I finished reading Kevin Sites’ IN THE HOT ZONE: ONE MAN, ONE YEAR, TWENTY WARS. Kevin is credited with pioneering “solo journalism.” As a reporter he has spent years in the world’s hot zones – covering war and conflict. He spent 2005-2006 jetting around the globe from one conflict to another. The book is an easy read, and at times interesting, but I would not rate it as a favorite book. Kevin complains about Americans having little understanding about the world’s conflicts, but his book is a whole lot about him, traveling around. He makes himself the news by being at the world’s hotspots and then reports on himself, culminating in this book about his being in all of these places. Solo journalism enables Sites to keep his camera focused on the main person in his every story: himself. That being said, I gleaned a few quotes that I will share:
“The way wars are being covered by some media outlets bothers me. Time limitations for television news programming usually mean that only the news of the day is getting reported. In Iraq and Afghanistan, news of the day means body counts from the latest bombing. These stories are essential – but fall short in helping educate an audience about the changing dimensions and nuances of the conflicts, which are necessary for people to truly understand them.” (p 50)
Rarely in a war is an army, or its government, much interested in the didactic element of explicating the nuances of the situation. Governments and militaries are interested in defeating the enemy more than in defining their positions on issues. But the press might take upon itself this task if they have a concern about truth. Too often though American media outlets, including news outlets – are more interested in advertising dollars, since that is who pays the bills. So they will be ever tempted to report the news that will attract the viewer. This plays into featuring sensationalism and bizarre stories over informative ones, or oversimplifying complex issues to spoon feed a lazy, indifferent or passive audience.
“As a society do we want to just say thank you to those soldiers – or do we need to try to understand that asking them to kill for us may also kill something inside of them?” (p 112)
We do ask soldiers to kill for us, and we pay them to do it. Some probably would criticize Sites saying he is trying to pamper America’s young people by protecting them from the harsh realities of the world. Danger and evil are real and so someone needs to be trained and prepared to fight for our country. But I am reminded of some words by James Madison, founding American Father and one of our early Presidents: “There can be no harm in declaring, that standing armies in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, and ought to be avoided, as far as it may be consistent with the protection of the community.” (from my blog Madison: Insights and Ideals) Madison did squirm a bit about a standing army as he feared government would always be tempted to use it rather than to seek some other method to solve a problem. We have those soldiers trained over there, so let’s use them: Go to war.
Yet it is also not that hard to see in this fallen world that at times the only way to get to peace is through the use of military force. Indeed soldiers have often thought of themselves as peace keepers and peace makers. War is not their goal but rather they see war as that temporary but necessary stage of mortal combat which must be won in order to get to the desired state of peace. The main question of the pacifist in challenging the reliance on the military to accomplish national goals is: have we done everything possible – have we done enough – so that war can be avoided and yet a secure and lasting peace is attained? War as a necessary means to an end has been taught from the Q’URAN as well as from THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO. Christianity however envisioned a different way from its beginnings as a persecuted religion without any army whatsoever, it still managed to convert an empire and change the world. Of course once Christianity began to see itself as an imperial force, it too embraced warfare as a just means to an end. However, personally I see little in the NEW TESTAMENT which makes me think that Christ or the apostles ever envisioned any military as the needed means to convert the world to follow the Crucified God.
“In conflict, everyone, whether they are invading force, government troops, rebels or insurgents, even journalists who help perpetuate the myth of war, has chosen violence over diplomacy, guns over statecraft, and when that happens we all lose a little bit of our humanity with every casualty.” (p 291)
To me that is Site’s most profound insight. It is not simply soldiers who lose their humanity in war, everyone in society does (just think about the German citizens near the death camps saying, “we didn’t know” – they had closed their hearts and minds and gave up part of their humanity to live at peace with what their country was doing). Even the victorious see in their returning soldiers increases in mental health problems, suicides, drug and alcohol abuse. Every time we decide to go to war for whatever reason (no matter how noble), all who support the war (for whatever reason) have decided that violence and force are the expedient way to accomplish a goal. The cost of such decisions is the loss of a bit of our humanity. Yes, it will be argued that the war will save more lives than are lost and might pre-empt further suffering. But we are also saying some human lives are not valuable, and that we can kill an idea by killing some people. One might think that Pro-Life people would be most reluctant to go to war, but that is not always the case. Pro-lifers will defend the life of the unborn, but are often willing to send the post-born to their deaths. I find the whole issue of war to be one of the most troubling aspects of being human and being a Christian- perhaps because I cannot say that war is never the solution to evil. I am not in the least comforted or convinced by those who argue that God Himself in the Bible orders people to war. That I find one of the most theologically difficult features of the God who is Love. It also is a reason I find Islam unacceptable: there is no allowance in the Q’uran for pacifism. War is a duty required by God at times because in the Q’uran “God knows what we don’t know.” In one Sura (2:216) God says there will be times when the believers won’t want to go to war, but God will require it of them anyway because He knows what we do not. I prefer to struggle with the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Second Person of God the Trinity, who said to love even our enemies. I do not know how to accomplish this counter intuitive love, but I find the thought far more Divine than a call to war which humans even without any God have been readily able to think up for themselves.
For Orthodox Christians the Cross of Christ remains that mysterious weapon of peace, even if Constantine’s followers saw it as a sign of victory in war. As we sing on the Feast of the Cross (September 14):
Rejoice, O life-bearing Cross!
The invincible weapon of godliness;
The gate of paradise, the protection of the faithful!
The Cross is the might of the church.
Through it corruption is abolished.
Through it the power of death is crushed
And we are raised from earth to heaven!
The invincible weapon of peace!
The Cross is the enemy of demons,
The glory of the martyrs,
The haven of salvation
Which grants the world great mercy!