Reading the news this morning ( 16 August 16, 2008) was depressing to me. The New York Times: No Cold War, But Big Chill Over Georgia. On the Times Opinion page: The New Chill. Both articles see America as turning away from the past 20 years of American Presidents hoping to work with Russia to form a new alliance for world peace. Military conflict forever seems more imminent than any peace conflict could ever deliver to earth.
I feel a kinship with President Dwight Eisenhower who in his famous anti-military/industrial complex farewell address said:
“Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war — as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years — I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.”
It seems like the nations of the world cannot live at peace. And though America is not at fault for the Russian invasion of Georgia, I am disappointed how quickly America embraces a fortress mentality and loves leaders who will saber rattle. These days, Vice President Dick Cheney seems to be the chief architect of the fortress America mentality, and appears to see death threats as the best way for America to approach any other nation on earth. Maybe he is right, but with all my heart, I hope he is not. He may be the real pragmatist, but I do not feel better as an American because of his bluster. Like President Eisenhower, Defense Secretary Dick Gates recently warned against the increased militarization of American foreign policy. But it often seems we can’t resist the temptation to militarize, maybe because impatient Americans always want a quick fix to problems, and have difficulty forming long term foreign policy goals. We have, so the experts say the best military in the world, but we act as if the military is the proverbial hammer – the only tool in our toolbox – so every problem looks like a nail which we must hit as hard as we can with our military hammer. I wish our politicians would, when forced to turn to military threats also express regret for seeing the death of others as the means for our attaining our goals. Our leaders seem to gloat over the chance to use the military to kill those who stand in the way of American progress. (“Bring ‘em on,” said our current President in a cocky, swaggering mood). Every election Americans seem interested most in electing a Commander in Chief, rather than concerned about electing the leader of the free world who would best work for the peace of the world. Of course some would argue the two are one in the same, and peace cannot be had without a willingness to threaten war. But really that sounds to me more like Isalm’s Dar al-Harb than like the Messianic Kingdom where swords are made into ploughshares.
It is discouraging for me, partly because of my pacifistic idealism, and partly because as a priest I pray for peace and in peace every single day of my life, and with my fellow Christians every time we assemble at a worship service and each time we proclaim the Gospel in the Orthodox Church. And I take those prayers and the hopes they express to heart.
I do not believe a nation which wants to consider itself as Christian can have war as the only policy for attaining peace.
Christ said, “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:27-36).
Maybe Christ was too idealistic too. Maybe that is why I love Him. He did not advocate killing those who were against His message as the way to evangelize the world. And yet I also admit He did not leave a detailed plan as to how a Christian people living in the fallen world might deal with the violent evil all around us. And so we have to struggle along trying to discern what is the right course of action for Christians to take in endeavoring to proclaim, let alone establish, God’s peace on earth.
The Byzantine Christians appealed to the Theotokos for protection from enemy assault and relied on the righteous prayers of the saints as the means to propel their armies to victory over adversaries. American rely on their military and belief in the righteousness of America to assure victory over enemies. But maybe we sometimes confuse military victory with peace. Is it possible that in the world one could establish peace without killing one’s enemies? Jesus seemed to think so.
Abraham Lincoln is variously quoted as having said, “Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?” and “The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.”
“Do good to your friends to keep them, to your enemies to win them,” said Benjamin Franklin.
More recently Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.”
As for me, I will continue to pray for the peace of the world, and will hold to the ideal that sometime, somewhere that will be done without the use of the military – without having to kill others first – but by people willing to live the Gospel of Christ, which also means willing to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. The truth about this world is it is not Paradise, and so warfare – spiritual for every Christian soul, and military for some remains the price we pay for our sinfulness.