Maybe We Should Study War More Often


My recent posting, “Study War No More” (1), produced a number of comments that I feel require a response.

First, John said…

Except for slavery, Nazism, fascism, and communism, war has never solved anything (2).

I responded with

You are possibly correct but why did we allow such “-isms” to even develop? Should we not have done things which prevent war, not simply wait until they occur and then fight them? (3)

Then, John said…

You are possibly correct but why did we allow such “-isms” to even develop? Should we not have done things which prevent war, not simply wait until they occur and then fight them?

Sure, that would be great, Tony. But if it’s 1939 and the Nazis are rolling across your border, what do you do? Just keep saying that you should have done something sooner? That’ll be a big help. (4)

Going back to John’s original comment, which of those blights on human society did we actually defeat on the battlefield? Maybe it was slavery. Assuming that John is referring to the Civil War, perhaps war did solve slavery, at least in this country as an agricultural and societal issue. But we never got rid of slavery. Slavery as the enslavement of human by another still exists today, even in the United States (see http://www.alternet.org/story/38684/).

All that the Civil War did was change the nature of slavery. The vindictive nature of the Republican power structure after the Civil War and the punitive punishment inflicted on the South during that “wonderful” period of time known as Reconstruction led to the formation of the Ku Klux Klan and did nothing to change the attitudes of many Southerners. It enabled them to pass Jim Crow laws and perpetuate segregation up until the 1960’s. It was a mentality that transcended national boundaries.

Apartheid was present in South Africa until the last part of the 20th century. It was defeated not by war but rather by moral outrage and mostly peaceful political action. The same, I would hope, can be said about the defeat of segregation in this country. It was not always peaceful but the Civil Rights movement was based on the moral power of the Gospel, not on the power of a gun.

Even the end of British colonialism ended without too much violence or bloodshed. Gandhi’s advocacy for non-violence ultimately led to Britain ending is colonial occupation of India. It was the British and their violent response to Gandhi’s non-violent approaches that ultimately turned the world against the British.

And for the most part, the chains of slavery have simply been replaced by another form of chains, the chains of poverty. The attitudes that enabled people to enslave other people did not change and agricultural slavery simply became sharecropper and tenant farming. We still have a plantation mentality where CEO’s of major corporations earned salaries and bonuses way out of line with what their employees earn. And the employees at the bottom of the wage scale, those who earn only the minimum wage, do not earn enough to pay for basic living requirements. War may have ended slavery but the consequences are still with us.

It may be that war conquered Nazism and fascism but these two ideologies are still present today. The hatred spewed forth is even more virulent than any of the hatred spouted in the 1920’s and 1930’s. And remember that Timothy McVeigh was more of a neo-Nazi than anything else. Lest we forget, just as the Ku Klux Klan developed out of the vindictiveness of the post Civil War Reconstruction period, National Socialism rose out of the hatred that was generated by the vindictiveness of the victors in World War I. Maybe war defeated Nazism but what we have today says otherwise.

And what war defeated communism? This country has fought two wars against communism. In one war, we came away with an armistice but no peace treaty. Both North Korea and South Korea occupy essentially the same territory today that they occupied before the war started. 36, 576 American military personnel died during the three years, one month, and two days of the Korean War and all we can say is that our first military encounter with communist forces ended in a tie. Our second encounter, in Viet Nam, was a defeat by anyone’s measure.

We did not defeat it in war (unless you want to classify the “cold war” as war). Communism, as an economic system, was flawed from its inception so it was always doomed to fail. But it was not defeated on the battlefield as much as it was defeated in the marketplace. And, while the Soviet Union is no more, the threat of nationalism inside Russia still exists and there are several former Soviet republics that still followed the communist party-line.

So, I stand by the statement I made in the blog last week, “War gives us nothing but takes away everything.” And what war has done has created even more problems that it solved.

And in response to his recent comment, where was everyone in 1938 when the Nazi party was persecuting the Jews of Germany. The signs were there that the Nazis were going to be more than just loud and obnoxious but people choose to stand aside and let them move forward with their objectives. The problem with John’s argument is that he would use war to solve our problems. Why shouldn’t we first put the Gospel into action and work to prevent hunger, sickness, and oppression? Why should we wait for armies to be rolling across the border before we decide to fight? Shouldn’t we keep the armies from ever starting to roll across the border?

In one respect, John is correct (though he probably doesn’t realize it). If we choose to not study war anymore, then we will forget that it is ugly, abusive, messy, painful, and long lasting. So we should study war if only so that there will be no war.

(1) http://heartontheleft.blogspot.com/2006/07/study-war-no-more.html

(2) http://heartontheleft.blogspot.com/2006/07/study-war-no-more.html comments – 3:22 PM, July 02, 2006

(3) http://heartontheleft.blogspot.com/2006/07/study-war-no-more.html comments – 11:45 PM, July 02, 2006

(4) http://heartontheleft.blogspot.com/2006/07/study-war-no-more.html comments – 5:59 PM, July 09, 2006

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23 thoughts on “Maybe We Should Study War More Often

  1. So, we would have been better off if the US government had not forcibly liberated (albeit partially) the slaves in the South? Because if you say that the Civil War wasn’t worth it, then your answer must be ‘yes’.

    So Europe would have been better off if the Nazis had overrun it? 100 million people died in that war. I wonder how many would have died and how many would have been enslaved had no one resisted the Nazis. Were they wrong to do so? If you think that war is always wrong, then your answer must be ‘yes’.

    The Jewish persecution started well before the actual outbreak of war between the great powers. Yes, I agree that the Nazis should have been stopped earlier. But guess what — that means war. War against Nazi Germany. And war is never the solution, by your reasoning.

    The Cold War was costly and bloody. But would it have been better if no one resisted the Red Army in 1945 — that nation drew a line in Western Europe and said ‘no further!’? If you say that war is always wrong, then your answer must be ‘yes’. And that answer would condemn hundreds of millions to tyranny in Europe alone, not to speak of the rest of the world — if no one resisted communism.

  2. War is never the answer. The problem is that we allow things to develop and then we are forced into action. If the peace treaty at Versailles had been equitable, instead of punitive, would the conditions in Germany been such that the Nazis would have come into power?

    Unfortunately, there are going to be those who want war, though for the life of me, I cannot fathom why. Right now, there are two wars going on in the Middle East and what that portends is anyone’s guess. But both wars could have been avoided. Instead one side says they are right and the other side is wrong and since you don’t like this decision, I guess I will have to beat you up or destroy your homes and your families and your hope and your present so that you will believe that I am right.

    The presumption is that we allow things to happen. We did in 1860 and we did in 1930. The result was war. I look around and wonder why we haven’t learned that war only breeds more violence; more violence leads to more oppression, more hopelessness, and more despair.

    Going back to my original premise – isn’t it about time that we start acting like Christians and doing what Christ wanted us to do?

  3. Tony,

    One cannot argue “for” war and hold a morally sound argument as we know that innocents will be caught in the cross-fire. Sometimes, however, it is evident that the nature of man will not allow peace.

    You mention the Middle East. Israel, for the sake of peace, withdrew from the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank. They have been rewarded with terrorists moving even closer to populated Israeli areas and getting a cleaner shot at civilians. I ask you the same thing I asked another: what would you have Israel do? It is obvious that those who are shooting at Israel and forcing her hand have no intentions of talking, seeing as how their stated intent is the destruction of Israel.

    Other conflicts in the past were also started in the same fashion: by an aggressor nation. I hear you, brother; war is a bad idea from start to finish. Sometimes, however, it is thrust upon nations against their will, more often than not, without warning.

    It is easy to oppose war and advocate for peaceful ideals. Unfortunately, those who would agree with you are being fired upon. The only way war can be avoided is if both sides want to avoid it, and that is clearly not the case in many instances.

    Peacefully Yours,
    Michael

  4. I have not forgotten nor I am ignoring the comments by John or Michael. Also, I have not forgotten nor I ignoring the comments by Michael Lewis that were posted in the “Study War No More” posting of three weeks ago. I will address all of those comments in my posting/sermon for next week.

  5. A nice sermon. Now, as I was asking:

    So, if I understand you correctly, the US government should not have invaded the Confederacy in 1861?

  6. For those following this thread, John is referring to my sermon of 30 July.

    Should the U. S. government not have invaded the Confedracy in 1861? Considering that both sides wanted the fight, it was just a matter of time before one group invaded the other’s territory. Remember that South Carolina units were the first to initiate the conflict when the United States attempted to resupply Fort Sumter.

    The problem then, and today, is that no one was willing to examine alternative methods for the resolution of the conflict. The problem today is that we can’t seem to learn from the past.

  7. So are you saying that, after Ft. Sumter fell, you would have advised President Lincoln not to invade the Confederacy but hold peace talks?

  8. It really doesn’t matter what I think today, August 7, 2006. Both sides in the Civil War, or as it is known in the official documents of the United States, “The War of the Rebellion”, wanted war.

    The problem was that we saw it coming and we did nothing.

    The problem today is that we see the war and we do nothing to stop it. If we know that war is wrong, if the outcome of war is only more violence, more hatred, and more destruction, then why do we insist on continuing.

    John, if you want to keep on fighting the past, go ahead and do so. I want to work for a better tomorrow. That means looking at where injustice, oppression, sickness and death are imposed on people deliberately by others and working to stop it. That is what the Gospel says and that is whay I have tried to write and what I have tried to do.

  9. I bring it up for a reason. If you hold the position that every war is wrong all the time without exception, then you must conclude that Lincoln was wrong to invade the South in the Spring of 1861.

    Right? That is the logical consequence of your argument — that every single war was wrong.

    I’m forcing you into an uncomfortable position: your absolutist view of war, if implemented, would have prevented the conquest of the South — and all of the consequences that flowed from it, such as the end of slavery in America.

    If you oppose all wars at all times, then you necessarily oppose particular wars, including those with favorable results.

    Right?

  10. That’s why it is so difficult in today’s society to hold such a view. You have to accept that one part of your brain says must be is not the answer. War is never the answer, no matter what the outcome.

    History always give a better view of the past than it does the future. Right now, we are trapped in a war of our own making and it is threatening to become a larger conflict, simply because we are blind to what the past has told us. My point all along has been that what has happened in the past could have, in some cases, been prevented if people of conscience would have stepped up.

    The issue today is the same – are we going to work to create peace or shall we let war run havoc over this globe? I choose to work for peace.

  11. So then you are saying that previous wars, such as the American Civil War, were morally acceptable but that future wars are not?

  12. When did I say that any past war was morally acceptable? War is never morally acceptable, past or present. You are the one that is hung up on the past wars and somehow want to make the outcome of a war morally acceptable.

    What I have said is that if we know what will happen, why do we insist on following a course that will lead to death, destruction, and despair?

    I will not fight past wars; I grew up in a society that wanted to do that. Fortunately, as time passed, that idea subsided (not completely; there are still those fighting the civil war and the need for “state’s rights” today).

    I will again state what I think has been my thoughts through this whole argument. Why go into war when you see it coming? Why not work to prevent war? Why not feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless and free the oppressed? Is that not the Gospel message? Is that not what we are to be doing?

    Think about what Bob Dylan wrote/sang back in the 60’s – it still is true today
    Come you masters of war
    You that build the big guns
    You that build the death planes
    You that build all the bombs
    You that hide behind walls
    You that hide behind desks
    I just want you to know
    I can see through your masks

    You that never done nothin’
    But build to destroy
    You play with my world
    Like it’s your little toy
    You put a gun in my hand
    And you hide from my eyes
    And you turn and run farther
    When the fast bullets fly

    Like Judas of old
    You lie and deceive
    A world war can be won
    You want me to believe
    But I see through your eyes
    And I see through your brain
    Like I see through the water
    That runs down my drain

    You fasten the triggers
    For the others to fire
    Then you set back and watch
    When the death count gets higher
    You hide in your mansion
    As young people’s blood
    Flows out of their bodies
    And is buried in the mud

    You’ve thrown the worst fear
    That can ever be hurled
    Fear to bring children
    Into the world
    For threatening my baby
    Unborn and unnamed
    You ain’t worth the blood
    That runs in your veins

    How much do I know
    To talk out of turn
    You might say that I’m young
    You might say I’m unlearned
    But there’s one thing I know
    Though I’m younger than you
    Even Jesus would never
    Forgive what you do

    Let me ask you one question
    Is your money that good
    Will it buy you forgiveness
    Do you think that it could
    I think you will find
    When your death takes its toll
    All the money you made
    Will never buy back your soul

    And I hope that you die
    And your death’ll come soon
    I will follow your casket
    In the pale afternoon
    And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
    Down to your deathbed
    And I’ll stand o’er your grave
    ‘Til I’m sure that you’re dead

    The challenge is not for me to find moral justification for any war in the past. Though some may say that there are some wars which are just, that is only a cover-up. No war which results in death, destruction, or despair can ever be truly justified and those who ignore that have only themselves to blame. We saw all the wars coming and yet we did nothing. We see the wars before us and many still do nothing. There are wars coming and we had better work to prevent them.

    The challenge is for you to find moral justification for any war in the future. I think the time has come John for you to build your case and post it to your site.

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  14. Aiee! You know, most everyone here is viewing this issue from the wrong stance.
    Dr. Tony – you don’t want to define your view any further because John is right. You don’t and know what is the right choice. But as to your view that war is always wrong, please, look at the Bible which you speak from more closely:

    First, Israel was commanded by God to do away with the people in Caanan (Not that we have the right to just decide someone’s death by our little lonesome). Also, in Ecclesiastes 3:8, we see their IS a time for war. In fact, Israel’s history is littered with wars, from the kings to the prophets.

    Does this mean war is the only means? No, of course not. War is always a last resort since God weighs everything we do. Can war be the cure of things only? Of course not. Would you only eat food and not water and still live long? No. We saw this with World War 1.

    When Esther and her nation was threatened by Haman, she sought his death. Haman had made his move already with the decree to exterminate the Jews so it was a matter of life and death. Did God condemn her?
    Look at the Judges of Israel, when they defended the Israelites by throwing of their aggressors. Were these deaths wrong or were they justified? Was not Samson listed in the Heroes of Faith (Hebrews 11:32)

    I know war is ugly. We can all agree. Death is also ugly and just like war, since neither favors any person. All, rich or poor, oppressed or the oppressor, die alike.
    But when it comes to freedom and your life, you cannot throw away your life away so easily, for it was not you who made it. It was not you who planned your life. You don’t have the right to simply end it.

    Now does anyone think Hitler listened to peace talks? No, rather he made his decision by invasion. It was Europe’s responsibility to its people to protect them from his unjust and unwarranted attacks.

    So in conclusion, war is necessary but not the only means. It should only be used as a last resort because God judges the thoughts and actions of each person. Each person has his or her responsibility to both himself/herself and the people around that person. War then, stifles the tide.

  15. When you see that this all started with a bumper sticker slogan, you have to wonder who is right and who is wrong. There is no doubt that, in the Old Testament, there was war. But we live in a world of both the Old and New Testament, so our view has to change. And if I remain oppose to war, it because we do not see war as a last resort but rather as the first option. Look around at all those who are calling for armed aggression on our part and tell me that we aren’t.

    If we are people of the New Testament, then war should not be an option. If we see it as any sort of option, then we haven’t looked hard enough at the other options.

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