Thursday, February 24, 2011

Onward Christian Soldiers!

How does a Christian relate to war and military service.
(c) 2011 by Tom King

My good friends who like Ron Paul's foreign policy approach are a stubborn lot.  They keep sending me articles and weblinks, Youtube videos and links to documents in an effort to convince me to accept the apparent core doctrines that they hold. The main ones I've heard are
  1. "George W. Bush was evil"
  2. "We ought to withdraw all troops back home. No one would dare attacks us here because there's too much water separating us from them. Besides we're too big to attack."
  3. "If we leave the world alone, they will love us again and everything will be hunky dory." 
Oh, you mean like detente'?  I don't remember that working out so well for us back in the 70s.

I carefully read the latest piece by a former Air Force pilot turned priest out of respect for my friend. It supports, of course, the idea that we ought to have a military, but just not use it and that Christians should probably not participate in the military at all. 

I was doing okay until he blithely cited some revisionist history about World War II and our use of nuclear weapons.  He stated flatly that Japan wanted to surrender, but would just wouldn't accept it.  He ignores the account of Japanese Army officers' attempts to kidnap the emperor to prevent him from announcing the surrender on the radio. This was after two nuclear strikes on the homeland. I have read accounts by Japanese officers and historians much closer to the action that make it clear that a last ditch, hedgerow by hedgerow fight for the homeland was, not only planned, but embraced by soldiers and civilians alike. It seems pretty obvious to me that the specter of dying uselessly in a nuclear blast, unable to take an enemy with you, completely unmanned the Samuri in the officer corps sufficiently to convince them to accept the ignominy of surrender.

The thing that colored the writer's opinion most, I believe, was his military experience.  The war in which he served was Vietnam - a US foreign policy disaster if ever there was one. Eisenhower warned us of the power and dangers presented by what he called the military-industrial complex in his final speech as president. He was right. Vietnam little more than a corporate war run by war profiteers and supported by both the Democrats and Republicans in Congress. It was about field testing new equipment and experimenting with "limited warfare" as a form of diplomacy by other means. Our soldiers were mistreated, hamstrung and placed in an impossible situation where most still managed to serve with honor despite the horrific conditions into which they were thrust.

Limited warfare is always a bad idea. War is a blunt instrument that should only be used in extreme circumstances. It is almost never used effectively by the U.S. because we are so damned ambivalent about it's use.

Were we to use total war selectively and with a clearly conceived policy behind it, we would be a far more effective "global force for good" (as the new Navy recruiting commercials put it). Orson Scott Card's fictional "Ender" novels outline what such a strategy might look like. His books are read at West Point by soldiers studying policy issues related to warfare. Card's hero, Andrew Wiggin reacts to any attack with sudden and overwhelming force and insures his attacker can do him no more harm.  The policy implications are something I could get behind. I
Extrapolated to the world stage, the policy would go something like this:

  1. Leave your neighbors in peace. Treat others the way you would like to be treated.
  2. If attacked, respond instantly and with overwhelming force instantly. Go after the instigators of the attack and remove them. Do not stop till they are no longer able to wage war against you.
  3. Help clean up the damage caused by the war. Help those caught in the middle to rebuild their lives.
The writer* of the piece I read, incorrectly credits President Reagan with almost starting a nuclear war. Reagan did no such thing! He built our own military to a high state of readiness. It was the Soviet Union's leaders, seeking to preserve their own power and position that were pondering starting a nuclear war. They did not because they knew we would fall on them like a ton of bricks if they did. There was no way for them to win, so they did not fight. We came far closer to war when our nation was engaging in detente'. We looked vulnerable and the Soviets assumed they would eventually find a way to take us down.
Reagan wasn't always able to consistently follow his own policy. Political expediency forced him to focus on those he considered our most dangerous enemies and compromise with the diplomats and Democrats in other cases.  That intense focus on the mission at hand, he successfully eliminated an entire class of very dangerous nuclear weapons and made a "first strike" attack by either side almost impossible.


It is a shame that diplomat types went back to the same old confused military strategy after he left office.

The Hebrew language in the Old Testament's Ten Commandments probably reads less like "Thou shalt not kill" and more like, "Thou shalt preserve life". Others have suggested "Thou shalt not murder." Whatever it says, the Old Testament often suggests killing as a political solution for a nation state when it is under attack. God, Himself, wiped out whole cities. Based on my knowledge of God's character, I suspect such drastic action was done in the interest of preserving life. There was a time in recent history when a nuke on top of Hitler's mountain hideaway would have saved a lot of lives. 

The Jews did a lot of killing at God's instruction.  Sounds terrible, but remember that many of the pagan cultures of the time were slaughtering tens of thousands of innocents on pagan altars and in innumerable raids on their neighbors and wars of conquest. Israel became known for cleaning out the corrupt and evil inhabitants of the land as they settled Canaan. That's why there was a huge mixed multitude. Many of those inhabitants, like Rahab and her family, recognized that things would be better without the corrupt kings, sleazy priests and evil gods and joined the Hebrew nation and joined up with Israel.

Ecclesiastes suggests there is a "time to kill and a time to heal". It is difficult for a Christian to decide which time that is. It is why many Christians adopt a noncombatant role in conflict. Some Christians do, however, feel called to participate in defending our country. That's why so many join up in the aftermath of events like 9/11 and Pearl Harbor. We feel the call to protect our nation. Since we are not the president or congress, we have to rely on God to guide those men in their decision-making and do our best to serve as best our conscience dictates.

I know a lot of folk would like hard and fast, black and white rules that apply all the time and in all circumstances. God gives us 10 basic ones. Jesus whittled them down to two. Then God surrounded those nice black and white principles with hundreds of pages of interpretation, necessitating that a Christian spend his entire life on his knees with that book and in prayer trying to figure out how to apply what he has learned in the real world.

I don't know all the answers. I know from experience how to deal with thugs and bullies. I know from experience that being the one who stands in the breach and deals with those thugs and bullies can very easily turn you into one yourself if you're not careful.


Two presidents, I think, made an attempt to move our military policy in the right direction. They were both dragged down by politicians and pundits and never able to fully implement the kind of effective military policy that might have brought us peace. Ronald Reagan understood peace through strength and reminded the Russians that "trust but verify" was their own old adage. He defeated a real enemy and almost made them our friends if later politicians hadn't messed it up. We should have shared what we learned during our SDI program with the Russians as Reagan promised. I think we'd be better friends now. Instead, political backbiting killed SDI and left us with only the marginally effective Patriot missile system when we needed it in the Gulf War. 

The other president who got it, was George W. Bush. His dad didn't. When Sadaam overran Kuwait, Bush did exactly the right thing. He gathered a coalition and took back Kuwait and gave it back to its people. His mistake was not striking back with overwhelming force and eliminating Sadaam Hussein. Had we done so, there would have been relatively little further bloodshed. The Iraqi Army was defeated and unwilling to fight any further. They knew they were in the wrong and I believe that we could have taken Iraq, set up a new government and been out of there before the end of the century.

Instead, we reinforced a lunatic's belief that he, personally, was invulnerable. We abandoned those who revolted against Sadaam and left them to slaughter. We encouraged fanatic jihadists and made ourselves a target instead of a trusted friend. We absolutely missed an opportunity.

George W. knew we had to take out Sadaam and the Taliban in order to prevent a wholesale jihad against the U.S. spurred on by the successful attacks on 9/11. It was messy and not as effective as it could have been had we finished the job the first time around.

George W. and Donald Rumsfeld attempted to lead the military to a new "leaner, meaner" design structure which emphasized special ops troops (highly trained nation builders) over massed armor and huge formations. They tried to skip a generation of weapons and go straight to weapons that were faster, cheaper and more deadly.


Again, the congress, the political generals at the Pentagon (David Hackworth's "perfume princes") and the military-industrial complex launched a campaign to discredit that whole idea, continued to waste money on big ticket projects and to move massive formations around the battlefields like so many chess pieces.

We had an opportunity and we missed it because the powers that be in congress were addicted to a big, expensive, awkward military that spent tons of money in their districts for big defense contracts. Rumsfeld and Bush took the blame in what was, in essence, a blizzard of a snow job by big defense contractors and the stooges they support in the Congress. We could do better, but, so long as the military is run by self-serving "perfume princes" instead of warriors in service of the people, boys will die needlessly in half-cocked, ineffective fights all over the world.

Why do we put up with Somali pirates, for instance? A few Seal teams riding on a few ships so that the pirates didn't know where they were, could obliterate any attacking force. How long would it take for word to get around that if you wanted to spin the old "wheel o' luck" and attack a ship in the Gulf of Aden, there was no chance you would leave the scene alive?

Remember what Reagan did after the attack on our servicemen in Germany by the Libyans? He bombed Ghaddafi's flippin' house. Remember what happened when a couple of Libyan fighter planes decided to play chicken with US Navy Tomcats and popped off some shots at them? The Libyan Air Force was suddenly missing some planes. Remember how quiet Ghaddafi got after that? Remember how anxious he became to restore good relations with the US when our tanks rolled into Baghdad?

We should not play around with evil men. Removing evil people can be "destabilizing", but if done consistently, evil men become much more well behaved after only a few examples.

Americans, however, and Christians in particular, have no stomach for this kind of warfare. We're peaceful people and we live in hope that we can rap the knuckles of bad boys and reform them It never has worked well with bullies in our public schools it doesn't work with international bullies.

I saw this played out on the playground once. Eight grade thugs were making the lives of the smaller kids in the junior high school miserable. A very large young man, Charlie, who wasn't part of the "in":group anyway, was sympathetic with the oppressed kids. The got sick of it and next time it happened, he placed himself between the kids and their tormentor and politely asked them to stop. One of the bully boys laughed and took a poke at our hero. When the dust settled, he was stretched out on the ground with two black eyes, some assorted bruises and a total disinterest in persecuting his fellow many any further. Charlie took three licks from the principle for fighting. When he walked back out onto the playground, the smaller kids were his devoted followers. The bullies slunk quietly away. Word got around that Charlie would take licks if he had to in order to defend his friends and that getting a beating from Charlie was very painful. Charlie's "foreign policy" led to a very peaceful school year for everyone.

Maybe, that's a simplistic solution, but I do think it would work.

Sadly, I don't think a Pax Americana is possible in this world. Too many bullies and too few brave men and women. Thank God, Jesus is coming to rescue His own.

Incidentally, from my reading of Scripture, what happens to the bullies when He comes back will not be an exercise in detente'.

Just my opinion.

Tom King
*Making War: A Christian Perspective by Dr. Robert M. Bowman, Lt. Col., USAF, ret.

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