Tag Archives: War

Let’s Be Clear about ISIS/ISIL

America needs to be clear about ISIS. It is a terrorist organization. Terrorism is a crime. The fact that this terrorist organization has taken advantage of the power vacuum in Syria and Iraq does not automatically promote this organization into statehood or nation. A nation cares for its citizens and facilitates civilization. ISIS does the opposite of this. Those who live in the area that ISIS claims are not its subjects but rather its victims.

War is not an appropriate response against crime. War is an appropriate response only against a real nation/state. We made the mistake of responding to the September 11th terrorist attack as if it were an act of war. The current anarchy that has allowed groups like ISIS to pretend to be an Islamic state was partly caused by that past error. It is essential that we do not fall into that trap again.

This organization is despicable, and I do not see an easy solution to ridding the world of them, but that should not mean that we react by responding with warfare. I would argue that this plays into their hand. They would love to be able to claim that they are some sort of religious martyr fighting against the western infidels.  They got most of their weapons from America indirectly, and they would love for us to send more weapons that they might be able to capture.

We need to respond as we would to any despicable crime being committed in an area where local law enforcement is ineffective. What does that mean exactly? I don’t know because I am not an expert, but these terrorists need to be tried in court rather than engaged in battle.

My, How Feverishly The Hawks Are Spinning!

President George W. Bush addresses sailors dur...

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All of the sudden we’ve seen an explosion of American pundits criticizing their President over his handling of Libya.  Most of these detractors are conservative hawks who cannot stand how Obama has dealt with this situation.  He engaged the rest of the world, and he carefully considered many options before embarking on military action.

These hawks loved the George W. Bush approach: shoot first and ask questions later.  Of course at the time they labeled as traitors those who dared to criticize a president in the time of war.

But desperate times require desperate measures.  Now that we have a president who actually governs as if war is undesirable, they must not miss this opportunity to influence America’s voters.  They would like to convince America to tolerate nothing less than shooting first and asking questions later.  If they can manage to convince voters, then they can ensure that the Republican Party will do well in the next election.

Quitters Never Win

Turn and Burn: No-Fly Zone

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We have such an uncomfortable relationship with war.  We strive to claim that America only wages just and noble wars. History keeps challenging that comforting notion. With Libya, we have now entered something that we’re telling ourselves is not war.

Establishing a no-fly zone over Libya doesn’t sound like war, but the distinction is not as wide as most of us want to believe. Like others, I am glad to see us stand up and help out our fellow humans who are in need in Libya. I am also glad that we are joining with the rest of the world rather than proudly and defiantly striking out on our own.  Gaddafi has proven to be a menace and a murderer, and so I hope and pray for the best.  I am proud to be part of a nation that stands up for others.

But wars have a funny way of not following the script we would like.  Our war scripts are shaped by Hollywood movies and video games.  We want a noble entry.  We want a climactic battle between the forces of evil and good.  We want to “leave no soldier behind.”  We want to never quit because “quitters never win.”  We want to win and “make the world safe for democracy.”  And we’d prefer for all of this to occur in about two hours.

We have many clichés surrounding war.  One of the least useful, it seems to me, is that “quitters never win.”  Once we enter a war, this notion keeps us involved until we can declare victory.  Our wars have a nasty habit of becoming quagmires.  We can never re-evaluate whether we belong engaged in a fight overseas because that sounds too much like quitting.  So we must stay.  Soldiers must die.  “Enemies” must die.  Money must be spent.   Often these things must happen in order for us to save face.

What does it say about the integrity of a people that would continue to devastate an “enemy” just in order to save face? I will let you answer that question for yourself, but I am not proud when our nation falls into this trap.

Isaiah 2:1-5: God & War

[Reflections on the Old Testament Lectionary Reading for Nov 28, 2010]

Isaiah tells of days to come when the LORD’s house shall be established, and many will come to learn how to walk in the ways of God.  Famously he says that nations shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  They won’t study war anymore because God will judge between nations.

Isaiah is one of the Old Testament prophets.  When we think of prophecy, we think of a prediction of the future.  Some predictions come true, but others do not.  This vision is not called a prediction, however; it is called “word.”  This means it has more authority than a mere prediction.

Isaiah ends this revelation by encouraging his listeners, “Let us walk in the light of the LORD!”  He does not bemoan the fact that the reality of their geopolitical situation made it impossible for them to emulate this vision of peace.  He does not scoff at this imagery as too idealistic to follow.  He believes this “word” is intended to direct the actions of those who call themselves followers of God.

I am no pacifist, but I often wonder whether my faith demands that I become one.  I cannot deny that this passage is a clear directive against warfare.  Many serious Christians have felt compelled to embrace pacifism based on Scripture, and I respect their conviction.  Many other serious Christians have a list of objections on the ready whenever there is a hint of conviction about the way our nation embraces war as a solution to political and economic problems.

St. Augustine was one of the first Christians to argue that war can be just.  He lived in North Africa during a time when the Vandals were a constant threat.  They were a warring tribe that eventually succeeded in capturing Roman Africa before his death.  It was natural for him to see the Roman military as a protector of his culture and religion.

It is normal for us to value our society and culture.  It is easy to believe that our society is somehow ordained by God to preserve Christianity.  It is easy for a people to imagine that they belong to God’s kingdom on the mountain, as described by Isaiah.  Once we buy into the idea that our’s is God’s country, then it becomes easy to see war as a legitimate tool of protection.

Our wars do not protect Christianity.  Our wars protect our lives, culture, and society.  Yet Scripture teaches us that all of these things are temporary.  Jesus never taught his followers to mount a defense to protect their lives, culture, or society.  Jesus taught us that we must follow in his footsteps.  His steps led to the cross not to the battlefield.  On the cross, Jesus died in the face of injustice.

Was It a Crime or an Act of War?

Before September 11, 2001, acts of terrorism in the U.S. were dealt with as crimes rather than as warfare. President Bush (W.) very deliberately decided to consider the horrible events of 9/11 as an act of war rather than as a crime. By selling it as an invasion of American soil, perhaps President Bush hoped to create a narrative of events similar to Pearl Harbor and World War II.

His decision certainly inaugurated America’s “war on terror.” America had already gone to war against another abstract notion rather than an actual nation. Thirty years earlier, we had famously gone to war against drugs courtesy of President Nixon. The utter failure of our efforts to solve drug crimes by re-branding it as a war didn’t seem to dissuade President Bush or us.

Wars end only after one side surrenders. How precisely does one imagine that terrorism will surrender, I wonder? In other words, how do we end a war on terrorism? Are we obligated to continue to spend money and send our citizens to die so long as there are people utilizing terrorism to try to achieve their end? Do we seriously imagine that by flexing our considerable military muscle all would-be terrorists will eventually cower and refrain from trying to attack us?

Crimes, on the other hand, end when a perpetrator is brought to justice or when the case is closed after all leads are exhausted. There is no illusion that a particular type of crime will be eradicated. The pursuit of criminals follows an arc of justice. Wars are less concerned with justice and more concerned with destroying the enemy.

It is odd when I hear the same people who insist on calling 9/11 an act of war complain about the process of bringing its perpetrators to justice. What constitutes justice in the case of an act of war? If justice is achieved by imprisoning or killing the individual soldiers involved (as if it were a crime), then what justification do we have for invading foreign lands? Can we have it both ways? Can we insist on simultaneously prosecuting the crime and the war? Do we think that by doing both we express more righteous anger?

Trying to do both is an unholy combination. It justifies arguments that the accused should not have the rights guaranteed by our Constitution. It allows us to apply the no-holds barred style of war to a trial. Yet even if we were to execute every perpetrator of 9/11, it would not satisfy our blood-lust that we want to name as “Justice.”

There is a price for this unholy combination. It is not just the terrorists who lose. Every American loses a bit of the very freedoms that wars are fought to defend. If terrorism is an act of war rather than a crime, then the same absolute fever for its eradication must apply to preventing future acts of terrorism.

With a mere crime, our society balances the rights of citizens against the power of the government to prevent crimes. But there is zero tolerance against acts of war. To allow even one act of war on our soil would make us appear to be weak. Our macho indignation cannot abide by that.

So now with every new foiled plot, we add one more indignity to anyone who chooses to fly on a commercial airplane. We allow one more invasion by our government into our rights. We pick on the airlines it seems because that was the weapon of choice on September 11th. But it doesn’t stop there. Wiretapping and other violations of our constitutional rights are swallowed by a public who have been whipped into a frenzy about this “war.”

Like the drug war, none of our efforts seem to have made any real progress toward the implied goal of ending terrorism. Is America safer as a result of all this? I suspect that in fact we have played into the hands of terrorists. Terrorism is designed not to inflict material damage to an enemy, but rather it is designed to leverage meager resources toward inflicting symbolic damage that terrorizes the enemy.

If the goal was to strike terror in America, then one would have to say that the best allies of the terrorists have been our leaders who continually overreact to every threat. Oddly what seems to be driven by our machismo has resulted in our appearing to be scared and impotent. I wonder where we would be today if our leaders had taken the course of considering 9/11 a horrific crime rather than an act of war. Perhaps then we would have brought the perpetrators to justice and limited Al-Qaeda to only fifteen minutes of fame.