Spiritual Apathy and the War on Terror

Spiritual Apathy and the War on Terror July 16, 2016

Over at the Catholic Conspiracy, Tom Zampino lays out the case for just warfare and writes:

Any remaining illusions that we, ourselves, are safe anywhere – that we can, somehow, escape the carnage unscathed – have, of course, long since been shattered. Each new attack only serves to drive us further into despair, and deeper into isolation. . . .

. . . we can and should urge those who legitimately hold authority over us to use all arms necessary to quickly defeat this global and growing threat.

I was startled to read those words, coming from Tom.

It was startling because I’ve been on retreat lately, removed from the clamor of public opinion, so I wasn’t inured to war cries.  It was doubly startling, though, because Tom and I know each other behind the scenes in the Catholic writing world, and all I ever hear from him is a bundle of compassion and contemplation and fervent desire to be a better, more merciful Catholic.

So I’ve just developed a new rule, the Tom Zampino Rule: If Tom’s talking about going to war, it’s a question that deserves the time of day.

Where I get stuck, in considering the question, is not on the national right to self-defense, but on the other half of the problem: I’m not sure we have a reasonable hope of success.

For Want of a Border . . .

The concept of just warfare implicitly presupposes the defense of one’s borders.  There’s an assumption of a nation-state (or at least a fiefdom) that is under attack by some similar neighboring force.

A difficulty we are having, and this is of course the reason for the tactics of terrorism, is that we don’t have a war on our borders.  Lately we’ve been experiencing a hodge-podge of terrorism and mass-murder here, there, and everywhere, all within our own cities.  Half the time the massacre-du-jour is being carried out by the disaffected neighbor’s kid.

Our foreign enemies are stepping into that same gap.   When you’re weak and outgunned, this is the effective tactic for harrying the more powerful enemy.  The effectiveness of this tactic is the reason nations react to external threats with frank xenophobia and total warfare: Unless you completely eliminate the enemy, the enemy can keep skirmishing indefinitely.

The Biblical command to welcome the stranger is radical for precisely this reason.

Civil Rights in Dangerous Times

Internal threats to safety inspire desperate measures.  The entire American Bill of Rights is the drawing of the line between the government’s legitimate means of ensuring domestic tranquility and the king going crazy-pants in an effort to stomp out every possible threat.   Yes, indeed, if you search every resident, lock up every person who poses a hint of a threat, and take away all but the Nerf weapons, you can cow the surviving populace into oppressed submission.

Nations have been down the road of draconian submission and it doesn’t work, unless your idea of a “working” government is one that jails or murders a significant chunk of the loyal opposition.  As the truck-murders in Nice indicate, or Jael with her tent-stake, a determined enemy isn’t thwarted by your little laws about weapons.  This is precisely why the 2nd Amendment cites the security of a free state: the enemy is always willing to attack, so the citizens need to be ready to defend.

The difficulty, as we have seen with both enemy terrorist attacks and ordinary criminal violence, is in knowing who poses a threat, when and how.

File:Domenico Guidobono - Jael and Sisera.jpg
Jael and Sisera, c. 1709, Domenico Guidobono (1668–1746) via Wikimedia [Public Domain]

Who is my Neighbor?

The radical danger of welcoming the stranger is that the stranger might want to kill you.

One of the shocks of a small-town murder is that small towns are purported to be places where “everybody knows everybody” and “nothing ever happens.”

We Americans tend to dismiss confined-to-the-ghetto gang violence as a special alternate-class of problem, because everyone knows those people in that city are like the brutal folk of Nazareth — you don’t expect peace, and as long as they keep their murders to themselves, so be it.  In contrast, if the murder disturbs the tranquility of our well-tended suburb, we’re shocked, just shocked: But we have clean yards and blue ribbon schools.  We’re good people.  We don’t do this.

Except of course that we do.  The predilection for sin knows no county line.

But back up to the small-town shocker.  “Everybody knows everybody” is in fact an effective means of preventing violence, if the “everybody” involved so desires.  It is effective because you learn your neighbors weaknesses and, if only for your own good, make an effort to lead him not into temptation.  It is also effective because connectedness, sociological research confirms, is a predictor of better social outcomes.

To know and be known, to love and be loved, these are the deepest needs of the human heart.  When we have these things, we humans are less violent.  We are more holy.

Are We Wary Enough?

We don’t have these things.  I don’t even know the names of the people who sit behind me in the pew at church every week — how on earth would I know if they’re planning to bomb the church one sleepy Sunday morning?

This ignorance of our neighbors is situation-normal in the United States, and in my experience it’s normal in France as well.  Criminals and terrorists have it easy: There’s almost zero chance that anyone will have any idea of what they are planning until the murders begin.

The 9/11 attacks fueled a madness for airplane security, and it’s a madness that’s possible.  You can reasonably hope to search every single person who gets on a commercial airplane, if it’s important enough to you to spend the time and money.  That madness can’t extend to every day civil life.  Even a police state eventually fails, and there’s little sense in waging war against our would-be oppressors if all we’re hoping to get out of it is a police state of our own.

The only thing keeping our immediate neighbors from killing us is that they either aren’t interested or don’t want the bother.

File:Monasterio de Santa María de Huerta, Santa María de Huerta Soria, España, 2015-12-28, DD 28-30 HDR.JPG
Photo by Diego Delso [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Click through to see the details on this and other similarly riveting work.

Our Unwinnable War

Our enemies, in contrast, are both interested and willing.  What stitches a common thread between disparate mass murders like last summers’s shooting in Charleston and this summer’s shooting in Orlando or the truck-rampage in Nice, is that the enemy isn’t too concerned about battlefield gains.  It’s not a war over geographical borders, it’s truly a war for terror.  The immediate goal isn’t to conquer but to destroy.

You can win a war against someone who is trying to conquer.  You can hope to defend your house or your city or your nation against an enemy who is seeking to occupy and govern your lands.  But when mutually-assured destruction is not a tactic for preventing war but the enemy’s end goal, you have a completely other situation.   The chief weapon against the hell-bent is spiritual, and we Americans have very little of that weapon to wield.

Back to Tom’s Question

I would like very much for us to thwart the madmen.  I do think that the United States and the European Union can and should do all that we can, using moral means and with due respect for safeguarding civil liberty, to protect our national sovereignty.  I am not categorically opposed to just warfare — I’m Catholic after all.

But I think we delude ourselves if we imagine this war will be won primarily using the weapons of geopolitics.  It won’t be.  Those weapons are necessary in their right time and place.  We who possess superior military might, therefore, can reasonably hope that where tactics of guns and bombs are concerned, the odds are in our favor.

But I am firmly convinced that those tactics alone are in no way sufficient.  Until we also bring to the battle the spiritual weapons necessary to overcome the underlying motivation of the enemy, we’ll just be dying and losing for decades on end.

File:Catholicon, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem1.jpg
Diego Delso [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

You can see Diego Delso’s artist page on Wikimedia here.  Go look!  No, really, right now: Look!

 

 


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