American Militarism and Support of Atrocities

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No one can deny that it is heroic to be willing to lay down one’s life for others. That is what Memorial Day should be about, and often, it is. However, I see more and more evidence that it is becoming a celebration of militarism and war itself as well as a justification for atrocities in war as long as Americans commit those atrocities. One example is the zeal of people who condemn President Obama for apologizing to the Japanese for the use of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Now I am not a fan of Mr. Obama overall, but in this case he did the right thing.

Japan was on the brink of surrender by July 1945. A few hardliners in the Japanese government were holding on, but many American officers, including Generals Eisenhower, MacArthur, and Lemay (!) opposed the use of the atomic bomb, believing that an American naval blockade and bombardment would convince those in the government suing for peace to capitulate by the end of 1945. The bombs themselves were obviously devastating–the Hiroshima bomb was designed as a 20 kiloton bomb; it was a partial dud, producing only 10 kilotons of explosive power, yet killing 80,000 people. The bomb at Nagasaki was not a dud, but it missed its target; it struck a surrounding city and some suburbs, yet still killed 60,000 people. If it had hit its target head-on, the death toll would have been higher. Nagasaki and the surrounding area was the most Christian area of Japan, yet have any of the supporters of the atomic bomb seen photos of the churches destroyed by the bomb?

War against the civilian population in general is condemned by just war theory. Yet that has been a common American practice since Lincoln instituted it in the War between the States. Sherman’s path of pillage, rape, and death was the prelude of his genocide, with the help of one General Sheridan, of the Native Americans of the west and southwest. In the Philippines, U. S. policy included mass shootings of men, women, and children. In World War II, American saturation bombing in one Tokyo raid in March 1945 killed 100,000 people, and such raids occurred almost daily in other Japanese cities before the atomic bombs were dropped. The American occupation of Germany after World War II was no piece of cake, with about 1 million Germans who died in the year after the war’s conclusion.¬†While some deaths were due to starvation and deprivation that occurs after every war, the occupation itself was quite brutal. A veteran who was over there told of an incident in a bar in which a German woman was murdered by an American. The commanding officer said, “We came here to kill Germans, and we killed a German.” There were no attempts made to find the killer. While some deaths were due to starvation and deprivation that occurs after every war, the occupation itself was quite brutal (as opposed to the occupation of Japan, which MacArthur ran well).

In Vietnam, American troops engaged in torture, including wrapping wires around a man’s genitals and shocking them with electrical current. Murders of civilians were routine; Lt. Calley was not the only one who mowed down civilians. Yes, the conditions were difficult, yes, the VC and NV regulars were brutal, but modern warfare brings people, including Americans, to barbarism.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, torture was standard U. S. policy until Mr. Obama stopped its use by American troops.

“What about the enemy’s actions?” militarists ask. Yes, the enemy often could be brutal, especially the Japanese, North Koreans, Chinese (in the Korean War), and Vietnamese, and no one today would accuse ISIL of showing mercy. But that does not imply that the U. S. military is somehow justified in committing atrocities. Sometimes silly pseud0-“Patriots” claim what whatever American soldiers do is morally justified. The implication is strong that somehow American soldiers are beyond original sin, an obviously heretical belief.

There are those who argue for the “war is hell” theory, that “all is justified in love and war.” This puts warfare beyond the realm of morality and would justify doing literally anything to win. That position is pure evil. If war really is that way, then all war is wrong and all who participate in it are committing sin. I am not ready to go that far; there have been just wars in history (I would include the First Crusade as well as World War II). But for a war to be just, it must be fought according to the rules of military justice, or else both sides stoop to the same level.

Christians (especially Southern Baptists and other southern Christians) too often glorify war. That is an offence for which they should repent, for is opposed to love and contrary to God’s will.

I am glad we won World War II but regret many of the means used which were not only immoral in themselves, but militarily unnecessary. They lowered the bar for future wars.

To be fair, some soldiers regret it if they did something unjust in war. They often suffer PTSD in part because of this. Any sin can be forgiven if a person repents, and no matter how bad their actions were, they can be forgiven by God. The vast majority of soldiers did their duty bravely and did not commit atrocities in combat. Some stopped atrocities from continuing, as the brave American helicopter pilot who halted the My Lai massacre (and who, unfortunately, was mistreated and called a traitor by many Americans).

Being a warmonger and militarist is contrary to the Christian faith. Supporting anything the U.S. does in war, even if it is immoral, is contrary to the Christian faith. Those who claim Christian identity and are warmongers and supporters of atrocities need to reconsider their positions, repent, and pray for forgiveness.

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Missing the Point on Atheism and Mass Murder

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Pat Buchanan

Pat Buchanan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Former Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee, speak...

Former Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee, speaking to a gathering at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Atheists have reacted with outrage to Mike Huckabee‘s statements (http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151207029493634) as well as Pat Buchanan‘s column (http://buchanan.org/blog/the-dead-soul-of-adam-lanza-5428) on the role that atheism might play in such tragedies as the school murders in Connecticut. Some comments I have read suggest that atheists believe that Mr. Huckabee and Mr. Buchanan are attacking them personally or saying that atheism directly led to the school shooting. A more careful reading of Huckabee and Buchanan, however, reveals that their claims are more nuanced. The point they make, and I think they are right, is that a godless society is more likely to put the primary focus on the self and its desires. Now I am aware of James Q. Wilson‘s work on sociobiology and altruism, but more people are likely to have heard of Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene. Most “lay atheists,” even highly educated or intelligent atheists, may not be aware of either work, but one motive for atheism among some (though not all) atheists is the desire to be free of divine judgment in order to fulfill the desires of the self. Kant was a theist of sorts, at least most of his life, and the remains of Lutheran divine command theory kept his principle of autonomy from degenerating into subjectivism–the identical moral law, Kant believed, was given to each individual by that individual self. With the remains of Christianity removed from autonomy, autonomy becomes the right to do whatever the self desires. Now that often comes with the caveat that one can do what one desires “as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else,” but without a divine judgment it is only internal conscience developed by habituation that prevents evil personal desires from being expressed. Ted Bundy made it clear to one of his victims that without a God to judge him, he believed that he should fulfill his personal desires to murder his victims and sexually violate their dead bodies. Without a sense that one’s actions can have consequences beyond this life, including negative consequences, it is easier for disturbed people such as Adam Lanza to act on their evil desires. Now he may have acted anyway–we cannot know for sure–but the point is that with one less barrier to fulfilling personal desires, it is easier for an evil or severely disturbed person to “go over the top” and act on his twisted desires. This does not imply that all mass murderers are atheists, nor does it deny that many atheists have moral lives that put some Christians to shame. In a way, the atheist who seeks only fulfillment of the self is acting more consistently than the one who affirms a larger social responsibility to the group. I am aware that evolution recognizes the nature of humans as social beings, and that a lack of all concern for others would prevent human genes from being carried on to the next generation. Yet there is no transcendent meaning to life in atheism, and as Bertrand Russell recognized, all human achievements would be lost in the final ruin of the universe. In such a meaningless world, hedonism may seem like the best option, as with Russell, but with less stable people egoism may be the course they take. Thus the point made is a general one: a society that eliminates any deity is more likely to produce more people like Mr. Lanza that one that accepts ethical monotheism.

The Unpredictability of Human Behavior

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When you think of mental illness, is this what...

When you think of mental illness, is this what you see? (Photo credit: JenXer)

Some of the comments on Internet discussion boards suggest that mental health professionals should have been able to tell that Adam Lanza was dangerous and that they should have had him detained at a mental health facility. Such statements reflect a fundamental ignorance about the nature of mental illness and the predictability of human behavior. There are a few–and only a few–cases in which mental health professionals can be reasonably certain that a person will break the law and/or harm another person. Pedophiles are notoriously difficult to treat–it is well known that their recidivism rate is high. Psychopaths, who lack empathy, often hurt people, although most do not become murderers. A person known to have a violent temper who has behaved violently all his life is likely to engage in violent behavior again. However, in most cases of mental illness, no one can predict with any degree of accuracy whether or not a person will engage in violent behavior. The vast majority of mentally ill individuals, even those with psychotic conditions such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, never engage in violent behavior. Even a paranoid schizophrenic who is aware of his condition and realizes that any hallucinations he has are not real may not be at serious risk for violent behavior. Sometimes “normal” people engage in terrible acts of violence, such as a North Carolina man a few years ago who, without warning, beheaded his eight-year-old son. To say that psychologists and psychiatrists and others around Mr. Lanza should have predicted that he would become violent is both unrealistic and ignorant. Mental health professionals cannot read people’s minds. There are many unusual or quiet individuals who do not fit into society’s pigeon holes of normality, and almost all of them will lead peaceful lives. On the other hand, someone who robs and murders multiple people over a period of time may do so without any sign of mental illness per se.

Eccentrics often are the most creative people in a society–Beethoven, Einstein, Thelonious Monk–all were eccentric people who made incredible contributions to science and to music. To say that people who are different or who have certain “mental disorders” should be locked up because of an alleged potential for violence is a view that is not based on facts. Americans want predictability, want order–they want reality to fit into a pigeonhole. Evil actions are often what philosophers call a “surd,” something that cannot be explained. How can someone, without getting into Mr. Lanza’s mind, have possibly known he was going to commit such an act. If his mother had heard him brag about specific violent acts, then there would a problem, but thus far, there is little evidence of that occurring. These murders point out the limits of human knowledge, limits that people do not want to acknowledge–and such a failure to acknowledge limits is used to justify stereotyping the mentally ill (including, as I noted in my previous post, people with Asperger’s Syndrome) as violent. People should do good research before expression opinions that are both wrong and potentially subversive to the rights of entire classes of people.

Asperger’s Syndrome is not Why Adam Lanza Committed Murder

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Autism Awareness

Autism Awareness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Members of the media often love simplistic thinking–it makes it easier to create headlines and “talking points.” As I have watched and read the media coverage of Adam Lanza’s horrific murders of young children and adults, including his mother, there are more stories about Mr. Lanza’s having Asperger’s Syndrome. Although, to be fair, some of the stories have a disclaimer that points out there is no causal connection nor any correlation between Asperger’s Syndrome (soon to be labeled as high functioning autism spectrum disorder) and violence. From the online comments sections, it is clear that many people do not read the disclaimer, nor do they have any understanding of Asperger’s Syndrome. Asperger’s Syndrome may account for Mr. Lanza’s shyness and his membership in his high school “Tech Club,” but it does not account for his committing murder. He clearly had other, much more serious, mental problems that were heightened by his parents’ divorce. God only knows Mr. Lanza’s motivation for sure. The act was that of a twisted mind–Mr. Lanza may not have been legally insane, but his view of reality was skewed. I believe he retained free will and was thus morally responsible for his actions. His actions were evil and represent a mind so utterly focused on self that the lives of twenty-seven human beings did not matter to him. The cold-blooded way in which the murders were carried out reflects a mind that was most likely incapable of feeling emotional empathy for another person–the classic sign of a psychopath.

Although some individuals on the autism spectrum have less empathy, at least that is visible to others, people with Asperger’s Syndrome often have a great deal of empathy, and children and adults with Asperger’s Syndrome are capable of great love. They share the tendencies to good and evil that all human beings have, but their levels of crime and violent crime are no higher than the rest of the U.S. population. What I fear is that the news stories that lead people to falsely believe that Asperger’s is a sign of a tendency to violence will encourage mistreatment by civilians and by law enforcement of individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome. The coverage may also cause children who are “different” or “strange” to be signaled out for surveillance. Adults may face the same treatment–and that would raise problems of civil liberties. It is simplistic, ignorant, and dangerous to link Asperger’s Syndrome with the brutal murders in Connecticut. The press has a moral responsibility not to mislead, even if unintentionally, people to falsely associate Asperger’s Syndrome with a tendency toward violence.

Human Violence: A Long History

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Dwellings of American Indians in Santa Rosa an...

Image via Wikipedia

A recent article in Science News (http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feature/id/64465/title/Massacre_at_Sacred_Ridge) has noted extensive archeological evidence of human violence dating back thousands of years. Groups not usually associated with extensive violence, such as Native American communities in the Southwest during the 1300s C. E., were guilty of brutal violence against groups of people. This should be no surprise to Christians, who believe that, whatever happened to humans historically in their evolution, in some real sense they are “fallen.” G. K. Chesterton once said that the doctrine of original sin was the only Christian doctrine that could be empirically verified. At the very least, the notion that people are not what they ought to be, and haven’t been as far back as archeological evidence extends, is true. Violence, brutality, and genocide are part and parcel of the human condition. No group is immune to evil. The attempt by some multiculturalists and Marxists to set aside some groups (such as Native Americans) as nonviolent and virtuous and other groups (such as Europeans) as violent and genocidal is true only to the extent that the Europeans were more thorough in their violence and genocide. There is absolutely no excuse for the near-complete genocide of the Native American tribes of the U. S. But that does not imply that the Native Americans were totally innocent and without original sin (in the sense of having a propensity to do wrong, not in the Augustinian sense of being born with guilt). No culture, no race, no society can avoid the scourge of having evil people in its midst. To exclude any group from the general human condition really dehumanizes them, putting them in a status that they cannot possibly reach by their behavior. The higher the pedestal, the harder a group falls. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” said St. Paul in Romans, and he was surely right. We have every right to condemn violence, mass murder, and genocide where it has occurred. But we do not have the moral right to place some groups in a status so that they could not be possibly guilty of such crimes themselves. Archeology and historical evidence may come back to bite ideologues who neatly divide human groups into the oppressors and the oppressed. Such ideologues ought to study history and realize what happens when the so-called “oppressed” take power–the old Soviet Union, Maoist China, and North Korea come to mind. Every one of us is capable of hurting our fellow man. May God give us the grace to realize that when it comes to violent people, “but for the grace of God were I.” Then we may realistically and with humility do our part to lessen the violence that so mars our world.