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.

The United States Should Stay Out of Syria

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Syria

No one can legitimately deny the brutality of the Assad regime in Syria. This is not atypical of many of the Middle Eastern states where ancient customs of absolute rule are slow to die. Some people, left and right, are calling for the United States to become involved in the Syrian conflict. This would be a mistake, even if it involves indirect help to the rebels.

The danger in any revolution, as George Orwell recognized in his book, Animal Farm, is that the end result of a revolution may be a government as repressive or even more repressive than the previous government. Are the Islamists who seem to be the majority of the rebels willing to set up a state that respects human rights? One would have to be naive to believe that. If the rebels win, Syria might get lucky and have a moderate Islamist government like the one in Turkey, if such governments can truly be called “moderate.” If the rebels are hard-line Islamists, then the state of the people in Syria may be worse than it would have been under Assad. One should be careful for what one wishes.

It is not in the national interest of the United States to become involved in the Syrian conflict. It may be in the national interests of Israel or Turkey to be involved, but the United States should allow the Syrians to fight their war and let the results be what they will be. Any military aid, or worse, sending special forces units (who may be there already–who knows?) or regular combat troops would be a disaster. The United States would gain little if anything and lose a great deal given the stress that the U.S. military is already under in Iraq and Afghanistan. Make no mistake about it, the “drawdowns” do not end U. S. military operations in those nations.

Corporations that make money off the welfare-warfare state will support intervening in Syria, but the unholy alliance between the United States government and large defense contractors helps the companies more than it helps the United States. Evangelical Christians, for all their good points, too often approach Middle Eastern politics thorugh the lens of a naive dispensationist premillenialist interpretation of the Book of Revelation. They strongly support American military intervention in the Middle East, believing that such is a part of prophecy being fulfilled.

Suppose the U.S. did get involved in Syria and a radical Islamist regime hostile to the United States was the result. The intervention would surely be said to cause more harm than good. War is a destructive force and often has unintended and bitter consequences that politicians do not invision from the safety of their air conditioned and heated offices. The United States should only go to war when the national interest is at stake. The claim of advocates of force that we would be fighting for human rights is a ruse since there are many countries with brutal dictators in which the United States does not intervene. The long tentacles of the Neoconservatives and war Democrats have slithered into the highest levels of U. S. foreign policy making. Congress needs to stand up to them and not fund unnecessary interventions into the internal battles of other countries. Both presidential candidates agree with the war party’s philosophy. That is unfortunate, for whatever the outcome of the November election, the United States will have a president who desires to continue the warfare/welfare state and its unnecessary interventions into disputes that are none of the United States’ business. If Israel or Turkey want to intervene in Syria–or Iran–that is their business. It is not our place to fight others’ battles for them.

Two Sources of Warmongering in the United States

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Bombs

Image by Toban Black via Flickr

It is almost impossible to halt any rush to war in the United States. One reason is the power of the military-industrial complex, but there are other key factors involved in warmongering. A major factor is the pragmatic alliance between the “mainstreams” of both the Left and the Right. Members of both these classes support a warfare state–sometimes for similar reasons, and at other times for different reasons. The result is the same–the United States gets involved in yet another war. Neoconservatives have taken over the Republican Party, with Ron Paul being a rare holdout. Neocons have an almost pathological desire to spread “democracy” throughout the world, by force if necessary. “Democracy” becomes a substitute religion that, like religion in the past, must be imposed on people for their own good. Those who disagree will feel the brunt of American missiles and bombs, especially if the country is an easy target. Iraq, for example, was weak, its economy and military capacity devastated by years of U. N. sanctions and bombing. Although American occupation has not been peaceful, with over 4000 American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead, Neocons believe that the price is “worth it” in order to produce a democratic Iraq out of a tribal culture that lacks a tradition of democracy. Supposedly a democratization of the Middle East and of Central Asia will help keep the region safe–but at times Neocons seem more concerned with keeping the region safe for Israel than with the national security of Israel than with the national security of the United States. But forced democratization in nations lacking a tradition of democracy will ultimately make the world more dangerous. The threat of the Muslim Brotherhood taking over the government of Egypt is real. Hamas won on the West Bank, although they are now working with the Palestinian Authority. Do we know that Libya post-Khadaffi would be better off than Libya Khadaffi? We do not–what if a Muslim Brotherhood-like group ended up ruling Libya? What if Libya became open to Al Qaida establishing a base of operations in Libya? Would promoting “democracy by force” really create a safer Middle East? Most likely, such an action creates a more dangerous Middle East and kills hundreds, if not thousands, of people. In the tribal culture found in many Middle Eastern countries, this can produce thousands of suicide bombers bent on revenge.

The worst warmongers are, all too often, Evangelical Christians who are part of the religious right. Many are premillenialists who allow their tainted theology to determine their reaction to Middle Eastern affairs. They strongly support Israel and long for war against the enemies of Israel. I have been called “dark” for my opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan–by a priest. Almost every conservative Evangelical I’ve known was hell-bent on invading Iraq. They would have been disappointed if the United States had not moved in and fought these nations. Some of them are absolutely bloodthirsty, wanting to “nuke” any country that “gets in America’s way.” I do not believe that Jesus would support such attitudes–certainly not the eagerness to go to war. This “God and country” Christianity is dangerous, reminding me of the movements by German churches in the 1930s to accommodate Nazi ideology. Every decision of the nation-state to go to war is supported, even if there are no good grounds for war. These “Christians” should be ashamed of themselves.

The Left is just as guilty of warmongering. The missionary-like zeal of Wilsonianism has long infected the left with the desire to “spread democracy” and to “nation-build.” Mrs. Clinton is an example of that kind of liberal warmongering ideology. Pro war Democrats outnumber anti-war Democrats in both houses of Congress. The only real debate was over the course of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, not whether to fight them in the first place. Mr. Obama, sadly, has bought into the Wilsonian Democratic point of view–with the president and the majority of representatives and senators in both parties supporting the warfare state, the United States becomes more guilty of shedding blood and having the blood of its young people shed in war.

Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich have opposed warmongering, as has Walter Jones of Tennessee. Paul and Jones are men of the right; Kuchinich is part of the old antiwar left. It will take such a coalition to overcome the combined power of Neocons, the Religious Right, and the Wilsonian Leftists in their path to war. The debt crisis may slow the drive for wars since wars are expensive. If Conservatives would behave as true conservatives; if the antiwar Left works together with them; and if traditional Christians would really follow the “Prince of Peace,” Congress would have no desire to expand the United States’ role in any of the current wars raging in the world. Changing people is difficult. Sadly, so is killing people. This needs to change.

I Pray for a Better 2011

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New year - which direction?

Image by randihausken via Flickr

Another year has passed, and the older I get, the faster time seems to pass. I pray that the world will be a better place in 2011 than it was in 2010. As a Christian, I am thrilled by the rapid spread of Christianity in Africa–and African Christians, unlike American Christians, can pay a steep price for their faith. Their dedication in facing persecution, in walking twenty or more miles in the mud to get to church, is a model for all of us to follow.

I pray that there will be fewer wars and that the American people will wake up to the power of what President Eisenhower called “the military-industrial complex.”

I pray for the unborn, that God would protect them from the scourge of abortion. I pray for marriage–that it will continue as a permanent union between one man and one woman. I pray for parents to be good fathers and mothers, to be affectionate for their children, to praise them when they do well, and discipline them when they do wrong. I pray that the trend toward physician-assisted suicide and toward active euthanasia will be reversed. I pray that Americans realize that older people have just as much intrinsic value as young people–and they often have more wisdom.

I pray that colleges and universities will recover some of the sanity that they once have. I pray that young people will learn the great classics of literature, philosophy, and religion. I pray that more traditional Christians strive for teaching and research careers in higher education.

I pray that the American people will take more responsibility for their actions and not blame others for all their misfortunes. I pray for greater courtesy between people. I pray that mediating institutions that stand between the person and the state–churches, civic organizations, and clubs–will grow and prosper. I pray that Americans realize that there is a life beyond both big government and big business.

I pray that we all stop and enjoy the beauty of nature, that we realize that environmentalism is not contrary to Christianity, but recognizes the goodness of the earth and the plants and animals God created. I pray for less cruelty toward animals, that people realize that humans are not the only animals with intrinsic value, that even if humans have more value than other animals, that does not imply that animals be mistreated. I pray for more free range animals and fewer factory farms. I pray that people treasure their pets, and I pray that God in His mercy will raise them from the dead when He reconstitutes the world in a perfect form.

I pray for the salvation of all people, recognizing that there is a possibility of eternal damnation–I pray, though, that Hell will be empty. I pray that we will forgive without excusing, mete justice but balance it with mercy when mercy is warranted. I pray that Americans will realize that people are more important than material possessions, that the accumulation of riches alone will never make a person happy. I pray that all people will strive to have virtuous characters, and that God will reach down and touch the most damaged of souls, all those with intractable vices or mental illness, all those who suffer from the sin of narcissism, those who suffer from borderline personality disorder, even those who are psychopaths.

I pray that the New Atheism will show forth its shallowness and not convince people that God does not exist.

I pray for the success of Sam Parnia’s study of Near-Death Experiences, that his findings will suggest that a spiritual realm truly does exist.

I pray for my family, my friends, for every person that they will cooperate with God’s grace to become all they are meant to be. And to the readers of this blog, may God’s richest blessings descend on you in 2011.

Is Modern “Total War” Ethical?

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Atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.

Image via Wikipedia

I just viewed an excellent PBS “American Experience” program, “The Bombing of Germany.” It detailed how in World War II the United States moved from a position of “precision bombing” of military targets to accept the British strategy of “terror bombing” of German (and later Japanese) cities. For a number of years I have struggled with the ethics of modern “total” warfare–the idea defended long ago by General Sherman that “war is hell” and thus targeting noncombatants is morally legitimate. Thus, the 45,000 civilians killed in World War II in Hamburg, the 40,000 (minimum) killed in Dresden, the 100,000 killed by the U.S. raid on Tokyo in March 1945, the 80,000 killed by the Hiroshima atomic bomb, and the 40,000 killed by the Nagasaki atomic bomb were, according to the “total war” theory, necessary casualties to win the war more quickly.

I am not interested in utilitarian arguments since I reject utilitarianism as a viable moral theory. But traditional just war theory (which I accept; at the theoretical level I am not a pacifist) has always made a distinction between combatants and noncombatants. Of course some noncombantants will be killed in any war, but it is the intentionally targeting of noncombatants that is morally repugnant. Just war theory has always considered noncombatants to be “innocent” in the sense that they are not directly killing their fellow human beings. Arguments that extend “guilt” to the entire population of a country waging war can only justify mass destruction of human life. Total war inevitably harms the characters of those who actively participate in such activities as terror bombing and intrinsically corrupt any society that engages in them. Granted, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and after Germany and Italy declared war on the United States on December 11, 1941, the U.S. had no choice but to fight. The United States kept the moral high ground until 1945; would that it had kept it until the end of the war. It now seems to me that modern fullscale war has crossed the threshold into immorality, even for the “innocent” state in what otherwise would be a just war. Thus, I now believe that full scale “total war” is intrinsically unethical.