Real courage: soldiering or peacemaking?

Real courage: soldiering or peacemaking? September 28, 2007

A few Vox Nova readers recently stated in the comboxes that the U.S. soldiers currently occupying Iraq are “the greatest and the noblest of our generation” because of their courage and the sacrifices they make for the nation that they serve.

As I was reading these admittedly somewhat trite comments last night, I received an email press release from Pax Christi USA announcing that Catholic and Mennonite peacemakers met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the United Nations yesterday for dialogue. From that press release:

Even as the war drums beat louder and the rhetoric remains heated, U.S. Catholic leaders joined an interfaith effort to defuse tensions between Iran and the United States. The dialogue between North American religious leaders and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took place at the United Nations this morning and was focused on improving East-West relations through informal diplomacy.

President Ahmadinejad, visiting New York to attend the United Nations 62nd General Assembly session, sat down with a delegation of U.S. religious leaders for the third time in the past year. The first meeting happened last year, also at the UN, followed by a February 2007 visit to Iran by U.S. religious leaders at the invitation of the Iranian president, who received them at the Presidential Palace, the first U.S. citizens to be welcomed there in over 25 years.

These dialogues have included frank discussions on the Holocaust, nuclear weapons, the role of religion in peacemaking, Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the use of hostile rhetoric.

“We are deeply concerned about the prospect of war with Iran, but I left today’s meeting hopeful because of the statements made by President Ahmadinejad regarding the renunciation of war and the quest for peace,” stated Joseph Fahey, professor of religious studies at Manhattan College and a member of the Catholic delegation. “This meeting was an attempt to build bridges with Iran despite the generally hostile reception President Ahmadinejad received here in New York City. We strongly believe that only through formal and informal diplomacy and respect for international law can there be peace between Iran and the U.S.”

The Catholic delegation was organized by Pax Christi USA, the national Catholic peace movement, and included theologians, clergy and religious, and leaders of national Catholic organizations. The meeting, hosted by the Mennonite Central Committee, took place amidst heightened security at the Church Center at the UN and was billed as a “time of dialogue and prayerful reflection among the children of Abraham.”

“Our message today, both in our words and by our actions, is that our country and our political leaders need to engage Iran in respectful and meaningful dialogue in order to overcome the historical enmity that has existed between our two nations,” said Dave Robinson, Pax Christi USA Executive Director. “We need our leaders to put aside the threats of war and to engage now-to have what President Ahmadinejad asked for today: sincere and fair negotiations.”

Jean Stokan, Pax Christi USA Policy Director, stated that now is the time for U.S. citizens to start encouraging their elected officials to push for a policy of negotiation with Iran.

“It is our responsibility-the responsibility of people of faith in the U.S.-to work now to assure that the Bush Administration chooses a diplomatic path, not a military one, in dealing with our differences with Iran. The alternative is simply unacceptable.”

Stanley Hauerwas reminds us that the secular virtue of courage, signified in the often reckless bravery of soldiering, is much different than the Christian understanding of courage which is signified in the cross and in the witness of martyrdom. From a Christian perspective, then, which takes more “courage”: suppressing the moral responsibility to grapple with the question of “whether I personally agree with the war or not” and accepting the command to participate in an unjust war (all the while under the threat of force, of course), or sitting down at the table with one of the world’s most notorious and reviled dictators?

Peace-minded folks are often chided for being impractical and utopian. I cannot think of anything more practical and concretely faithful than what the participants in this interfaith effort had the courage to do: sit down at the table with a dictator in order to start the real and difficult process of peacemaking. We should be thankful for Pax Christi and the Mennonite Central Committee for their witness to the real, cruciform meaning of courage.

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  • Matthew Kennel

    As a former Mennonite, I can testify that Mennonite Central Committee is one of the most amazing Christian organizations out there. It’s a joy to see how the whole Mennonite community (which is a tight knit group) as well as some of the Amish have gathered around and pooled their resources and/or time to give to MCC. Indeed, anyone who has been a part of the circles I’ve travelled in, here in Lancaster County, PA, knows that many of the multitude of relief auctions and fundraisers in the Mennonite community and the surrounding area go to support the important work that MCC is doing. MCC has gone to many places throughout the world where few others will dare to go, bringing with them the message of peace and the kind hand of charity. Also admirable is the work of Mennonite Disaster Service. Many of my dear friends have gone one week long MDS missions to help in areas torn by disasters. As I grow as a Christian and a part of the Catholic Church, I pray that God will use me to create dialogue and cooperation between Catholics and Mennonites, my new Church family and my old, on bringing peace to the world and following Christ together as brothers and sisters in Christ.

  • Amen Matthew! The more I learn about the Mennonites the more I see them as an example of what Walter Kaspar talks about when he says that other ecclesial communities have much to teach Catholics, and that some, indeed, are better witnesses to certain aspects of Christianity than we are. I’m currently taking a course on war and peace from a Mennonite theologian who has Catholic “tendencies.” As I am a Catholic with Mennonite tendencies, we get along great,

  • John Dowd

    While I would like to think that the president of Iran is serious; he has not made any moves that would point toward peace. The French have recently tired of Iran’s ‘shell game’ and the EU is growing weary of Iran’s duplicity. President says that America is the great satan. He also says Israel must be wiped from the face of the earth. He has done nothing to show any change. The president of Columbia University pointed out a number of problems which their government denies. As Catholics we have to seek the Truth, not just nice jesters. As for the troops I have met and talked to a number of them and they say the greatest thing they saw in Iraq was the purple fingers after the election.
    I feel while the US Military is at war; too many Americans are home at the mall. The troops coming back complain most about the dishonest reporting of what they are doing. Reporters are only interested in finding something that can get them a book deal ‘truth has nothing to do with it’ Our military has mad every effort to accomodate the Press who print propaganda. The incident at OK Football Reporters do not care who they hurt just get the story

  • Irenaeus

    It takes little courage to sit at a table stateside with such a dictator. He’s exploiting all of us here stateside on his grand propaganda tour, and we look like useful idiots. It takes courage, rather, to suffer hanging in Iran for any number of offenses. How many more homosexuals and young women accused of immorality will be hanged in Iran under the present regime? Sometimes I wish we’d think more about being ‘wise as serpents’; I’m afraid meeting with criminals for *dialogue* simply makes us look like fools.

  • There are solid practical reasons to negotiate with Iran and Syria. Foremost among them is this: the logic of war constitutes the most ineffectual means to liberate a people. It never works. Unintended consequences always envelop the scene of war.

    In Iraq, it was clear from the early hours of “Shock and Awe” that the US would eventually loose the “hearts and minds” of the population. Given the means employed this outcome was inevitable. Widespread death and destruction run counter to winning “hearts and minds.”

    No one questions the bravery of American soldiers. They were asked to do the impossible. American leaders alone have sealed the fate of our country.

    To explore “means and ends” check out The Death Mask of War at:

  • Blackadder

    This press release put me in mind of Vaclav Havel’s essay “Anatomy of a Reticence,” in which he describes why the Eastern European dissidents were so cool to peace activists from the West:

  • While I would like to think that the president of Iran is serious; he has not made any moves that would point toward peace. … President says that America is the great satan.

    I think it’s important to try to understand why he might say something like that about the United States. For you to assume he is not being serious about peace when he says things like this means that you aren’t truly interested in hearing what his perspective truly is. He may be entirely wrong, don’t get me wrong. But the first step is to listen. And if he says the U.S. is satan, let’s find out why. He may have a point.

    As Catholics we have to seek the Truth, not just nice jesters (sic)

    I agree. And I think real dialogue is the way to seek the truth. It is not just a nice gesture.

    As for the troops I have met and talked to a number of them and they say the greatest thing they saw in Iraq was the purple fingers after the election. I feel while the US Military is at war; too many Americans are home at the mall. The troops coming back complain most about the dishonest reporting of what they are doing.

    The troops I talk to know that what they are doing is pointless, that they aren’t bringing “democracy” to Iraq, and that they wish they hadn’t joined up.

    Reporters are only interested in finding something that can get them a book deal ‘truth has nothing to do with it’

    That’s a pretty perverse way of looking at truth telling in reporting. Are you suggesting that reporters NOT report the truth for the sake of making everything look like it’s going smoothly? Like there aren’t severe moral problems with what the United States military is doing?

  • Donald R. McClarey

    Ahmadinejad isn’t interested in peace, he is interested in hastening the return of the twelfth imam:

    And the destruction of Israel: wp…6080300629.html Sat…d=1164881801325 0,2…,277448,00.html new…RTICLE_ID=48790 internatio…,484958,00.html…ges/ 800098.html…ges/ 862895.html articles…3407915,00.html…& show_article=1

    I’d say honest negotiations between us and Iran’s president would probably have the same result as that between the US president and the alien in the film Independence Day:

    President Thomas Whitmore: What do you want us to do?
    Captured Alien: Die. Die.

  • Donald,

    Do you really expect to convince anybody by linking to Daniel Pipes anf Fox News?

    The return of the 12th imam is core Shia theology. The debate is over whether the current Iranian president believes he lives in the end times, and that he could stoke instability in a effort to bring his return. You may realize that the majority of Americans who call themselves Christian also possess an extremely dangerous end times eschatology. Think of crap like the rapture, and the need for a secular Jewish state to restore total theocratic sovereingty over biblical Israel for Christ to return. So yes, Ahmadinejad’s rhetoroc scares me, as does the rhetoric of Bush who thinks he enjoys the confidence of God. Will Pipes or Fox News talk about that?

  • MM:

    One tendency of yours that drives me bananas is your rejection, out of hand, of all documentation that is produced by anyone that is not on some sort of “approved” list. Instead of rebutting the premises presented in the linked items, you just kind of wave your hand and ignore them. What’s more, Donald presented a whole slew of links that did not lead to either Pipes or Fox News. Do you care to offer a reasoned argument why these sources are wrong, or are you content simply to sneer at them and ignore them as though they do not exist?

    Anyway, the comparison to Bush and Evangelicals is laughable. While I agree that the Fundamentalist theology is kooky, they do not engage in behavior that suggests that they would like to speed up the arrival of the end times. Sadly, the same cannot be said for Ahmadinejad.

  • Craig

    Here’s a translation of a spooky French article on Bush, Chirac, Gog and Magog:
    The original French:

  • “… the comparison to Bush and Evangelicals is laughable. While I agree that the Fundamentalist theology is kooky, they do not engage in behavior that suggests that they would like to speed up the arrival of the end times…”

    Christiane Amanpour must be on the “approved” list of sources.

  • Blackadder

    None of the links are working for me, so I don’t know if there is anything new in them. A-Jad has previously called for the destruction of Israel as a Jewish State, but he’s said that this should be accomplished via the right of return, not by turning the place into a nuclear wasteland. That’s bad enough, but it’s hardly the threats of genocide that many have claimed he’s made. And since the perception that he has made such threats is being used to beat the drums for war, I think it’s important to point this out.

  • Blackadder

    As someone who used to be an evangelical, who knows lots of evangelicals and still has some as family members, I can tell you that evangelicals as a group aren’t terribly interested in speeding up the End Times. Evangelicals do tend to support Israel, but they do so for other reasons.

  • Donald R. McClarey

    My apologies. My previous links of pearls of wisdom from the President of Iran weren’t working. Here are some more links, and just for the sake of Tony I have purged “impure” links to the dreaded Fox News.,1518,484958,00.html


    In regard to the president of Iran and the twelfth iman, here is a link to an article in Time:,8599,1535224-1,00.html

    And one in the Telegraphwritten by
    Amir Taheri, a former Executive Editor of Kayhan, Iran’s largest daily newspaper.

  • digbydolben

    Mr. Blackadder, I think there may be a distinction to be made between Protestant Christians who call themselves “Evangelicals” and those who call themselves “dispensationalists.”

    During the time I lived in India (working in an international school that had a tradition of Protestant missionizing), I was told of a group of “dispensationalists” in the United States who, every year, commissioned a liner sailing from the Crimea packed with destitute Russian Jews who they knew would end up in the settlements on Palestinian land. They supposedly were doing this with the express purpose of triggering the sort of confrontations that they hoped would spark “Armageddon” and the Second Coming.

    These people were also convinced, I was told, that the very Jews whose migration they were aiding would “burn in hell” after the Second Coming. The Canadian Evangelical Protestants who told me this were repulsed by this behaviour and attitude, but they also had been told, by this very group of “dispensationalists,” that there were plenty of their number in the United States.

    I think that this kind of Protestant Christian Fundamentalism is of PRECISELY the same moral colouration as jihadism.

  • Go to for more information about Mennonite Central Committee and its work in Iran.

  • You cannot ‘dialouge with evil’ lest you find yourself dancing with the devil.

    Appeasement has never worked history teaches that. I mean real history not the revisionist version. Britain before the beginning of the Second World War also had a dialogue with evil…much good it did them. As Chamberlain came back with the ‘peace in our time’ while Hitler plotted war. Good intentions does not mean that only good can come from it.

    This despot is killing your sons and daughters on the field of battle…and Americans want to HUG him???? Wake up and smell the gun powder!

    How long would the war last in Iraq if Iran stopped supporting the insurgents?

    God bless


  • Mary — Thank you. I hope the beating of war drums in our comboxes does not drive you away.

    Marie —

    This despot is killing your sons and daughters on the field of battle…and Americans want to HUG him???? Wake up and smell the gun powder!

    I don’t think I read anything about “hugging” the man. They want to engage in real dialogue which is not a warm and fuzzy process, but a difficult one. I encourage you to check out the link Mary has provided to see what this is really about rather than jumping to conclusions.

    If “wake up and smell the gunpowder” is truly the “view from the pews,” then our Church is in deep trouble.

  • How long would the war last in Iraq if Iran stopped supporting the insurgents?

    World Leaders should have listened to the Church in the first place but they didnt and now we’re in a mess.

    You are not talking to a man you are talking to a despot. That’s the difference. You can ‘dialogue’ with this evil man till the cows come home it is not going to change him or his intentions. He is showing you what he is a Meglomaniac…The world has had so many and still we dont learn our lesson and so history repeats itself. Shame really.

    God bless

    Marie..PS: We do live in a free society which enables us both to express our opinion even if we disagree. I respect YOUR opinion Michael….But if we had this same discussion in Iran we’d both lose our heads.

  • PPS: I rarely discuss politics on my blog..WAY too emotive lol.

    God bles and take care


  • Marie, your position is nonsensical for several reasons:

    1) You claim to have respect for what the Church taught with regard to the justness of war with Iraq. The Church’s position was precisely that war should be a last resort and that dialogue is the the best way toward peacemaking.

    2) You say that, had “World Leaders” (read: The Bush Administration) listened to the Church, we would not “be in this mess.” Actually, there was a mess way before Bush decided to go to war with the Iraq. Do you not remember Gulf War I? 9/11?

    3) You are assuming that the Church would give the green light to war with Iran because of the “mess” that was “produced” when the U.S. went to war with Iraq, a war the Church opposed, and still opposes. I’m not sure I follow you.

    4) You say the world has had many depots and that we have not learned our lesson and that we should not attempt dialogue with these people. What “lesson” are you saying we have not learned yet? That we need to go to war to solve the problem of dictators? In your own understanding of world history, do you see any shortage of evidence that war has been the presumed solution to this very problem, especially when it is the U.S. calling the shots? The “lesson” that you say the world needs to learn seems to have been learned many times over to the tune of 250 million corpses in the twentieth century alone.

    If you truly respect the Church’s position on war, and on the situation in the Middle East, it is not coming across in your words which do nothing but demonize and dehumanize human beings.

  • God dialogues with us, while we are still sinners.

    If dialogue doesn’t work, then explain St Vladimir?

  • What makes us think that every war should mirror the last one? When we look at the history of military battles each one was fought differently, i.e., the Crimea war was much different to the First World War, the Second World War was different from the First World War, then we have the Vietnam war which once again was fought differently. Now in our own time we face another type of war.

    Iranian Embassy hostage siege where Americans were kept captive from 1979 till 1981.

    In 1983 the Islamofacists were responsible for bombing the U.S embassy in Beirut, Lebanon killing 63 people and injuring hundreds . A few months later another explosion hit American and French compounds murdering 241 American soldiers and 58 Frenchmen.

    In 1985 we saw where once again the terrorists struck a TWA airliner with the torture and murder of a U.S servicemen who happened to be on board.

    In 1985 the world watched as the cruise ship the Achille Lauro was overtaken by Palestinian Islamofacists, where they then murdered an elderly gentleman Leon Klinghoffer.

    Westerners were kidnapped in Lebanon in 1987 and kept hostage for years. Amongst whom were Brian Keenan, Terry Anderson, Terry Waite, John McCarthy etc.

    October 2000 terrorist attack on the U.S.S. Cole.

    In February 1993 a truck filled with explosives bombs the World Trade Centre.

    On september 11 2001 two planes explode into the World Trade Centre and one into the Pentagon.

    But the war only began with the First Gulf War? Really?

    Lets not settle for a ‘false peace’. I stand by the fact that one cannot dialogue with evil.

    God bless

    Marie PS: God with Divine Love dialogues with His Children who all fall short of His Glory. Where does God dialogue and negotiate with the Devil?

  • Marie,

    No human is “the devil.” Look up St Vladimir (or St Paul) in their pre-conversion states. Dialogue does happen. It’s been known to change people. Faith in Christ is faith that the beautiful will attract us to do good and love the truth.

    But as for dialogue with the devil, you could read the book of Job for an interesting response to that question. Or the Temptation of Jesus.

  • Marie – I didn’t say that “the war” began with the Gulf War. I merely cited it against your claim that “the mess we’re in” started with the Bush administration going to war with Iraq.

    Lets not settle for a ‘false peace’. I stand by the fact that one cannot dialogue with evil.

    I agree, I am not in favor of settling for a false peace. But going to war in order to “bring about peace” is the epitome of settling for a false peace. You can’t kill for peace.

    I seriously cannot discern any intelligible argument in what you have written, as you are entirely self-contradictory.

  • Henry dialogue has been known to change people but the person MUST be willing to change I cant see that happening with A-Jad, he is a Meglo-Maniac. Did Hitler change? Did Stalin change? Did Idi Amin change? NO!

    I have read the book of Job, that is why when I am personally confronted with adversity or tragedy I dont blame the devil when it could be God’s Will. We are all refined in the fire of His Divine Love, which is a painful process.

    Jesus did not ‘dialogue’ with the devil as we know conversation to be. Jesus was always in total control and in Authority over and above the devil.

    A-Jad is NOT the devil the devil IS the devil. But he has chosen the pathway of evil as other despots have before him and sadly probably many after him. Look what is happening in Burma.

    As I said change happens when a person is willing to change it cannot be FORCED. I should know I was not a Christian for the majority of my life. I converted when I was 30 years old and my life changed because I CHOSE to change it when God touched my own heart.



    I agree you cannot have war in order to have peace, though the world went to war in 1939(America later) still it came at a terrible cost. I really dont know what the answer is when it comes to Iraq and Iran an illegal war and a man determined to get a nuclear bomb in order to hold the world hostage. Let’s remember hostage taking is not alien to THIS President…And the really scary thing is, I dont think any Western Governments know how to get out of this mess either.

    As Colin Powel said ‘you break it-You own it!’…My goodness he was right.

    I have enjoyed this debate and there are no hard feelings on my side:).

    I wish peace and Blessings to you both:)


  • Marie – No hard feelings here either. I simply have trouble understanding how much of what you have said in any way resembles the Gospel. Let’s all keep allowing Christ’s radical love of all people challenge us into loving the most unlovable people we encounter.