Bombing Again? But It’ll Work This Time!

There’s really no need to refer to specifics. When you’ve been a citizen of the United States as long as I have, you’ve heard it all before: national security; stopping this or that madman; ending drugs or terror or Communism; honor. Whatever. The point is always the same: now, in this situation, violence will actually work to fix the problem. Unlike all those other times! And the United States, like an abusive spouse, swears this time is not like all those other times.

But it is.

A few years back I worked with a group of committed Unitarian Universalists on what we call a “statement of conscience” concerning war. Oh, the squeals. The Unitarian Universalist movement is not, after all, a “peace church” like the Quakers or Mennonites. As a matter of fact, Unitarians and Universalist have been complicit with, if not instigators of, most of the violence in the US since that civil war referred to nowadays as “the Revolution.”

And so the well-meaning and committed group attempting a statement of conscience concerning the violence of nation-states sank into the weeds of “Just War Theory” and other bromides.

Pacifism has never done well among Unitarians or Universalists. The list of pacifist ministers is short, though the prominent Universalist Clarence Skinner and the prominent Unitarian John Haynes Holmes are on it. (The pacifism of Holmes led Theodor Geisel, pen name Dr. Seuss, to write, “If we want to win, we’ve got to kill Japs, whether it depresses John Haynes Holmes or not.”) Another name on the list is John H. Dietrich, a predecessor of mine at the congregation I now serve. It’s a short list, but I’m proud to be on it.

No, the present situation is not like the First or Second World Wars. Fortunately. And, yes, there were some good excuses for killing people, at least in the Second one. Still, the human propensity toward violence and its manifestation in the violence of nation-states is odd, to say the least. It doesn’t serve much of a purpose, either, does it? The human propensity toward violence does appear to be innate, though the fact that murder rates vary from one murder per hundred thousand people in many European nations to twenty murders per hundred thousand in the US argues that violence has a large cultural component. The US is a violent culture, and that violence spills out across the globe.

Will it ever end? Probably not. In the present kerfuffle, pacifists like me will have to bow our heads once again and wait for the inevitable results. But we aren’t required to like it. And we can keep calling it what it is–silly, silly, silly.

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  • Marian Ronan

    You go, David! Silly is the word.

  • Art Nicol

    Within the confines of Western dualistic thinking, there are only two major camps — those actively promoting war and those pacifistically denying the value of war while conceding that war is inevitable once the politicians begin beating their drums (and gums, one might dare to add). It’s not necessary to limit our thinking to the dualism of Western minds. We need not be either “for” or “against” war, limited to arguing the merits of war “this time” in contrast to other times. We can step off dualism’s game board permanently and devote our entire lives to being actively engaged in building peace, which is the same as actively building the kingdom within which Jesus is Prince of Peace.

    It’s a step in the right direction to decide that war (violence in any form) only perpetuates the cycle of violence. This is true whether we analyzing the cycle of violence within domestic relations or analyze it within international relationships or any circle of relationships in between home and “over there.” We don’t have to debate only about the sanity of sending our young people “over there” to war
    “this time.” We can instead have long ago devoted our lives to promoting peace within our inner beings and the inner beings of our old and young alike. We can devote ourselves to unlearning the knee-jerk reflexes of violence so as to substitute deeply engrained habits of cooperation so far advanced beyond pacifism that it looks like we’ve cloned Jesus to perform miracles throughout our families, local communities, nation and around the world. Too idealistic? To what lesser degree of idealism does Jesus call his disciples?

    I encourage us to be all-life devotedly proactive on behalf of long-term peace. We can so proactive that we’ve established academies to which young people are drawn to learn the thinking, skills and reflexes of peace-keeping and peace-developing amid social conditions ripe for violence. Such life-affirming devotion will involve learning how to live out of our hearts again, no longer only out of our heads. We will need to learn to be moved by compassion deep within our hearts as Jesus was moved when he looked upon the crowds and was determined to work miracles of peace, love and healing.

    Who among us already knows the way of the heart that readily forgives and allows all grievances to rise easily to God’s care in order to be available to serve as an ambassador of peace no matter what provocations arise to encourage one to abandon peace? Let those wise in the ways of steadfast peace and reconciliation among aggrieved peoples – those who have stood among the warring camps into which our nation is divided and borne the wounds of their bold service – step forth to teach us what they have learned. We need to yield the floor to those whose experiences bear witness to their determination to bring forth peace and goodwill among all peoples of the earth no matter the trials and tribulations through they may have passed. Let us ask that the armchair commentators and critics of those who dare to bear all that love can endure be silent and listen. The Holy Spirit is speaking to the Church and calling us all back to submission to Jesus as Lord of our lives so that future generations may genuinely live in peace and prosper rather than endure continuously more egregious revolutions of the cycle of violence.

    We need not continue to spiral downward as we witness the defeat of peace on earth. At every moment and with every breath we can participate actively in promoting the upward spiral of recovery from our widely shared and statistically normal but hardly healthy personal, familial and national addiction to violence.