preventive, is completely unwarranted under any 'just war' doctrine that I know anything about. Gerald Powers, director of the Office of International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said, in December 2002:

"[The] Bush administration has taken the concept of preemption as an option in exceptional cases and turned it into a new doctrine about the legitimacy of the unilateral use of preventive war to deal not just with imminent threats, but with merely potential or gathering dangers. Justifying preventive war in this way would represent a sharp departure from just war norms." [In Post #66, I will include something about just war doctrine.]

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