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Justin (koavf)

John,

I haven't worked through my response just yet, but I recently read this quote from the Rev. King that is relevant: "Don't let anyone make you think God chose America as His divine Messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world. I can hear God saying to America 'You are too arrogant and if you don't change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power and I will place it in the hands of a nation that doesn't even know My name.'" A powerful witness...

-JAK

JohnFH

Hi Justin,

as you work out responses and questions, please feel free to voice them in a comment.

MLK was clear about the fact that America is an empire when most Americans were - and still are - in denial on that score.

But I'm not sure that the US has a choice to be other than the linchpin of the global security system. There are no pretenders to that throne, and no one except Chavez and such really want the US to abdicate.

Niall Ferguson's work entitled "Colossus" is required reading on this subject.

Duane

Well, John, since you asked, I worry that you have asked me to take up one side of a distinction for which I am not sure there is a difference. I do not distinguish between secular (non-religious) and religious answers to questions on first reading. To be blunt, I see religious answers to questions as secular answers dressed up in the language and literature of some cult. And I find this particularly true in the case of questions having to do with that branch of ethics that was at on time called casuistry and applied ethics in general.

I need to preface what I am about to say by saying I am not a pacifist. I believe that World War II was a morally justifiable war (on the side of the allies) even if some aspects of it and how some of it was persuaded were not. That said, I think the most basic problem in this whole discussion, and I am not alone here, is the assumption of the inevitability of war without reference to any specific war. To use an old analogy: it was once, not so long ago, thought that slavery was the natural state of affairs in some human relationships. Even though there is still some slavery in the world, the slave owners can no longer justify what we now see as a crime in terms of some "natural law." They know they violate ethical norms. They just don't care.

I worry that seeking even tentative answers about modern war and peace in a collection of works like the Hebrew Bible tends to reinforce the general assumption of the inevitability of war. I think it does this in a far less subtle way than the points you seek to tease out of the texts. Simply put, perhaps too simply put, I think the Hebrew Bible is wrong on this point. In theological language, I think it wrong to suggest that God condones war in any case, even in the case of World War II. In secular terms, the moral justifications for war must exclude any implication that war is inevitable. I do think war is sometimes necessary in a way I don't think slavery is sometimes necessary. But I do believe that often we go to war thinking it is somehow the natural state of affairs. While that way of thinking may have once been justifiable, it is no longer. In fact, it is down right dangerous and morally repugnant.

I'm not sure I answered your question. But then I'm not sure your question was properly formed. :-)

JohnFH

Thanks, Duane, for some provocative thoughts. I agree with your main point, that war cannot be considered a normal state of affairs, to be accepted with resignation.

But, despite its antiquity, or maybe because of it - you come close to implying that ancient=primitive and modern=enlightened, a comforting piece of nonsense if there ever was one - the Hebrew Bible, or at least some parts of it, accords with your point.

I would also note that your point is valid, but it is an insufficient basis for deciding in specific instances whether to send troops or not to a particular theater. Your position might be confused with the kind of soft pacifism that holds immense appeal to well-heeled thoughtful people around the world, including myself, but which, on careful consideration, turns out to be a completely self-serving ideology. Rwanda docet.

Duane

John,

Don't get me wrong. If I were the "King of France" I would have sent troops in quite large numbers to Rwanda. But then genocidal war was underway in Rwanda. I can think of a place where I would send troops today. I would, however, want to make sure that I was acting with the backing of the world community and I would hope that large numbers of them would join in the operation. While war may not be inevitable, a strong police presence often is. In a hot situation, war and a police presence may not be easily distinguished.

JohnFH

Thanks for the clarification. I refrained earlier from complimenting you on an expression in your first comment, where you speak of religions tout court as "cults." But I want to note its truth: it is reductionist language, but accurate in its own way.

"Cult" is short for "culture' when one gets down to it, and one person's culture, religious or a-religious, will always be another person's cult.

Peter Kirk

John, most of your post is up to your usual high standard, but it is marred by this:

The result, in terms of the soft pacifism that appeals to well-heeled classes around the world, ranges from tolerable to irresponsible.

What is irresponsible here is the way you are throwing around a generalised accusation like this, backed by a rather nasty snide stereotype looking rather like an ad hominem argument. Do you have any arguments which are not ad hominem to support your thesis here?

Well, I guess from your "Rwanda docet" comment (although I don't recognise "docet" as a word in any language I understand) that you would appeal to Rwanda and the Congo. Well, the issue there was to a large extent a legacy of the mess left behind in Africa by European powers drawing arbitrary boundaries and then pulling out rapidly. I can see a good argument that it was the responsibility of those European powers to go back and sort out the mess. (The same argument can be used to justify WWII as sorting out the mess left behind after WWI). I can also see a good argument that it was none of the business of non-Africans to intervene in an African mess, one which was likely to be inflamed by intervention by former colonial powers. Certainly the USA, which as MLK reminds is is not "a sort of policeman of the whole world", had a perfect right if not a duty to keep well out of a situation which was none of its business.

JohnFH

Peter,

I have heard that argument often enough before, from Europeans. It basically runs like this: Africa is our backyard, not yours; Yankee, go home.

I have never heard this argument from Africans, however, and I have known quite a few over the years, including ambassadors.

In 2003, when Powell sent the Marines into Liberia in order to (successfully) defuse a situation that had already been allowed to take the lives of countless men, women, and children, I don't remember Europeans or Africans complaining.

When a tsunami occurs in Asia, or an earthquake in Pakistan, it is the US Army that brings in relief where no one else can. That's what is possible when you have a properly equipped army. If instead you do not equip your army properly because the burden of maintaining a nanny-state precludes it, as is true in the case of countries like France and Italy, you can't do much of anything, from a humanitarian point of view, in Asia after a tsunami or Pakistan after an earthquake, or, from a military point of view, in a situation like the aforementioned Liberian crisis.

The soft pacifists I count as my friends like to overlook these things. At best they suggest some pie-in-the-sky alternative like a well-funded and heavily armed UN force. Be careful what you wish for.

The US does serve as the linchpin of the global security system. That's why it has military bases scattered across the globe. There are geopolitical reasons for each one of them, reasons which may or may not be understood by people in general, but which are understood by leaders around the world, even those who depend on the ploy of whipping up anti-American sentiment to shore up their own political fortunes.

eclexia

Thanks for this very helpful series of posts, which I'm processing very very slowly (I'm still frequently pondering one comment from an older post in the series as I try to find my way through my thinking on this topic).

Wars in Africa have been heavy on my mind lately, with books I've already read, some I've only made it partway through and others I'm trying to read now. I recently finished Left to Tell and am trying to read An Ordinary Man, both personal accounts of the 100 terrible days in Rwanda in 1994.

Then, today, Peace Shall Destroy Many arrived in the mail. I've been looking forward to reading this since you referred to it a few posts ago. I'm grateful for how you keep challenging my thinking on this topic. At times, I hesitate to comment on this topic, to blog about it myself or to talk about this topic with my friends, because I think I end up talking out of both sides of my mouth--in great part, I guess, because I still have more questions than answers. Other times, I find myself blurting out responses, not so much because I think I have an answer, but because my questions in response to other people's answers are so many.

Thank you for fleshing out some of these tensions and articulating some of the paradoxes inherent in trying to live out ideals in a far from ideal world. It really does help meto have the paradoxes, such as your 5a and 5b in this post put in words.

Peter Kirk

John, I don't say that Africa is Europe's backyard. I say it belongs to Africa. Yes, Africans probably prefer Americans to Europeans because they have not suffered in the past from Americans. My only reason for preferring European intervention is that those who cause problems have some kind of responsibility to solve them, whereas those who were never involved in the situation do not.

I do not wish for "a well-funded and heavily armed UN force". Perhaps a well-funded but unarmed UN force to do what the US army has done for tsunami and earthquake relief. Of course the US army could throw away its weapons and save everyone a lot of money and still be available for these relief efforts, for which everyone would be grateful.

The US does serve as the linchpin of the global security system.

Reminds me of Revelation 13:5-8. I'm not saying that the USA is the beast, just that its blasphemous claims to offer security to the whole world are similar.

JohnFH

You say:

the US army could throw away its weapons and save everyone a lot of money and still be available for these relief efforts, for which everyone would be grateful.

You might get out a little more, Peter. There are certainly a lot of Taiwanese, South Koreans, Estonians, Georgians, Ukrainians, Poles, Israelis, Lebanese, Kosovars, Liberians, Iraqis and Afghanis, and that's just for starters, who would disagree with you.

There are also plenty of western Europeans who acknowledge the positive role the US army and its weapons have played over the last one hundred years, not just in WWI and WWII, but during the Cold War, in Afghanistan now, and in many other circumstances. Apparently you do not. To be sure, I feel your position is wrong-headed and bereft of a sense of history, but I don't consider it particularly dangerous. You can rail against "the blasphemous claims" of the US to offer security around the world all you want; if you were an American, you might even choose to vote for a presidential candidate who ran on a disengagement platform - Bush did, 8 years ago, and won.

But events and circumstances have a way of making a hash of soft pacifism and isolationist foreign policy. Isolationism is a pleasant approach to foreign affairs, since it asks so little of its followers. There is also something terribly normal about hating a super power, even if you depend on it for your security.

For example, it's normal for a proud people like the French to fete American soldiers one day, despise them the next, and, out of the limelight, synch their own military efforts with American ones whenever possible.

But what has that to do with serious conversation? I'm much in favor of seeing all kinds of fundamental changes in the way security and relief efforts are undertaken on a global scale. The sad thing is that soft pacifists do not make good partners in the move for change. Pacifists end up having zero effective input into the development of change because, at bottom, soft pacifism amounts to a "live and let die" policy.

If I understand you correctly, Peter, if China wants to take over Taiwan, for example, that's none of our business. I would simply point out that for those of us with friends on that island, friends with names and faces, your "do not meddle" policy rings hollow.

Stephen (aka Q)

John:
Four quick thoughts.

(1) You seem to say that war is a mistake in many specific instances. At the same time, the main point of this series of posts is to poke holes in the pacifist position. At least, that's how it comes across to me.

Maybe it would clarify things if you would answer this question: which wars was the USA involved in in the previous century that you think were a mistake? My impression is, you think America was justified in every instance of war. But maybe my impression is wrong.

(2) I'm uncomfortable with your use of the text, "They say 'Peace, peace,' when there is no peace."

Let's be clear about one thing: the text does not speak a word against pacifism. The false prophets are claiming that there is "Peace, peace" between God and Israel when such is not the case. Verse 16: "… the prophets of Israel who prophesied concerning Jerusalem and saw visions of peace for her, when there was no peace, declares the Lord God."

The debate is not about, Should we invade Iraq? — in which case the "Peace, peace" people would be misguided pacifists. I'm sure you know that, but I'm not entirely clear what point you were making in that part of your post.

(3) I agree with you that the state has a mandate to restrain evil. However, you don't seem to be taking into account the case I've been building on my blog. Namely, that the state has one mandate (to bear the sword in order to restrain evil) and the church has another (to advocate peace and reconciliation). I don't think it's appropriate for the church to assume the state's mandate, and become an advocate of war.

I find myself agreeing with your interpretation of the relevant texts; and agreeing with you that the UN failed in its responsibilities by not intervening in Rwanda.

On the other hand, I continue to disagree with the overall gist of your series, which is to put the church in a hand-in-glove relationship with the state, precisely with respect to the state's war-making activities. That is a grave error, in my view.

(4) The New Testament does not innovate on this subject.

I think that's a misreading of the N.T. — at least, of the Gospels.

In Romans 13, Paul does indeed echo the language of the O.T. passages you cite.

As for Jesus, I don't think he's just saying that individuals are not to act violently. Jesus repudiated violence — tout court.

I am inclined to think Jesus stood in succession to the apocalypticists, who had given up waiting for an earthly, King David-like deliverer of Israel. Instead, they waited for God to intervene directly to deliver Israel. Waiting for God to act means a refusal to take up the sword oneself — and that's precisely what we see in Jesus.

What's that, if not a radical modification of the Old Testament example you consistently appeal to?

Stephen (aka Q)

Eclexia:
You're obviously very torn on this issue. I wonder what you think of my compartmentalization of the two roles:

• the state has a mandate from God to bear the sword to restrain evil;
• the Church has a mandate from God to advocate peace and reconciliation.

The state's mandate is based (in my mind) on a Hobbesian sort of analysis. The worst of all worlds is a state of anarchy. When every individual has a knife at the throat of every other individual, it is impossible for people to get on with the basic, daily tasks necessary to sustain life.

Therefore the state legitimately uses force to establish security and social order. That sets a context in which people can get on with their lives.

But the state, which is a secular institution with a logic all its own — a logic of political expediency rather than spiritual principle — all too often adopts military aggression as a default position. Therefore the Church has a God-given mandate to function as a check on state power, to resist the war-making impulse which comes so naturally to the state.

I think this compartmentalization of the two mandates is biblically defensible. It isn't strictly a New Testament analysis: even a close reading of the Hebrew texts leads to that conclusion, as I'm attempting to demonstrate on my blog.

Perhaps that would help you to express your own ambivalence on the subject, recognizing that both impulses have their place. The main caution is not to confuse the mandates, which is the mistake I believe John is making.

Peter Kirk

John, let's not go back into the ancient history of the Cold War, part of the mess emerging from WWI and WWII which would never have been fought if it hadn't been for early 20th century Christian militarism. Are the South Koreans and Taiwanese expected to be grateful to the western world for getting them out of a mess which it got them into?

As for "Estonians, Georgians, Ukrainians", what has the US army done for them? They got their freedom by largely bloodless revolution, not by US intervention fortunately. And do you really think you will find more than a handful of Iraqis to thank you for the mess you (and we) have made of their country?

I know your media and politicians daily feed you the lie that the rest of the world is eternally grateful to the USA for all it has done for them, but when will you wake up to the truth that in fact most of the world either absolutely hates you or grudgingly acknowledges that you have brought them economic benefits at the cost of destroying their cultures? Well, at least you realise that the French despise you and that "There is also something terribly normal about hating a super power", but you don't seem to realise that there are good reasons for it.

As for Taiwan, I don't say that you should simply abandon your puppet state after 60 years. But I note that the UK successfully negotiated with China for a bloodless handover of power in Hong Kong which seems to have worked more or less to everyone's satisfaction. Perhaps something similar can be negotiated for Taiwan. But first you have to be prepared to talk to your enemies, which is much easier when you aren't waving nukes at them.

Stephen, I think my position is quite similar to yours. What I don't see in your quick summary here is your position on whether Christians should be involved in government and if so what position they should take. Maybe that is explained on your blog, which I should read.

JohnFH

Stephen, I will take a look at the case you are building with respect to church-state relations, and post in response.

In the meantime, let me articulate once again my chief points. No, I'm not against pacifism, if by that one means the historic Anabaptist kind. It is a compelling position, and though I personally do not feel called to live according to it, I believe Christianity and the world would be impoverished if others did not. I feel the same way about a number of religious orders.

I am very wary of pacifism lite. In a variety of flavors, it's been around for some time, and I can't think of much good that has come of it. As you point out, along with Peter, your positions are in flux. Should you or Peter decide to join a historically pacifist community, I would support you wholeheartedly. I remember having lunch recently with a twenty two year old who breathed an intense quiet joy. She was off to become a cloistered nun, and her only contact with the world will be that she will be praying for me, for you, and for the whole world.

There are moments when the thought I have of her praying is the best thought I know. In the same way, I remain in awe of my friend David Rensberger, now a NT prof, who went to prison in the '70s, though he had a wife and kids to support, because he, a Mennonite, refused to become a conscientious objector according to US rules. When asked why he refused to be drafted, he did not respond with, "I am a Mennonite." If he had, he never would have gone to jail. He replied, "Because I am a Christian," and therefore he went to jail. Though I don't subscribe to David's point of view, if I think of the life of the Mennonite community he is a product of, and I compare it with the Christian life and community I participate in, it seems entirely reasonable to me that someone might wish to trade the set of contradictions we are used to living with for the set of contradictions they live with.

Pacifism lite, on the other hand, lacks a cleared eyed awareness of the extent to which the society we live in is founded on coercive actions taken by some against others on behalf of society as a whole. It all works very badly, I wish to emphasize. But it is foolhardy to think that the answer is for the authorities to start refusing to retaliate against bad actors. This is true at the municipal level no less than the international level. At both levels, it is the victims of violence that continue to have few avenues of redress. This is the basic basement level of reality, and I can't take any political position seriously that does not address it as priority number one.

I am not interested in a softer, gentler version of a coercive state that works according to liberal democratic principles. Well, I wouldn't mind it, to be honest, if I were sure a number of unintended consequences would not turn out to haunt the result.

If I thought the answer lies in taking the cowboy, so to speak, out of the management of foreign affairs, the economy, and health care; if I thought all we need to do is put everything into the hands of well-meaning bureaucrats, the solution already exists, in a number of western European countries, and Canada.

But I don't think that the world would be a swell place if only the US behaved a bit more like Britain. Perhaps that is what pacifism lite boils down to, but if so, it is a grand piece of self-delusion. It's only possible to think that way if one views the Cold War as so much ancient history - just as Peter suggests - and anything that happened before that as containing no object lessons for today, and as far as past and future genocides are concerned, well, they're none of our business. I reject this attitude with every fiber of my being.

What do I want? I am interested in a state in which justice and reconciliation actually occur. I am interested in a state that applies as much force as is necessary to protect the innocent and to avenge the innocent when they are hurt or killed.

Since I live in the United States, I am looking for a presidential candidate who, unlike Bush 8 years ago before 9/11, does not promise nonsense about stepping back from international commitments, or getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan before things are sorted out. I am looking for leadership that will support Iraq, Afghanistan, and other "puppet states," as Peter calls them. States like Poland, Hungary, the Ukraine, Georgia, and the Baltic states, who want to join NATO, not get out of it.

I am looking for leadership that will preserve America's identity as a safe port and place of hope for the millions who enter it every year. But I want leadership that will bring some order into things, something very different from the current situation, in which millions of my hard working neighbors and many of the employers I know must live with fear and uncertainty.

eclexia

Hmmm... a lot more to think about.

Stephen, I think I agree with your compartmentalization on some level. The tornness I experience, however, is in trying to understand how that really looks and is lived out. What does it mean for how I live my life, for how I vote, for how I live, not only as a citizen of the kingdom of God, but living out that citizenship in the context of mess of earthly communities--local, national, international. Even without being involved in government, per se, I live in a country (the U.S.) and the complexities of life in that context and moral, ethical, spiritual implications of living out my Christian faith in that context do not neatly fit into categories.

John says, "it is the victims of violence that continue to have few avenues of redress". That resonates with me on deeply personal levels--my own experiences with violence as well as living in many different places here and abroad and feeling the truth of that statement over and over again.

As a Christian, I have seen and experienced the reality that the church's mandate for peace and reconciliation is extremely powerful and brings meaning and healing out of suffering to victims of violence in ways that are hard to understand or explain, even when no solution to the suffering or injustice seems forthcoming or likely to happen anytime soon.

As a voting member of a country, though, I find my ideals a bit more muddled. Yes, I'm a Christian who cares about peace and reconciliation vs. power and control to make a difference. But, as a voter for government leadership, people who are going to carry out the state's mandates, I do continue to experience tension about how that looks. E.g. If the mandates are so clear cut and separate, is there ever a place for a Christian in government leadership? How do Christians vote?

I suppose, the compartmentalization you suggest would be less messy and more comforting if I felt able, at this time, (to loosely quote John) to trade the set of contradictions I'm used to living with for the contradictions that come with non-involvement in the wider cultural and political context...if I could live only as a member of the kingdom of God without having to flesh the details out in a specific governmental and cultural context.

What happens, I think for me, is not so much that I believe I have to choose between one mandate or the other, but that believers have to live in the context of the mandate to the church and the mandate to the state , and I find that to be very confusing and full of tension--philosophically, theologically and practically.

As a Christian, I hold on to hope that God is at work, faithfully redeeming the most fallen of situations and healing the most broken people, through radical means such as peace and forgiveness. I long for that kind of radical change and healing in people's lives and situations (including my own). As a member of a country with a mandate to bear the sword to restrain evil, I long for the same sorts of things John expresses in the last three paragraphs of the last comment.

All that to say, I'm not sure I disagree with you (and I find your categories to be very helpful in organizing my brain a bit as I continue to think about these things), but I don't think the distinctions in themselves get at the root of where I experience the tension--on the practical, living out level.

Stephen (aka Q)

• John:
I really would like an answer to the question: which US wars of the last century do you think were wrong? In principle, you don't support all wars. I'm looking for reassurance that, in practice, you don't give the American government a blank cheque.

• Peter:
These days, I am an employee of the Government of Canada — a bureaucrat. (I was a pastor for some years before that.) My specific role is within a team which negotiates self-government agreements with Canada's native people. I regard the initiative as a kind of alternative dispute resolution process, and I hope it will ultimately bring concrete benefits to First Nations and Inuit communities.

I have a friend who thinks government is, by definition, coercive and violent, and Christians can't participate in it. In my view, his position is both too cynical and too idealistic.

But I recognize that the radical compartmentalization I'm defending makes it awkward for a Christian to participate in government. There are many government activities that I can't support in good conscience. To some extent, I suppose I'm implicated as a government employee. Then again, I am also implicated in the misdeeds of my government merely by virtue of my citizenship.

I think it's impossible to make it through this life with perfectly clean hands. Unless one takes the radical option John mentions, of opting out of civil society entirely by entering a convent. Perhaps the old saying about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good is germane here.

Eclexia:
Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I certainly agree that the tensions inherent in this topic are inescapable and troubling.

You appear to have a more active conscience than many of us do, which is a very admirable character trait … but not an easy cross to bear. God's peace to you.

eclexia

Stephen, I'm not sure how you see in me an active conscience, through my words, which I thought ended up being a muddled, verbose, confusing mess, and I wasn't even sure they were relevant to the bigger discussion! In any case, your response in calling what you see an "admirable character trait" was gracious, when I felt like you could have just said, "Huh? She's not making any sense."

Sometimes the way I think does feel like a heavy cross to bear--mainly because there is so much I don't understand, but I still try to "go there" anyway, entering in dialogues that feel like they are WAY over my head. I wonder if it's like I'm trying to take part in a discussion on calculus, when my understanding (and questions) are more on the level of solving problems like 2x+3=13.

JohnFH

Eclexia, Stephen, Peter, and Justin,

it's very hard to discuss matters of war and peace without ending up trading insults. In this thread, we haven't solved the problems of the world, but at least we remain friends, or have even become better friends, despite our differences. That is no small achievement.

A reply is on the way, Stephen.

Peter Kirk

John, the attitude I reject with every fibre of my being is that if you want to follow Jesus' teaching and be a pacifist you must withdraw from the world like Mennonites or your nun friend. I believe in certain principles and I want the world to be governed according to them, although I recognise that in practice this will happen only very approximately in the near future. I don't want the world to become like Britain, which is by no means pacifist!, nor do I support the apparent hypocrisy (or maybe just weakness) of Bush.

It seems that you, John, agree with Stephen's friend that "government is, by definition, coercive and violent". I disagree, at least with "violent", and look for a government which renounces violence, although I accept that limited non-violent coercion is necessary to deal with criminals and maintain a properly ordered society. But I continue to agree with Stephen.

I am glad that I am not looking for a presidential candidate for your country, because any one I might support would be unelectable.

Eclexia, your country does not have "a mandate to bear the sword to restrain evil" outside its own borders, and that error is at the heart of John's misunderstanding.

JohnFH

Thanks, Peter, for being very clear about your positions.

You are right that I think government is, by definition, coercive and violent. Hobbes exaggerated, but did not err in substance. Maybe your version of Psalm 72 does not include the part about "crushing" the wicked. Mine does.

You are wrong when you say the US does not have a mandate to bear the sword to restrain evil outside of its borders. It does in all kinds of situations, via bilateral and multilateral accords - like NATO, which you are free to oppose, but you can't pretend it doesn't exist - and UN resolutions.

The US-led coalition currently bears the sword in Iraq based on annually re-voted UN Security Council resolutions. Surely you are aware of this? Maybe the BBC is not so good a source of information after all.

eclexia

Although I find it difficult to comprehend how and when a government decides for or against involving itself in restraining evil outside its borders (and indeed am distressed when the line between such involvement or not seems inconsistent), and although I have very mixed feelings about how such involvement should look, I do not see that a government turning its eyes away from all evil outside its borders could be a good thing.

To what extent should one government intervene against the evils of another? At what cost of resources? With how much force? And when is enough enough? I don't know. And I am also ambivalent to some degree because such involvement is easily misguided and not based on understanding of the root issues and as such, can end up backfiring or being counterproductive.

In spite of the uncertainties, I keep thinking about all that is implied in the word "genocide" and wondering: If my government is going to direct resources and energy to stopping the extinction of animal species which happens at comparatively slow speeds, don't we have an even greater obligation to apply resources and energy to intervene in deliberate and violent instances where a group of people is acting violently with the intent to make extinct a particular race or group of people as quickly as possible?

And if so, is it possible for a government to effectively intervene to prevent such an evil without using force? I don't know. (The 3-word motto of my life.)

One side thought here comes from the autobiography An Ordinary Man (by/about the hotel manager whose story is told in Hotel Rwanda, a movie I couldn't watch, although I was able to read the book). Although he mourns the lack of serious intervention from the UN, the US and various European governments (whose phone lines he repeatedly kept ringing, begging for help), he makes the statement that no UN presence would have been better than the ineffective, small and halfhearted UN presence that was in Rwanda at the time of the genocide.

A presence, without significant size or willingness to use force was not only virtually pointless, but ended up seeming to give "permission" for the genocide to continue and served to soothe the conscience of foreign governments that "something was being done, because we are there".

JohnFH

Eclexia,

you make a number of points I subscribe to far better than I have.

Of course, we both might be wrong. Given the tendency of states that intervene on behalf of other states, or populaces, to make a hash of things, Peter's general rule - "don't meddle" - is attractive. It breaks down, however, upon impact with actual events. Even Powell, whose famous "Powell Doctrine" would have precluded it, sent the Marines into Liberia, and it's a good thing he did.

It is true that one of the terrible lessons of UN peacekeeping missions is that a weak presence is sometimes worse than none at all. Rwanda is one example. Another is Srebenica.

Most pacifists lite deal with these problems by admitting that their approach has nothing to offer in these instances, but insist that their approach would, if followed, make it unlikely that scenarios of this kind would present themselves in the first place. As far as I can see, this amounts to wishful thinking pure and simple.

Peter Kirk

John, I accept that the US has certain rights to intervene outside its borders through treaties and UN resolutions. But it does not have the kind of unrestricted God-given right to do so which you and Eclexia previously implied. It is strange that in your latter exchange neither of you even suggested that the UN should be consulted on questions like "To what extent should one government intervene against the evils of another?", when in fact there can be no legal (let alone moral) justification for such intervention without a UN resolution.

Psalm 72:4 is a prayer of an individual with a certain worldview and not a teaching of what is absolutely right, like Psalm 137:9.

JohnFH

Peter,

I was not implying that the US or any other country has unrestricted rights to do anything. To be sure, I do not feel that the UN Security Council should be accepted as the final arbiter in these matters. That is not convincing.

So it was not appropriate to intervene against the Serbia of Milosevic because a permanent member of the Security Council (Russia) would not approve of it? Or, because the first Gulf War was approved by a UN resolution, does that make it right?

I don't see any difference between Pss 72 and 137. Both are prayers and in both, desires are expressed that are in line with concepts of justice that find broad expression elsewhere.

Peter Kirk

I do not claim that the UN Security Council is a good moral arbiter of which causes are worthy and which are not. Clearly it has often erred - although not, I think, in the cases you mentioned as unprovoked invasion of one country (Kuwait) by another (Iraq) is a just cause for intervention if any such causes are just, whereas matters in Serbia were largely internal. But the Security Council is the legal arbiter, without which no country has the right to intervene in another.

John, if you base your morality on Psalm 137:9 and 72:4 rather than on the teaching of Jesus, I have to wonder if I should consider you some kind of monster rather than my brother in Christ.

JohnFH

Peter,

It certainly is wise in some instances to seek the UN Security Council's pre-approval for military intervention. Would pre-approval provide the legal and moral cover necessary for a Christian to go to war? All other things being equal, that would seem to follow. If it doesn't follow, I really can't take your position seriously. It amounts to a great deal of pontification about what others, but not Christians, should do.

In any case, history shows that it is wise to go ahead and intervene without pre-approval in other instances.

For example, I take issue with your characterization of the policies of a Milosevic or a Radzic as matters which place no moral claim on others in the international community. To speak of the bloody dissolution of Yugoslavia as a "largely internal" affair, of which the last stages involving Kosovo were but an inevitable coda, is sickening in my eyes. The police should not intervene in cases of ongoing domestic abuse by your lights either. I continue to think that you have an incoherent position.

I'm wondering if you also think the US followed by NATO should have sought pre-approval for intervening in Afghanistan. Pre-approval was not sought, nor did anyone but the usual suspects complain at the time.

You are willing to turn a deaf ear to the cry of the oppressed and sacrifice the life and liberties of your neighbor with consummate ease. It's one thing to say that if we intervene, we might actually make matters worse - this has happened all too often - it's quite another to say, as you have been, that on principle we shouldn't "meddle."

I think you're mistaken to conclude that one must choose between Pss 72 and 137 on the one hand and the Sermon on the Mount on the other. You are digging yourself into a big hole here.

You are free to regard me as a monster because I seek to hold these texts and others in tension. I do not, in any case, think you are a monster. I think some of your ideas are flawed, but I'm sure some of mine are flawed as well. If I knew which ones, I would correct them, but I don't.

I count on other people, including you, whose views I respect even when we differ, to point out the error of my thoughts and ways. And I have been trying to return the favor.

On this very issue, when I was a college student, I wrote an essay advocating a pacifist position not unlike yours for a Christian journal. To my surprise, an Anglican theologian took the time to write a reply in which he patiently dismantled my arguments. I don't remember admitting he was right at the time. Lacking self-confidence, I could not give myself permission to admit that I was wrong. I needed to respond to an external trigger of some kind. Subsequent events in my life have acted as external triggers, such that I now see the wisdom, and not just the difficulties, of just war arguments.

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