November 02, 2006

On the Subject of American Warfare and Other Sundries

So many directions, so little time . . .

The "anomalous" (probably a poor choice of words) nature of World War II has nothing whatsoever to do with the genocide involved. I never said it did . . . that would be especially silly since it had nothing to do with the causes of the war, and nobody really knew about that until the war was all but over. What sets WWII apart, to my mind, is that it is the only war in history where the fate of pretty much the entire world seemed to hang in the balance, combined with the powerful element of self-defense after we were attacked.

I should probably ask those who have mentioned specific wars to defend their approval of Christian involvment in the wars mentioned, but I'll try to streamline that by discussing them from my perspective first:

-The American Revolution resulted from a sequence of events beginning with a simple political disagreement that escalated into acts of terrorism by American colonists, prompting an understandable response from the British government and finally erupting in war. The fighting was ultimately caused by hot-blooded, impulsive acts of violence on our side rather than patiently seeking a peaceful resolution to our problems. What would you, as a Christian, be fighting for exactly? To defend yourself and your family? C'mon, the British weren't going to kill you. Fighting for your independence? Where does the Bible say you should do that? (Hint: It kind of says just the opposite)

-It is generally agreed that the War of 1812 happened only because of the slowness of communications at the time. It began after rogue British naval officers kept swiping American citizens (and British deserters) off of ships to help them in the war against the French. The British government actually put a definite stop to this, but by the time we heard about that we had already declared war. No going back. The war was bad for both sides (not uncommon, in war) . . . Britain was in no position to be distracted from its ongoing conflict with France, and America just generally suffered some severe humiliation, including the loss (and partial destruction) of our capital city. We also got kicked around a good bit by Canadians (if you can imagine . . . even at the time they were thought of as wusses on the battlefield). Finally, probably the most famous battle of the war took place after it was officially over. The Battle of New Orleans was fought a good month after the peace treaty was signed. Talk about your senseless violence.

-The American Civil War is a real classic. I probably don't need to ask this, but which side would you be on, and why? They were both right and they were both wrong. Families, neighbors and fellow citizens killing each other in the costliest war in our history. Which group of Christian Americans would you, as a Christian American, feel most comfortable shooting a gun at?

-I was pretty surprised to see the Spanish-American War make an appearance, considering that a large portion of its cause rested on exaggerated and outright fictitious news reports and war-mongering. Not to mention the fact that we pretty much turned around and immediately duplicated Spain's Cuban atrocities in the Philippines. Ugly stuff.

-We entered World War I after Germany (which had no interest whatsoever in getting us involved) began to disrupt our shipping to their enemies (which amounted to our supplying aid to their enemies) out of desperation to bring the conflict to a swift end. Evidence suggests that the most famous ship involved, the Lusitania, was carrying munitions . . . hardly the sort of thing that a country in a fight for its life could be expected to let slide. As for the infamous Zimmerman telegram, even if Mexico were both a genuine threat to our national security and willing to go along with Germany (neither was the case), the details of the "plot" were only to be carried out if the U.S. actually entered the war. If anything, Zimmerman's note seems more like a deterrent.

-If you're actually interested in an alternate perspective on WWII, or just some little-known history, read this (an essay about Gandhi's letters to Hitler). It is, at the very least, a fascinating read.

-The Korean War is, I believe, illustrative of the problems of occasional tolerance. However great and noble and necessary war may seem in a given instance, how justified is it in light of many of the ugly practices involved in carrying it forward? Shocking treatment of prisoners by our side and civilian massacres were all part of the Korean War. Also, what role do "necessary" and "just" wars play in the continuation of unnecessary and unjust warfare? A pretty big one. The Korean War set the stage for all sorts of American horrors involving the Third World: Vietnam, Guatemala, Iran and so forth. War may be undertaken for the right reason, but it's still generally the wrong thing.

-The Persian Gulf War is illustrative of the problems of perpetuation that I mentioned above. In 1953 we were responsible for overthrowing Iran's first democratically-elected government and replacing it with a despotic regime. In 1979, the people of Iran had had enough and they overthrew said regime. Naturally, there was more than a little hostility and suspicion aimed in our direction . . . Would we pull the same stunt again? As a result of this, relations were strained (to say the least) between our countries for the next decade and more. Meanwhile, Saddam Hussein spent most of that decade at war with Iran, with military and economic support from us.

Just before Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, he met with the American ambassador, who declared that the U.S. has "no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts." Some believe that this was understood as American approval of an invasion (not much of a stretch). It is a severe oversimplification to call the war "simply a matter of assisting a friend in a war of self-defense," when we were fighting a country which had ostensibly been our friend. Out of this grew a new enemy that lasted for a little over a decade . . . and here we are today. We have blundered every step of this disastrous chain of events. What new enemies are we creating now that we'll find it "necessary and just" to deal with 10 years down the road? When and how will it end?

-Important point: Of course "most Christians who fight in wars have what they considered a moral imperative for doing so." Non-Christians operate more or less the same way. (Virtually) nobody walks into a war if they think they're in the wrong. Everyone thinks they have a good reason to fight. Maybe they do, maybe they don't . . . maybe they both do and don't at the same time. "I can find a moral imperative to join this war" simply cannot cut it as justification. I'm hearing a strong vibe of "the end justifies the means."

-Important point: I would suggest that the statement "Sometimes violence is the only answer" is akin to "Third parties are a waste of my vote." Well, of course, you twit. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. If enough people believe it, it will be true regardless of its validity. As Isaac Asimov said, "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent."

Thanks to everyone for your well-thought out responses. I don't at all feel that I am unequivocally right in this discussion, but neither am I convinced that I am entirely wrong. There is much still to consider.

Posted by Jared at November 2, 2006 04:00 PM | TrackBack