Saturday, January 20, 2007

Give War a Chance

As previously mentioned, I recently read a blog post called Give War a Chance. (You can find it here.) As he says himself, in the post: “It‘s a hot topic. Blood pressures rise. Pupils narrow. But, its one we need to discuss—war.” It is, indeed, a hot topic. But with the U.S. fighting a war in Iraq that won’t end any time soon, and Canada fighting the U.S.’ war for them in Afghanistan, it’s probably on a lot of people’s minds, these days. It definitely helped shape the last American election, whether the conservatives would like to admit it or not.

He didn’t word it very strongly, but the author’s view seems to be that sometimes war is necessary. He had a quote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”, which he thought might have come from Winston Churchill. His point, as he stated later: “Is it ethical to have the power to intervene but not intervene when a govt offers no resistance to murderers, criminals, etc.?”

He also mentions that there are various wars in the Old Testament, many of which are directly commanded by God. No Christian can approach the topic of war without keeping this in mind—and the usual conclusion is that wars sometimes are necessary. I think most Christians could agree that God wouldn’t order the Israelites to do something which was sinful.

And finally, he brings about some examples of wars that have benefitted mankind:

The question then is: what about today?

In the USA war brought an end to slavery in the 19th c. and in the 18th c. it took a war to insure our freedom of worship. In the 20th war brought an end to Nazism and checked the spread of communism.

So now, after all of this buildup, how do I feel about war, as a Christian?

First off, I do have to acknowledge that the LORD commanded many of the wars in the Old Testament. When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they were to completely wipe out the nations already living there; when they didn’t obey God in this, they ended up living side by side with these people, which caused them problems for the rest of their history as a nation (until they were conquered by the Babylonians). And, as stated, God cannot sin, nor can He or would He order someone else to sin. So, ipso facto, these wars must not have been sinful.

However, what about today? Let’s look at some of the examples the author gave, of wars from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.

He claims that war in the 18th century brought freedom of worship to the Americans, but is this so? Is that what the American Revolution was really about? Did they not have freedom of worship before that war? Or was it really a political—and economic—war, in which the Americans were trying to forge their own country, free not just from British rule, but also from British taxation?

And what about the Civil War, in the 19th century? Did that bring an end to slavery? Hardly. In theory, it made certain practices illegal in the Southern states—which were already illegal in the other states—but real freedom for blacks never came until at least the 60s—really, they won’t have real freedom until non-whites have as much power as whites—but the point is, it didn’t come about from war, it came about from non-violent means. Martin Luther King Jr. did more for blacks than Abraham Lincoln did.

I won’t even bother with the author’s claim that “checking the spread of Communism” was a worthwhile endeavor, but let’s look at the most common example that people would cite for a just war: World War II. When we fought the Nazis, and ended the Holocaust. But let’s ask the hard question: What was World War II really about? Aside from all of the rhetoric, what was it about? What it was not about, I’m sad to say, is ending the Holocaust. When word got out that the Jews were being systematically annihilated by the Nazis, there was very little concern about it, in the Allied countries. In fact, even when it became very common knowledge that the Jews were being wiped out, most countries had limits, on how many Jews could immigrate, and they refused to increase those limits. A Wikipedia article on the history of Jews in Canada states:

Despite mass demonstrations throughout the depression and war years, like most other Western nations, Canada denied entrance of Jews to the country. Canada took in proportionately fewer Jews than other western countries before and during the Holocaust. Between 1933 and 1945, only five thousand Jews were allowed into Canada.

This despite the fact that “[a]lmost twenty thousand Jewish Canadians volunteered to fight for Canada during the Second World War.” Policies in America were no better, and neither were policies in any other Allied country (to my knowledge). I don’t think, from this, that we can claim we went into the war to end the holocaust; we didn’t care about the Jews, at the time.

So why did the Allied powers go into World War II? To stop Hitler, but to stop him from what? To stop him from becoming an economic power; a power that would rival England, and the other powerful European states. (Even the U.S. had eyes on Europe, economically, and didn’t want Germany to be too powerful.) It’s quite true that he was a brutal tyrant, but let’s not kid ourselves: England and the States have no compunction whatsoever about supporting, or even installing, brutal dictators, when it suits their needs.

My point is this: no war, in the 20th century, has been fought for altruistic reasons. Although I agree that it’s unethical for a country to stand by when it can stop an atrocity, there are no examples that come to mind of a country that has followed this principle. (Actually, even throughout history, let alone the 20th century, although I’m not a history buff, so there may, in the annals of history, have been occurrences of “altruistic wars”.)

Wars are wrapped in rhetoric, to make them palatable to the public, but the truth is that they are fought out of self interest, not out of a concern for others. Rwanda is only one example of an atrocity we knew was going on, and refused to do anything about; Darfur is another. An especially enlightening example is Kosovo vs. Turkey; Clinton felt free to bomb Kosovo—ostensibly to stop ethnic cleansing, although ethnic cleansing never started until after the bombing—while providing arms to Turkey, which was committing its own war crimes. (But Turkey was an ally, and Serbia was not, so the media chooses their facts when discussing either.)

Since I do it so often, let me quote Chomsky, from Hegemony or Survival, who is himself quoting Andrew Bacevich:

Andrew Bacevich gives an even more cynical interpretation, dismissing all humanitarian motives [for the bombing of Kosovo]. Clinton’s resort to force in Bosnia in 1995 and his bombing of Serbia in 1999 were “not, as claimed, to put a stop to ethnic cleansing or in response to claims of conscience, but to preempt threats to the cohesion of NATO and the credibility of American power.” The plight of the Kosovars, he alleges, was not a concern. The intent of the NATO bombing was “to provide an object lesson to any European state fancying that it was exempt from the rules of the post-Cold War era” established by Washington. What counted was “affirming the dominant position of the United States in a Europe that was unified, integrated, and open.” From the outset, “the war’s architects understood [that] its purpose had been to sustain American supremacy” in Europe and “to forestall the intolerable prospect of Europe’s backsliding,” presumably out of US control.[endnote]

My problem, when we discuss war, is the difference between theory and reality. In theory, we sometimes need to go to war, to prevent the types of things that happened in Rwanda; in reality, the only time we go to war is when its in our own best interests. We have no problem whatsoever supporting the very people who commit atrocities, if they are willing to open their borders for trade. I keep mentioning Saddam Hussein on this blog as an example; as long as he was friendly to the U.S., they provided him with arms, which he used for killing Kurds. As soon as he looked like he was going to stop being friendly to U.S. interests, he became an enemy. (I’m happy Saddam was tried for his crimes, but Donald Rumsfeld should have been on the stand beside him, because Rumsfeld, as Secretary of State at the time, is the one who supplied the arms Saddam used in the crimes he was tried for.)

So, in a nutshell, I believe in the sentiments of the post I read, but I have to remain grounded in reality. As long as powerful countries are willing to start a war simply to drive down the price of oil, I can’t just blindly say that “sometimes war is necessary”. With tens of thousands of dead Iraqis, who died for no reason other than that they happen to live in an oil-rich country, it’s hard to have a purely theoretical discussion about whether war is sometimes necessary. In poll after poll after poll, in Iraq, the Iraqis tell us that they want the American troops out of their country, but too many North Americans ignore their voices, and choose believe that we’re there for their sake. I understand the reasoning; we don’t want to believe that we’re the bad guys. But we have to live in the real world, and that means taking responsibility for our actions—or not acting at all, if we’re not willing to take that responsibility.

I question the “superpowers’” motives in any war, because they always turn out to be economic, rather than humanitarian, and the sad fact is that Canada either follows along, or simply doesn’t do anything to stop them.

To sum up, I will stand behind the sentiment that war is sometimes necessary when countries begin to choose their wars on that basis. In the meantime, people are dying needlessly, and, as a Christian, that breaks my heart.

If we really wanted to put this principle into action, Canada should go to war with America, to stop the war crimes in Iraq. Of course, I don’t expect that to happen—I’m not even calling for it—but if you believe that wars are sometimes necessary; if you believe that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”; if you believe that it is unethical to have the power to intervene, but do nothing; if you believe all of that, then we have to ask ourselves: Who will stop Washington?