It was Robert E. Lee who, following the battle of Fredericksburg stated that “it is fortunate that war is so terrible – lest we should grow fond of it.” He also wrote in a letter to his wife on Christmas Day, 1862, “What a cruel thing is war; to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world! I pray that, on this day when only peace and good-will are preached to mankind, better thoughts may fill the hearts of our enemies and turn them to peace. … My heart bleeds at the death of every one of our gallant men.”
In a saying that has been passed down through the ages, we are reminded that nobody is stupid enough to prefer war over peace. Because, in peacetime children bury their parents but in war, it is the parents who bury their children (attributed to Herodotus).
Yet, despite our seeming aversion to war, we quickly resort to war as the solution to our problems and our fears. Some would say that war in inevitable; that the conflict between good and evil can only be resolved through war. We have even created a “just war” theory in order to justify wars; we have created rules of war so that we can play the game of war properly and know who wins and loses.
But over the years, the rules of warfare have changed and what were once a legitimate rules are no longer acceptable. When we fought the American Revolution, there were times when our forces used Indian tactics (firing from behind trees rather in military straight lines) and the British called “foul” or “unfair”. In the Civil War, battlefield tactics required lines and lines of men marching towards the objective. But the weapons of war had improved and the accuracy of the weapons had improved, so the causalities that were incurred increased (it was the decimation of the ranks by this type of approach that lead General Lee to utter his first remark).
Each war has brought about improvements in weapons and delivery systems, yet we fight the war with the previous war’s tactics. The winner is not the one who plays by the rules of the present war but the one who adapts the quickest to the new technologies of war.
What will it take to break the cycle of war that seems to be passed down from generation to generation? What will it take to change this on-going culture of war?
One thing that will be needed is a change in our view of leadership, not just the President who is the Commander-in-Chief but all those who are involved in the decision to send our young men and women into battles in far-away places.
It would be nice if those who send our children off to war would be there when they come home. I am not speaking about the parades and victory celebrations that we so often desire; I am speaking about the times when our children come home wounded or dead. Each person at the uppermost level of leadership in this country should be required, if not by law then by common sense and decency, to be present at the funeral of those who have fought and served. They should be there to share the burden and grief of the families who have lost their future, for it is the future of the country that is buried as well. And no business of the country should take place if the leaders are not there to see the results of their decisions.
Second, we need to remember that there are only three qualifications to be President of this country. The individual must be either a natural born citizen or a citizen of the United States, at least thirty-five years old, and a resident of the United States for fourteen years. There is nothing in the constitution concerning religion, race, sex, or military service that would further delineate these qualifications. And by the way, “so help me God” is not a part of the official oath of office; it was added spontaneously by George Washington at the conclusion of his first inauguration and has been repeated by every President since that time.
We heard the cry when President Clinton first ran for election in 1992 that he wasn’t qualified to be President because he had not served in the military while President George H. W. Bush was a qualified war hero. Somehow, the present President Bush’s military service in the Texas and Alabama National Guard qualified him to be the Commander-in-Chief while Senator Kerry’s war record in Viet Nam was challenged and questioned.
It would appear that Senator McCain’s military record will be used as a rationale for electing him. There is no doubt that Senator McCain should be proclaimed a war hero but that is not necessarily a reason for electing him President. Nor should the lack of service be considered a detriment to election. Neither Senator Obama nor Senator Clinton served (and had Senator Clinton been able to serve, it would have only been in non-combat roles; we want our military heroes on the front-line).
This is not to be an endorsement of any candidate currently seeking the position. Rather, I am pointing out that we have created a culture of war. If we want our military heroes to be our leaders, the only way we can have military heroes is to have wars.
Instead of heroes or messiahs, we need leaders who are willing to work to remove the causes of war, not just prevent them. We know what causes wars, yet we seem to ignore those causes.
If there are to be wars in our future we need leaders who understand the cost of war and are willing to carry that burden with the people they have been elected to lead. But war should not be the answer and the question in which war should be the answer should never be asked.
It is time that we examine the culture of war that we have created and begin taking the steps needed to end it. Let me add some thoughts that are in the April, 2008, issue of Connections, a monthly newsletter by Barbara Wendland. In this issue, she is reviewing The Politics of Jesus by Obery M. Hendricks, Jr. Reverend Hendricks points out that Jesus’ strategies were:
- Jesus treated people and their needs as holy.
- Jesus gave a voice to the voiceless.
- Jesus exposed oppressive systems.
- Jesus called demons by their names.
- Jesus got angry about seeing others mistreated.
- Jesus took blows without returning them.
- Jesus demonstrated His way.
It is time that we who claim to be Christian act as Christians. The guidelines have been given to us and it is time that we put them into place.