In the 1997 movie comedy “Wag the Dog” a U.S. president gets mired in a sex scandal just two weeks before he faces a reelection bid. Desperate for a distraction and for a boost to his flagging poll numbers, he brings in a Hollywood film producer to stage a phony war with Albania. (Interestingly enough, a couple of years later, life imitated art when President Bill Clinton ordered missile strikes on Sudan and Afghanistan right about the time his sex scandal with an intern was breaking.)
In one scene of “Wag the Dog” two characters engage in the following dialogue:
“Why do people go to war?” “To ensure their way of life.”
“Would you go to war to do that?” “I have.”
Many Americans seem resigned to the inevitability that “to ensure our way of life” the U.S. will soon become trapped in another war. But is another war inevitable?
I hope and pray not. After all, let’s not forget that war is more than stirring parades, crisp uniforms, and snappy salutes. War is a “smart bomb” that accidentally kills dozens of civilians, a soldier with half his face blown off, a woman raped in a bombed-out home, screaming orphans, skies blackened with smoke and water fouled with pollution, service personnel returning home with PTSD, veterans committing suicide while life moves on for the rest of us. And for what purpose? Oil? Power? To ensure a way of life?
Though I am a veteran and not a pacifist myself, as one scholar points out, “The central traditions of the early church were uncompromisingly pacifist.” Even today, in the Greensboro metropolitan area, we’re surrounded by Quakers and other holy troublemakers who challenge our easy acceptance of violence and war. Thank God.
In the fourth century, church leaders began developing Just War Doctrine as a concession to human frailty and sin. Briefly, the criteria for Just War are:
1. The war must be a last resort.
2. War must be declared by legitimate authority. For us, Congress, or with the limited “War Powers Resolution,” the president.
3. There must be right intention for war to be carried out, e.g., self-protection, not just a land grab.
4. War must be fought with proportionality. For example, an enemy’s missile strike that kills a dozen people does not warrant killing millions of people in retaliation.
5. Moderation/discrimination is required. Civilians are to be protected.
6. There must be a reasonable chance that the war will be successful, as in an action that can be concluded and produce more good than evil.
As you can tell by reading these criteria, they’re difficult to uphold and almost always broken in modern warfare. One of my friends simply says that Just War Doctrine is immoral. Yet it’s what I and many other people of faith accept as tragic allowance for a broken world.
Maybe better is a single criterion for deciding just war: Would you sacrifice your son or daughter, grandson or granddaughter, husband, wife, sister, brother, or yourself for this war? If not, then maybe we should not be going to war.
As the drumbeat for war, especially war with Iran, grows louder, a few thoughts.
When she was in town a few years ago for the Bryan Lecture Series, Robin B. Wright told us that average Iranians, especially younger folks, want what U.S. citizens have: iPhones, Pepsi, movies, etc. They don’t want war. Now that the Iran deal has been scrapped, can’t we come up with another diplomatic solution?
As much as we might like, we cannot stop other countries from getting nuclear weapons forever. We will have to find ways to make peace for the sake of other people and for ourselves.
Recently, President Trump spoke by phone with former President Jimmy Carter about his concern that China is “getting ahead of us” economically. Carter pointed out that since 1979 (when Carter normalized relations with China), China has not been at war, but “we have stayed at war.” China has not “wasted a single penny on war,” and has invested $3 trillion on its infrastructure.
Imagine what a couple of trillion dollars invested in our country could do. Imagine how wonderful it would be for our country not to be at war anywhere for awhile.