The three causes of war

512px-Thucydides_pushkin02The great Athenian historian Thucydides said that there are three causes of war:  (1) honor  (2) fear  (3)  national interest.

Jonah Goldberg discusses those factors and cites modern historian Donald Kagan, who says that honor comes first as the reason why a nation goes to war.  That motive is far more common, he says, than national interest.

World War I was surely caused by many nations’ sense of honor.  World War II was caused by Germany and Japan’s radical sense of national pride and the honor (and territory) to which they felt entitled.  Other countries fought them out of the rational fear that leads to self-defense.  The Cold War conflicts were sparked by ideology–should that modern concept be added to Thucydides’ causes?–but our national honor, if not our national interests, were at stake in Vietnam.

More recently, the Iraq War had as its official reason our fear of weapons of mass destruction, but we were also humiliated and outraged at the 9/11 attacks and our sense of honor required us to strike back at somebody.  It is said that Muslims have felt humiliated by the West for centuries, and this is a major motive for Islamic terrorism.

Goldberg applies Thucydides to the Mexicans and the wall.  He says that having a wall on the border may well be a good idea.  But if it is worth building, we should pay for it.  There is no need, he says, to humiliate Mexico by somehow forcing them to pay for it.   Not that Mexico would start a war, but that foreign policy should avoid needless insults to the honor of a country.

Donald Trump is building up American honor in the course of “making America great again.”  Does that mean that an America conscious of its greatness would be more likely to start a war if another country insults us?  But Trump is saying that the driving force of his government will be the national interest.  Ironically, attention to the national interest is the least likely cause of war, and it can keep us out of conflicts based merely on honor or fear. [Read more…]

Anniversaries in 2017

Luther95thesesThe new year will mark some important anniversaries.  The biggest will be the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the 95 theses and thus the beginning of the Reformation.  The significance of that event–not just for theology but for culture, education, socio-economic change, and the overall history of Western civilization–will be intensely debated, especially as October 31 approaches.

Was the Reformation a good thing or a bad thing?  A high point of Christianity or the beginning of its decline?  A recovery of ancient Biblical truth or the beginning of the modern era?  We Lutherans have a special stake in all of this, of course, and we should use this attention as an opportunity to make our message–namely, the Gospel–clear.

After the jump, consider some other important anniversaries in 2017.   [Read more…]

From “the most humiliating year in our history” to victory

256px-USS_California_sinking-Pearl_HarborToday is the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.   The Daily Oklahoman has a fascinating and moving feature looking not only at the coverage of that event but of its anniversary through the war years and beyond.

We often forget that the first year of the war we were losing.  The editorial  for December 7, 1942, called it “the bitterest and most humiliating year in our history.”  The next year’s paper was sober but more upbeat.  Then we see optimism.  In 1945 we see the exuberance–and relief–of victory, along with a memorial to those who died achieving it.

The feature gives us a picture of what a unified nation looks like and something of what it felt like to be caught up in a collective cause that was a matter of life and death, not only for individuals, friends, and loved ones–nearly every family had someone fighting–but for the country itself.  It must have been terrible to go through, but also good.

And we can’t help but wonder if America would be capable of that today.

Read a sampling from the newspaper accounts after the jump. [Read more…]

Vocation in Hacksaw Ridge

Desmond_Doss_CMH_awardNotice how many movies are about vocation.  For example, consider Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson’s movie about Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector who won the Medal of Honor.  A medic, he rescued 75 wounded servicemen in the Battle of Okinawa.

I haven’t seen the film yet, but a review in World Magazine by Sophia Lee quotes a passage that goes to the heart of the doctrine of vocation.  Read it and my discussion after the jump. [Read more…]

The new and improved Iraqi army

The way the Iraqi army used to deal with ISIS, when that movement was taking large swaths of the country, was to throw down their weapons and run away.  But now the Iraqi army is winning battles against ISIS.   This is due to a replacement of corrupt officers, intense training at the hands of U.S. and coalition troops, and the increased confidence that comes from victories.

This week the Iraqis have started an offensive to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, with over a million inhabitants.  This will mean house-to-house fighting against the best ISIS has to offer.   That will be the Iraqi army’s biggest test.

Jim Michaels gives details after the jump. [Read more…]

The Nobel Peace Prize keeps missing

Juan Manuel Santos, the president of Columbia, negotiated a peace deal with the left-wing rebels known as FARC, which has been conducting a guerilla war for 52 years.  But on October 2, the people of Columbia voted down the agreement.  Five days later, Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize.

I suspect the votes had already come in before the election.  The committee never dreamed that Columbians would refuse to approve a peace deal.  (Reportedly, voters thought the agreement was too lenient with the guerillas.)  Nevertheless, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to someone for making peace, even though he didn’t actually make peace.

But as Jay Nordlinger shows, this isn’t the first time the Nobel Peace Prize has missed its mark. [Read more…]