Archive for war
In a recent article of mine about Christians apologists for the state, its military, and its wars, I mentioned, for the first time I believe, the term “nuclear Christian.” I would like to elaborate on the meaning of this neologism.
Another anniversary of the dropping by the United States of the atomic bombs “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima (August 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (August 9, 1945)—and the incineration of 200,000 civilians—has come and gone.
Even as more information comes to light and, thanks to the Internet, becomes more readily available about how unnecessary and evil that action was, it seems as though conservative Christians are more resolute in their defense of it.
Not a one of them has probably ever read or even heard of the 1995 book by Gar Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth, the 2001 article by Ralph Raico, “Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” or the just-published article by Barton J. Bernstein on American conservatives in history who criticized the atomic bombing of Japan.
But it is not just Christians defending the atomic bombs dropped on Japan that is the problem.
If insanity can be defined as doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results, then perhaps the United States’ foreign policy truly is insane. Let’s admit we have been wrong in Iraq and stop making the same mistake.
What is that mistake, you ask? It is to claim very vaguely that American interests are in danger (what those may be we are never told), and then to intervene militarily in the affairs of another nation. I realize that in Iraq’s case it will be difficult for us to walk away, since we are largely responsible for the current mess that the nation is in, but will further intervention ultimately bring the type of change that we want to see there? If modern history holds true, the answer is clearly no.
First, after decimating Iraq’s infrastructure twice in the last two and a half decades in expensive wars, they are no more free and stable now than they were under Saddam Hussein. They are arguably in even worse shape now than they were before the U.S. arrived. Twenty-three years of U.S. involvement in Iraq has given us what we are watching unfold on our television screens right now. Since 2003, we have spent 1.7 trillion dollars, lost over 4,000 U.S. service personnel in battle, and sent home over 35,000 wounded soldiers from Iraq. There are estimates that as many as half a million Iraqi civilians were killed between 2003 and 2014 as well. These have been destructive, expensive, bloody, and extremely sad years for both Iraq and America. While we bombed Iraq in the name of freedom over weapons of mass destruction that did not even exist, our government has removed precious liberty after precious liberty, spent us into the ground, and printed money into oblivion. America and Iraq are less secure and less stable due to our reckless disregard for the truth, human life, and the laws of economics. It is time for a change in U.S. foreign policy.
We need to become acquainted with the roots of our own liberty again. Liberty is not forged in a vacuum. Securing and maintaining liberty takes “eternal vigilance”. Liberty, in America specifically, and the West generally, was more than 2,500 years in the making, going back as far as Greece. Our understanding of liberty was forged in the fire of history, and we are still refining it. Constitutional republics are not instant pudding or microwaveable popcorn. They are not produced on a whim with few ingredients. The idea that we were going to waltz into Iraq, topple a dictator, write a constitution, erect voting booths, and have long-standing democracy was foolish and short sighted. The intentions may have been good, but good intentions are not enough. The Iraq War was naïve, and reflects a poor understanding of our own roots.
Iraq is also less safe for minorities now. Some of the oldest Christian communities in the world were in Iraq. For the most part those Christian communities had lived peacefully side by side with Muslims for centuries. But due to America’s interventionism, those communities have all but been destroyed. Why? When America stationed its troops in Iraq, Iraq became a lightening rod for Islamic extremists. Radical Muslims poured into Iraq to fight America on the ground. As radicals fought Americans, they killed Christians along the way. Before America arrived in Iraq there was not a single verifiable Al Qaeda cell in that country. Before the fall of Mosul and Tikrit to ISIS, Al Qaeda backed forces controlled about 20% of Iraq. Iraq went from a nation without Al Qaeda at all in 2003, to a nation faced with being controlled by Islamic radicals in just over a decade. This obviously bodes very badly for minorities in Iraq like Shiite Muslims and Christians.
Instead of stabilizing the region, American wars have destabilized it. Now there is the very real threat of Iraq, Libya, Egypt, and Syria all being controlled by Sunni radicals at the same time. All these states were once secularized Muslim nations. They were once our friends. Now, due to America’s intervention in these nations, they all have fallen, or have nearly fallen, into the worst of hands. These places will now be safe havens for more and more terrorists to train, receive funding, and even gain state sponsorship.
I suggest at this point we take a step back, admit that America’s foreign policy of aggression in Iraq has been wrong, and seek a new way forward, one that promotes free markets and liberty, but does not involve the U.S. military. Let’s try friendship and becoming a beacon of peace and prosperity again. Perhaps we should secure our own borders, make citizenship and work visas easier to gain, and try trading with nations instead of invading them. Economic sanctions should be lifted from nations like Iran. Sanctions only serve to hurt the people of a nation and allow the real problem, dictatorial governments and thugs to use us as a scapegoat. Let’s get out of bed with every tin-pot dictator in the world. Let’s love freedom, let’s promote liberty, but let’s do it without violence. Liberty that is spread by the sword is not liberty at all. That was the problem with Iraq’s liberty all along, it wasn’t real. It was only an illusion, one that would be ill-fated to try and manufacture again.
Under Saddam Hussein, Christians in Iraq were not well-loved but they were tolerated. However, following the military adventurist campaigns of the United States and its allies, the situation for Iraqi Christians has become increasingly dire. A few days ago, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) took over the Iraqi city of Mosul (incidentally, this city was once called Nineveh) and displaced over 500,000 people including most of Iraq’s remaining Christian population.
Interventionism often escalates extremist activity, and the Iraq War has spawned a variety of spin-off terrorist groups. Many of these groups strike out at their own people, including Christians. ISIS, remarkably, was even renounced by al-Qaeda for being too brutal. Read More→
DS: Most libertarian Christians are highly suspicious of centralized power. We contend that when power becomes increasingly concentrated, it becomes increasingly corrupt and more harmful to society. You strongly oppose the idea of empire in your book, especially when the empire claims to have God on its side. Few Christians (even Christian anarchists) would deny that governance is needed, but at what point does government become empire? Are local governments less likely to become satanic than federal governments?
BZ: I loosely define empires as rich, powerful nations who seek to rule other nations and claim a manifest destiny to direct history. As a Christian I am opposed to empire for the simple reason that what empires claim for themselves, God has given to Christ. God loves nations, but is opposed to empire. So, yes, smaller is better. This is where I think we should all listen to Wendell Berry. If there is a prophet in America today it’s Wendell Berry. Read More→
Brian Zahnd is the founder and lead pastor at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri. He is the author of several books, most recently A Farewell to Mars (review here), where he recounts his journey to the gospel of peace after many years of marching to the drumbeats of war. His journey will resonate with libertarians who are disenchanted with the state of political affairs in the United States, as well as with many Christians who hunger for a gospel that speaks to human social needs.
Zahnd agreed to discuss the themes of his new book with somebody who has a libertarian Christian audience in mind. My questions were shaped in part by my desire to connect the core issues that matter to me as a libertarian – primarily violence and peace – with my belief that the gospel of Jesus will change human society. I do not assume or expect Zahnd to agree with libertarians on politics, but I do believe our views overlap enough to have a unique conversation. I have also tried to avoid questions he has already answered in the book.
Thank you for being willing to discuss with me the themes in your new book. As I was reading it, I knew it would resonate with my fellow libertarians. We have a reputation of being contrarians, especially in politics! Many of us are strongly anti-war. The non-aggression principle is foundational to our political beliefs. We strongly affirm Lord Acton’s famous quote on the corruption of absolute power. It is no surprise that anyone who teaches that Jesus spoke against empire ends up on our radar!
DS: On this issue of peace and violence, what criticisms have you experienced? What do you believe your critics are missing most about the message of Jesus? How has their critique affected the way you understand and communicate this message?
BZ: First of all, Doug, thank you for the opportunity to engage with your audience.
We tend to divide the subject of violence into two categories: individual/criminal violence and corporate/civil violence. If I speak of the problem of violence on the level of the individual — street violence, domestic violence, criminal violence — I receive no criticism at all. But if I call into question the organized mass violence of war, I have to brace myself for withering criticism. The violence of war is sacred violence. It’s hallowed in anthem, memorial, monument, and myth. The massive violence of war is sacred because it has been the organizing principle of civilization. This is the story that history (and the Bible) tells us. This is the foundational story of Cain and Abel. Cain re-imagined his brother as a rival and enemy. So Cain killed Abel. Then Cain lied to God and himself about what he had done, moved east of Eden, and founded the first city. This is how the Bible tells the story of the rise of human civilization as we build upon a foundation of collective murder. Over the course of six millennia human civilization has clung to power enforced by violence as our organizing principle, and most people find it nearly impossible to imagine the world any other way. Read More→