Wednesday, October 31, 2007

war: what is it good for?

When the “war on terror” began in 2001, I didn’t know what to think of it. I was seventeen, a freshman in college, utterly self-absorbed. One of the first things on my mind was whether I'd still be meeting up at Steak n' Shake with the boy I had a crush on.

I’d never paid much attention to politics and at the time war seemed like little more to me than political rhetoric. My parents were republicans and I found my feathers ruffling at attacks I heard against that party and it’s elected president. A sense of familial loyalty and proclivity toward self-protectiveness incited me to a defensive stance. My defense though was wordless. I couldn’t support a war I knew nothing about especially when all I knew was that I was frustrated and disgusted by war. And so I avoided the issue and almost forgot.

Six years later, my heart is sick reflecting on the damage we’ve done and our inability to make amends. What have we done in response to hate and contempt, but breed more of the same? Is there any way to fix what has been broken?

I lead a bible study at the substance abuse recovery center where I work. Lately we have been discussing the book of Esther. What begins as a Jewish Cinderella story ends with a Persian massacre. For those unfamiliar with the story, see the book of Esther. After reading about the protagonist Mordecai’s reciprocation (all Jews are given the right to annihilate their enemy’s on the 13th day of the month of Adar) to the antagonists Haman’s original edict (all Jews are to be annihilated on the 13th day of the month of Adar); one of the woman in our study group interjected,

“Mordecai is no better than they are.”

Though we were able to toss around some ideas about his possible motivation and to labor over the lead-weighted question, “what other option did he have?” Whatever his motivation the end result remained the same. Haman was punished for wanting to kill the people group he perceived as his enemy. Mordecai was honored for doing the same.

I tried to explain the context of the situation, “this was a violent time…” but before we were able to move on it occurred to me, “this is a violent time…” Where is the difference in the Jewish celebration of Purim, the commemoration of this day when those who threatened the Jews were overcome by violent force, and America’s celebration of the 4th of July?

Bishop Robert Brown is quoted in A People’s History of the United States as writing,

“We are not hated because we practice democracy, value freedom, or uphold human rights. We are hated because our government denies these things to people in third world countries whose resources are coveted by our multi-national corporations. That hatred we have sown has come back to haunt us in the form of terrorism…instead of sending our sons and daughters around the world to kill Arabs so we can have the oil under their sand, we should send them to rebuild their infrastructure, supply clean water, and feed starving children…in short, we should do good instead of evil. Who would try to stop us? Who would hate us? Who would want to bomb us? That is the truth the American people need to hear.”

Bishop Brown writes with the assumption that the war is motivated by greed. There are those who would argue,

“We are working toward building a strong independent Iraq!”

If this is so it begs the question,

“Do we have the tools necessary to accomplish this endeavor?”

It appears to me—I concede a considerable degree of ignorance on the matter—that we entered equipped with only enough to destroy. Before the business of repair was underway, we were spent. I am reminded of Jesus of Nazareth challenging his disciples in their decision to follow him:

“…which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’” (Luke 14:28-30).

And how we are mocked! Among the many tragedies of our current overseas entanglement is the increasingly apparent fact that the cost was not counted. Another tragedy is that those who did not elicit the cost are paying the highest price. Another still is that we perform these acts under the guise of being a “Christian nation.”

For Christ’s sake, if you will enter into war, don’t do it in His name. Even if attacks were truly specified and limited to militant terrorist Muslims, where is there any instance in scripture where Jesus performs or promotes a violent act against a group of people? The only instance of physical aggression I can recall takes place in a Jewish temple:

“And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the table of the money changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.” (Mat. 21:12). This he did to address a serious issue of deviance occurring within the religion he shared, within the nation he lived, within the temple he worshiped.

Perhaps war is inevitable. I haven't the scope of vision to see every angle, nor the artistry or stamina to argue the view from where I stand. But, please God, let history remember; there is no such thing as a Holy War.

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