I realize posting something like this is asking for a debate. But it moved me enough to post it anyway. I’ve never read a better explanation of why we should end the war in Iraq.
Support Your Troops
(This was written by Shane Claiborne after coming home from Iraq on a Christian peacemaking team.)
On the way home from the airport after returning from Baghdad, we passed a billboard that read: “God bless America and Our Military.” Coming home has been a culture shock to say the least. The billboard has haunted me.
As the justification for this war progressed, the “logic” became increasingly difficult to follow as the “War on Terror” lost its steam having such weak evidence of Saddam’s link to Osama or even the possibility of his regime’s connection to Sept. 11. So the language moved to that of “disarming the weapons of mass destruction,” only to find the unlikely presence of those weapons or the embarrassing truth that most likely Saddam got the weapons from the US. Now the language has become one of liberation (or as I say, counterfeit liberation for our team in Baghdad has told us of the graves being dug outside the children’s hospital, and of their greatest fear that Americans will have seen the celebration of a few hundred Iraqi’s on TV and think that this is the spirit of the 5 million folks in Baghdad who are solemn, angry, and skeptical).
What has become strikingly clear is that the strategy for hooking the US public support into the war is the extravagant deployment of hundreds of thousands of soldiers into the region. Public opinion immediately changed when they had a direct link to the conflict. The war now had a face (and the media has done their work of hiding the true Iraqi faces). People are no longer able to think theologically or intellectually or even rationally about the war, because their children are there and that trumps any other processing.
But the price of this tactic where people (many of them marginalized youth from neighborhoods like mine who see no other way to college but by joining the military) is so high, immeasurable, human beings becoming political currency. Not only is the cost in terms of the dozens of dead US soldiers and thousands of slaughtered Iraqis, but there is also a price for those who survive the war, who live in the ethos of the false celebration of redemptive violence . I now say: “I am not only against the war because I love the Iraqi people. I am against the war because I love the American people.” “Successful” wars do not make for a safer world. Let’s us look at the products of “successful” war.
One of the fruits of the 1991 Gulf War is a decorated US Army veteran named Timothy McVeigh. He wrote home from the war to his family and told them he felt like he was turning from a human being into “an animal… because day after day it gets easier to kill.” And then he came home, horrified, crazy… the worst domestic terrorist we have ever seen. His essays cry out against the hypocrisy of the United States accusing Iraq of stockpiling weapons when we have stockpiled the same weapons for over 40 years, scorning the inconsistency of our government’s outrage at Saddam’s attack on Kurdish civilians after we killed 150,000 civilians in the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombing. He saw through the lies he had been told. McVeigh wrote this: “Do people think that government workers in Iraq are any less human than those in Oklahoma City? Do they think that Iraqis don’t have families who will grieve and mourn the loss of their loved ones? Do people believe that the killing of foreigners is somehow different than the killing of Americans? When a US plane or cruise missile is used to bring destruction to a foreign people, this nations rewards the bombers with applause and praise. What a convenient way to absolve these killers of any responsibility for the destruction they leave in their wake. Whether you wish to admit it or not, when you approve, morally, of the bombing of foreign targets by the US military you are approving of acts morally equivalent to the bombing of Oklahoma City.”
No doubt his mind had been brutally deranged by being taught the way of war… so he bombed Oklahoma City in hopes that complacent Americans who numbly watch war from their TVs could see what “collateral damage” looks like and cry out against “collateral damage” everywhere. Instead, the same government that taught him to kill, kills him to show that killing is wrong. – Dear God, liberate us from the logic of redemptive violence.
The only victor in war is violence. If this liberation is successful then violence is the hero, for it was only brought about by incredible bloodshed (I’d be glad to show you my pictures or tell you my nightmares). Every time our government chooses to use military force to bring about change in the world, they once again teach our children the myth of redemptive violence, that violence can be a instrument for good. This is precisely the logic we are trying to rid ourselves of, especially here in the inner city. My outcry against this war is rooted in my desperate love for the kids in my North Philly neighborhood. One of them had a girlfriend who was stabbed, and he ran down our street yelling I am declaring “war on that terrorist.” War infects us. We begin to believe that violence can bring peace, in our world, in our neighborhoods, in our homes.
Martin Luther King says that he continually taught rejected, angry urban youth that violence and weapons would not solve their problems, but came to realize: “I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. But they asked, and rightly so, what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today – my own government.” When I got home, the kids on my block had decorated the street with sidewalk chalk that read: “NO WAR – Forever.” Therein lies our hope.
Dear God may we cry out to gangs and militaries, lay down your guns… may we pray with Isaiah that all soldiers and gangsters beat their swords into plowshares and study war no more, discover the path of the prophets. May Jesus be the Way, the Truth, the Life in our world of Shortcuts, Propaganda, and Death.
The Christians in Baghdad gave me so much hope in the Church. One day I told some of our Reborn Family that I was surprised to find so many Christians in Iraq and they laughed saying, “We were the first Christians, this is the land of your ancestors.” I felt ashamed of my ignorance as I stood on the edge of the Euphrates. In our arrogance we act as though we birthed Christianity in America, when in reality we have perverted and domesticated it. As one Bishop inquired about the American Church’s ambivalence to the war, I tried to explain that many Christians were not sure how they felt about the war, and some even saw it as liberation. He could not even conceive of people who followed Jesus believing that this war could bring peace. He just looked me in the eyes and said puzzled, “Then how can they be ‘Christians’?” I could only weep with him. The words of one Iraqi mother echo through my soul, “What has happened to your Christianity in America? What has happened to your God of Love and your Prince of Peace?” In this age, many US Christians have let go of the cross to take hold of the flag. In fact, if you were to burn the cross people would stare at you, but if you were to burn the flag people would kill you.
I pray that we would once again dare to follow the Way of the Cross. As we instinctively pick up our swords like Peter, I pray we would heed Christ’s warning, “All who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Mt. 26:52). Even before Pilate, the executed Jesus marks his Kingdom and his followers, “My Kingdom is not of this world. If it were my servants would fight” (John 18:36). Lover Jesus, we will trust in the way of the cross, even as the world calls us foolish. We will teach our children that it is more courageous to love their enemies than to kill them. We will teach our kids that there is something worth dying for, but there is nothing worth killing for. We will teach them that violence cannot bring peace, hatred cannot drive out hatred, and darkness cannot pierce darkness. We will support our troops by beating swords into plowshares with them. We will support our troops by providing sanctuary for them when they are Reborn, and pledge the Allegiance that runs deeper than nationalism.
May we continue to enact the Way of the Cross in our world, the way of Pre-Emptive Peace. I truly believe we are in a new era where we are not polarized into the traditional camps, of “Just War Christians” and “Pacifists” in the Church, of “Activists” and “Patriotic-Americans” in the larger society. We are discovering the “third way” of Jesus, a new paradigm, and many new people of conscience are bypassing the unspoken and exclusive rites of passage many of us have created “within the movement”. Everywhere I go there are people who may not get arrested doing CD every month, but they are quitely mourning this war and whispering, “This way of solving problems is just not right.”
War might seem to work for the powerful, just as robbing a bank might seem to work for the poor – but there is a better Way that leads to life. Nearly the whole world cried out against this war, and the incredible thing is that I believe that outcry was rooted in the understanding that Saddam Hussein is a wicked tyrrant and that there is better way to free a household from an abusive father than by burning down the house. I believe this global groaning for peace will only grow stronger, Perhaps in the days to come we will be able to dream the dream of the Other Superpower, the Beloved Community. And in the days to come every war will be an attack on an entire People crying out for peace. One of the hospital mangagers put it like this: “Violence is for those who have lost their imagination. Has America lost its imagination?”
One more sidenote…
There are so many alternatives to this war, and while it is important to get practical, I cannot explore these in detail here, but much of the world is dreaming together (I will be speaking to part of the UN next week). These alternatives, like the International Criminal Court (which the US opposed, because we would also be held accountable to the court) could provide an orderly structure to charge criminals like Osama and Saddam (and others I will not name!) without violating international law by imposing things like war and sanctions (For instance, Timothy McVeigh bombed Oklahoma City but we did not start an embargo to starve his family, or begin bombing his neighborhood.) But for these to work it will take great humility from the United States, the humility that comes with the recognition that we are only 5% of the world’s population and that if we want to hold criminals and oppressors accountable, our international criminals and oppressors in powerful places will also be accountable to the international body. Domestically we claim to believe in democracy and justice. Do we have the courage to believe in global democracy? It is not that nonviolence has been tried and failed, but nonviolence has never been tried with as much passion and risk and money as war. Until the peacemakers have as much courage for peace as the warmakers have for war… nothing will ever change.