Risking Ourselves for Peace

**Originally published here; http://blog.sojo.net/blogs/2009/08/04/risking-ourselves-peace

I’m a big fan of iTunesU, and I usually try to listen to informative podcasts on long drives, since I can’t read and drive simultaneously. Driving through the cornfields of our central plains not too long ago, I listened as Professor Stanley Hauerwas of Duke Divinity School gave a lecture titled “The Call for the Abolition of War.” About an hour into the talk, he mentioned giving a talk at the Air Force Academy in 2004, which apparently is the only military academy to have a philosophy department (go figure). He describes talking with cadets there about the Just War debate within military circles. The cadets explained to him that the most sizable discussion revolves around the honor of killing in combat.

The point made was that in order to be afforded the moral legitimacy to kill in battle, one must be prepared to die by the hand of his (or, increasingly, her) opponent. Thanks to the marvels (or horror, depending upon your perspective) of our modern fighting apparatuses, however, many of our warriors never truly face the reality of being killed in battle. I am painfully reminded of the upcoming anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 64 years ago this week. How can we even attempt to claim moral authority over the deaths of not merely fellow willing combatants, but civilians?

Before I am caricatured as a self-loathing vet with an anti-American agenda, let me state unequivocally that such an honorific code applies universally. If it is not honorable to use aircraft to kill one’s opponents, then both military pilots and the 9/11 hijackers are indicted. If it is not honorable to send bombs into civilian populations, then both Pentagon officials and suicide bombing planners are accountable. If we, the church, believe war is irreconcilable with the ethics of the Prince of Peace, then we share the burden of culpability. If we demand an end to war (and we must), then it should be incredibly disturbing to realize that we enjoy the fruits of its bloodied labor, not the least of which being an emotive insulation from its horrors. Hard as I try, I continue to be convicted by comments from critics that I am benefiting from the blood, sweat, and tears of such a stark minority in our society, even though I myself was one of those who shed blood, sweat, and tears (and continue to do so).

As Christians, in this week marked by the needless bloodshed of thousands in 1945, what are we doing to put an end to the madness of war? If an answer fails us, or if we think it exists solely in the realm of policy and bureaucracy, then I suggest we have much to learn from the likes of Christian Peacemaker Teams, who have been answering that challenge for over a decade now, putting their lives on the line in areas of direct conflict the world over. If the church has a problem with war (as it claims to), then we must be at least as morally strident as any airman, marine, sailor, or soldier who stand ready to die for our American principles. Ron Sider reminds us that we must be at least as preparedto risk our lives and our luxuries in the effort to eliminate war as readily as our military stands to proliferate it. Otherwise, he wonders, do we deserve to bear the title Christian? After all, if we are God’s children, aren’t we to be known as peacemakers?

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