My friend Neil Remington Abramson and I frequently engage in discussion and debate, usually on blog written by a mutual friend, Bruce La Rochelle. Neil and I are generally in agreement on most things, and we have a great respect for each others’ point of view. Some of my recent posts on my summer vacation that included visiting battle sites from both World Wars may have given the impression that I am someone who is all in favour of military action if the cause is just.
I must admit I have never really tried to work out exactly where I stand when it comes to issues such as war and non-violence. I think I probably have a conflict between my ideals, which would be pacifist, and the practicality of living in a fallen world.
I know I am not in favour of military action except as a last resort. In conversation with friends before the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq I suggested the West was going to lose its opportunity to show that it is different. Respond to the attacks of 9/11 with an outpouring of love. Increase aid for those in need in the Middle East. Would Arabs and Muslims have understood a literal turning of the other cheek? I doubt it – but we will never know because the natural human impulse is to strike back.
With the current situation in the Middle East there is I think a definite understanding that by standing by and doing nothing, more people will die at the hands of the so-called Islamic State. Does that justify intervention? Do we have a responsibility to protect? Here is what Neil sent me:
Please pardon me for being a skeptical contrarian. The enemy-de-jour is almost always worse than Hitler. At least this is so until we win and rebuild his capacity to take us on again.
Usually he/she is a “known known” and that’s where air power can be effective. Sometimes he/she is a known unknown, like the weapons of mass destruction they never found (yet) in Iraq, thereby being unable to prove they didn’t exist.
ISIS is an “unknown unknown” able to siphon off boys from Calgary to become Syrian martyrs, and Australians willing to behead fellow citizens. “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men” (and women & children suicide bombers). ISIS seems to have the power to unexpectedly convert anyone – even Westerners. That’s shocking – the guy standing on the bus next to you may not be as harmless as you assume.
As I recall the Bush administration also brought us the principle that fear is a very good means of controlling democracies. The only people ISIS has beheaded are Westerners who traveled to Iraq or Syria – and they claim they are doing it because our side was doing it (killing them) first. So it seems like a vendetta. And the more of them we blow up, the more of them there are. Maybe we should try Jesus instead of Petraeus.
More contrarian blasphemy (forgive me): those who declare these wars send others to kill, and die, for them. And those who don’t go often do rather well on the home front; selling weapons, offering security to the fearful; winning elections; becoming more powerful.
I’d accuse Neil of cynicism, but his thoughts on politicians are probably closer to realism.
So what do we do when we are confronted with evil? Christians have been taught that they are supposed to turn the other cheek, but a study of history suggests that doctrine has usually been more espoused in theory than in practice. Certainly the mullahs of the Islamic State have rejected Christian doctrine, literally with the sword.
I like the points Neil raises. Does anyone have any answers?