Saturday, February 4, 2012

Post #176 - Presidents and War

Contrast President Bush's “bring 'em on,” “mission accomplished,” and other cavalier expressions of bravado, with the sober and temperate way in which President Lincoln described the horribly bloody war through which he was leading the nation at the time:

"...The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself; and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.
"All dreaded [war] -- all sought to avert it...Neither party expected for the war the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained...Each looked for an easier triumph...
"Both...pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other... The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has his own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!" ...Fondly do we hope--fervently do we pray--that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away...
"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." (Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865)

Granted, he was speaking about a war that took place between brothers, but what does God call us to do, if not to view the Samaritan (or the Iranian) as our neighbor, worthy of consideration as another child of God?

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 May 7, 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.'"

It was not just lip-service, either. 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. 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."

No comments:

Post a Comment