War

John McCain’s Theology of War is Wrong

Joe Raedle / Getty Images
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.

Aren't We Supposed to Be Peacemakers?

DURING THE BALKAN war of the early ’90s, I traveled twice to Bosnia and Croatia. I visited middle-class women whose husbands and sons had been brutally killed. I visited a refugee center filled with people who had lost everything and were at the mercy of any country that would take them in. I visited school children suffering from post-traumatic stress after seeing their parents killed by enemy shells that landed in their homes.

I walked through the rubble of Mostar, where the Friendship Bridge—a massive stone structure named in honor of the many ethnic groups that had crossed it for four centuries—had been bombed and destroyed. In city after city, I saw the destruction of architecture, art, museums—a violent erasure of the cultures that had thrived there.

It was the first time I had seen war up close, and I was shocked by what human beings do to each other.

While I traveled in the Balkans, another war was waged in Rwanda by Hutus against Tutsis—what we now refer to as the Rwandan genocide. Since 2009 I’ve traveled twice to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the ethnic battles forged in Rwanda crossed borders and continue to this day. As usual in war, civilians pay the highest price. Subsistence farmers in small villages want only to live in peace, tend their crops, and feed their families. Instead, their crops are burned, wives and daughters are raped, and many become slave labor in Congolese mines that provide minerals for our cell phones and wealth for the violent criminals who control the mines.

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In Afghanistan, A Call for Peace

BAY ISMOYO/AFP/GettyImages
An Afghan girl looks out from the entrance of her mud hut at a refugee camp in Kabul. BAY ISMOYO/AFP/GettyImages

We call upon the United Nations to negotiate an immediate cease-fire to the war in Afghanistan, and to start talks aimed at ending the war and beginning the long road to healing and recovery. 

That’s what the Afghan youth said on Tuesday afternoon in Kabul, along with Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire of Ireland, as they launched their “Two Million Friends for Afghanistan” campaign and presented their petition to a senior United Nations official.

For me, it was the climax of a heart-breaking, astonishing eight days in one of the poorest, most violent, most war-torn, most corrupt, and most polluted places on the planet — and because of the amazing “Afghan Peace Volunteers,” the 25 Afghan youth who live and work together in a community of peace and nonviolence — one of the most hopeful.

Permanent Preparations for War

Most of us have read President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell speech warning of the growing military-industrial complex in the U.S.  Fifty years later, many of his fears have become realities. Aaron B. O’Connell, an assistant professor of history at the United States Naval Academy and a Marine reserve officer, points out in a New York Times column the part of Ike’s speech we don’t often remember: Eisenhower’s least heeded warning — concerning the spiritual effects of permanent preparations for war — is more important now than ever.”

He explains:

“Uncritical support of all things martial is quickly becoming the new normal for our youth. Hardly any of my students at the Naval Academy remember a time when their nation wasn’t at war. Almost all think it ordinary to hear of drone strikes in Yemen or Taliban attacks in Afghanistan. The recent revelation of counterterrorism bases in Africa elicits no surprise in them, nor do the military ceremonies that are now regular features at sporting events. That which is left unexamined eventually becomes invisible, and as a result, few Americans today are giving sufficient consideration to the full range of violent activities the government undertakes in their names.”

Values of a Public Faith (Part 3)

Paper Boat Creative / Getty Images
Paper Boat Creative / Getty Images

Editor's Note: This is part three of a three-part series from Dr. Miroslav Volf an a voice instructing us how to involve our values into our present politcal debates. To read part one go HERE and part two HERE.. From part one:

In this year of presidential elections, I have decided to summarize key values that guide me as I decide for whom to cast my vote. ... 

14. Equality of Nations

Value: No nation represents an exception to the requirements of justice that should govern relations between nations. America should exert its unique international power by doing what is just and should pursue its own interests in concert with other nations of the world. 

Rationale: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12).

Debate: The debate should not be whether America is somehow exceptional (and therefore permitted to do what other nations are not—for instance, carrying out raids on foreign soil in search of terrorists). The debate should, rather, be about what it means for the one remaining superpower to act responsibly in the community of nations.

Question to Ask: At the international level, would the candidate renounce a double moral standard: one for the U.S. and its allies and another for the rest of the world? Even when the candidate considers an American perspective morally superior, will he seek to persuade other nations of the moral rightness of these values rather than imposing them on other nations?

Arms Merchant to the World

The United States has surpassed all records in global arms sales — a whopping $66.3 billion in armaments sold last year.

Most of the weapons went to Persian Gulf nations, although India also bought more than $4 billion in military equipment. U.S. arms sales in 2011 were triple the previous year’s level and the highest annual total ever recorded.

The U.S. is once again the world’s number-one arms proliferator, accounting for 75 percent of global arms sales. Word of this dubious distinction comes as our leaders claim to support and have been working at the United Nations to negotiate a global Arms Trade Treaty.

The report makes a mockery of the UN negotiations and our government’s presumed commitment to control the arms trade.

War Crimes and Misdemeanors

Drone, Oleg Yarko / Shutterstock.com

HEY PRESIDENT OBAMA: The Nobel Peace Prize committee is calling. They want their medal back.

The coveted award, which many felt was premature, at best, when bestowed during the president’s first year in office, was seriously tarnished in the eyes of many by his escalation of the war in Afghanistan and other military endeavors.

But Obama’s role in waging drone warfare—particularly in Pakistan and Yemen—has made a mockery of the prize that Alfred Nobel said should go to the person “who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations.”

Obama’s drone attacks—according to a May investigation by The New York Times, Daniel Klaidman’s new book Kill or Capture, and other sources—are arguably in direct violation of U.S. and international law, and immoral to boot.

The drone attacks started out with clear rules: Only target those who represent a direct threat to the United States. Those rules soon went out the door—a senior U.S. official called it a “little liberalization that went on in the kill lists,” according to The Washington Post, while a former counterterrorism official said that “the elasticity of that has grown over time.”

This “elastic” interpretation of rules also led to a change of targeting strategy by the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command, the two agencies that carry out most of the drone attacks. No longer aiming only at specific “high-value individuals”—those considered a real threat to launch terrorist attacks—U.S forces began targeting groups of men who bear certain “signatures” of behavior, even if the identity of those targeted is unknown. According to Klaidman, CIA Director Michael Hayden saw advantages to this “crowd killing” approach: “You could take out a lot more bad guys when you targeted groups instead of individuals, he said.”

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Witness

There is nothing casual
about casualties of war.

It is serious business deciding
which of the wounded
get Medevac’d or left behind
on the battlefield.

It is not the ones
with the most severe of injuries
who are transported
elsewhere for treatment

but the ones with the best
chance of surviving them
that make the trip.

“There’s nothing we can do.”

Try telling this
to a fellow soldier
about their buddy in arms
whose last letter they have
safely tucked away

just in case.

Try telling their mother, father;
sister, brother; son, daughter;
or spouse

that someone else’s mother,
father, sister, brother, son, daughter
or spouse

was picked instead.

No one envies the Medic
who must make this choice.

But sometimes even the chosen
don’t survive their journey home.

Maritza Rivera, a Puerto Rican poet living in Maryland, is author of A Mother’s War, written during her son’s two military tours in Iraq.

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Mixed Memories of Memorial Day

National Cemetary, Dorti / Shutterstock.com
National Cemetary, Dorti / Shutterstock.com

Last week was Memorial Day, but if you are like me your memories of the day are fraught with colorful childhood parades but also with horrors filled with sadness. It makes one wish for the power to short-circuit war.

The earliest recollection for me of a grieving “Gold Star” family is the gathering around the death of my oldest cousin Bob in World War II. Memorial Day dinner with my 93-year-old mother clarified some of the difference between family lore and a 4-year old’s memory. As though it was yesterday I see Bob’s parents and brother gathering with extended family, before the funeral, on the lawn of my grandparents’ home in Rock Rapids, Iowa.  I have no recollection of a memorial service or war cemetery graveside ceremony… but I do recall the tears and unspeakable grief of elders consoling one another about something awful. 

Bob had miraculously survived the Normandy Invasion and the Battle of the Bulge. As the war was nearing its end in the spring of 1945 he was catching some “R and R,” asleep upstairs in a two-story house near the Belgian front. One of his friends was cleaning a M16 on the floor below.  The gun went off killing Bob instantly as he slept.  He became one of the many (20-30 percent it is estimated) war casualties killed by “friendly fire,” or “accidents.”  

When Is Military Intervention The Right Option?

In an opinion piece for Bloomberg ViewMichael Kinsley writes:

As demand starts to build on President Barack Obama to “do something” about the deteriorating situation in Syria, let’s review where the U.S. and its citizens stand on the general question of using military force abroad. On this issue, Americans are divided in strange ways. It’s no longer a matter of hawks and doves. There are liberal hawks and conservative doves as well as conservative hawks and liberal doves.

Read his full piece here

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