The United States is embroiled in two (well, two and a half) wars right now. Iraq seems to be winding down these days, but we still have a military presence there and sometimes it appears the agony in Afghanistan is unending. With these commitments laid on an already strained military, the Obama administration involved us in the civil war in Libya, albeit on a limited (for now) basis. All this has brought up debate in Christian circles about nation building, just war and pacifism. I, myself, have weighed in on this discussion with a post on whether the concept of just war is valid titled “A Just War?” In it, I postulate that pacifism is the path that Jesus would take and that, as His followers, it’s the one that we should also. While that sounds good, is it realistic?
I think it is, but there’s a catch. I can choose pacifism and nonviolence because other people are willing to sacrifice everything to give me that right. In the United States we enjoy a security that may never have been seen throughout history; certainly not since the end of the Pax Romana. The United States has never been conquered and occupied by a foreign power. Citizens rest secure in the knowledge that soldiers or thugs won’t kick down their door and do violence. Americans are spared these things because a select group of individuals is willing to stand between us the horrors of the broken world we live in. I can be a pacifist if I so choose because the men and women of the U. S. armed forces are willing to do violence to protect me and ensure that right. Robert E. Lee is reputed to have once said “Duty is the sublimest word in our language. Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more. You should never wish to do less” and, although doubt is now cast on whether he actually said it, it accurately describes many of these young men and women. They see the protection of our rights and freedoms as their duty and are willing to give everything, even their lives, to that end. Our duty, as a country, as individuals and as followers of Christ is to make sure that they only have to do so as last resort. And, that is where we have failed miserably.
We have allowed our government to make war on people to protect our “freedom” when those people were no threat to us in any way. Over the course of this country history, we pissed away the lives of countless young people for no reason other than finanical gain. Other times, we’ve gone to war to protect our national honor and that’s no better a cause than “filthy lucre”. When someone takes an oath to defend and protect their nation, they enter into an unspoken contract, stating that they will give their life. In return for that sacrifice, their nation will:
- Care for them if they are injured
- Make every effort to recover and return their body if they are killed and
- Ensure that this sacrifice is not in vain, useless or wasted
Years ago, Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem titled “Tommy” that very aptly sums up how we’ve handled this contract.
The next time any of us want to make a statement about war, violence and how much we’re spending on it, just remember that we can make that statement because there others who are willing to die, or worse, kill so we can.