printer friendly

November 7, 2005

The Lies of War

Dissecting the "Just War" Euphemisms and Building an Ethics of Peace

By Daniel C. Maguire

I dedicate my comments today to a ten year old Afghan boy, Mohammed Noor. He was having his Sunday dinner when an American bomb struck. He lost both eyes and both hands. Who, with this child in mind, would dare sing "God bless America," the hymn that would make God a co-conspirator with American war-makers. The sightless eyes of this child should haunt us to the end of our days and sear on our souls the absolute need to not just pray for peace, but to do something to make it happen.

The Prussian officer Karl von Clausewitz famously saw war as an entirely rational undertaking, a "continuation of other means." The sanitizing implication, as Barbara Ehrenreich noted, was that war involves "the kind of clearheaded deliberation one might apply to a game of more disturbing and irrational than, say a difficult trade negotiation-except perhaps to those who lay dying on the battlefield."1 The disguisers of war, who have framed it in such non-toxic tones, have so successfully defanged and anointed "war"with respectability that we use it in all sorts of innocent and lovely contexts: "the war on poverty," "the war on cancer," "the war on illiteracy," etc. War can be armchair spectator entertainment. It is acceptable for people to become "Civil War Buffs," or "Revolutionary War Buffs." If people were to announce themselves as "prostitution buffs" or "rape buffs"their perverted absorption is such human disasters would raise eyebrows.

Was is so suffused into the sinews of our cultural imagination that it crops up in the gentlest of contexts. Walter Sullivan in his prize-winning book, We are Not Alone, writes beautifully of the intelligence of dolphins. He alludes to the possibility that we may some day be able to communicate extensively with them and train them for complex tasks. This tantalizing prospect took him immediately to war. Dolphins could be used "by one government to scout out the submarines of smuggle bombs into enemy harbors..serve on underwater demolition teams...[be taught to] sneak up on hostile submarines and shout something into the listening gear." He notes worries, however, that the dolphins might demur, that "they might prove to be pacifists." 2 Their non-human consciousness might be less amenable to violence.

Our haughty species should be slow to speak demeaningly of "descending to the level of animals." The human being, says Erich Fromm, "is the only mammal who is a large scale killer and sadist." He cites evidence that if we had the same aggressiveness as chimpanzees in their natural habitat, our world would be a kinder place by far.3

"War"... what is it really?

The reality that "war"euphemizes is state sponsored violence. That description opens the door to an honest moral evaluation of what it really is we are talking about. We are talking about violence, and violence kills people and wrecks the earth and the ethical question before us is whether that kind of destruction can ever be called "just."

What contributed to the facile acceptance and even sanctification of war was the venerable and all too unchallenged "just war theory." Putting the word "war" alongside the word "just" helped to baptize war, making it seem rational and good as long as certain amenities are observed. The reality it covers is sneakily hidden from view since the abused word "war" is no longer descriptive of the mayhem and slaughter we are wreaking when we "go to war." If the "just war theory" were called the "justifiable slaughter theory" or "the justifiable violence theory," it would at least be honest. Maybe the slaughter and the human and ecological destruction we are contemplating are justifiable, but at least we would be honest in admitting what it is we are justifying. It would be language without legerdemain.

Military strategists, and ethicists embedded with them, drape an even thicker tissue of lies around military violence. They like to call it "the use of force." That sugar-coats it handsomely. "Force," after all, is nice. A forceful personality, a forceful argument-these can be quite admirable. But an atomic bomb hitting the population centers of Hiroshima or Nagasaki or the brutal leveling of Falluja in Iraq or of settlements in Palestine needs a more honest word than "force." "Force", like war, is a malicious euphemism. It averts our eyes from the horrors described by Archbishop Desmond Tutu: "Some two million children have died in dozens of wars during the past decade...This is more than three times the number of battlefield deaths of American soldiers in all their wars since 1776...Today, civilians account for more than 90 percent of war casualties."

The Policing Paradigm

The real and honestly stated question is this: is state sponsored violence, involving as it does slaughter and environmental destruction ever justifiable? It is quite possible that it may be. I will argue that it might be justified to respond to actual (not imagined) threats and attacks. However-and this is key-it can only be justified the same way that violent action by police is justified: in a communitarian context within an enforceable framework of law. Justifications for war, however, are often shady rationalizations for the failure to build peace. It would be more truthful to say that war tends to be the pit we fall into by avoiding the tedious unglamourous work of peace-making and justice-building. Maybe some slaughter to prevent greater slaughter might have been necessary in 1994 in Rwanda because there was no international interest in supporting the peace and reform efforts in Rwanda in the years preceding that. But that failure should not be hidden by facile "just war"arguments for the "use of force." The allegedly "justified war" is usually the mask of an unconscionable failure to do the advance work of peace and to hide the total embarrassment of statecraft that state-sponsored violence tends to be.4

The policing paradigm for justifying state(s) sponsored war is brilliantly enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. That Charter was meant to put an end to the vigilante approach to war illustrated by Adolph Hitler as well as by the "preemptive war" policy of George W. Bush. In the civilizing view of the United Nations, state sponsored violence could only be just in a communitarian setting under the restraints of enforceable international law. The United Nations was founded to make this possible. Nations, such as the United States, long accustomed to vigilante warring, have frustrated the United Nations and its Charter. This is a sad irony since The United States was a principal shaper of this policing paradigm for justifying war.

Richard Falk writes: "World War II ended with the historic understanding that recourse to war between states could no longer be treated as a matter of national discretion, but must be regulated to the extent possible through rules administered by international institutions. The basic legal framework was embodied in the UN Charter, a multilateral treaty largely crafted by American diplomats and legal advisers. Its essential feature was to entrust the Security Council with administering a prohibition of recourse to international force (Article 2, Section 4) by states except in circumstances of self-defense, which itself was restricted to responses to a prior 'armed attack' (Article 51), and only then until the Security Council had the chance to review the claim"5

This noble, civilizing moment in human moral history, has been trashed and all of us must shoulder and bear blame. No wonder Pope John Paul II called George Bush's vigilante invasion of Iraq "a defeat for humanity."

The prime challenge to contemporary ethics is to rethink and reframe the morality of war. Let's face it: Catholic moral theology has never risen to the challenge put to it by Pope John XXIII in his 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris. He said that in our age, "it is irrational to believe that war is still an apt means of vindicating violated rights."6 The Second Vatican Council called for "an evaluation of war with an entirely new attitude."7 The U.S. Catholic Bishops in their pastoral letter "The Challenge of Peace," appealed for "a fresh reappraisal which includes a developed theology of peace." 8 It is a scandal that these appeals to Catholic moral theology have gone almost unheeded, while an inordinate and embarrassing amount of attention has been paid to what I call "the pelvic issues" of masturbation, homosexuality, and abortion.

In his powerful new book, The New American Militarism, Andrew J. Bacevich, a Catholic and a retired officer, now professor at Boston university notes how the Protestant religious right pushed for the American invasions of Iraq and even for the concept of preventive or preemptive war. Writing as "a Catholic author" he says that "the counterweight ought to have been the Roman Catholic Church...[which] was eminently well-positioned to put its stamp on public policy." It failed to do so. He puts major blame on the hierarchy. I put it on American Catholic theology and uninvolved Catholic citizens. 9

Bred to Violence

Language and thought never rise out of a sociological vacuum. Theory, except in moments of true creativity, is autobiographical. Our stories ensoul our words and frame our discourse. A strong penchant for self-destructive violence toward one another and toward the rest of nature seems tragically kneaded into our history-formed collective personality. Maybe the apocalyptic voices are the realists. Georg Henrik von Wright says with chilling calmness: "One perspective, which I don't find unrealistic, is of humanity as approaching its extinction as a zoological species. The idea has often disturbed people. . . . For my part I cannot find it especially disturbing. Humanity as a species will at some time with certainty cease to exist; whether it happens after hundreds of thousands of years or after a few centuries is trifling in the cosmic perspective. When one considers how many species humans have made an end of, then such a natural nemesis can perhaps seem justified."10 Vaclav Havel warns that if we endanger the Earth she will dispense with us in the interests of a higher value-that is, life itself. Lynn Margulis joins the grim chorus saying that the rest of Earth's life did very well without us in the past and it will do very well without us in the future. Not all religious scholars rush in with gospels of consolation. If we are the "missing link" between apes and true humanity, as Gerd Theissen puts it, our species is morally prenatal and yet armed to the teeth, with the end of our existence stored and ready in our nuclear silos and other species dropping around us like canaries in a doomed mine.11

Some scholars think our passion for war is innate and irrepressible. Thus L.F. Richardson in his 1960 study on the statistics of violent conflicts searched for the causative factors of war and concluded that wars are largely random catastrophes whose specific time and location we cannot predict but whose recurrence we must expect just as we expect earthquakes and hurricanes.12 This leads a writer in American Scientist to see the nations of the world as banging "against one another with no more plan or principle than molecules in an overheated gas."13 Supportive of these dismal views, is the study that says humans have been at peace for only 8 percent of the past 3,400 years of recorded history.14

The contemporary scene, as well as history, lend credence to this bleak picture. As of January 2002 there were 38 ongoing significant conflicts, with 24 other conflicts precariously suspended, as, for example, the conflict between England and the Irish Republican Army. Again, in a signal to religious thinkers, religion is listed as at last partially causative in 16 of the 38 ongoing conflicts.15 Religion is often the problem, not the solution. Since 1945 there have been 135 wars, most of them in the poor world (often misnomered "developing") and they killed more than 22 million people, "the equivalent of a World War III."16

Is There Any Hope?

Is there any hope for this blundering species that dares to call itself sapiens, or are we destined to drown in the blood of our own belligerence. We have created the end of the world and stored it in our nuclear silos, planes, and submarines while double basting our planet with heat trapping carbon dioxide.. Having extinguished many species we are technically poised to extinguish our own.

And yet there is hope. As Vaclav Smil writes, the historical "success of our species makes it clear that humans, unlike all other organisms, have evolved not to adapt to specific conditions and tasks but to cope with change. This ability makes us uniquely fit to cope with assorted crises and to transform many events from potentially crippling milestones to resolved challenges."17

Hope may be drawn from both the present and the past. There are stirrings today of what has been called a "moral globalization."In happy irony, the U.S. atrocity being wreaked on the children and people of Iraq has, like new growth from fetid decay, birthed a fervid and growing cry for peace. In the largest call for peace in human history, on February 15, 2003, demonstrations in 80 nations around the planet pleaded with the American giant not to embark on this lie-laden venture into killing. In the past two years, sixteen tribunals of conscience have met in Barcelona, Tokyo, Brussels, Seoul, New York, London, Mumbai, Istanbul, and in other cities The purpose of these tribunals, in the words of Arundhati Roy has been to show "faith in the consciences of millions of people across the world who do not wish to stand by and watch while the people of Iraq are being slaughtered, subjugated and humiliated."18

Also encouraging are the heroic Israeli soldiers, dubbed the "refuseniks," who are asserting in an historic way that conscientious objection is also the right of soldiers. The idea of the soldier as automaton, with no more conscience than a fired bullet, is the keystone of military culture and these soldiers are challenging it in a revolutionary way, saying they will no longer participate in the occupation and humiliation of the Palestinian people. In the spirit of the prophets of ancient Israel they are asserting that soldiers are persons not pawns. Jail will be their portion, but veneration is their desert. Some U.S. soldiers are beginning to assert the same, saying that blind obedience is as immoral as slavery. (See

I draw hope also from the Manresa Project that really believes the justice and mercy will kiss and that peace may be born of their embrace. There is that-and more-in the present to pour a blood transfusion of hope into our veins.

No More "Superpowers"

Failure also, in an ironic twist, is teaching peace. The United States, the alleged "superpower" lost its first war in Vietnam and now, for the first time in its history, it is losing two wars simultaneously in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is nothing in these two debacles that merits the name of victory or even an understanding of what "victory" could possibly mean. These are wars that are not winnable but are only losable. The fact that the alleged "superpower" is having a streak of losses to guerilla-based insurgencies is very suggestive of the power shifts that are in play. First of all, it shows that war has mutated. Guerillas with the unmatchable trinity of advantages-invisibility, versatility, and patience-have "put to rout" the "arrogant of heart and mind"and the supposedly weak have "brought down monarchs from their thrones," (Luke 1:51-52) if I may quote Mary, the radical mother of Jesus.

Secondly it is a wake-up call for Americans re their declining democracy. As Yale professor of international relations Bruce Russett says, democracies "more often win their wars-80 percent of the time" The reason is "they are more prudent about what wars they get into, choosing wars that they are more likely to win and that will incur lower costs." 19 That doesn't describe our 6 billion dollar a month tragic fiasco in Iraq or our Afghanistan and Vietnam quagmires.20 It appears we now go to war like autocracies do. The ingredients of a democracy are missing: a free and seriously critical press, broad participation in any war effort by the citizens, and proper declaration of war according to the Constitution. Congress has not declared war according to Article 1, Section 8 of our Constitution since World War II. Instead they violate the Constitution by ad hoc resolutions that hand over their war-declaring powers to a single man, the president....just what the founders said they did not want.21 As professor David Kennedy writes, today "thanks to something [called] the 'revolution in military affairs,'...we now have an active-duty military establishment that is, proportionate to population, about 4 percent of the size of the force that won World War II.....and today's military budget is about 4 percent of gross domestic product, as opposed to nearly 40 percent during World War II."22 Add an indifferent public minimally inconvenienced by the war fought by the children of the poor, a group of ruthless ideologues in high office, and you have autocratic war making-and three lost wars in a row! Democracy is like swimming: you keep working at it or you sink.

The Power of Non-violence

There is some good news: happily in our day, the myth of the inutility of non-violent power and non-violent resistance is being debunked. Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela showed the power of non-violent resistance. Almost bloodlessly dictators such as Ferdinand Marcos and at least seven Latin American despots have been driven out. As Walter Wink writes, "in 1989-90 alone fourteen nations underwent nonviolent revolutions..."23 Gene Sharp lists 198 different types of nonviolent actions that are on the historical record, but neglected by historians and journalists who prefer to report on the flash of war.24 "Britain's Indian colony of three hundred million people was liberated nonviolently at a cost of about eight thousand lives...France's Algerian colony of about ten million was liberated by violence,.but it cost almost one million lives."25

Compare these successful cases of non-violent resistance with the American quagmires in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq or the Israeli occupation of Palestine and ask: who are the realists, the prophets of Israel, Jesus, the Buddha, and Gandhi or the Pentagon and Likud warriors?

Also helpful is the fact that the American empire is being exposed for what it is even as it enters into its decline. The essence of empire is "the domination and exploitation of weaker states by stronger ones."26 All this is present in spades in the American Empire. We have 800 military installations in 130 countries and our Special Forces operate in nearly 170 nations. We spend more on the military than the next eighteen nations combined. If nations won't let us in, we invade them militarily or we tell them we'll boycott them out of our market. We take up 20 percent of Okinawa's arable land for our bases and if they protest, they are threatened with being denied access to our purchasing power. What we cannot buy we conquer; it is amazing that anyone could miss the fact that when oil-hungry Americans invade oil-rich Iraq, there is oil on their minds. We have overthrown twenty-five governments since 1945, but would take a dim view if any nation tried to overthrow ours.27 We flood the world with our culture and technology. Rome, the empire that killed Jesus, would be jealous of us but Jesus who died fighting empire and was killed by one would have a different view.

All empires mask their true purposes with noble pretense: to promote the revolution of the proletariat, to take on, in Kipling's phase, "the white man's burden,' to promote une mission civilatrice, to spread democracy and freedom, and now to "fight terrorism,'while defining terrorists as any who resist by means foul or fair the intrusions of empire. Terrorism is the killing of innocent people to persuade their government to do what we want. Classical examples of "state terrorism"-the worst kind-were the American bombing of civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those two events, among so many more, established us as a terrorist nation. Peter Ustinov, actor and playwright aptly said: "terrorism is the war of the poor and war is the terrorism of the rich."

Empire is always animated by hubris. American hubris is being undermined by embarrassing data. Of the 22 richest nations of the world, we are first in wealth and last in developmental assistance; i.e., among those 22 rich nations we are the stingiest. The United States devotes a smaller percentage of national income to development assistance than nearly any other developed nation-less that one-tenth of one percent (.1 percent), compared tp .97 percent for the Danes, .89 percent for the Swedes, .55 percent for the French, and .31 percent for the Germans. Even in absolute terms, if we exclude U.S. aid to Israel and Egypt,[which is largely military aid used in Israel to oppress Palestinians and in Egypt to suppress democracy] the United States-with 265 million people-spends less on development assistance than Denmark, a nation of five million."28 Meanwhile, recall, we villainously squander six billion dollars a month making war on oil-rich Iraq.

Successful empire depends on the illusion of moral and cultural supremacy. That illusion is being vaporized by our bellicosity and penury. The emergence of hard truth is always good news.

The Renewable Moral Energies of Religion

As John Henry Cardinal Newman reminded us, people will die for a dogma who will not stir for a conclusion. Nothing so activates the will as does the tincture of the sacred. This can be negative as well as positive. The poet Alexander Pope reminds us that the worst of madmen is a saint gone mad, and remember that in the past religion has always been invoked and coopted in support of war.

Three hundred years before Jesus was born, a powerful prince Ashoka in India had dominated much of India by military force. After his last big battle, he walked among the dead in the battlefield where a hundred thousand men had fallen and instead of feeling triumph he felt revulsion. He converted to Buddhism and for the next thirty seven years, he pioneered a new mode of truly compassionate government. He left a legacy of concern for people, animals, and the environment. He planted orchards and shade trees along roads, encouraged the arts, built rest houses for travelers, water sheds for animals and he devoted major resources to the poor and the aged and the sick. As Duane Elgin says in this hope-filled book Promise Ahead: A vision of Hope and Action for Humanity's Future, "Ashoka's political administration was marked by the end of war and an emphasis on peace."29 His governmental officers were trained as peacemakers "building mutual good will among races, sects, and parties."30

The result? His kingdom lasted more than two thousand years until the military empire of Britain invaded India. Britain's empire based on "superpower thinking," did not last, nor did that of Alexander the Great, Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon or Hitler. Historian H.G. Wells said that among all the monarchs of history, the star of Ashoka shines almost alone. But it need not shine alone. You can almost hear the prophets of Israel crying out to us: "Have you ears and cannot hear? Have you eyes and cannot see?"

The Biblical Demurral

The ancient world cynically declared what seemed to be the natural law of social evolution: si vis pacem, para bellum (if you want peace, prepare for war). In this view, in the tough world we live in, war is the only way to peace. The biblical writers entered a major dissent to this logic. They say: si vis pacem, para pacem! If you want peace you have to prepare it and build it. "Seek peace and pursue it" (Ps. 34:14). You have to plan it, and work at it.. Peace does not happen because people individually are nice. You can't just pray for it. It is a social, economic, and political arrangement that must be aggressively and ingeniously forged. As the rabbis put it, "All commandments are to be fulfilled when the right opportunity arrives. But not peace! Peace you must seek out and pursue." 31You will not stumble upon it by luck. Like a city, it will come to be only if it is constructed brick by brick.

Abraham Heschel states the dramatic fact: the Israelites "were the first [people] in history to regard a nation's reliance upon force as evil."32 Nothing in their setting was conducive to this insight. The sociology of knowledge is hard pressed to explain how these simple tribes, surrounded by superior and hostile forces, could dream a dream of peace, unmatched to our day-but increasingly seen as indispensable common sense. The Israelites did not just criticize the security-through-arms illusion; they offered an alternative. Peace can only be the fruit of justice. That is what Isaiah said: justice is the only road to peace, a text that all by itself deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. (Isa. 32:17)

The Hebrew Bible does not resort to hints and indirection when it speaks of peace. This epochal breakthrough of moral brilliance is blunt and loud. Also, the writers are not speaking about an internal, spiritual peace of soul as subsequent centuries of Jewish and Christians would rather have it. They are neck high in politics and economics and are out to condemn precisely the reliance of nations on arms. Their position is that trust in arms for safety will not work and represents a moral failure and a collapse of imagination. Unlike Tacitus who thought that the gods were with the mighty, the prophets insist that kill-power is not sacred. God is not with the militarily mighty; indeed, God abhors them and will abandon them, not bless them when they neglect justice and seek peace by war.

The message is drummed home: violence does not work; it bites back at you. As the Jewish Christian Paul put it: "If you go on fighting one another, tooth and nail, all you can expect is mutual destruction." (Gal. 5:14) The Bible blasts military power.

"Neither by force of arms nor by brute strength" would the people be saved (Zech. 4:6). "Not by might shall a man prevail" (1 Sam. 2:9; RSV). Military power will be discredited. "The nations shall see and be ashamed of all their might" (Mic. 7:16). "Some boast of chariots and some of horses, but our boast is the name of the Lord." Those who boast of these state-of-the-art weapons "totter and fall, but we rise up" (Ps. 20:6-7). "Their course is evil and their might is not right" (Jer. 23:10; RSV). The song of the military (usually translated as ruthless) will be silenced, and fortified cities will become heaps of ruin (Isa. 25:5, 2). Reflecting Israel's history, the prime weapons of oppressive royalty, horses and chariots, are despised (see Exod. 14:9, 23; Deut. 20:1; 2 Sam. 15:1; 1 King 18:5; 22:4; 2 Kings 3:7; 18:23; 23:11). As Walter Brueggemann puts it: "Horses and chariots are a threat to the social experiment which is Israel. . . . Yahweh is the sworn enemy of such modes of power." 33 God orders Joshua to disarm. "Hamstring their horses and burn their chariots" (Josh. 11:6).0

"There is no peace for the wicked" (Isa. 57:21). The inverse of that is that if you do not have peace, it is your fault. You took the wrong approach. "Because you have trusted in your chariots, in the number of your warriors, the tumult of war shall arise against your people and all your fortresses shall be razed" (Hos. 10:13-14). For leaders to ask their people to trust arms for deliverance is "wickedness" and "treachery" (Hos. 10:13). Arms beget fear, not peace. You cannot build "Zion in bloodshed" (Mic. 3:10). Therefore, "I will break bow and sword and weapon of war and sweep them off the earth, so that all living creatures may lie down without fear" (Hos. 2:18). Notice, the distrust of arms is seen as a norm for "all living creatures," not just for Israel. War delivers peace to no one. There are many modes of power; in biblical perspective, violent power is the most delusional and least successful.

Pacifism vs. Passive-ism

The Jesus movement continued the biblical protest against kill-power as the path to security. "How blessed are the peacemakers; God shall call them his children." (Matt 5:9) One text, however, has muddied the Christian contribution, making it appear that Jesus was against resistance to evil. What he opposed was violent resistance but he himself was an active non-violent resister to empire and it was precisely this that got him killed. (It is remarkable that his movement survived longer than Rome.)

We need to attend to this widely misunderstood text: Matt. 5: 38-42.. "You have learned that they were told, 'Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.' But what I tell you is this: Do not set yourself against the man who wrongs you. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn and offer him your left. If a man wants to sue you for your shirt, let him have your coat as well. If a man in authority makes you go one mile, go with him two." As professor Walter Wink says, this text has been interpreted so badly that it became "the basis for systematic training in cowardice, as Christians are taught to acquiesce to evil."34 It has been used to urge cooperation with dictators, submission to wife battering, and helpless passivity in the face of evil. Associating Jesus with such pusillanimity is an outrage.

Wink puts the meaning back into these texts. "Turn the other cheek" was not in reference to a fist fight. The reference is to a backhanded slap of a subordinate where the intention was "not to injure but to humiliate." Abject submission was the goal. Turning the other cheek was the opposite of abject submission. Rather it said: "Try again....I deny you the power to humiliate me." The striker is a failure, his goal not achieved. His "inferior" is not cowering but is trivializing the insult.35 Gandhi the Hindu understood: "The first principle of nonviolent action is that of non-cooperation in everything humiliating."36 This is courageous resistance, not passivity.

Similarly, the person being sued for his clothing is an example of a frequent horror in Jesus' day. The poor were strapped with debts and through debt would lose their land, their homes, and even their clothing. As Wink explains, if a man is being sued for his outer garment, he should yield it and then strip himself naked and say, here take my inner garment too. "Why then does Jesus counsel them to give over their undergarments as well? This would mean stripping off all their clothing and marching out of court stark naked! Imagine the guffaws this saying must have evoked. There stands the creditor, covered with shame, the poor debtor's outer garment in the one hand, his undergarment in the other."37 Nakedness was taboo in that society and the shame fell less on the naked party than on the person viewing or causing the nakedness (Gen. 9:20-27) This again was not submission, but as Wink calls it, deft lampooning. It was non-violent resistance.

Going the second mile... By law, the Roman occupiers could force a person to carry a soldier's heavy pack, but only for a mile. The mile limitation was a prudent ruling to minimize rebellion. There were two gains for the Roma soldier in this. He could hand over his 85 to 100 pound pack and gear and he could reduce the occupied person to a pack animal. But when they reach the mile marker-and the soldier could be punished for forcing more than a mile-the victim says "Oh, no, I want to carry this for another mile!" Again Wink: "Imagine the situation of a Roma infantryman pleading with a Jew to give back his pack! The humor of this scene may have escaped us, but it could scarcely have been lost on Jesus' hearers, who must have been regaled at the prospect of thus discomfiting their oppressors."38

Again, this is not submission but an assertion of human dignity by the apparently powerless. Jesus knew that violent resistance to the Roman empire was fruitless and recent history in his own region showed that. It was like the Danes during World War II who did not try to fight the German army, but allowed them in. Then everyday their king would lead a quiet walk through the city of Copenhagen with the citizens in good order behind him. It was peaceful, but it said to the occupiers" "You do not own us and you have not captured our spirits." This had to effect even the minds of the occupiers, as nonviolent resistance always seeks to do. The same spirit showed through when the Danes got word from a friendly German officer that the Germans were coming for their Jews. Using everything that could float, the Danes transported their Jewish compatriots over to neutral Sweden saving most of them.

What Jesus was saying was "don't retaliate against violence with violence because it will get you nowhere, but you must oppose evil in any way you can." Even Gandhi said that if there were only two choices in the face of evil, cowardice or violence, he would prefer violence, but there is the third option of ingenious, persistent, creative non-violent resistance, and this, in biblical terms, is "the way of the Lord."

This message is concretized in an important book produced by 23 Christian ethicists. It's title is Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War38 It is a very readable book written to inform the consciences of citizens so that they can meet their prime duty, to be the conscience of the nation and move war-addicted governments toward peacemaking.

Citizenship in religious terms is not a privilege; it is a vocation, a vocation with serious learning duties attached. Failure to respond to those duties is corrupt. The Christian scriptures are ingenious in seeing that omission tells more of our moral spirit than commission. The Good Samaritan story (Luke 10:29-37) does not condemn the "robbers" (whose sin is obvious) but focuses on "the priest" and "the Levite" who ignored the plight of the half dead victim and "passed by." Self-indulgent citizens who are politically ignorant are "the priest" and "the Levite." Beguiled by "bread and circus" they treat governmental evil as none of their daily business.39 Their consciences are politically dead. They may be pious and "religious" people just like "the priest" and "the Levite,", but they are the goats not the heroes of Jesus' Good Samaritan story.

A Conclusion on Tears

The tearless are the enemies of peace because they do not respond appropriately to the evils that peace-making must address. Tears, after all, are very Christic. In that beautiful text, Jesus looked at the city, and he wept, heartbroken over the fact that we do not know the things that make for peace.(Luke19:41:42) Jeremiah said unless your eyes run with tears you will come to a terrible ruin.(Jer. 9:18-19) I was amazed, as a young Catholic boy, when I saw on the back of the Missale Romanum a prayer for the gift of tears. And it said, "Oh God, strike into the duritiam, the hardness of my heart and bring forth a saving flood of tears." And as a little boy, I thought, "Who wants tears, when you grow up you don't have them anymore, especially if you are a man?" And that precisely is the problem. If you are without tears, it is a tragedy. You are not Christic. You are not Christian. "How blest are you who weep..."(Luke 6:21) Jesus wept. He looked at that city and said, "If only you knew the things that make for your peace, but you don't." And he broke down sobbing.

Let us update that text. Let us hear Jesus say, "America, America, if only you knew the things that make for your peace, if only you could see that the answer is not in your weaponry and economic muscle. If only I could, like a mother hen, wrap my wings around you, wings of justice and peace and compassion, if you could use your great talent and wealth to work to end world hunger, world thirst, world illiteracy, no one would hate you, no one would crash planes into your buildings, you would know Shalom. That's the promise of Isaiah 32:17. Plant justice and compassion, and then and only then will peace grow. Then you could burn those chariots in a holy fire and you would be secure."

There is an illness in this land of ours that makes the Bible's peace-making message "a hard saying." I'll call it ICS: Imperial Comfort Syndrome. When you are living in an extremely advantaged imperial situation, basking in unearned and purloined privileges as we are in the United States, we become very comfortable. This particular illness, ICS, does not result in fever or in cold chills. It's symptoms are tepidity and a dull, crippling kind of depression. It causes such things as this: in many recent elections as many as 60% of eligible American voters didn't even show up. That is the sickness of ICS: Imperial Comfort Syndrome. For an searing indictment of it, I would take you to Revelations 3:15, 22, and let us rend our hearts and listen. The author puts these words into the mouth of God. "I know all your ways. You are neither hot nor cold. How I wish you were either hot or cold. But because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth... Hear, you who have ears to hear, what the Spirit says to the churches."

1 Barbara Ehrenreich, Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1997) 7.

2 Walter Sullivan, We Are Not Alone, (New York: Signet Book, 1966), 245.

3 Erich Fromm, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1973), 105.

4 See Stanley Hauewas, Linda Hogan, Enda McDonagh, "The Case for the Abolition of War in the Twenty-First Century," forthcoming in The Annual of The Society of Christian Ethics. This paper argues brilliantly that "war possesses our imaginations, our everyday habits, and our scholarly assumptions."

5 Richard Falk, "Why International Law Matters," The Nation, March 10, 2003, 276, #9, 20.

6 John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, April 11, 1963: AAS 55, p. 291.

7 Walter M Abbott, S.J., General Editor, The Documents of Vatican II (New York: Herder and Herder, 1966), "The Church Today," 80, p. 293.

8 The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, May 3, 1983, # 24.

9 Andrew J. Bacevich, Th New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War (New York and London: Oxford University Press, 2005), 250-51.

10 Quoted in Goran Moller, Ethics and the Life of Faith: A Christian Moral Perspective, (Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 1998), 35.

11 Gerd Theissen, Biblical Faith: An Evolutionary Approach (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1985), 122.

12 L. F. Richardson, Statistics of Deadly Quarrels, (Pacific Grove, California: TheBoxwood Press, 1960.) Quoted in Vaclav Smil, "The Next 50 Years: Fatal Discontinuities," in Population and Development Review 31 (2): June 2005, 225.

13 B. Hayes, "Statistics of Deadly Quarrels," American Scientist 90. 2002, 15.

14 R. Paul Shaw and Yuwa Wang, Genetic Seeds of Warfare: Evolution, Nationalism, and Patriotism (Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989), 3.

15 "The World At War-January 2002," The Defense Monitor, XXXI, No. 1, January 2002.

16 Michael Renner, Critical Juncture: The Future of Peacekeeping, Worldwatch Paper 114, May 1993.

17 Vaclav Smil, art. Cit., 208.

18 Quoted in Richard Falk, "The World Speaks on Iraq,", The Nation, 281 # 4, August 1/8, 2005, 10,

19 Glen Stassen, Editor, Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War (Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 1998), 106.

20 Cf Linda Bilmes, "The Trillion-Dollar War, The New York Times, August 20, 2005. Projecting out to theyear 2010 Bilmes shows that the cost of the war will reach the 1.372 trilllion mark.

21 Robert Previdi, "America's Path to War," The Long Term View, Massachusetts School of Law at Andover, Vol 6, #2, 92-105.

22 David M. Kennedy, "The Best Army We Can Buy," The New York Times, July 25, 2005, A 23.

23 Walter Wink, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way (Minneapolis: Facets Books: Fortress Press, 2003)1-2.

24 Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action (Boston: Sargent, 1973); See also Ronald J. Sider and Richard E. Taylor, Nuclear Holocaust and Christian Hope (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1982).

25 Walter Wink, Jesus and Nonviolence, 52.

26 Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire (New York: Holt, 2004), 28

27 See William Blum, Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower (Monroe, Me.: Common Courage Press, 2000), and Chalmers Johnson, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (New York: Holt, 2000). Johnson's book, written two years before September 11, 2001, predicted "blowback" (a CIA term) from Osama bin Laden due to U.S. Middle-East presence and policies.

28 Laurie Ann Mazur & Susan E. Sechler, Paper No. 1, "Global Interdependence and the Need for Social Stewardship," 1997, Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

29 Duane Elgin, Promise Ahead: A Vision of Hope and Action for Humanity's Future (New York: Harper Collins, 2000) 117.

30 Ibid.

31 Pinchas Lapide, The Sermon on the Mount: Utopia or Program for Action? (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1986) 35.

32 Abraham Heschel, The Prophets (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1962), 166.

33 Walter Brueggemann, Revelation and Violence (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1986) 25-26.

34 Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers: Disarmament and Resistance in a World of Domination (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 175.

35 Ibid., 175-77.

36 Mahatma Gandhi, in Harijan, March 10, 1946, quote in Mark Juergensmeyer, Fighting with Gandhi (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984), 43.

37 Ibid., 178-79.

38 Glen Stassen, Editor, Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War (Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press,1998.

39 See Daniel C. Maguire, A Moral Creed for All Christians (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 17.

Back to Top

Send this page to a friend!

Home   About Us   Newsletters   News Archives   Donate