Soldier with assault weapon, Sunshine Pics/ shutterstock.com
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons [and daughters] of God.”
Matthew 5: 9 from the Beatitudes
I grew up watching casualty reports from the Vietnam War on TV. My Uncle Bill, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, was serving there. My family watched the news every evening to learn about the latest casualty reports. I was too young to understand the anxiety of my parents, but I felt the tension while Uncle Bill was deployed.
As an adult, it’s been a different story. I understand and experience things more fully and have an emotional connection to what I see and hear. That has been true for the last decade. Ten years ago, the Iraq War began. Ten years marked by conflict, violence, and loss. Ten years of debate about why we went to war and why we remained. Ten years dealing with death and injury – 4,488 U.S. deaths and 32,321 soldiers coming home with significant injuries. Suicide rates of soldiers are so high it is impossible to ignore – some while in Iraq and others after returning home. Traumatic brain injuries, grieving families, moral injury, and multiple limb loss are just a few of the constant reminders of the tremendous costs of war. The toll on the nation’s economy has been long lasting as well. The jobless rate among veterans is staggeringly high.
The human toll has been significant. But military personnel aren’t the only causalities of this war. Numbers vary, but statistics tell us more than 100,000 Iraqi citizens also have been killed and nearly 3 million have been displaced.
These figures cannot be ignored. And they are the results of war.
Current events, like much about our lives, frequently leave us hopeless, fearful, and uncertain. Religious faith isn’t a matter of wishing away these experiences; it involves perceiving God in the midst of our hardships.
I still remember one Friday night when I, an overly sensitive preteen, made a conscious decision to stop watching the nightly news with the rest of my family. I found what I saw too depressing and threatening: crime after crime, yet another house fire, economic challenges, too much Cold War.
I don’t recall how old I was when I mustered the willpower to face the news again on a regular basis. But a quick scan of the latest headlines makes me wonder why I still subject myself to it: the imminent and potentially crippling sequester, American drones flying in and out of Niger, Iran’s growing nuclear capability, recurring bloodshed in Syria. Maybe I had it easier back in middle school.
Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty
This week, in the run-up to Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony, we've been taking a look at each of the Best Picture nominees, the stories they tell, and the spiritual questions (and answers) they offer.
In today's final installment, we turn our attention to Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty.
Recent news, including the Oscar nomination of The Invisible War and the looming sequester, which threatens drastic cuts in defense spending, doesn’t sound good for military recruiters. But recruiters are still active at my local high school, offering freebies and making promises. For six years I’ve been visiting the high school to encourage students to stop and think about their choices.
I’m not a biblical literalist, but I take the commandments to love your enemies, not to kill and not to overcome evil with evil seriously. I don’t make this argument at the school; it would violate their rules about religious expression, and I think it might alienate our neighbors who believe simultaneously in Jesus, the right to bear arms, and the need to fight ‘terrorists.'
I also have a concern for the truth. Many young people enlist in the armed forces without understanding what they’re getting into. My county is rural and poor; jobs are scarce. Many students who lack money or grades to make college a viable option are attracted by the promise of steady work, sign-up bonuses, travel opportunities, money for education — and sometimes, it seems, by clearly false promises.
The drone operators sit at consoles on military bases around the U.S. They track their targets and when the moment is right, they send the command to fire. And then people die.
Drones have been in the news a lot over the past month as Congress has considered the nomination of John Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Brennan has been the chief architect of the drone policies of the Obama administration.
The constitutional questions have gotten quite a public airing, but drones raise deeper moral questions about what constraints there are on weapons of war.
Yes, drones are efficient, effective, and economical. But what do they do to the soul of this nation, to the psyches of those who push the buttons from half a world away? If they are moral for the U.S. to use at will in any nation of the world, are they moral for other nations to use against us?
View across the Okavango River from Namibia into still minefield-strewn Angola. Photo by Tom Getman
For those who are students of Africa, the Caprivi Strip of Northern Namibia brings memories of the awful border wars and independence struggles of the 1970s and 80s. Perhaps the lessons apply to Israel and Palestine.
Ironically, one of the last and longest, most peaceful and unpolluted rivers in the world is the Okavango. It is the border between Namibia and Angola where still today a long stretch of the north bank Angolan farmland is mine infested. Large breem and tiger fish jump, and magnificent fish eagles take flight from trees on the Namibian bank and wing to large dead trees in Angola where hippo provide background music with loud braying. The behemoths make their way back and forth and often spend the early evening hours lounging on the beach in front of the main buildings of the River Dance Lodge near Divindu on the southern shore.
This gently lapping, wide, drinkable stream — that creates in nearby Botswana the amazing Okavango Delta — is bordered by Angola, Namibia, and Botswana. The crystal clear ribbon of nearly 500 miles of uninterrupted resource runs just a few yards under my feet a quarter of a mile across from where the Angolan fields and forests were the hiding place for Jonas Savembi before he was killed in 2002. His South African- and American-supported troops were routed by Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, the socialist leader of UNITA and president since 1979. We can see homes there that have been vacant since the war because local farmers fled the fighting. Kavanaga tribal tradition requires people to not dwell in places where violent deaths have occurred. Ethnic tribal relations are still tense between the Portuguese-speaking Angolans and the English/German-speaking Namibians, even though they are from the same ethnic group. The horrific memories of vicious cross-river raids and shelling persist.
McCain waits to speak during a campaign visit to support former presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
John McCain angrily insisted on “right” and “wrong” answers to his questions of Chuck Hagel yesterday. As a theologian and a religious leader, I want to say that John McCain is “wrong.”
I watched the hostile questions that Sen. McCain asked Hagel in the hearings on his nomination for Secretary of Defense. The angry attacks from McCain were about the Iraq War, for which McCain was one of America’s leading advocates. Hagel had previously called the war in Iraq the biggest American foreign policy mistake since Vietnam. Obviously furious, McCain tried to force Hagel to say the last “surge” in Iraq, which McCain had made his cause, was right after all. Despite the aggressive and disrespectful questioning from his former “friend,” Hagel wouldn’t submit to McCain’s demands and said these questions would be subject to history — and to theological morality, to which John McCain has never submitted his views. In fact, his repeated desire to invade other people’s countries is offensive moral hubris.